Friday 30 August 2013


, the pseudoscientific art of analysing handwriting it may be, but a fun way to procrastinate whilst avoiding doing any actual writing - most definitely.

There's a site that takes you step-by-step through an infographic of how to decipher your own handwriting: What Does Your Handwriting Say About You?

There's even a British Academy of Graphology if you fancy finding out more.

After careful study of my own handwriting, the key trait it suggest is that I should use a keyboard.

Seriously, it's illegible.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Golden Caddisfly

Random piece of incredible art:

Caddisfly larvae build protective cases using materials found in their environment. Artist Hubert Duprat supplied them with gold leaf and precious stones. This is what they created.

Isn't nature clever?

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Novel Idea: Plottinations

I didn't think I'd have time to write any more before heading off on my Autumn Road Trip, but I've had the house to myself the past few days and managed to add another four-and-a-half thousand to the word count

Slightly annoyed I've missed the sixty-five thousand mark by 500 but decided I'd rather hold out and write well than push for it and mess up. I slowed down a bit because I realised that the story was in danger of fracturing into a few possibilities and I needed to be sure that I could weave all the threads together by the end. 

As one writer mentioned in a forum recently, and I'm going to have to paraphrase badly because I can't remember exactly where I read it: "Writing for me is like an adventure in the fog. Once I can see the end, it's over."

I feel very much the same. I discover the stories as I write them, much as I've heard sculptors talk of their work as uncovering the faces within stone or wood. The final moments of a story generally fall into place within a few thousand words off the end. If they come any earlier there is the danger of the writer losing interest. You write to find out what happens. Once you know, what's the point?

Then there is the other danger - and the problem that sometimes leads to block - in that you cannot see anything ahead of you at all. The fog is so thick it suffocates. It's quite a gamble setting out to write 70,000+ words without knowing what will happen. What if nothing happens?

Sometimes you need to stop writing and step back for a moment. In this case I knew it was time because my descriptive was becoming commonplace. It lacked imagination because I was struggling to imagine what comes next.

Always stop when you're struggling. The danger of pressing on is that, yes, you may end up with words, but will they be good words? If they're not good words you'll either be disappointed - especially if they've been good words up to that point - or you will need to go back and rewrite them at a later date, thus creating further work for yourself.

Worse, you might write yourself into a plot glitch that screws up the rest of the story, and it's far harder to go back and unpick a plot after five or six thousand words than it is after a couple of hundred. Be alert to loss of direction. This is different to not knowing where the story is going. You can be lost and still have direction. Sometimes the mere fact of being lost enthuses you to find your way out. Loss of direction is that point at which you not only have no idea where the story is going (acceptable, even exciting) but you have no idea what you're doing at this moment in time either. Intellectual flat-lining.

Everybody has different ways of getting around this. When my own inspiration is drained I attempt to kick-start it off the back of others. When I can't write myself, I tend to read a lot. I'll watch movies and listen to music. Sometimes I seek out art or writers from the period in history I am writing about, to try and immerse myself in that world. Sometimes it's enough to read something completely unrelated, written by a fabulous author. Brilliance in others is often motivation enough to aspire to be brilliant oneself. Feelings, emotions and sensations are all fuel for the imagination, be they on screen or out of doors. 

A slightly more specific tool that I tend to use requires a blank sheet of paper and a cheap biro. It's true that I can never usually see the end of my stories until I get there. If I can, there is always room for a few twists and turns along the way. However, I can usually see with some clarity a few vivid moments up ahead.

Let's take a love story, for instance. The end: will it be happy? Will the two lovers walk off into the sunset? Or will it be a tragedy? Will they be star-crossed and cruelly thwarted?

Of this I am not yet sure.

So, what am I certain of?


  1. They must meet. There must be a moment at which they realise they are in love. It suits my sense of theatrics for this to be a masquerade ball. They will take each other's breath away.
  2.  I see an evil uncle. A jealous man. Incestuous, perhaps. There will be a fight, there will be blood. Oh, and a faithful dog! The dog will attack him and he'll drive his blade into it, killing it. Poor dog.
  3.  There will be a banquet. I like banquets. Everything in white silk, lit by candle chandeliers that cause the gold trim to sparkle. The uncle is a schemer, and he needs a side-kick. Not sure who yet, but they'll discuss their plans at the banquet whilst drinking wine red as blood which will spill across the virgin white.
  4.  Finally, what else do I see? I quite fancy the idea of a midnight tryst. The lovers are almost discovered and have to escape across a river. They have no boat, so they have to swim. They navigate by the light of the moon, reaching the other side drenched and exhausted.

