Thursday, 5 August 2021

I've Been Vaccinated


This morning I got a message that over 40s can now get vaccinated in Kigali, so I hopped a moto down to my local clinic and got Pfizered! Feeling so happy. You can find the global vaccination map here, and more about vaccination inequity here


List of Private Clinics Currently Offering the Jab in Kigali

  1. Hopital la Croix Du Sud (Kwa Nyirinkwaya)
  2. Plateau Polyclinic (Nyarugenge)
  3. DMC Hospital (Kicukiro)
  4. Nyarurama Adventist Polyclinic (Gikondo)
  5. Kigali Citizen Polyclinic (Remera)


Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Wunderkammer der Kulturgeschichte


 

My friend, author and academic Leif Inselmann, who is helping me with all things Mesopotemian in my Sargon novel, has just started a very cool blog: Wunderkammer der Kulturgeschichte (The Chamber of Historical Cultural Curiosities). 

It is in German, but you can easily run posts through Google Translate.

As he explains in his opening post:

Was humanity really visited by aliens in the distant past? What forms the core of old myths and legends? And what misconceptions do we develop when we learn about history?

Mankind’s past is a cabinet of curiosities: puzzling myths and legends where the truth is hard to distinguish, archaeological finds that can’t be easily understood... history has always been a reflective surface for the ideas of later generations: from the Sumerian King List to ancient aliens, humans have transfigured, reinterpreted and distorted the past. 

His blog aims to explore curiosities in the fields of history, archeology, and mythology, to explore discorse in academic research around these topics, and review literature. If you're into all things fortean, check it out.

Monday, 2 August 2021

The Left-handed Booksellers of London

 

Recently finished this after my friend, Cassie, mentioned it on Facebook:

In a slightly alternate London in 1983, Susan Arkshaw is looking for her father, a man she has never met. Crime boss Frank Thringley might be able to help her, but Susan doesn't get time to ask Frank any questions before he is turned to dust by the prick of a silver hatpin in the hands of the outrageously attractive Merlin. 
Merlin is a young left-handed bookseller (one of the fighting ones), who with the right-handed booksellers (the intellectual ones), are an extended family of magical beings who police the mythic and legendary Old World when it intrudes on the modern world, in addition to running several bookshops. 
Susan's search for her father begins with her mother's possibly misremembered or misspelt surnames, a reading room ticket, and a silver cigarette case engraved with something that might be a coat of arms. 
Merlin has a quest of his own, to find the Old World entity who used ordinary criminals to kill his mother. As he and his sister, the right-handed bookseller Vivien, tread in the path of a botched or covered-up police investigation from years past, they find this quest strangely overlaps with Susan's. Who or what was her father? Susan, Merlin, and Vivien must find out, as the Old World erupts dangerously into the New.

A fairly gentle read. Overtones of The Reivers of London, Diana Wynne Jones, and Emma Newman's Split Worlds series. 

The lead male character, Merlin, is a little Howl-esque. A slightly vain, fashionable fop with intense magical abilities. I like the main character, Susan, who was more than capable of keeping him in check - a child of the 80s. 

I just checked my clips/notes, and found I only made one, which is a little unusual for me:

A tree is strong, but the wind is stronger. A stone is strong, but the sea is stronger. The sun is strong, but sorrow is stronger. 

So, yes, it was a nice book especially if you like your folklore of the British Isles. The Old Man of Coniston and the summer solstice play a large role. A little bit of 80s nostalgia in there, including mention of a Swatch. I get the sense this might be more enjoyable in tree format, read over long winter nights beside the fire. It's got that sort of oldy London atmosphere that doesn't entirely translate to the sun-bleached equator. Seems like the set-up for a series. 

Sunday, 1 August 2021

P-Script

National Geographic

 

I've started a new novel!

Working title P-Script (the actual title I have in mind is way cooler). It's something that's been rattling around in my brain for a while, and I'm hoping to keep it down to around 80-90k.

Like Creeper's Cottage, it's all about those abandoned places, but this time it's 250 years in the future. My first attempt at sci-fi and I'm excited. The first chapter is down. I'm someone who researches a lot, and I've always suspected that futuristic novels take just as much research as historical ones, because you need to be aware of so many trends and scientific developments.

This one's inspired by Hans Rosling's statistics and the current trend in Japan and Italy. The implications of this on the economy, health care, and housing fascinates me. I had a guest staying from Abuja recently and we got talking about the far future, and it really sparked my imagination and made me think I should get on with writing this. Historical fiction is all about explaining other people's thought processes and why they did things, but here, I get to invent reasoning that hasn't yet happened. It's kind of liberating.

