PROCRASTINATION

I don’t normally watch videos of ‘writing advice’. It seems the wrong medium somehow – a bit like listening to a podcast about how to paint. Although of course both can work within their limits quite well.

So it was with some surprise I came across this YouTube video of one Alexa Donne. Entitled:

HARD WRITING ADVICE‘ (Mostly for new writers).

I nearly clicked on to whatever it was I was originally looking for, before I paused at Ms Donne’s enthusiasm and surprisingly ironic approach.

I was glad I did.

Most of her advice is fairly self evident to an old git like me – I have never posted on reddit – but for my children’s addition to YouTube compilations I would barely be aware of it much less post complaints about why I’m not being published more or ‘brainstorm’ my novel (who works out plot and character with strangers in a public forum?). The ‘just write advice’ is good and she puts it over in an amusing, ironic, yet oddly supportive manner. I am ashamed to say I have not read her books, perhaps as she is a Young Adult author that is not particularly surprising. Who knows though, as part of my ‘read wider’ campaign I may take a look.

While on that theme I looked back at my rambling on that idea and was very surprised how narrow my ‘canon’ seemed. Checking on accepted versions of the ‘western canon’ I was reassured my version is wider than that but I should have included more women and foreign language writers, it’s not like I don’t read them, but I appear to be as guilty of unconscious bias as any. I’m not sure Georgette Heyer and Austen get me off the hook here.

Also, who gets in the more modern lists? I need to look at more American authors for one thing and South Asian and African books.

But in the words of Ms Donne that is procrastination – go and write!

READING OUTSIDE THE COMFORT ZONE

I’ve deliberately been trying to read things that don’t immediately appeal to me in recent months. That may sound odd, but I find that I can sink into a groove of ‘cosy’ reading, safe reading, if I am not careful. Not necessarily in the sense I saw ‘cosy’ used recently in the blurb for a Kindle Daily Deal book – a cosy country house murder. I know what they mean, it uses the trope of a murder as the key to a cerebral exploration of relationships in a single setting and leaves clues for the reader to be cleverer than the fictional sleuths. Fair enough, I quite like the genre myself to be honest, not so much Agatha Christie though for some reason. My mother liked the Georgette Heyer murder mysteries and I guess it rubbed off. But the term ‘cosy’ about the untimely ending of a life, however much of a rotter these elderly, financially secure, smug, and sometimes plain horrible victims deserved to be whacked over the head with the lead piping in the drawing room, seems inappropriate.

However.

The cosy I mean is the tendency to pick a genre, demanding or frivolous, and stick with it to the exclusion of other styles or genres of writing.

My sink holes of laziness tend to be spy stories, and military history. I love le Carré, Deighton, and then a whole plethora of writers at what may be unflatteringly called the second tier in the genre. Many of them were regarded as top rank in the Cold War heyday of the genre, but have not withstood the test of literary time. I had an unfortunate loss of many of these paperback books from the 1960s and 1970s some years ago, so I cannot simply go back and re-read them to check my suspicion that some of them owed their appeal to the immediacy of the threat which ended c1990.  Acquiring second hand or e-book copies is not always simple, and when I have bothered I have often been disappointed.

This genre has been appealing since I first read ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ on a train back from University one dark winter’s night in the early 70s. An impulse buy on the way to the station I started at the top and have been searching for a repeat of that sudden realisation I was unexpectedly reading something great.

