Saturday, 28 March 2020

House of Melodies

My blog has become a stream of musical interludes and book reviews lately. It's been a long time since I posted anything meaningful about writing.

I'm going to explain why that is.

Basically, I finished writing a book a while back and it sucks. It wasn't meant to suck. It was a really good topic - about post-mortem photography and the history of photography, split between Victorian England and today. Victorian England is weirdly a genre I love in computer games but detest in general. Okay, The Ruby in the Smoke, that was good, but usually it just doesn't float my boat, so I probably shouldn't have written about it. Only, you kind of have to if you're talking about the history of photography, and post-mortem photography in particular.

I've been going through trying to transfer the hard copy edits to the soft copy since the start of the year. It's three months now and I just can't finish it. I can't tell if that's because it's tediously boring to everyone or just to me. There's something about it I don't like and it's definitely not the book I intended to write. But sometimes I write things I don't like and other people write to tell me they did like it. It's utterly impossible to be objective about your own work. 

I don't think it's bad enough to be a bottom-drawer novel, but it's not what I wanted it to be. 

So I don't know what to do with it.

And that's been the sticking point. I feel like I can't move on to another project if there's something left unfinished like this. It's a wall I can't get over. And there is another story I've been meaning to tell. It's another historical fantasy, and I've been researching it for almost as long as I haven't been able to complete Secure the Shadow, but now I've lost all motivation for both books.

I've had no interest in writing anything for ages. 


Not a single twitch of the fingers.

What I have been doing instead is practising the piano. You may know that I have a piano-building project in Kigali. I tune and fix other people's pianos whilst trying - extremely slowly - to build one of my own. Ironically for a piano technician, I play very poorly. But that doesn't stop me trying, and with the C19 lockdown, I've been trying even harder. What I learn to play often links up with what I've been watching on Netflix. Yesterday, I mastered the theme tune to Jurassic Park. One of my favourite pieces is from The Notebook. At the moment, I'm bashing away at Georgiana's piece from Pride and Prejudice, although I was mostly watching Pride, Prejudice and Zombies.

Anyway, I usually practise with the mute on so as not to upset the neighbours. The only time I take the mute off is when it rains. We get some really full-on thunder storms here and, as we all have tin rooves, no one can hear a thing whilst it's raining. I learned the very beginning of Victor's Solo from Corpse Bride, and I call this my 'rain song'. It's the first thing I play when the rain starts because it's so delightfully Gothic and suits the whole thunder and lightning backdrop perfectly.

It was whilst playing this last night that I got to thinking how spooky it would be to live in relative isolation with no discernible neighbours and to hear a piano playing, but only when it rains. Something slow and melancholic, obviously.

The thought just sort of landed, as all the best story ideas do. I think it's because I've been playing computer games recently. Lamplight City and the incredibly atmospheric Call of Cthulhu. Games were always the driver for my desire to build worlds and tell stories. I think I've probably spoken about my love of MUDs before. I haven't played anything in forever, but rejoined Gog thanks to the lockdown. I think it's oiled some rusty connections in my brain.

With no more than the thought of a piano in the rain, I sat down and emptied 2,000 words onto the page. That's more fiction than I've written all year and it was really easy.

I think I was afraid of doing something like that because, 1) it doesn't help finish Secure the Shadow and 2) it isn't the next novel I had planned out and started researching. It's something completely fresh, which could so easily gobble up 100,000 words and turn out just as bad as Secure the Shadow or worse. I've written a few bottom-drawer novels and the older you get, the more you realise how much time they represent. 

It's unpleasantly upsetting that the book I wrote about death and dying has taken a huge chunk of my life that I will never get back. I still don't know what to do with it. I've set aside this weekend to try to stay awake long enough to complete the edits, order some changes to the cover, and reorder a proof copy. 

I'll be amazed if I make it.

I'm thinking I might just self-publish it on the side without any fanfare and forget it exists. 

Though that's difficult, because it'll be out there for someone to read, and I've mentioned how I feel about my backlist. This book doesn't feel good enough to publish and it doesn't feel bad enough to bin. It's a nothing book. It says nothing, it contains nothing... it's instantly forgetable. 

But, if I can't get over that and write something else, I don't think I'm going to write again. I'm just afraid that what I do write will be very disappointing. I want to write this historical fantasy I was thinking about but at the moment I doubt I have the skill to do it justice. I can't afford to mess it up like the last one

The nice thing this random story has taught me, if only for an afternoon, is that writing can still be fun. I still enjoy it. And I enjoy it more when I haven't planned it. When the story is wide open to me. 

It's also a good old-fashioned ghost story, and I adore those. I love reading them, I love writing them. I don't know why I don't do more of that. It was always the dark, ghostly things I was drawn to when I started writing. Simple stories. Abandoned places and lost souls. 

Recently, someone tweeted about Creeper's Cottage, the Hookland novel I wrote. It's a book I think few people have read, but I had a lot of fun writing because it didn't require any research. It was all about story rather than real dates, places and events. I felt very free writing that, even though it was set in somebody else's world. Pure ghostly goodness. 

It makes me sad that I don't talk about writing anymore - and that I don't write much anymore. The start of this year wasn't much fun, and in times of stress I often bury myself in work and movies rather than the page. This time of isolation has given me a bit of breathing space to explore things I used to enjoy, such as RPGs, and bored me enough to be creative. My mind has had a chance to wander and it's come back with an idea. As I have nothing better to do right now, I may as well follow it.

Working title: The House of Melodies, music yet to be written.

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