And, don't worry, I'm not abandoning Sargon. Things are actually going okay there. I think I've fixed the first chapter, and I'm busy resetting the tone. It's not looking quite as bad as I first feared, and I even had someone contact me asking if they could be a beta reader. I'm chipping away at it in between P-Script and a couple of other projects.

I've been really enjoying a couple of Netflix series as well, one on music, This is Pop, and the other on films, The Movies that Made Us. Kind of a trip down Nostalgia Avenue, and absolutely fascinating how many blockbusters were rejected by every agent in town.

So, soldiering onwards.

Saturday, 31 July 2021

Musical Interlude: Meat Loaf


I fucking love Meat Loaf.

Every now and then, I write a line and have to stop because it reminds me of a song, and I have to honour that song by going off to listen to it. Today I had two, on two different projects. The first was:

They laughed a lot, and when Masarru looked at him, he was certain he saw something that wasn’t there before. 

Yeah, you've guessed that one. But which version do you prefer - modern or vintage?

I'm probably going to change that line, it's a bit too cliche.

The second project:

Shy had only been ten when their mother disappeared. Sometimes she resented her brother for having half a decade more memories of her... He had a clearer image of who she was and how much she had loved them. Whereas there were a lot more things Shy felt unsure about. A lot of things that felt hazy. A lot of dust on the rear-view mirror. 

So, of course, I had to take a Meat Loaf moment.

My go-to cooking song is the one below. Food just cooks better to it. And I never get sick of Ellen Foley. I mean, you'd offer your throat, right? 

(On a related note, I just searched Netflix for 'Rocky Horror' and it suggested 'Glee'! No, Netflix. No. Bad Netflix.)

I really need to do more musical interludes, it's been too long.


Friday, 30 July 2021

The Savage Detectives


Contrary to popular belief, I do actually own some physical books. They're pretty hard to come by, and often quite expensive, but, occasionally, people leave and let me peruse their bookshelves, or in the case of my neighbour, Didier, simply deliver a large bag of books to my door. 

These books are precious, but also usually a few decades old. 

One such book was The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano. 

New Year's Eve, 1975: Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, founders of the visceral realist movement in poetry, leave Mexico City in a borrowed white Impala. Their quest: to track down the obscure, vanished poet Cesárea Tinajero. A violent showdown in the Sonora desert turns search to flight; twenty years later Belano and Lima are still on the run.

Well. What a read.

It's very rare that I'm confused by a book, but I struggled to follow this one. It totally stumped me for a moment.

It's written in three distinctly different parts:

  1. First person, single character. A really believable story of a young poet, Arturo Belano, breaking into the Visceral Realist scene and having lots of sex. Told as diary entries.
  2. First person, multiple character, telling of sightings of the two poets, Belano and Ulises, on the run. told in numbered chapters.
  3. Back to Arturo's diary entries, as an old man, explaining what happened that night in the desert.

Quite an undertaking, and not a traditional narrative structure. For that reason, it should be praised. I do enjoy it when a book trashes tradition and tries something new.

However, I can heartily advise you not to buy this on audio, as I did. I have a paper copy of the book, but I rarely have time to read, so I prefer to get things on Audible and listen in the shower, whilst cooking, and before bed. 

The reason I say 'read it yourself,' is because the audiobook is read by two men: Eddie Lopez and Armando Durán. They do a fantastic job, however, half the male characters are queer. Because there wasn't a female narrator, I couldn't tell the female characters from the gay men. When it switched to the eye-witness accounts in the middle, it confused the hell out of me. I'm usually pretty good at distinguishing the difference between a man and a woman on sight (not always, but most of the time). However, when two people are having sex - and they both have male voices, and all the characters were male before... you just assume... 

So, yeah. I became suspicious when one of the men kept referring to himself as another man's 'girlfriend' or 'woman,' but, nowadays, that in itself isn't a complete decider. When one of them began talking about her smelly fanny (in the UK sense) I definitely twigged. Although I got the general gist, it certainly added an extra layer of mystery that I don't think the author intended.

Two other good reasons to read the tree version is:

1. There are illustrations at the back. In the audio version, you get the text without the illustrations. There's also four pages of jokes about Mexicans that include illustrations. Though, these don't make a whole lot of sense either with or without the illustrations. 




2. It's an encyclopaedia of poetic form. Arturo reels off obscure word after obscure word for poetics. It's quite fascinating, but you'd never know how to spell half of them if you didn’t have it written down:  asclepiad, spondee, archilochian, zejel, syncope, tetrastich, and the list goes on. Interesting for poetry buffs and pub quizzes.

So... by the time I got to the end, I appreciated it because I understood what was going on. I didn't enjoy the switch from part one to part two, partly because of the aforementioned confusion over the gender and sexuality of the characters, and partly because I found the first part really engaging. I was fully invested in the main narrator when it suddenly switched to loads of stories from other people. I felt a bit detached, which I think was the point - set adrift in the world. Still, I did lose interest a bit.

