Discipline

I had a horrible night last night. Sometimes the words just arrive and the keyboard takes a relentless, hour-long pounding. Other times that blinking cursor on the screen is sneering at you and laughing, the little shit.

Last night I pushed through two (or was it three?) chapters and not because it was easy, and not because it was hard and I wanted to show the cursor who was boss. But because I keep missing my targets.

It all started on the weekend.

No. I don’t know when it started actually. Probably that time someone told me that you should write every day. No chance, I told them, no way. I have a life, a job, I have a conviction that I must be in the correct frame of mind to write something. A bad mood or a lack of enthusiasm tends to produce not just bad writing, but frustration.

But that theory fails to hold water. Indeed, that theory is a large part of the reason that Gatecrasher took 11 (eleven) years to get done.

So my new rule is: 1,000 words / 1 chapter day. I don’t always manage it. Indeed, last week I managed almost nothing. Then the weekend arrived with no plans, no commitments – just an overgrown garden, the grocery shopping, a broken microwave, a Sunday roast and the new swimming pools opening down the road .

Now that should not, under any circumstances, have filled a weekend. But fill a weekend it did, because the garden was more overgrown than I had accounted for, with brambles and a weird flatness to the grass which defied the strimmer. The strimmer which then ran out of strimmer cable halfway through the job, meaning I had to get in the car and head to the shop for some more.

Then the grocery / microwave shopping seemed to fill the afternoon, followed by making the roast.

So my target for Sunday night of 30,000 words, seemed eminently achievable at the start of the weekend. But I did not sit down at the computer until nearly 7 on Sunday. And then spent ages tidying up the document and cutting out all my notes into a separate document which made me realise that the word count I thought I was on was false and that just pushed the 30,000 further off into the future.

But then I still managed the thousand and a little more. And last night when I sat down I was inching nearer and nearer to a target – not the word count, which is arbitrary but measurable. I mean the word count can be cheated. I can pad my way to a higher word count with the best of them mate, don’t think I can’t. If I want to pad, pad I can. Pad away. Pad for ages. Pad and pad and pad until the very word pad begins to lose its meaning. I pad. Right now I pad on my iPad.

But there was a scene, the idea of which has been in my mind for a while, just waiting there for all the other scenes I hadn’t written yet to get written so that I could write that scene.

And it wasn’t a fun, fluid scene that just wrote itself and spilled off my fingers down the page. Bastard fought me all the way until it was done, hammered and wrestled into place. I cannot think about the re-write now, the re-write and the edit that must come. I am too bruised.

I had a horrible night. I needed an early night but cooked two meals (one for tonight, so it will be ready when I get home) and ironed several shirts too. I got to bed at 12.30, mind still buzzing with the next scene, next chapter, ideas that will not get written down because I needed sleep. But as I lamented the lateness and my lack of sleep this morning and whatever lines or ideas had slipped away last night I am finding that I’m feeling rather happy with myself.

Staying up late because I am in the grip of a story is the kind of tired I can be content with. And I haven’t really been in this kind of mode since I was knee deep in Gatecrasher and deeply enthused by the story.

One thousand words a day. Its working. The simplest thing, but its working.

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The Vanishing Brother

Somewhere amidst the chaos of the early chapters, Daniel Campbell is being stalked by some less than friendly individuals. Having sought refuge with his brother for an evening, the brother subsequently vanishes from the story. It is something of an omission and not one that I even really noticed until recently.

So anyway, for those readers wondering what happened to Luke Campbell, the following passage should shed some light on the mystery. For those yet to read it, this should serve as a small taster of the narrative to whet your appetite. I hope you enjoy…

Chapter 24.5 – Tuesday, 10.30pm.

‘You going to tell me what’s up then, or are you just a bit menstrual?’ Luke’s standard approach to any kind of potential awkwardness, as Campbell knows, is to confront it in a belligerent and insensitive manner.

‘Nice,’ Campbell replies as he slides hot pizza from the box.

‘Well fuck, Dan. You forgot to bring beer, you’ve been buried in the laptop for hours and it’s not even porn. Either it’s a girl, a job hunt or you’ve found some weird online forum to indulge your inner nerd. Something is up.’