I see very specific moments. Some have to happen, because the plot demands they happen. For instance, if someone is going to hatch a dastardly plot, they need an accomplice. If they have an accomplice, they need to explain the plot and cultivate their relationship. Other details are added simply because I like them. It suits my tastes to have a banquet and a masquerade ball and a midnight tryst. They're pretty and dramatic and a little bit sinister. 

None of these scenes are complete. They are simply sketches. Outlines of fairly solid ideas that require:

  1. More detail: which characters specifically? What do they eat, drink, wear and discuss?
  2. A place in the story. When do they happen?

The first isn't worth worrying about. You'll colour in the picture when you get to it.

The second is a bit more important.

When I stop to write down these little scraps of scenes, I don't give them an order. The reason I have stopped writing is usually because I don't know what comes next. It is only by ditching ridged chronology that you get around this type of block, because ridged chronology is what's causing it. What's more important is what might happen - what you want to happen - rather than when it happens.

I take a blank piece of paper and very loosely name each scene and each important character randomly across the page.

The biggest panic comes from thinking that there is no future to be written about. In reality, there is always a future to be written about, and there are always fresh ideas and new imaginings, but our rigidity in trying to make one thing come after the next, after the next, blinkers us to all of those wonderful possibilities.

Once you have these ideas on paper, that's when you can start to reconstruct the timeline. The fear that there is nothing more to write has been removed. There are clearly moments in the future that you want to write, so now you can consider how to get to them.

Some things must happen in a certain order for them to make sense. For instance, the masquerade ball must come before the midnight tryst. After all, who agrees to meet someone by a river at midnight unless they already trust them implicitly? Only a lover would go, so they must already be in love.

Other things might be far more malleable. Does the uncle kill the dog early on, simply to show what an evil character he is? Or does he do it after learning about the lovers' tryst, out of jealous? Perhaps the dog is already known to him through some earlier altercation and this is revenge? In which case, another scene is needed.

The things that must happen in a certain order help to spur on the overall story arc. The things that are slightly more negotiable can act as padding, or bridges, to get you from one major scene to the next, or as starting points to develop new scenes to explain how they came about.

The purpose of this is not to plot out an entire story. As mentioned, that's a quick way to kill enthusiasm in a writer. You don't want to know everything, you want to discover everything as you go along.

Instead, it is firstly a way to alleviate panic: that sense that there is nothing to write about. Secondly, it is a way of kick-starting imagination. You have story dots on a page, now it's time to join them up and see what the picture is.

At some point I will scan a copy of one of my doodles so that you can see what it looks like. It can be as neat or as abstract as you like. No one's going to hang it on the wall, the important point is that it helps you map your way to a completed novel.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Being Ginger

Another Kickstarter project come to fruition. I supported a documentary called Being Ginger, by Scott P. Harris. It's a subject close to my heart as my dear friend Cassie is ginger, she married Sean (also ginger) and they now have a beautiful ginger boy, Ryan. Perhaps I'm one of those rare individuals who finds it impossible to judge a person on grounds of hair colour, skin colour or accent, but will happily categorise people and discriminate accordingly on grounds of political allegiance. We all have our prejudices, it's important to recognise them.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the documentary. You can view it online for $10 (think that's about £6.50). You can also find Being Ginger on Twitter and Facebook. Help get the word out.

Friday 23 August 2013

Optical Illusions

Spinning lady left and right brain test

Isn't this fascinating?

It's an optical illusion where the lady can appear to be spinning in either direction. One site suggests that people who see her spinning clockwise are governed by their right brain, the artistic half, whilst those seeing her spinning anti-clockwise are governed by the pragmatic left brain.

However, the right-brain left-brain theory has largely been disproved, as the brain uses both sides to undertake most tasks. Here's an explanation of how it works, plus you can move on to the 'next random illusion.'

