Something from the archives.
For the second year running, I am not joining the magnificent, brave and crazy people that give up their Novembers in the pursuit of a novel. Continue reading Why I’m Not Doing Nanowrimo This Year
Dark fictions flourish in dark times. As we lurch from financial crisis to social meltdown, our reading habits change and our idea of what constitutes light relief gains some weight. This is a simple truth that the editors of new anthology title Noir Nation understand all too clearly. It’s the perfect time to launch, and the premiere issue is stuffed as full of hardboiled treats as an old fashioned sweetie shop.
A well-curated genre collection will take pleasure in the display of a wide range of voices, opinions and stories. Noir Nation hits all the buttons hard. It’s broad, wide and deep in scope, which suits a journal with a truly international remit. Standout stories for me include Tristan Davies “Surgeons”, which introduces us to a doctor who makes Gregory House look like that nice English actor Hugh Laurie, and RF Warner’s “Dog Of A Different Breed”, the story of a drug run gone bad, an unfortunate incident with a dog, and a serial killer with a yen for poetry and gameplay.
Speaking of poetry, there’s also room for a piece by Bonnie Parker. Bonnie and Clyde Bonnie Parker. Seems like she could shoot better than she could sling a rhyme, but it’s a fascinating curio from a famous gun moll.
The first ish also gives us a fascinating discussion on what constitutes contemporary noir (Alan Ward Thomas, the Eastern Hemisphere editor, pulls together a fascinating take that includes transhumanist SF, Alvin Toffler-style future shock, Cubism and Jung) and a forum on whether the genre has a moral compass. The jury’s out on that one, but there are equally compelling arguments for and against.
The one misfire is Jon Danko and Danda’s graphic novel, Fired On Deadline. It’s muddled, and text-heavy, with none of the bite of the prose pieces. It also, at least in my preview copy, looked as if it had been inserted at too low a resolution, leading to blurry, rasterised artwork. That’s a real shame, considering my predilections. It also does Danda’s lovely expressionistic art (he did the cover, shown above, which is a much better showcase of his talents) no justice. It’s apparently the first part of a larger work, and I’d be interested to see where Danko and Danda take the idea of Flamenco Noir. But for now at least, the whole thing looks like something of an afterthought.
But that’s a minor quibble regarding a strong anthology bulging with good stuff. You can pick it up at the Kindle Store and still get change from a poorly cephalopod. Noir Nation shows a genre that is in very rude health indeed. Live and goddam kicking.
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.
X&HTeam-mate Rob May asked me one of those questions last night.
I replied with a flippant fob-off, but my blood ran cold. It was too closely related to one of The Big Two Questions That All Writers Hate. One of which is “Where do you get your ideas from?” (stock answer for that one – “there used to be a guy operating out of a lock up under the rail bridge by St James St station in Walthamstow, but now I just do what everyone else does and get them online, ideas4u.ru). The big one is “Why do you write?” And there is never an answer to that one that won’t make you sound like a self-absorbed arsehole. “I knew when I was a child.” “I had to find somewhere to put all the stories.” “It’s a calling.”
The swine of it is, all of these are true to a greater or lesser extent. I’ve written since I was a scrawny, speccy runt. I was always good at it, and I always enjoyed it. Even now, drifting into the fugue state where a tale just seems to present itself and all I have to do is write it down is one of my greatest pleasures. I must have been put on this earth to tell these stories. It’s my mission in life.
See. Told you. Cain’t hep masel. Self-absorbed arsehole.
Of course, understanding the grunt work that comes out of polishing and repolishing my words until they shine is another story, There is a world of difference between the first draft that can be banged out in a six-week period if you’re disciplined (braces for howls of outrage from the Nanowrimo crowd) and making something that people would actually want to read. A story without plot holes, clunky dialogue, cookie-cutter characters, screeds of needless exposition and the hundred thousand little details that can derail a tale if you don’t get them right. Changing eye colour is a good one. Or everyone having the same eye colour. I’ve had heroines that change their age from page to page. The basic misunderstanding of Newtonian physics that sends the engine of your plot off-track and into the trees. I’m writing this on a train, you can see where the metaphors are coming from.
None of which answers Rob’s question. Bear with me.
The thing with writing is that it’s a monstrous, time-eating task that will gobble years like a sugar-starved tween presented with a handful of Haribo. Blogging is very much the opposite. It’s a quick, sharp hit, an espresso instead of a venti moccochoccolattechino with extra whipped cream and sprinkles and three flakes. It’s first draft, front-lobe spillage. It’s 4-track demo, rough sketch, workshop level output. It’s also pragmatic. I can clear out brain cruft that needs to go somewhere, I can work up ideas, try things out. It’s a place to react, to rage, to vent, to roar. It’s the mouth of the gushing hose. Twitter’s great for a lot of things, but it doesn’t let me bend the language in the way that I like. I can’t roll out a run-on sentence in 140 characters. And I LOVE run-on sentences. Blogging is as close to I get to an honest, true immediate response to the world and everyone in it. (As close as I get? Well, take a look at the title of the blog you’re reading…) Broadcasting at the click of a trackpad.
And of course, it’s an exercise in vanity. How could it be otherwise? I’m labouring under the assumption that there are people out there that want to read my views on the AV referendum, on horror, on comics, on beer, on food, on every little thing that pops into my tiny head and gets me to fire up Marsedit. Writers are egoists. They have to be. How else could you blare your opinions at the world if you didn’t think they were worth the world’s attention? Why do it if you didn’t think someone was listening? The blogger that doesn’t check their stats after every post isn’t really a blogger at all.