Of course the purists would sniff at that word for a ‘genre’ writer, though Le Carré has surely transcended that slur? But my ‘cosy’ reading does not just consist of those two genres. I have been through phases where my go to literary relaxation has been RL Stevenson, Bram Stoker, Evelyn Waugh, Orwell,  Terry Venables (yes the football manager – the Hazell series), Austen, David Lodge, Malcolm Bradbury, the tumbling Brontës and Allan Mallinson. Eclectic enough possibly and read because I liked them all. Others, particularly some of the accepted western literary canon, have bored me to tears, while others have found a place in my heart and my mind. Turgenev I like – he has the great virtue lacking in many Russian authors of being brief and concise. War and Peace I have never finished. Likewise Don Quixote (and I know Cervantes was Spanish, not Russian). Many of the ‘classic’ writers lurking in the back rooms of the ‘canon’ seem to have been paid by the yard – yes Dickens is one of those great short story writers who strung them out into novels that outstay their welcome by several tens of thousands of words. Steinbeck may have been a great social chronicler but his writing just doesn’t grab me. Hemingway I don’t think gets a seat in this musty Valhalla according to the band of smug gatekeepers. I can’t make my mind up whether they are right or not. People certainly talk about him pretentiously enough for him to make it, but he was probably too popular. Does anyone read him these days? For pleasure? If not he should certainly go in.

I’ve read Virgil, in translation and struggled with bits in Latin at school. He’s okay – needed a good editor.

But the point is what should I be reading now to open my mind a bit?

Maybe full form literature is the problem. Perhaps blogs, vlogs, YouTube, the Twittershpere, Instachat and Snapagram are the modern literary canon?

I have been reading some Paolo Coelho recently, and Sebastian Faulks, Henryk Sienkiewicz and Anthony Horowitz. I’ve enjoyed all of them, including the Sienkiewicz, but possibly the latter only because I started reading With Fire and Sword in 1986 when an American friend lent me the book. I returned it, unfinished, c1990 and restarted reading a kindle version at the end of last year. It seemed to have changed in the interim but I suspect that was my memory rather than a rewrite, as Sienkiewicz died in 1916.

All of these were probably books that I would not have read without a conscious push to read ‘new’ stuff although I have to confess having started reading Horowitz when I stole borrowed my daughter’s Power of Five books. I’ve never read any of his Alex Rider books, which I am sure is unforgiveable.

So what next to shake my brain?

That of course is the point. To see how others have transcribed the world and experience, real or imagined, into the written word. Not to steal ideas, styles or plots but to be aware that there are other ways of doing this.

I wrote a large chunk of a novel in the form of transcripts of telephone intercept some years ago when that was a less well known activity. I am tempted to dig it out to see how it reads now. It was of course simply an extension of the epistolary novel exemplified by Richardson’s Pamela, Stoker’s Dracula or Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole. Others have brought it up to date with things like ‘Texts from Jane Eyre’, so I have missed the novelty boat in any event.

Maybe burrowing into the horror of social media is real answer.

THOUGHTS ON ‘OLD HABITS’

Yesterday saw the last part of ‘Old Habits’ posted here.

I was going to say that the initial idea was about eighteen months old, but that was the last time the original file was altered before I started this rewrite for the blog. The start of the file was easily a couple of years before that, probably more, and the germ of the idea before I put fingers to keyboard was about ten years ago.

I suspect on reflection that some of the implicit timelines underlying the story work on this basis and may be stretched if one assumes it is a current event.

It started life when I was writing a fair bit about the idea of a retired, or semi retired, or possibly disgraced, former intelligence officer of some kind dragged back into a world he used to inhabit. The central conceit being that although he is generally out of touch he can still hack it, and does what he was unable to while he was working and solves, resolves or otherwise brings some sort of closure to a singular problem of his service period that he failed to address successfully then.

We’d all like a second chance at bits of our past I suspect. Or at least we think we would.

It is a story, not real life so I quickly put aside the reality that this type of revisiting past glories would take – an enquiry or a request to come and go through some old paperwork – and took a step into the more unlikely but infinitely more entertaining world of unsanctioned violence.

I was unsure when I first sat down to write this piece, or what became this piece, where it fitted. I had several starts to the basic story and in most of those, his marriage had gone south and his wife, with or without the children, had left him. This cleared the way for a more dramatic beginning chapter with actual violent action on the page, rather than the off stage version in ‘Old Habits’. It happened in his home and was not at all premeditated on his part.

The initial scene of ‘Old Habits’ in the house would easily have fitted in a couple of versions as a later part of the overall idea and could in fact have been the denouement, assuming I could tidy up the clash between absent family and present family.