If you can only see her going in one direction and you're having difficulty getting her to go the other way, try staring at the shadow of her foot for a moment and slowly looking up again. It might take a few attempts, but with practice you can get her to switch directions at will.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Novel Idea: 60k

I have been so ill this past week that I have been fit for little but sleeping and watching movies.

Yesterday, I felt well enough to make up for time lost and managed to type almost 4,000 words, bringing my novel to 60,173. It had been two and a half weeks since I passed 50k, and I hardly wrote 500 words that first week.

I doubt that I will write much more for a while now.

Firstly, other commitments draw me to London and then Dublin. It's hard to write on the road.

Secondly, the plot is thinning and needs careful consideration before I progress.

The unpleasant thing about illness is that it saps us of energy, dulling our senses and emotions. If you cannot feel a story, you cannot write it.

Better to retire from writing until health returns and imagination once again ignites. I am so pleased with the novel so far that anything less than a brilliant ending would prove a dreadful disappointment.

I leave you with the last thing that I wrote.

History is a dark and unforgiving thing. All that history is can never be altered or undone. That is the nature of history. It is set. Immutable. Absolute.

There, on that night, I was granted a glimpse of history unwritten.

I laughed, and looked away.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

The End of Books

File:The End of Books - page 228a.jpg

This is absolutely incredible. I accidentally stumbled across this essay on Wiki the other day: The End of Books.

You can read the whole thing by following that link, but here's a summary. The reason it's so incredible is that it was written by author Octave Uzanne who, inspired by a discussion at the Royal Institute in 1894, postulated that books would become obsolete, to be replaced by... walkmans!

Laugh you may, but listen to his rationale. It's more than a little impressive:

I think that if books have a destiny, that destiny is on the eve of being accomplished; the printed book is about to disappear. After us the last of books, gentlemen!

He reasoned that:

1. The printed word would be rendered obsolete by advances in sound recording:

Printing, which Rivarol so judiciously called the artillery of thought, and of which Luther said that it is the last and best gift by which God advances the things of the Gospel — printing, which has changed the destiny of Europe, and which, especially during the last two centuries, has governed opinion through the book, the pamphlet, and the newspaper — printing, which since 1436 has reigned despotically over the mind of man, is, in my opinion, threatened with death by the various devices for registering sound which have lately been invented, and which little by little will go on to perfection.

2. This would happen because people don't have the attention span:

I take my stand, therefore, upon this incontestable fact, that the man of leisure becomes daily more reluctant to undergo fatigue, that he eagerly seeks for what he calls the comfortable, that is to say for every means of sparing himself the play and the waste of the organs. You will surely agree with me that reading, as we practise it today, soon brings on great weariness; for not only does it require of the brain a sustained attention which consumes a large proportion of the cerebral phosphates, but it also forces our bodies into various fatiguing attitudes. If we are reading one of our great newspapers it constrains us to acquire a certain dexterity in the art of turning and folding the sheets; if we hold the paper wide open it is not long before the muscles of tension are overtaxed, and finally, if we address ourselves to the book, the necessity of cutting the leaves and turning them one after another, ends by producing an enervated condition very distressing in the long run.

All similar inconveniences the Kindle has sought to address with its variable font size, easy to hold shape, and press-a-button page turning. 

3. Audiobooks would be the thing of the future, transported by walkman (as pictured at the top of this post):

There will be registering cylinders as light as celluloid penholders, capable of containing five or six hundred words and working upon very tenuous axles, and occupying not more than five square inches all the vibrations of the voice will be reproduced in them; we shall attain to perfection in this apparatus as surely as we have obtained precision in the smallest and most ornamental watches...

Each will work his pocket apparatus by a fluent current ingeniously set in action; the whole system may be kept in a simple opera-glass case, and suspended by a strap from the shoulder.

4. He predicted that self-publishing would be the name of the game:

[T]he author will become his own publisher. To avoid imitations and counterfeits he will be obliged, first of all, to go to the Patent-Office, there to deposit his voice, and register its lowest and highest notes, giving all the counter-hearings necessary for the recognition of any imitation of his deposit. The Government will realize great profits by these patents.