There was randomly some mention of Kigali and Angola in there, but it felt more like adding the names to sound exotic, rather than giving a real sense of place. I also wonder, as it's about poets, whether he chose those places simply because Rwanda rhymes with Luanda. Probably not, but it was confusing to listen to. 

One thing I couldn't help thinking about was how much it reminded me of Carlos Ruiz Zafón's work (The Shadow of the Wind quartet). There was something about respect for poetry and authors in the theme, and about the writer deconstructing himself, that felt similar in style. Although, Zafon's work is much easier to follow. 

All in all, I'm glad I read this as it was a lesson in alternative structure. However, it also highlighted the pitfalls of this when translated to audiobook. I think authors have to be a bit more mindful nowadays of how their work might translate to other media, as audiobooks are becoming increasingly popular. I also think it was an interesting point that, nowadays, it does help to have a female narrator narrating female parts if they're written in first person. Just to avoid any confusion.

Thursday, 29 July 2021

Let the Fuckwittery Begin


 

Oh no!

It's bad.

It's really bad.

Feeling a bit down at the moment. Just started the edit on Akkad, and it's a complete train wreck. This is a new experience for me as my first drafts are usually pretty strong. But this one strongly sucks. The reason for this is that it isn't the story I initially set out to tell. It was only supposed to be a short prologue to the other character - and that's how it reads. It feels like a sideshow rather than the main event. 

I knew it was going to need some fixing, but I didn't realise quite how much. If I'm going to pull it out of the bottom drawer, it'll need some serious rewrites and an ambiance injection. The characters feel a bit cartoonish, the dialogue wobbles wildly between formal and cazh, and it's just lacking that weight that good historical fiction carries. That sense of gravitas. Which, for a guy like Sargon, is non-negotiable. 

I spent much of yesterday panicking and trying to set fire to my laptop. I think the 'end' key is entirely melted to the motherboard now. This morning, I took a few deep breaths, told myself to woman up, and took another look. Initially, I hated it so bad I wanted to completely start over. I'm still considering it, but I'm going to have a go at fixing it first. I've started resculpting the first couple of pages and I think there's a glimmer of hope in there. I just need to deepen the tone. A bit like painting, I've done the blocking in, now to bring the colour and fine detail. 

The other thing I need to do is really get my head into that timeframe. Again, because I thought it was just going to be a prologue to this other character, my mind had raced ahead a bit and was preparing to dive into another story. I need to rewind and become fully present in these opening pages. 

I found this really nice talk by historical fiction authors Steven Saylor and Steven Pressfield. I really liked it, and listening to authors talk about their process makes me feel more relaxed. I could identify with what they were saying and I've bought a couple of their books to look at their openers. I'm revisiting a few of my favourite historical fiction books to study their openers. Although I've been writing historical fiction, I've been reading a lot more contemporary work recently, so it really helps to immerse myself in the genre I'm aiming for. There are so many styles in historical fiction, but there's also a sort of undercurrent that unites them all. I need to grab hold of that. 

Meanwhile, I have a couple of other infant ideas on the go, so I'm going to play about with those in between editing meltdowns. It'll be nice to have other projects to work on so that I don't become too blinkered and obsessive. It helps to put this one project in the context of a much broader creative process. 

Wish me luck.


Monday, 26 July 2021

Akkad - First Draft Complete!

Woop, woop!

The first draft of Akkad/Sargon is complete. I worked over the weekend to get to the end. It rests at 147,979 words.

Feeling rather pleased and relieved. Made a little video to help me get to the end.



Going to start a leisurely edit in between a few other writing projects I have on. Might be a while before anything's ready to read, but it's so nice to finally have something solid to work with.

Friday, 23 July 2021

Vanity Fair


I've just finished all 31 hours and 1 minute of Vanity Fair, narrated by John Castle. Possibly the second longest audiobook I've enjoyed, after Victor Hugo's 67 hours and 53 minutes of Les Mis.

I throw my hat down. I am a huge Thackeray fan. Yes, there was a bit of arbitrary racism and sexism in there, he was a man of his age, and that age was the 1800s. But, that's why I like classical works. You don't read a novel from the 1800s to feel like you're living in today. You read books like that to time travel, and seeing how society has changed makes you all the more surprised by how much we share in common.

The man was an astute observer of human character. And human character may have dropped a few of its thous and therefores, but it ain't that changed. Just fascinating, and very entertaining. When I was in my early twenties, my partner at the time sat me down to watch Barry Lyndon, another of Thackeray's works, saying it was his favourite film. It took me a minute to get into it, but by the end I loved it too. If you haven't seen it, do.