Rob, I’m sorry, I’m still not sure that i’ve answered the question. X&HT is a huge part of my writing life. It’s a home, a platform, potentially a shop window, a shelter, a stage. It’s me, in some ways, and a weird simulacrum of me in others. It’s a distraction and a workspace. It’s me and the cartoon rabbit-eared, fluff-tailed version of me all at one. It’s an excuse, Rob. It’s a half-truth.
Why do I blog, Rob? Because I can. Because I must. Because.
I don’t know what drew me back to Blogger last night. I changed this place over to WordPress in 2007, pulling over most of the archive over in the process, and have had little cause for complaint. I barely even consider the early years. Nonetheless, I logged in, to find a surprise.
According to the Dashboard, I joined Blogger back in April 2001. Which makes this my tenth year of writing and publishing online. Good grief.
The problem is, I have no way of proving it. In a dick move that I could only ever pull on myself, The Ugly Truth is open to invited readers only. I am not on that select list. I’ve somehow managed to lock myself out of my own blog.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that I joined Blogger and began writing straight away. I have vague recollections of a couple of false starts, vague entreaties of impressive future content followed by months of silence. The Ugly Truth (named after a Matthew Sweet song, not the godawful Katherine Heigl/Gerard Butler romcom) was my first serious attempt at a blog, and was closer to a Tumblr than the polished new-content machine you enjoy today. There were a lot of links, and the occasional stab at something heartfelt. It was intermittently updated at best, and no different to a thousand other sites out there. It was, of all things, a post by Warren Ellis on the need for original content that inspired me to ditch that approach and, once Blogger no longer suited my needs, the move to WordPress under a new name.
I have no record of any of this. The earliest post in my archives dates to December 2004, which means my early attempts are lost to the aether. I’m content in this. It’s no great loss to the world of blogs.
But the Blogger years were a start, and they led me here. I think all I can say with any certainty is that April 2011 marks the ten-year anniversary of my intention to blog. And that’s got to be worth something. I suppose. Hasn’t it?
I’ve mentioned in the past how a long walk will often suggest characters or situations to me. It’s a process I’ve likened to having someone fall into step with me and start to tell their story as we go.
I had a hospital appointment this morning, and afterwards decided to take a stroll back through Southwark, across the river to St Pauls and up the Strand, revisiting a few old haunts. Damned if I didn’t get a companion, murmuring in my head as I strode up Carter Lane. She had a name which I’d heard before.
I wrote down the things she told me in a couple of caffeinated jolts in shops along the river. I haven’t told the half of it. The name Westinghouse is mentioned at one point. Astute members of The Readership might recall I’ve talked about her before.
Meet Cerise Sauvage. She has a soundtrack that you might find appropriate.
There are just under three weeks to go until the start of the 2010 Nanowrimo, and already there’s a sense of real anticipation and nervous excitement. Wordsprints (where you write as much as you can for a given period; say half an hour) and timed exercises are happening on Twitter, with the #nanolove hash getting a lot of … well, love. The forums at the Nanowrimo site have reopened, and are buzzing with activity. It always seems a shame to me that they don’t stay open for the whole year, as for November they are a hive of crazed creativity and overwrought drama. It would be great to get some of that feeling all the time.
The Nano forums are essential for those moments when you just need to bitch about how badly things are going, or crow about your rapidly expanding wordcount, or wail about your lack of inspiration. In the forums, you realise just how many other people are in this with you, and feeling and suffering and exulting in exactly the same way. Nanowrimo puts you in touch with an awful lot of like-minded people, and if you sign up to the regional forums, you could even meet up with some of them face to face!
And of course, software developers are there to help the aspiring writer part with their cash – in the name of productivity, of course. There are a few tools out there that are worth your time, and funnily the good ones are open source and free.
I had great results last year with OpenOffice, which has hella good error correction and auto-complete functions – a boon for sloppy typists. On full-screen mode it’s a good distraction-free option and really helps you bang up the word count. The team behind it have just broken away from their corporate masters at Oracle to create the new LibreOffice, which I will be viewing with interest. I’m also eyeing up FocusWriter, which seems like a neat, prettier version of the Gedit/Notepads of the world. I’m having some issues installing it on my little Linux netbook, as it doesn’t come as a prettily packaged .deb file, but I’ll get there, I’m sure. With a choice of background, word count and daily goals built in, it seems to have been designed specifically for the shenanigans in November. But frankly, I’m happy as long as there’s autocap and a little something to help out my dreadful spelling.
Meanwhile, have you got your Dropbox account yet? and if not, why not? It’s free, it’s 2gigs of storage that seamlessly syncs across all your machines (including your smartphones), it’s a complete no-brainer to set up and use. It saved my butt during Script Frenzy early in the year, and it’s an essential for me now. In fact, if it sounds good, drop me a line. If you go through an invite from me we both get an extra 256mb for free. Used in conjunction with PlainText, I can jot down ideas on my phone and know that they will be waiting in a folder in my Dropbox whenever I need them. If you’re a writer on the go like me, these two bits of free loveliness are my solid recommendations.
And oh look, Scrivener is rolling out a major update in time for November! Scrivener is brilliant for thwacking out a first draft and letting you organise it at the same time. I used it exclusively for my first three Nanoes, and it’s still a favourite. The upgrade will set you back about $25, $45 for a new licence, with a thirty day free trial – just enough time to complete your Nano challenge. Totally worth it.
But these are only tools. When it comes down to it, Nanowrimo is about a very simple act. Writing 1700 words a day for a month, and being consistently surprised at what comes out. I know I always am, and that’s what brings me back year on year.