Having thus made himself right with the law, the author will talk his work, fixing it upon registering cylinders. He will himself put these patented cylinders on sale; they will be delivered in cases for the consumption of hearers.

5. He perfectly predicted our desire for short info-bursts over florid prose, and the rise of RP in audio broadcasting:

Men of letters will not be called Writers in the time soon to be, but rather, Narrators. Little by little the taste for style and for pompously decorated phrases will die away, but the art of utterance will take on unheard-of importance. Certain Narrators will be sought out for their fine address, their contagious sympathy, their thrilling warmth, and the perfect accuracy, the fine punctuation of their voice...

Journalism will naturally be transformed; the highest situations will be reserved for robust young men with strong, resonant voices, trained rather in the art of enunciation than in the search for words or the turn of phrases; literary mandarinism will disappear, literators will gain only an infinitely small number of hearers, for the important point will be to be quickly informed in a few words without comment.

6. He guessed that there would still be a place for libraries as audio archives:

Libraries will be transformed into phonographotecks, or rather, phonostereoteks; they will contain the works of human genius on properly labelled cylinders, methodically arranged in little cases, rows upon rows, on shelves. 

7. And the place of actors in reading audiobooks:

Authors who are not sensitive to vocal harmonies, or who lack the flexibility of voice necessary to a fine utterance, will avail themselves of the services of hired actors or singers to warehouse their work in the accommodating cylinder. 

 8. He was scarily accurate about the role of radio and audio narration in journalism:

'And the daily paper,' you will ask me, 'the great press of England and America, what will you do with that?'

Have no fear; it will follow the general law, for public curiosity will go on forever increasing, and men will soon be dissatisfied with printed interviews more or less correctly reported. They will insist upon hearing the interviewee, upon listening to the discourse of the fashionable orator...  The voices of the whole world will be gathered up in the celluloid rolls which the post will bring morning by morning to the subscribing hearers.

9. And then he went on to predict television and movies!

You perhaps forget the great discovery of To-morrow, that which is soon to amaze us all; I mean the Kinetograph of Thomas Edison, of which I was so happy as to see the first trial at Orange Park, New Jersey, during a recent visit to the great electrician...

The kinetograph will be the illustrator of daily life; not only shall we see it operating in its case, but by a system of lenses and reflectors all the figures in action which it will present in photochromo may be projected upon large white screens in our own homes. Scenes described in works of fiction and romances of adventure will be imitated by appropriately dressed figurants and immediately recorded. We shall also have, by way of supplement to the daily phonographic journal, a series of illustrations of the day, slices of active life, so to speak, fresh cut from the actual. We shall see the new pieces and the actors at the theatre, as easily as we may already hear them, in our own homes; we shall have the portrait, and, better still, the very play of countenance, of famous men, criminals, beautiful women. It will not be art, it is true, but at least it will be life, natural under all its make-up, clear, precise, and sometimes even cruel.

What he could not have predicted was the internet. Perhaps we have that to thank for making sure this rather gloomy final prediction hasn't yet come to pass: assured that books will be forsaken by all the dwellers upon this globe, and printing will absolutely pass out of use except for the service it may still be able to render to commerce and private relations; and even there the writing-machine, by that time fully developed, will probably suffice for all needs.

So, what did his fellows think of this prediction?

This after-supper prophecy had some little success even among the most sceptical of my indulgent listeners; and John Pool had the general approval when he cried, in the moment of our parting:

"Either the books must go, or they must swallow us up. I calculate that, take the whole world over, from eighty to one hundred thousand books appear every year; at an average of a thousand copies, this makes more than a hundred millions of books, the majority of which contain only the wildest extravagances or the most chimerical follies, and propagate only prejudice and error. Our social condition forces us to hear many stupid things every day. A few more or less do not amount to very great suffering in the end; but what happiness not to be obliged to read them, and to be able at last to close our eyes upon the annihilation of printed things!"

Oh, John Pool! If only you but knew how many more stupid things might be spoken than written!

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Novel Idea: Afsar

(click to enlarge)

I think it was an interview with Ken Follett who said that, whilst writing, he would pin his character notes to the wall along with pictures from magazines to help him visualise them.