I did actually see the movie of Vanity Fair. It got pretty average ratings, which I guess you expect if you go up against a Kubrick adaptation (Barry Lyndon). Having now read the book though, I actually think it was a pretty decent adaptation, with very acceptable casting. All except for the Marquess of Steyne, who is far less attractive looking in the book. I wouldn't change that though, as I've adored Gabriel Byrne ever since The Assassin. From what I recall of the film, there was also a much happier ending for Joseph Sedley than there was in the book, and I felt so much more for poor Dobbin in the book, bless his heart. I think the film scrimped a little on his final reconciliation with Amelia, though Rhys Ifans was a good casting call. 

All that aside, the most interesting thing that I discovered in this book was that George Osborne had a horse called Greased Lightning! As in, that's where greased lightning comes from! Who knew?




Now we all do.

Interestingly, there's also a Captain Kirk in there. 

As with all these long novels, I make so many notes, so won't go through them all. I'll focus on the broader observations. 

Something I find quite charming about older works like this, is the way authors like to title their chapters, explaining to the reader what the chapter is about: Chapter Five, in which [this happens]. It's kind of cute. Though, Thackeray, Hugo and Leroux (if I recall correctly) can't help but interject as the author. Thackeray uses this to give the whole thing a sense of realism, claiming to have met Major Dobbin and Mrs Osborne on his travels. I can't decide if I like that or not. There's nothing wrong with it, but it feels slightly uncomfortable. A couple of characters did ejaculate on the page, but far fewer than in Les Mis.

It was also interesting to hear mention of the Castle of Udolpho, and I can't help wondering whether Thackeray was as much a fan of Ann Radcliffe as Jane Austen was? 

Speaking of Radcliffe, one thing I loved about The Romance of the Forest, was reading her French character's observations on the English. There was a nice paragraph in this on that subject:

In fact, our friends may be said to have been among the first of that brood of hardy English adventurers who have subsequently invaded the Continent and swindled in all the capitals of Europe. The respect in those happy days of 1817-18 was very great for the wealth and honour of Britons. They had not then learned, as I am told, to haggle for bargains with the pertinacity which now distinguishes them. The great cities of Europe had not been as yet open to the enterprise of our rascals. And whereas there is now hardly a town of France or Italy in which you shall not see some noble countryman of our own, with that happy swagger and insolence of demeanour which we carry everywhere, swindling inn-landlords, passing fictitious cheques upon credulous bankers, robbing coach-makers of their carriages, goldsmiths of their trinkets, easy travellers of their money at cards, even public libraries of their books - thirty years ago you needed but to be a Milor Anglais, travelling in a private carriage, and credit was at your hand wherever you chose to seek it, and gentlemen, instead of cheating, were cheated.

There was also a fascinating line about Germany and the difference in how divorced women were viewed. I'd love to know how true this is:

Love and Liberty are interpreted by those simple Germans in a way which honest folks in Yorkshire and Somersetshire little understand; and a lady might, in some philosophic and civilized towns, be divorced ever so many times from her respective husbands, and keep her character in society.
How much easier life would have been for so many if that were correct. 

Some interesting turns of phrase in there that felt rather modern: 'forget and forgive,' which we usually reverse today as 'forgive and forget.' He alludes to keeping up with the 'Joneses and the Smiths,' and the 'lottery of life,' and I wonder whether these phrases were first written by anyone else? 'Lottery of life' has a Shakespearean ring to it. There was a play, The Lottery of Life, by Brougham in 1867, but Vanity Fair predates that. And 'keeping up with the Joneses' - is that where we get that from?

There was a very cute put-down from the lips of Lord Steyne:

My wife is as gay as Lady Macbeth and my daughters as cheerful as Regan and Goneril.

And, on that note, it's time to pour a cognac and suck upon a cigar, that most 'pernicious vegetable.' Well, five a day it is, then.

A most enjoyable and entertaining read. 

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Akkad at 140k and Final Chapter


 

Yesterday, my WIP crossed the 140k mark and I'm now on the final chapter.

There is an epilogue to follow, but I'm rather amazed at my ability to guess the length of my own books nowadays. I'm not sure if it's a self-fulfilling thing, where it's 140k because I say that's how long I think it will be, or whether I've just written enough books now that I can make a fairly accurate guess as to how long a story will take to tell. I know I joke, but I do want to start writing shorter books again. 

Unless, of course, this one does well - in which case it's 200k all the way, baby. 

The working title for this one was Akkad, but the true title is going to be Sargon. It is a revised telling of The Legend of Sargon, the first man known to have founded an empire, and the inspiration for The Scorpion King II, though, I believe, undeservedly. He's made out to be a villain in that, an unstoppable military might, but, to be fair, I reckon the guys he deposed were up to some shady shit. At least, they are in my version.