So the initial draughts of the piece came out at about much the same length as the current short story but were full of discursive pieces, and not just about the type of tea he made. There were extensive tell not show thoughts as he checked and loaded the gun and made sure the electronic kit was working. This moved the action on hardly at all. By the time, in subsequent draughts, I had got him to the woods, where the showdown with the men who had been instrumental in effectively ending his career, originally took place, it was much longer and I was bored.

Looking at the story as I left it, unincorporated into the novel I thought it might belong too, it became clear it had way too much explanation jammed into it. This was probably because I was almost making notes about plot that should/would have been dropped in throughout a much longer novel. Or I was just horribly over writing it.

When I sat down and looked at the explanations, plot devices and meditations, some worked and I have lifted them for incorporation into the still ongoing novel, and some have just been abandoned in the original unfinished piece.

What was left, plus some major changes, e.g. woods to abandoned market hall, have been turned into ‘Old Habits’. I liked the original concept but didn’t want to shoehorn it into what was clearly a different story, nor did I want to write a parallel piece that was exactly the same as the other barring a few details, like a recurring Guy Ritchie film. (If I could be as successful as him from the same shtick all the time I would probably jump at the chance).

So this what it turned into. I wanted it to be short. My short stories nearly always top out way beyond what modern markets seem to want, so I set a rough two thousand word limit on it and still came out c170 words over. Out went explanations of how he had managed to get hold of and retain a revolver and ammunition, more discursion on his taste in tea (believe me it sounded really cool when I wrote it) and most problematic; the detailed explanation of the reason for the act of violence and the description of the reckoning itself.

One kind soul has suggested this emasculates the story and they really wanted a blow by blow, knock ’em down, drag ’em out, description of the encounter in the market and how the bodies were disposed of. For me that is a different, much longer story. To include that would have extended the piece to at least three thousand words and really would have unbalanced it. As part of the bigger piece of writing it would have been entirely appropriate and probably necessary, but I don’t think I could have done it justice in my, admittedly self imposed word limit.

I know because I tried, and ended up with lots and lots of scene setting, explanations, dialogue, flashbacks and action that could have become another novel in themselves, and may do some day. It didn’t however fit in a two thousand word short story.

So for better or worse, there it is.

There are I confess lots of questions about how, what and why. As long as there are no impossible answers that’s what I was aiming for.

JUST HORRIBLE

I was having a cup of coffee this morning while trying to compose an email to a friend about a military history quiz he had set. So engrossed had I become in trying to draft the email in a way that didn’t upset him further than an earlier comment had already, that I was surprised to find the Radio 4 programme I had supposedly been listening to had ended. I started to get up to switch the radio off – I know, a radio, a bit of a giveaway as to my ancient status. Even more so when you realise it is an insurance replacement for the one stolen in a burglary c1995. It was advertised as a ‘ghetto blaster’, not something that sounds very acceptable nowadays I suspect. Still works though, along with the inbuilt cassette player/recorder. Get back to me in another twenty five years and check if this computer is still working.

Anyway, when the continuity announcer gave the title of next programme, I sat back down again. Homeschool History is part of the BBC’s approach to helping parents fill the gap left by the closure of mainstream schools in reaction to Covid-19. I’d heard a lot of fluff about this initiative but not caught any of it. The announcement had me worried even as I sat down: ‘Join Greg Jenner for a fun homeschool history lesson…’ The word ‘fun’ in this context in my experience tends to mean anything but ‘enjoyment’ and usually messes up the subject involved; be it science, maths or history, the usual victims of this faux cheery approach.

In the event it was sort of okay. There was a little too much of the gee wizz approach, what a teacher of my acquaintance used to call the ‘WOW’ factor, in it for my comfort. There were sound effects to emphasise jokes and ‘amusing’ points and the usual attempts to make incest, murder and brutal battles ‘fun’. This approach (the WOW factor made such an impression on the teacher I mentioned that they actually imported the word into lessons all the time, with hand gestures, with bemused looks from the children in response) makes me cringe.