Pictures are powerful, there's no denying.

I first discovered this whilst writing Angorichina, which was set in a tuberculosis sanatorium in 1930s South Australia. The idea for the story came to me whilst on an overnight stop there, travelling down through the Red Centre from Alice Springs to Adelaide. The place is now a backpacker's hostel in the Flinders Ranges.

The sense of history was tangible. It was an easy book to write because the characters wanted to be written. They put themselves on the page fairly enthusiastically. However, there is a big gap between reading about the history of a place and actually being able to see it.

In an incredible stroke of luck, the State Library of South Australia had put a huge collection of pictures online, including a large number from 1930s Angorichina. I found these quite early on in my research and would refer back to them whenever I hit a rut. It really brought the place, and its place in time, alive for me, and eerily contained one picture in which I've always felt I could see all four of my main characters: Sean, Joe, Heath and Charlotte.

The collection was hugely influential. If you ever care to look for it, you will also see the wog house, the fancy dress party, Sam's summer house, 'our home of happiness,' and Philip the bull. Not to mention this wonderful picture which became the cover photo and which prompted an e-mail chase around the continent to find the model of the car. It is apparently a Chevrolet Superior.

Perhaps one of the most influential photos of all was a snap someone thought to take of the graffiti on the wall of Cornell...

Sometimes it's the little things that set the imagination aflicker.

Everyone liked Heath, he was a good-looker, a young lad of around twenty-three with slick black hair and a square jaw. He was only a farmer’s son but even so he’d learned to read music and his clothes were always well chosen. He didn’t say much, but when he did it was worth listening.

There are some things that could never have been written if I hadn't been able to see them. Try dreaming this delightful piece of apparatus up!

Genito-Urinary Manufacturing Co Ltd
The box contained a round silver cylinder with a pressure gauge attached like a pocket watch. The two were connected by a length of thick rubber hose which continued into a coil on the inside of the front panel. Also on the inside panel were a number of steel tubes, each a couple of inches long. An involuntary shudder ran through me when I saw them. Heath took my hand and squeezed reassuringly. I turned my head to look at the ceiling instead.

This is really a post dedicated to the importance of the visual world - of photo archives and Google Image - to the business of writing stories. Even if you can't see something first-hand, you can usually find a picture.

The photo at the very top of this post is of a young Iranian lady during the period of the Qajar dynasty. I have been looking for photographs of national dress for quite some time and only just discovered this site on Sunday. 

As with the group photograph of Angorichina, I knew instantly that I had found my main character. The moment I saw her, I knew that it was Afsar. There could not be a more perfect representation, right down to the pout.

Funny to think that a photograph taken right at the very dawn of photography can still seem so relevant and alive today. I wonder what the original model would make of the story I have written for her.

Quite often when writing, serendipitous things occur. It's as thought in conjuring stories you attract the attention of some cosmic sentience which wants to come and play. Part of my research for Blood Rose led me to the topic of Zoroastrianism, something which I find deeply engrossing as one of the most tangible origins of both mysticism and organised religion. It's endlessly fascinating.

Yesterday, in a completely non-writing-related capacity, I received an e-mail from the Zoroastrians themselves, asking for help in completing a project they are trying to establish.

I'm not sure where that will lead, possibly nowhere, but it does leave you with the sense that the universe has given you a friendly nudge.

Monday 12 August 2013

The Serial Dater's Shopping List

Last night's shenanigans prompted me to post this a little prematurely. 

I'm currently halfway through Morgen Bailey's debut novel The Serial Dater's Shopping List. You can pick up a copy on Kindle for under a quid.

31 dates in 31 days – what could possibly go wrong?

Isobel MacFarlane is a recently-turned-40 journalist who usually writes a technology column for a newspaper based in Northampton, England, but her somewhat-intimidating boss, William, has set her the task of meeting 31 men, via a local internet dating site, all within a month.

Having an active, though fruitless, social life with her friend and ‘Health & Beauty’ colleague Donna, she knows what she wants in a man, so creates a shopping list of dos and don’ts, and starts ticking them off as she meets Mr Could Be Right Except For, Mr Not Bad, Mr Oh My Goodness and Mr Oh So Very Wrong.