I meant to write the story of Sargon's daughter, who is also extremely interesting. His story was supposed to be a footnote in that, but he hijacked me and by 20,000 words I knew there was no turning back. Hopefully it'll be okay. It's going to need a lot of work in the edit, but I have a lovely academic expert on Mesopotamian history to help me. I hope I can sew it all together. That's the problem, the higher the word count, the further to fall. That's a lot of words to ditch if you can't make it sing. 

Everything crossed.

I'm feeling pretty happy, though. I think it's been an adventure. It's always exciting when you get to the last few pages. That anticipation of having something solid, tangible, to work with. 

On a slight side note, what has writing this novel taught me? Well... it's taught me that my native land was a slow starter. Four-and-a-half-thousand years ago, the inhabitants of the British Isles were living in mud round huts, erecting giant phallic monoliths:

BBC Travel

Meanwhile, in Mesopotamia: 



Multi-story buildings, balconies, bath houses, and temples that touch the sky...

Y'know, if you had to choose...

So, a few more pages to go. I'm looking forward to them, because I like the ending of this one. I'm looking forward to writing it down. It is, of course, the set up for the daughter's telling, and that will be a very different book entirely, but - one thing at a time.

One hundred and forty thousand words.

That's pretty good going.


Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Operation Mallard

 

Thought I'd share this lovely story about high-flying ducks by science-fiction and fantasy author Emma Newman (she did the audiobook of Rosy Hours). A heartwarming tale of a mother duck who was up at the quack of dawn to put all of her eggs in one bucket. Emma also recently did a really fascinating piece on being diagnosed with autism after years of misdiagnosis. Worth checking out.

Saturday, 17 July 2021

The Waste Land



Goodness, that was an intense evening. 

I was researching something, which led to a reading of The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot. I was slightly surprised I'd never heard it before. I adored poetry when I was a child. I grew up surrounded by the Oxford Book of Children's Verse, Edward Lear, and various other compendiums of children's poetry (when was the last time you heard the word 'compendium'?). I had contemporary work too, such as Please Mrs Butler, and collections that included Benjamin Zephaniah and Shamsur Rahman. I even named one of my hamsters Shamsur. In adolescence, I hit my sultry phase and fell in love with Shelley, Byron and Rosetti. If there was a goblin market or a wisp on the morass, I'd have my face pressed against it. In fact, I wrote a lot of poetry before I ever wrote a novel. Which fascinates me now, when I lecture in the history of creative writing, because, as a species, we appear to have begun with written verse long before creative prose. 

It's funny, but I never write poetry anymore.

Sometimes, I look through the competition listings, and I think how much easier it would be to enter poetry competitions instead of prose, because they're invariably much shorter. Usually around forty lines versus a minimum of two-thousand words for short stories. But I never attempt it. I've lost the knack. Poems are often shorter, but they're damned hard. You need a certain lucidity of thought that is much easier to find when you're young. I think it's because your emotions during adolescence are so strong and unfettered. Deeply-felt emotion is the raw material from which poetry is formed. When you get older, and especially if you train yourself to write novels, you shackle your thoughts with reason and chain them up in order. It's no longer possible for many people, myself included, to reach in and take hold of those feral thoughts. Not in the way that's necessary for really good, honest poetry. I think that's why so many of the greats died young, went mad or ended in tragedy - poets don't always function well within the constraints of society, and those constraints are particularly tough in this modern age. There's less space afforded to rhyme over reason, which is what Eliot is talking about above. Words, and the rhythm of words, that you instinctually understand even when you can't explain them. 

Anyway, if I'm going to be brutally honest, I always got T. S. Eliot confused with C. S. Lewis, for no good reason other than the initials. I'm sure Anthony Hopkins playing C. S. Lewis in Shadowlands didn't help, either. When I think of Till We Have Faces, I have to pause and think about it for a moment. I also get him confused with Rudyard Kipling, and had to Google 'who wrote The Path Through the Woods.' I think the Oxford BoCV and other compendiums messed with me a bit as a child, because they grouped so many famous poets and poems together that they blurred a little. I was always more interested in the verse than the author at that age, it's not like you could just Google them and learn who they were. So each became each other. 

I vaguely recall learning once that T. S. Eliot was responsible for the collection of feline poems which the musical Cats was based on, including the notorious Macavity. I had forgotten that fact and just relearned it. The other thing I didn't realise was that the title of Iain Banks's novel Consider Phlebas was taken from a line in The Waste LandConsider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you. Interesting nugget of knowledge. He also wrote The Cocktail Party, which I have a strange reminiscence of. I have a strong feeling that I studied that play at drama school when I was around sixteen or seventeen. I feel like I remember acting parts of it out, saying the lines, but it's a very faded memory of a studio room... and I can't quite tell if it's real or not. Perhaps I will read that at some point and see if any of the lines jog my memory.