Now I know I have a problem in that I am on the autistic spectrum* and don’t always easily understand the appeal of some neurotypical interactions but why does ‘fun’ have to equal crass humour? The ‘story’ being told was that of Cleopatra. That’s another thing by the way. Why are we still telling history through the lives of great men/women? Good to pick her rather than Caesar or Mark Anthony I suppose but why reduce Greek/Macedonian and Roman imperialism to individuals? I thought we had moved on from this approach. Anyway, her rule, fight with her sibling/husband and manipulation of and by Rome for control of Egypt is surely gripping enough without interpolations of the equivalent of whoopee cushion effects?

Now I am obviously wrong as Mr Jenner and co have made a reputation and a lot of programmes based on Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories books. So this approach works.

Or does it?

There have been a lot of books sold. A lot of programmes made. But how much actual history has been conveyed. And what type of history? I haven’t read or seen a lot of them. Some, but the approach as you will have gathered drives me crazy. It’s like having a really annoying uncle, someone who was told a long time ago he was amazingly funny and great with kids, probably as a wind up, who now insists on reading you your favourite book but with his own added fart jokes. I talk to parents and they extol the virtues of these books. I talk to the kids and they go: ‘Nah mate. Silly.’

To be fair I have met a couple of children who have read and enjoyed them (though I have my suspicions they were saying so because their parents were present). I’ve met a lot more who have got them, been given them by teachers, parents, grandparent, aunts, uncles and family friends desperate to find a responsible present which also seems cool. Those books remain unread or flicked through and unremembered.

I was bought ‘1066 And All That’ by a much loved cousin when I was about ten because I was interested in history. It was too soon. I went off and did O levels and started on A levels before I came back to it one rainy afternoon. It was and remains a very funny take on history and historians. But you have to know history before it makes sense and you get the jokes. My feeling is that the Horrible Histories approach is trying to short circuit this process.

I worry this approach to history teaching is more about the ‘fun’ than the history. Those who don’t ‘get’ history will take the jokes and those who like history will either, like me, be put off the history, or get a really bizarre interpretation of what the subject really is about. Don’t misunderstand me; there was nothing ‘wrong’ about the history in the programme. The insight into Cleopatra being farther removed in time from the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza, than she is from us was brilliant. The view of late Roman Republican power machinations as solely interpersonal relations however was one that may take years at best to disentangle and in many cases will remain the sole, erroneous, takeaway point of the exercise.

That may not matter much if we are solely bothered about why the battle of Actium was fought, but if it reduces our approach to understanding current geopolitics to whether Donald Trump and Xi Jinping get along, we probably deserve all we get from our understanding of what history can teach us.

*Yes I do. Not self diagnosed, I have a note from a very nice consultant psychiatrist. High functioning but as weird as a fruit cake apparently – not the phrase she used, but you can read between the lines. It was a relief after all those years of wondering why I had to work so hard to understand what the hell was going on in normal life.

NEW WORLD ORDER: AGAIN?

BBC Radio 4 is running a series of radio programmes, podcasts and snippet articles linking them, under the umbrella label of ‘Rethink’ about what the ‘new normal’ could, and perhaps should, look like as we come out of our immediate reaction to Covid-19.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08gt1ry

It is a very worthy enterprise in many ways but I wonder if anything good is likely to come of it.

The whole idea seems to rely on a feeling that such momentous events have to be meaningful. In our past, and no doubt in some societies now, we would have said that they meant something in themselves. Meant perhaps that God was punishing us for some error in living our lives, individually or collectively, and we needed to change to avoid repetition of the harsh lesson being given us.

Not many in Europe would buy that interpretation now. The concept of a beneficent, all loving God wiping out between a third and two thirds of the world’s population (Black Death 14th Century) as a random hint to do better would seem odd today to most rational people.