Follow the ups (there are a few) and downs (there are many) of the dating process and intertwined with her experiences, get to know her colleague and family, including her niece Lola who, apart from being an amazing storyteller, can eat ambidextrously whilst wearing a Princess glove puppet on her right hand, and Baby, William’s non-too-healthy African Grey parrot. 

The reason I felt compelled to post early is because regular readers will know that several months ago, on a previous incarnation of this blog, there was talk of Col, Morgen and myself doing a real-life shopping list for the bloggesphere. Pretty much the plot of this book in real-time. Sadly, that's gone to pot with Col deciding he'd rather go to the Middle East than suffer the dating scene in the UK. Harsh, but, having now read The Serial Dater's Shopping List, I completely understand where he's coming from.

This book is a tour de force of Northampton, its night life, its highlights, its live wires and its living dead. It can either be viewed as a commentary on the online dating scene, or a warning. I'll let you know when I get to the end. Either way, it's fun and frivolous holiday reading.

Sunday 11 August 2013

Adrian Magson
Image from LeftLion Interview

I was at a lovely leaving do last night for a friend who is heading off to teach in Kuwait. Whilst there, I happened to bump into Adrian and Ann Magson, who I met very briefly last year at NGBG's 1st Anniversary Party in Northampton, during booQfest.

Authors L-R: Marion Grace Woolley, Morgen Bailey, Adrian Magson,
Paul Magrs, Jane Lovering and members of the group.

It turned into a really interesting night with our friend Jo, talking about all manner of book-related things. We discussed fairytales and how they've been hijacked by Disney, the difficulties of writing sex scenes and unleashing darkness when parents might be reading, the problems of publishing versus marketing, and even what to do with a nemesis novel.

I came away much enthused.

As well as being a top bloke, Adrian is also the author of several highly successful crime novels. You can find him online, on Twitter and on Amazon.

Friday 9 August 2013

Nemesis Novel

I have such a cool cartoon to post about editing, but I've filed it away until I come to edit Blood Rose. For the time being, this beautiful art will have to suffice as a representation of the turmoil going on inside my mind.

Someone asked me the other day how the 'writing thing' is going.

I couldn't think of a succinct reply, so I poured another glass of wine.

I haven't completed anything new in over a year. That's quite a scary thought. Splintered Door, my collection of short stories, is something I'm proud of. I think it's actually some of the best stuff I've ever written.

And then... silence.

In a lot of respects.

It feels as though I've been standing still for a while now, and part of that problem is the thorn in my side referred to as 'the nemesis novel'.

It's a story I felt I had to write, rather than a story I enjoyed writing. There's a saying that you write to work out what you think. I ended up forming a collage of chaos out of fragmented experience. I suppose, if I had to talk about it in literary terms, it's partly a Casual Vacancy, in that it's a collection of stuff I lived through that I really needed to get off my chest, and, on the other hand, it's a Tragic Universe in that there's no particular plot to it. It's a story for a story's meandering sake, rather than a story with the reader at heart.

I never thought that I could write 85,000 words that I wasn't proud of. Worst of all, I'm not entirely sure why I'm not proud of it. There is something in the other three novels that I know this one doesn't have. 

Does that mean it isn't a valid story? No, it is valid. It's just a very different kind of story. Perhaps, to throw in a Family Guy analogy, it's a Brian to my Peter Griffin, my Stewie, and my Quagmire? Maybe it's just a little too close to my own voice to be comfortable?

Or perhaps I'm just afraid of poor reviews? Which is a lousy reason to turn your back on what you've written. Writing is a skill and it's through mistakes that we take that skill from a hobby to an art.

Things have picked up recently. I'm writing like a mad thing on Blood Rose, and I love it. It will be the best thing I've written by the time it's finished. I think I'm bringing everything I've learned over the past four novels to the table, and then some.

At the same time, I asked my dear friend Ruairí, who is now a qualified proofreader, to go through the nemesis manuscript.

My publisher hasn't turned it down flat, but she has been sitting on it long enough to give me the impression she may be trying to think of a polite way of saying 'no'.