So, he's a penman I know in passing, but had never really read. 

This reading by Alex Guinness - wow. I just fell for this. It brought back every reason I ever loved poetry and, again, I'm surprised I'd never read it before. It's right up my alley. What surprised me is that it reminded me of both dated and contemporary poets. I feel like there's a moment of Dylan Thomas in there and also Kae Tempest. There's something about 'hurry up please its time,' (sic.) and the general day-to-day moments, the simple observations of people's lives amidst the more dramatic imagery, that makes me think of both Thomas's poems and Tempest's Brand New Ancients. I find that link fascinating, that poets from long ago and right this moment both bring humanity's fears and fierceness together over a simple pint. And there's a rhythm around 'If there were water we should stop and drink, Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think,' that is wholly Tempest in her flow. If there's a poet reading, I'd love to know what that particular rhythm is? Is it just IP, or is there something more to it? I don't have the technical language to describe the way poems are constructed. 



So, yes... a very nice evening yesterday. I really should read more poetry. 

Just after I wrote all of that, I found the following - very 80s - documentary about  The Waste Land. It was really interesting to hear that others feel part of the success of the poem is owed to its ability to echo the voice of other poets, and to its attention to the details of daily life. That's mildly reassuring that I do still have a partial ear for poetic form.


Thursday, 15 July 2021

Akkad at 135k+ - Eeep Momen



I made it through the wilderness, oooh oooh... 

All hail Enlil! Father of creation, so divine not even the other gods may look upon him... Yeah, the more I get into this, the more I reckon the Bible would fail a TurnItIn test on ancient literature.
  



Just stumbled out of Enlil's temple at Nippur, into the bright light of Chapter Thirty.

Over 136,000 words and feeling good. The war is over and I'm back to exploring matters of the heart: friendship, love and lubricant. It has been a long, rolling conquest of Sumer, and I feel I've walked every step of that journey with grit and - hopefully - eloquent prose. However, I'm really stoked to pick up part of the story I left off many chapters ago, and to bring it all to a neat conclusion. I reckon I'm two, maybe three chapters from the end of this novel, and I'm feeling confident.

I've cleared the next couple of weeks to get this done. It's amazing how relaxed and well you feel when you have a project you're engrossed in, and you have the time to work on it without distraction. I've become very protective of my hours. I can see the end, I'm running towards it. 

Thanks for sticking with me. I know it's exceedingly dull to listen to writers whinge about how hard writing is - but it is. I mean, it can be. It can be super simple when things are going well, words just fall onto the page, but when you lose that spark it becomes a real slog. Ironically, most of us get through difficult writing by writing about how difficult writing is... it's a weird type of therapy. Possibly unhealthy.

I reckon the rest of this one will be fairly plain sailing now, though. It's an ending that I'm looking forward to, because it sets up the next novel very nicely. It seems crazy to be thinking about doing this all again so soon, but this novel was only ever supposed to have been an introduction to the next one - it just ran away from me a little. Despite the lengthy invasion, and battles not really being my forte as a writer, I have enjoyed myself immensely with this one. It's funny, when you get to the end, you sort of forget a lot of what went into it and you're just proud to have a finished book. 

Onward!

Monday, 12 July 2021

Economic English



If you'd like to improve your academic or report writing skills by writing shorter, sharper sentences, then check out this unit I've just released. There's an exercise to try out and a video in which I walk you through how I approach editing a piece of technical writing.

Friday, 9 July 2021

Akkad at 130k



Aaand we're moving again.

Managed to dig myself out of the mud and added 6,000 words to the manuscript in the past three days, so now we're at 131k. Oh my goodness, it's going to need so much work in the edit. I've reached the point now where I've lost track of places and people, and literally just use 'woman said,' 'they arrived at place,' as holders until I can go back through, Excel everything, and fill in the blanks. But it keeps the story moving forward. Let's just call it the base coat. Fine detail comes later.

I can see the end from here. Uruk has just fallen, Zage-Si is on his way to Nippur in chains. Need to go wash the weapons in the Southern Sea, then back up to visit the Temple of Inanna at Uruk, and the surprise ending. 

I mean... so much work. Unbelievable amounts. It's going to need an industrial sander. 

There's a bottle of bubbly in the fridge left over from my birthday. Think I'll crack it open once the final page is down. 

Really need to start writing shorter books. 



Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Neverending Story


My 80s writing metaphor for today.

Perfect depiction of my current WIP.