However, we seem to need these large events to signify something. My suspicion, from experience however, is that we should be very careful of the idea that things ‘have to change’ and how that emotion is used in fact and by whom it is used to change things.  After the attack on the Twin Towers in the USA, within minutes of the attack in fact, people who were close to those who had been frustrated by the ‘gloves on’, ‘softly softly’, ‘apologetic’ approach to dealing with terrorism were using the mantra ‘this changes everything’.

Well of course it did, as it hadn’t after the other attack on the Trade Centre (failed), and the years of Irish terrorism and relatively minor attacks on western assets by various Islamist groups. It did so because it killed a lot of people and shocked all who watched it on television. It worked because the will and the ability of those in power or near enough to power to know how to push the right buttons, was there in abundance to seize the opportunity.

So we clung to the illusory promise of safety through the erosion of our civil liberties. We embraced the surveillance state, and the biggest crime of all, yet the one that receives least attention in the west, used the pretext to bring war and death to populations unconnected to the attack on New York and Washington, kidnapped people without trial and assassinated others on our belief they deserved it without recourse to any form of justice. We pushed back understanding between civilisations and created a climate of justifiable grievance and terror on both sides of the divide. A climate which of course justified more coercive control of society in the name of ‘protection’.

So forgive me if, when I hear the phrase, ‘things have to change’ I reserve my approval of that statement until I know how that change will be planned and what it will entail. Most (I haven’t listened to all the episodes of Rethink) of the thoughts I have heard about what the world should look like, are well meaning plugs about the concerns liberal thinking people in a western democracy have had for some years and didn’t know how to achieve: response to climate change, fairer distribution of wealth and income, racial equality and justice etc. all good aims as far as they go.

But for every 6 minute podcast on BBC Sounds as part of Rethink, you can bet there are a hundred meetings in board rooms, cabinet committees, senior police and security agency meetings wondering how to get round those residual problems of civil liberties that get in the ways of controlling populations, avoiding bars to ‘agile entrepreneurial response’ to crises and making sure the complete failure of the way business is structured does not crash the money train.

Yes, and again yes, we do need to change the way the world works, but just because ‘things have to change’, doesn’t mean they will necessarily do so for the better. I’m not against using this as an opportunity to build a better world, I just want to read the small print about what ‘better’ actually means. If it seems too good to be true: it isn’t true.

Let’s make changes by all means, but remember, the people currently with the power to make them made the old system that wasn’t working. And nobody sent Covid-19 as an opportunity for us to respond to; it’s just a virus out to replicate itself. It doesn’t signify anything.

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HEART OF OLDEN GLORY?

Someone sent me a link to a video of the band Capercaillie recently, which led on, as these things do on YouTube, to a tribute to the band Runrig. It was a video of their last performance in 2018 which came as something of a surprise to me as I had not realised they were still going in 2018.

That in itself was odd because I had been a big fan of theirs. I bought their albums, videos of their live performances and had gone to see them live sometime around 1992ish. I felt rather guilty that at some stage between then and now I had in effect deserted them.

My interest in them waned for a couple of reasons.

First because the lead singer Donnie Munro, who had given them a distinct and distinctive character, left the band c1997 to pursue a career in politics, and it changed the face of the band. I would have tried to maintain interest and given the new line up a chance, but that was a significantly changeable period in my life.

Secondly, one of the changes in my life was the loss of a significant presence in my life. I had seen the band with that person and there felt like a connection between the two events in some ways, and the ending of a period in my life. An ending which, at the time, I was not at all happy about.

That sort of thing I find is often not as major as it may appear at the time, but in this case I think it was more so. Within a five year period I lost the person I thought I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, I changed jobs, changed countries where I worked, found and lost another significant person, found my wife and had a major change of outlook about what I wanted from life, and both my parents died.

To say it was an emotional rollercoaster is a slight understatement.

There were also other things going on related to work that were… taxing.

The loss of the front man for a band I liked hardly seems relevant does it?

And in the greater scheme of things it wasn’t, and I barely noticed that I ceased listening to Runrig in particular and Gaelic folk rock in general.

To have this suddenly brought back to mind was a bit like opening a door. An unlooked for door, behind which you have no idea what lies.

Apparently it was my past.