Perhaps it's because I was so engaged with my first three novels: Angorichina, Lucid and Georg[i]e, that this one feels a bit foggy. I don't think that there's actually anything particularly wrong with it. Nobody has thrown it back in my face snorting 'this, madam, is trash!' The nearest it's come was Ruairí's assertion:

Finished the book and really enjoyed reading it... I ended with the feeling that the pace was very much the same throughout but I think that is more a function of the very deliberate way you have to read through a text when you are proofreading, so I want to have another go.

No, I think he's right. This is where the Tragic Universe bit comes in. As we learn from that book, a level pace goes against everything we're taught as writers, but it can sometimes be acceptable. After all, what is a story? Is there a point? Does there need to be?

Perhaps that is my problem with it. If you write to work out what you think, and in so doing you realise that there probably isn't a point to your thoughts, what, then, does that say about you as a person, yet alone a writer? I don't know - and that irritates me.

Sorry? Another glass of wine? Don't mind if I do.

The long and the short of it is that I can't leave things undone like this. 85,000 words is too long to simply erase. Whatever I think of it now, at some point, once upon a time, I did see a point in writing it. 85,000 words worth of point. So, one way or another, I do need to do something with it.

My 1k a day writing regime with Blood Rose has been fairly pleasurable. I love this story. I'm in love with this story. The characters write themselves, it's that easy. Yet I'm also OCD enough that I have to complete things in a certain order. I know that I will never be able to fully enjoy this new novel whilst the cloud of the old one continues to loom.

I am currently forcing myself to edit one chapter a day of nemesis novel, making the changes Ruairí has suggested. This sounds pretty good going until you understand that, the way in which this novel is written, a chapter equates to two pages of A4 or less.

I have to accept the fact that I am completely incapable of being objective about it anymore. The best thing I can think to do is to get through the edit and send it out for beta reading. See what my nearest and dearest think of it.

Only then can I make a concrete decision as to what to do with it.


Panic hits me as I wake. Where am I? I grope in the dark, trying to find a light switch, then the street lamps outside the window gradually reach my eyes and I remember.

A sound makes me look towards the bed. There is pressure on my hand, as though someone is squeezing it.
“Noel?” I whisper.
A muffled sob.
“Noel – are you awake?” I squeeze back and rub his hand gently. “It’s okay, it’s Maya – I’m here.”
I hear him inhale, thick and shaky.
“It hurts—”
“I’ll get the nurse,” I say, reaching over and pressing the button by his bed.
A moment later, a young woman enters the room.
“He’s awake,” I explain, “and in pain.”
She turns on a lamp by the other side of the bed. Looking around, I take in the other two patients properly for the first time. They are in an even worse state than Noel. One is bandaged from head to toe, his left leg raised in a sling. The other has his eyes covered and the stub of one arm bandaged below the elbow, at the point of amputation. Land mines, perhaps? Victims of a war that ended several years ago?
The nurse injects Noel with something, then raises a cup of water to his lips. He drinks thirstily, resting back against the pillow with a shudder.
“I have given him medicine to stop the pain,” she tells me, throwing the needle in a yellow bin by the door. “He is suffering from shock.”
She leaves the light on, for which I am eternally grateful. Even though his face is a mess, I prefer it to the disorienting dark.
“It’s me, Maya,” I repeat. “Do you know where you are?”
“The hospital,” he replies, eyes closed.
“That’s right. We’re getting you home,” I say. “Your family are waiting for you. When you’re ready, we’ll airlift you to them.”
“What about Max and Tochi?”
He must be talking about the other people in the car. This is the moment I’ve been dreading. I could lie for the sake of his health. I could tell him I don’t know. But then he would urge me to find out. I would have to tell him the truth eventually. Can he take it, after all he’s been through?
“I’m sorry.”
His bottom lip tightens and he nods. “I think I knew that,” he says.
“Do you remember anything?”
“You can’t remember what happened?”
“No. The last thing I remember – we were in a village, up in the hills. I can’t remember where. We’re with a room full of blind people. Doing a consultation. I remember—” he breaks off. I rub his hand rhythmically. After a moment, he starts to talk again. “There was this one old woman, she was blinded in the war. Her husband and her two daughters were killed. All she had left was a son.
“He was just a little thing. Everybody told her to stay home, to live off charity because she was blind. But she said ‘no’. She was determined to work, to live as an independent person. Someone her son could be proud of.
“She was telling us how she would go out every day, how her neighbours taught her to use the tools again. She had to re-learn everything. Adjust to being blind.
“But she did it. She earned money to buy food and clothes. She worked the fields with her little boy tied to her back. Then, when he got too big for her to carry, he sat under a banana-leaf shelter to keep him safe from the sun.
“One day they were hoeing the ground, preparing to plant crops. All of the women stretched in a long line, bringing down their blades on lumps of hard earth to shatter them, softening the field so that the plants could grow taller.
“They brought their tools down, and raised them up, and brought them down again,” his hand twitches at the wrist as though he might illustrate if he had the strength.
“This lady, she brought down her hoe, and she felt a soft thud. She told us that she knew. In that one moment, she knew what had happened.
“Her little boy had wandered in front of her. Being blind, she hadn’t seen him. Her only remaining child, the one that she had protected from harm, had worked so hard for – dead.”
He starts sobbing, eyes scrunched closed, tears streaming down his face.
My entire body turns to lead. I can’t climb onto the bed, it’s not big enough. I can’t wrap him up in my arms because he’s too damaged, I would hurt him.
There is nothing that I can do but continue to sit exactly where I am, holding his hand.