I have made no progress in over a fortnight, and not sure how to start moving again. To be fair, I've been marking end-term papers for my undergrads. It's been quite nice as their end-of-term paper was to write a short story and their presentation was to read the first page. There's been a really nice range of genres and ideas. More fun than marking technical writing, that's for sure. 

But I've also been hit by crippling self-doubt and general end-of-book nerves. I usually hit this when it comes to wrapping up a book. It's that terrifying realisation that you've written 100,000 words that might be crud. When you get this far through, you honestly can't remember ninety percent of what went into it. I am looking forward to editing, I think, but I just can't quite get to the end. I know what needs to happen, but if I never get to the end, I can pretend there's still endless possibilities. Once it's down on paper. That's it. It's done.

So, I've been doing the only sensible thing - rewatching Hotel del Luna, starting Orphan Black, and drinking cheap Chinese baijiu whilst consoling myself with light-hearted romantic dramas. Ganbei!

I release the final grades today and handed in my end-term report. My contract with the university is at an end. I have a couple of things lined up, but nothing starting immediately, so I now have all the time in the world to sit and enjoy my existential crisis. 

Anyway. The book must end. I must write it. 

As of tomorrow I'm forcing myself back into a writing regime.

Twenty thousand more words and I reckon I'm done. 

We've pretty much gone back into lockdown in Rwanda at the moment. Restaurants are doing delivery only, and the curfew dropped from ten to six. I could really use a change of scenery. If it was normal times I might have wandered off somewhere by the lake to hole myself up and write, but for now it's the same four walls as always. Just need to slap myself into action. I'll be fine once I start, it's just getting those first few lines out.

Like just about every writer in the world, now that I have to finish this book, I've got a hundred new - and, naturally, better - ideas for other books. All of which I have to start immediately. That's the standard writer's response to a difficult novel - complete aversion. 

Years ago, I used to send each chapter to my friend Martine as soon as it was done, and that spurred me on to write the next chapter and the next. As a novice, I was constantly editing as I went. Then the books got a bit more complicated and a lot longer, so I stopped doing that because there were too many holes and mistakes in the rough drafts. I miss having that impetus to churn out the next chapter, though. It did really help. However, Akkad is a complete train wreck of complexity. The first person I'll be sending drafts to is my friend Leif, who is an expert on this time period and can weed out any inaccuracies and help to add detail. After that, I'll start sanding it down until it's smooth enough to show people. 

Just got that 20k left to climb over.

A molehill that feels like a mountain.

Everyone knew that whoever let the wordcount overtake him would sink into the swamp...

Sunday, 4 July 2021

Siren 918x

 

Quick music update. Clip of my lovely cousin, Sali, playing with vocal loops above. More from her on Facebook.

And my friend's daughter, Denise, has just released her end-term project for university. It's a fabulous song that makes me think Bond. You can find it on DeezerSpotify and Amazon. Show some love.




Saturday, 3 July 2021

Biographical Writing


I've just added a unit on biographical writing to my free online writing course. This looks at how to plan out your autobiography and offers some exercises for autobiographical, biographical and memoir writing. You can find the unit here, and the full Writing101 course on my website

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

The Untamed Squeee Post

The hair... oh my GOD, the hair.

I've just finished the final episode of The Untamed, and this is an unbridled squee post of pure joy. It was absolutely brilliant. I have to admit, I really don't know what to do with my life now. Going to miss this a lot. Is there a support network, rehab centre or something? Sure, it was fifty hours long, but it could have done with another twenty or so.

Just so much fun.

Kind of crap that they had to censor it because of repressive government stuff, which is undeniably ridiculous in this day and age, but the actors were amazing and did such a good job of getting the emotion across (or, like, no emotion at all in Yibo's case).

It's currently trending at nine stars on IMDB, which is really good going, and totally deserved. I think at least five of those stars are entirely for hair...

So, this is just a fun post bowing down to all the silly shit on YouTube and the wonderful fan art. 

It's currently showing on Netflix at the moment, but if you don't have that, the whole thing is also on YouTube. Just be advised that the first couple of hours are pretty confusing and you won't understand what's going on until much later. Just let the first few episodes wash over you. Once they reach Cloud Recesses it'll all start to fall into place.

So, on with the show. I'm loving the fan mashups. Example below. Best example ever at 5:00.



Thinking this should probably be the new official trailer:



More silly fun here and here (and no, I don't think Jiang Cheng is pissed off at him for being gay either, it's all the (many) other things, but it is still funny - the recorder music cracks me up every time).

On to sumptuous fan art. Almost all of these were on Pinterest and if you right-click using Chrome you can image search them to find original sources.


陈情令官方微博

             










Sadly, not enough of the Ghost General and Lady Wen. More needed!

Also, we must not forget to worship the Tortoise of Slaughter...