Now I don’t want anyone to think that it has left me hankering for any of the things that lay in that past. The relationships, if not doomed by my weirdness, were obviously not meant to be – it takes two to tango and just because I or another person felt one way about things didn’t make it so for both of us, or at least at the same time to make it work. So they are gone and I wouldn’t be where I am now with the family I love if they had been forced to work any other way.

But it made me wonder what would have happened if…

If what?

Well if any of the other things that might have happened had happened. What are those things? Well having set that question up I am going to be a tease and not tell you the answers. Some of them are personal to other people who I still respect, have feelings for or who may sue me. Some involve the work I did and would have other consequences. I’m not being mean, well I may be, but I’m not intending to be. That wasn’t the point of the story.

So what the **** was the point?

I guess it may only be that I am getting old and the past has a rosy glow of false attraction because I was a younger, more positive and svelter version of myself.

Or perhaps more likely is that the emotional rush reminded me that there are choices and whilst we can’t go back, we shouldn’t just accept where we are now, and appear to be going, as some sort of destiny fixed on tracks. There are choices and alternatives at every stage of life: try and remember to make positive decisions rather than just getting swept along by events and others’ choices.

Or it may be that digging around in the rubbish tip of my brain has uncovered some memories of potential alternative timelines that could be repurposed for potential fictional development. As long as I, you, we realise that the moment you step off the path of what happened it ceases to be real and has no relevance to what are now or could really have been. As that happy go lucky, fun loving angst ridden Danish Christian philosopher Soren Kirkegaard once said ‘Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward’.

As a plotting device your alternative selves are gold dust, as a plan for your current life? Not so much. Just remember you make the choices now for the future not for the past.

Runrig, like the rest of that part of my life, are now history.

 

*Hearts of Olden Glory is the title of one of Runrig’s songs and one of my favourites.

FIELD TRIP WITH HORSES

My son and I went for a walk yesterday evening. It had been a hot and humid day and a thunderstorm had rolled close by without actually hitting us. It had however cleared the air a little and the evening was glorious with blue sky, golden sunshine and light friendly clouds. We walked through a field where two horses, a piebald and a chestnut, spend their days grazing, bickering slightly and trying to second guess what the people who walk the public footpath offer them. We offered gentle affection, stroking, patting and soft whispering praise. I don’t feed them. The owners no doubt know what they want the pair to eat and while the odd carrot or apple probably wouldn’t be an issue, if everyone does it, you can seriously upset a horse or pony receiving a balanced diet from its owner.

This pair is in great shape and while I, and my family who walk with me to see them, would undoubtedly get fun and satisfaction from feeding them, we have to think of the horses’ welfare. So affection, pats, attention, fine, but extra food, no. I wish I were so disciplined with my own diet!

The field this pair is in is great for giving them balanced natural grazing. When you walk through the field from the lane you drop down a short bank and walk to a brook that marks the field boundary. The low lying ground is something you rarely get any more; it’s a water meadow. It floods with heavy rainfall during late autumn winter and early spring and the area supports an abundant array of plants and herbs in addition to grasses.

As we walked on after saying hello to the horses, we crossed the brook, climbed the bank of the flood plain on the far side and looked inland up the valley. We started talking about how the growth and plants on the flood plain were different from where we stood on the shoulder of the valley. He told me all about how this land had been an inlet of the Severn estuary and ships had rowed up to the Roman capital of the Silures at Caerwent.  We talked about how the medieval castle, now landlocked, would have been on the banks of a quite significant marsh and river in medieval times. He knew the water flowing down the brook had produced a large intermittent lake even after the drainage of the Gwent levels. We discussed how the digging of the Severn railway tunnel had hit the aquifer that supported the lake and the pumping that kept the tunnel dry had drained the water more or less permanently, meaning the lake only reappears infrequently now.