Thursday 8 August 2013

500 New Fairytales

King Golden Hair 

After nominating Einstein on my A-Z of authors list yesterday for his fairytale quote:

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.

I logged into Twitter this morning to discover this lovely news:

A whole new world of magic animals, brave young princes and evil witches has come to light with the discovery of 500 new fairytales, which were locked away in an archive in Regensburg, Germany for over 150 years. The tales are part of a collection of myths, legends and fairytales, gathered by the local historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (1810–1886) in the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz at about the same time as the Grimm brothers were collecting the fairytales that have since charmed adults and children around the world.

I hope they take their time translating them, I've yet to get through Philip Pullman's retelling of Grimm's Fairy Tales.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

A-Z of Authors

Inspired by this lovely article: A is for Achebe: Who Makes Your Author Alphabet? I decided to put together my own A-Z of authors:

A: Adichie, Chimamanda, for explaining the danger of a single story.
B: Booth, Martin, for his biography of Aleister Crowly.
C: Corlett, William, for Now & Then.
D: Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee, for her beautiful, poetic prose in everything she writes.
E: Einstein, Albert, especially for his fairy tale quote.
F: Freundlich, Jeffry P., (AKA Jeff Lindsay) for the Dexter series.
G: Gaiman, Neil, for Mr. Punch in particular.
H: Hunte, Bem le, for The Seduction of Silence.
I: Ibsen, Henrik, I suppose. Having difficulty thinking of another.
J: Jones, Diana Wynne, for Howl's Moving Castle.
K: Keane, Fergal, for covering the Rwandan Genocide in Season of Blood.
L: Levi, Primo, for writing about Auschwitz with such incredible humanity.
M: McEwan, Ian, for his short story Butterflies.
N: Nietzsche, Friedrich, for his 'owning yourself' quote.
O: Orwell, George, for Animal Farm and The Pagan.
P: Pratchett, Terry, for all the joy of Discworld.
Q: Qajar, Shah Naser al-Din, diarist and lead character in my new novel.
R: Robinson, Bruce, for The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman.
S: Sampson, Fay, for her Daughter of Tintagel tellings.
T: Thomson, Andrew, as one third of the Emergency Sex trio.
U: Updike, John, is the best I can think of, for The Witches of Eastwick.
V: Vātsyāyana, Mallanaga, for the Kama Sutra.
W: Wong, Jade Snow, for Fifth Chinese Daughter.
X: X, Malcom, only one I can think of.
Y: Yan, Mo, for writing several books I'd like to get around to reading.
Z: Zora Neale Hurston, for her 'fear is the most divine emotion' quote.

Wow. That was actually a lot harder than I thought. Not just the difficult letters like Z, X and Q, but narrowing down the popular letters like F, P and S to just one.

Still, it's done now and I'm sticking to it!

Please do share yours.