The coolest contacts ever known to man...


And, just, being a boss...




Totally and completely loved this series. Up there with Hotel del Luna. I watch a lot of Korean series, but this was my first C-drama (Chinese drama). My friend says I need to watch Word of Honour next, but I'm taking a moment. I really am going to miss these guys. 

Desperate to get the novel on Audible, but there's no English version yet. The moment that comes out, I'm all in. 

Boooo to censorship! But yay, so much yay, for making this! 

Friday, 25 June 2021

Gill's Blog Interview

 


As I've mentioned before, I have a short story out later in the year with Bridge House Publishing. 

Ahead of that, I've just done a little interview with their CEO, Gill James.

You can read the interview here and you can find Gill on her website and Twitter.


Saturday, 19 June 2021

Akkad at 125k + 400 Pages




Yikes, finally made it to 125,000 words on Akkad. That's just over 400 pages of double-spaced TNR 12pt. You may have noticed I've slowed down a bit. After a very productive couple of weeks, I wrote myself into a corner during a battle scene, and it's taken several days to figure out how to get out of it. 

On the move again now, marching towards Uruk to take down Lugal Zage-Si. 

I must admit, I do not enjoy writing battles very much. I either feel like I haven't thought it through carefully enough or that I've thought it through too carefully. But I think I'm managing to keep the pace rolling on this lengthy campaign. Sargon was a sort of Alexander the Great character of his day, so he covered a lot of ground. 

I feel there's still quite a bit left to go and the word count did worry me a little as it's now the longest book I've ever written, but then I look at George R. R. Martin's wordcount and I feel totally fine again. His Song of Ice and Fire books ranged between 293,000-415,000 words (rounded). 

I know that editing this is going to be seriously tough. Without blowing my own trumpet, most of my previous books came in without too much editing required. Even Children of Lir (120,000) was pretty well formed. But this one is going to be utterly crazy. Usually my edits drop the word count, but I think there's quite a bit of detail and a little extra research to add here, and some scenes to insert to make sure the whole thing feels like it was well conceived from the beginning - which it absolutely wasn't. That wonderful Neil Gaiman quote: the second draft is the step in the process where you make it look like you knew what you were doing in the first draft.

I must admit, I am looking forward to it, though. Mostly, I do enjoy editing, because it means the hard part is over. I know editing isn't easy, but it's not as difficult to be creative when you have material to work with. Filling up that blank page in the first place is way harder. 

So, plodding along.

See how it all turns out.

Friday, 18 June 2021

Writing101 Free Writing Course



I'm currently in the process of putting together a free writing course, based on my university lectures. It includes foundation units on descriptive writing, literary perspective, character development, writing dialogue, worldbuilding, biographical writing, and useful tips on laying out your manuscript for submission and improving English grammar. You can find the course here, on my website. If there are additional units you think I should add, please do let me know. The course is completely free, but there is also a paid option in some of the units to receive personalised feedback on your work.
 

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Advice for Entering Writing Competitions

I have a story coming out later in the year with Bridge House Publishing. I started entering short story competitions again this year after a long hiatus, and I've really enjoyed it and had some success. Bridge House sent some feedback to writers after the competition closed, so I thought I'd break it down and add my own tuppence worth. Just a few tips and tricks to give yourself a better chance of success.

Sunday, 13 June 2021

Thunderlands


I picked this up recently. It's one of the rare occasions an author has tweeted me suggesting I check out their book for free, and I've done so. I was in the mood for a set of short stories and I liked the title. 

A bolt of lightning. A crack of thunder. The lingering smell of ozone in the highly-charged air.

And the world has changed forever.

Welcome to Thunderlands. It looks the same on the surface, but there's just a hint that all might not be what it seems beneath. Even the most ordinary things may be just a touch off kilter.

Stewart Bint’s collection of 21 short stories ranges from the sublime, through powerful, puzzling, funny, horrific and different, to the unforgivably ridiculous.

The Kindle edition was free that day, but I noticed there was also an Audible version for only £2.99, so I bought that. It's quite unusual to find people giving away free ebooks that also have an audiobook version.

The stories were entertaining, and most of them very short, though there was one in there about a stamp collector, Money to Burn, that was probably the best piece of flash fiction I've ever read. It was so clever and so horrifying at the same time. One of those little gems that sticks with you and you find yourself still thinking about a few weeks later. 

Now, I'd always thought of Santa Clause as a kindly old man who loved children. So, it came as a shock to find he was appearing in court, and the charges fair made me gasp. Cruelty to children, they were. Who'd have believed it?

An easy listen, and some interesting ideas. He's very good at changing perspective, so you think you understand what's happening and then you realise you don't. One moment you're looking at a steam train, the next at a model railway. Nicely done.