We took a long time for a walk of a couple of miles but it was great to hear him so knowledgeable and full of enthusiasm about so much local and regional geography, history and economics. If we’d sat him down in a classroom and tried to stick all this in his head he would have been very resistant and learned virtually nothing. Letting him experience the geography first hand, look stuff up online, discuss it, read pamphlets from Cadw, connect it with one of his great interests, trains and then put it all together in the field has done wonders for his interest and is confidence in his own abilities.

What a great way to spend an evening.

Plus we got to talk to some horses!

NO DREAMS NO PACK DRILL

I don’t normally write about dreams or use them as a basis for stories. Even when I remember them as more than fragmentary pictures or scenes, they are what they are: snatches of electronic housekeeping in the brain. There’s no meaning or import to them. They don’t foretell any futures or have significance for waking actions or thoughts.

Generally I remember narrative strands as I wake but they rapidly fade into the most memorable ‘clips’ or pictures with a general feeling attached. This feeling is the thing that lasts longest and can colour the first moments of the day, but little more for me. Both the specific dream, and its concomitant scenes and feelings, disappear very quickly as real sensory inputs flood in.

There are exceptions of recurring dreams, which I can only presume are related to difficult things going on in my head from times when I was very stressed and/or things I am still worried about at a subconscious level. Don’t worry I’m not going to bore you with those.

Occasionally something makes me think ‘that’s odd, that would make a great story’. I forget 90+% of these before I get to breakfast, never mind the pen and paper or keyboard stage. As a result of worrying about possibly missing the best thing since Don Quixote, War and Peace or The Alchemist, depending on your preferences, I did start leaving a pen and paper next to the bed and jotting these amazing insights into the human condition down in my half waking state. All that created was disturbed sleep patterns and screeds of illegible gibberish or weird unstructured chop cut scenes like a Ken Russell film but not as unstructured as Six Underground, currently luxuriating in number one slot in my Worst Films Ever Seen list.

I don’t keep a notepad by bedside for dream capture anymore.

So if I don’t do it, why spend all this time gibbering about it?

Well I broke my habit and my rule yesterday and posted a story based on a dream.

‘Onward Movement Opportunities’ has a body wrapped in a white material sitting up and pursuing me at its heart. That and evading her and locking her in a room were all part of the dream. The rest was the padding around it to try and give some sense to the unease of those events. Actually there as a more unsettling part near the beginning of the dream where several bodies wrapped in towelling shrouds slid down a baggage carousel and bumped into each other, but I felt that wasn’t right for the story I was telling. On reflection I have no idea why it wasn’t but it felt wrong.

Like the rest of it was perfectly okay?

Still I broke a rule and thought it provided the inspiration for what turned out to be an okay short story. Albeit of a type I wouldn’t normally write.

Does this mean I’m going to start mining dreams for narrative fiction? Pretty sure I’m not. If there are clearly defined, easily manipulated concepts and visual sequences that last beyond coffee and toast, or bacon and eggs, then I reserve the right to put my rule aside again, but until then we are probably all safe from my electronic mental housekeeping.

WHICH WAY?

You aren’t interested in the writing process, or at least my writing process. I know because I’ve just read a blog by a writer of fiction who has published and knows and who told me (and anyone else who logged in) that was true. Apparently.

Which is odd because I’ve just read another blog by another writer, freelance but doing okay by the look of things, at least writing telling others how to write, that that is exactly what you want. They went about finding out in an apparently more scientific way by asking via a survey on facebook and on Twitter what people wanted to read on their blog. Some of the answers were scripts, templates, and workbooks, which let’s face it appear to be somewhat related to the writing process.

I occasionally do this: search for what people who write about writing and what people who read blogs of and about writing want to read. I want to grow the numbers of people who read what I write on here. So any hints I can get about what people like to read about are very welcome.

As you can see from the above and those are polar opposites picked from a lot of samples out there that illustrate the vast breadth of different opinions about what works, there is no consensus.

If one of the two extremes shown were an outlier, I’d be content to go with the other extreme. The problem is, the recommended paths are about equally divided between these two polls and all shades in between. If there were one true path I’d probably take it. But there isn’t. Now I don’t suspect either of these bloggers, nor many of the others out there between their positions, have a particular axe to grind that makes their opinions or findings dubious. In the myriad blogs out there telling you how to get more readers, make money, improve your seo profile, build a base etc. there are obviously some trying to make a fast buck and hang the consequences. But most are genuinely trying to pass on knowledge they believe to be true. Wisdom that they have gleaned from experience. What has worked for them.

Now not all these pieces of advice are mutually exclusive, you may want to see script development in all its glory and want to know about the writer as a person, but some of these bits of advice can’t all be right.

I’ve been told to avoid too much ‘me’ in blog posts, make it about the story. Don’t give too much away about my work, make it about me as a person and build a base for publication.  Post example short stories. Remember that’s the first publication rights b******d, don’t post your stories for publication. Post excerpts, don’t give plots away, protect your ideas, tell people about your family, make yourself human, don’t tell people how difficult the publication/agent process can be, you’ll look needy, like a loser, expose your soul, project the person you want to be.

I guess a lot of it depends on what you want your blog to be; what is its purpose?

I like writing and want to share that with people.

If they get to know a bit about me at the same time, that’s good.

So although I’ll keep looking for insights into what other people think I should be doing I think I’ll just keep writing what I like and what I can, and hoping you like it too.

Thanks.

 

Photo credit: <a href=”https://visualhunt.co/a5/abe729″>Dan Guimberteau</a> on <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/re7/4f99c40b”>VisualHunt.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”&gt; CC BY-NC-SA</a>

TIK TOKKING IN THE DARK

My daughter, still on release from University thanks to the response to the threat of Covid-19, and not going back until at least October, has now decided to relieve her boredom by gyrating and muttering, she alleges musically, to herself around the house. It is not unusual to find her in unlikely spots stepping left and right and sliding and waving her arms about.

I am told this is in response to something called TikTok.

I’m playing with you here. I know what Tik Tok is.

It’s what for some reason we call an app. Why the word program was deemed unsuitable anymore is beyond reason, although the difficulty some of the tech generation have with pronouncing two syllable words may have had something to do with it.

It’s basically Vine with a slightly longer play run.

If you don’t know what Vine was – 6 second vids – you’ve probably seen the YouTube compilations of kittens falling asleep, dogs chasing their tails and raccoons eating garbage; all that remains of Vine since Twitter bought it and killed it in a desperate search for a profit.

There was obviously a huge market for Vines, hell, even I liked them.

Instagram no doubt had a hand in the death of Vine with a 15 second video app, which stole some creatives, but it never made the hit Vine did. Possibly because:

In stepped Musical.ly with much the same idea. You’ve heard of musers right? No?

Not surprising – they got bought by ByteDance, a Beijing company who already owned …

TikTok.

Musical.ly, started by Chinese business people, was big in the West, Tik Tok was five times bigger in Asia.

They ran together for a bit, then Byte Dance merged them under the Tik Tok brand. Fifteen seconds is your limit and the world went mad for it. ‘Lockdown’ was a blessing for them and teens and wannabes (my aging daughter is 20) have gone crazy for it in the quiet of having to pause and not be distracted by actual real life.

I’m not suggesting the Wu Han outbreak was a marketing plan by Chinese tech entrepreneurs, that would be a little bit crazy, even for a devoted conspiracy nut (which I am not by the way). It was however a great opportunity. A void to fill.

So my daughter substitutes Hegelian dialectic with Tik Tok dance, and an oblique reference to Darwinian competition in international soft power relations and I go slightly demented.

In the meantime, my son, a big Tik Tok fan via You Tube compilations and challenges until a few weeks ago – curiously enough the same time my daughter started her syncopated rhythmic circuit training – now scorns it and her antics. He is thirteen and I had presumed the target age range for the app. Maybe they have already jumped the shark. My daughter looks as if she is practising to do just that.

 

Photo credit: <a href=”https://visualhunt.co/a5/dc6a9330″>Christoph Scholz</a> on <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/re7/0669204c”>Visualhunt</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”&gt; CC BY-SA</a>