‘None of the above actually. Actually, perhaps a tiny bit of each of the first two.’

‘You need a new job because you shagged some girl at work and you’re afraid she’s going to tell everyone about your tiny weiner?’ There it was, thought Campbell. Imagine if I had an actual problem to talk to you about.

‘Nothing major really. Just a bit cooped up in the flat after all the shit of the last few days.’
‘Yeah, you now how to throw a party,’ Luke smiled and shook his. Equal parts sympathy and morbid fascination.

Campbell couldn’t help but smile back. His brother may be employing bravado in the face of all the things he had told him about the gatecrasher and the burglary and the police, but maybe a little false courage and nonchalance was what was required here. Campbell had scarcely switched off thinking about things and as much headway as he was making with the research this evening, what he’d most like was a bit of a mental block, something to numb.

He had been surprised how edgy he had been at the sharp incessant ringing of the doorbell. There could surely be no way that anyone could know where he was, but they new where he lived and Campbell harboured dark thoughts of being trailed and watched, stalked from the shadows by determined, malevolent figures.

‘So when are you off then?’ Campbell said through a mouthful of garlic bread.

‘Two days and then it is wall to wall sunshine, food and booze. And when I’m finished burning and bingeing it is back to the room with the missus.’ A broad grin and an entirely unnecessary wink.

‘She excited?’

‘She has no idea. I sorted the time off with her boss, and as far as she is concerned we’re off to her parents for the weekend.’

‘So they’re in on the big surprise too?’ Campbell looked quizzically at his smiling brother, obviously pleased at the smooth planning of a surprise holiday trip for his girlfriend of a year.

‘So won’t they be disappointed when you come back and she isn’t any more engaged than when you left?’

‘I’m not proposing. Why would they think I’m proposing?’ Luke replied, the grin dropping a little.

Campbell’s smile moved in the other direction.

‘I never said anything about that. I’m fucking miles away from any of that…’ he said and after a moment more of Campbell’s broadening grin, added ‘Fuck off.’

‘You’ve paid for and organised a surprise holiday for their only daughter and you have involved them in the deception. The thought won’t have crossed their mind that you have a plan here of some kind?’ He was enjoying this, particularly the slowly dawning realisation of the corner that Luke may have painted himself into.

‘I’ve got one very simple plan which involves a pool, a bar, an all-you-can-eat-buffet and copious nudity.’

‘You might want to keep those relatively separate. There’s a limit to what “all-inclusive” means at these paces. Bringing your own sausage to breakfast is considered poor form.’

But Luke wasn’t playing along and the look on his face was getting sourer by the moment.

‘I was just trying to do a good thing,’ Luke protested to nobody in particular. ‘Now I’m right in the shit.’

Daniel Campbell felt the smile fade from his own face.

‘Well that backfired on me,’ Luke said. ‘How the hell do I get out of this?’

Campbell shrugged at him. ‘No good deed goes unpunished.’

The story of the story

As noted elsewhere, I began writing Gatecrasher back in 2001. But the fact is, it didn’t take 11 years from start to publish. It’s been more than twenty.

Back when I was a teenager, I was hammering out a ghost story on my Dad’s ancient typewriter, called The Seance (the story was called The Seance, not the typewriter). I still have the crinkled old pages somewhere. (Perhaps I’ll blog about that later, with some exhilarating sample passages beamed to you direct from 1990.)

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But down the years I lost the thread, lost interest, stopped writing. Then, in 2001, having written only intermittently over the previous decade, I sat down and decided to start The Seance again. The opening scenes took shape, with the plan that the climactic breaking-glass moment would be a mystery, that it could have come from one of any of the several different preceding scenes. After that, The Seance would play out.

But then I found myself more interested in what had happened at the party scene (the various others included some pretty ordinary situations – man changing lightbulb, lady cooking dinner).

The first draft went a bit wonky. I had no idea of the story I was writing for the most part, and made it up as I went along. Then I found myself having to write my way out of the place I’d got to. And that first draft was a little cliched (Islamic terrorists?) and there was far too much of a romantic sub-plot that makes me cringe to think of it.

Come 2002 I had the great good fortune to meet someone for whom reading and writing were her living and who had experience and expertise in critiquing manuscripts. She kindly turned her attention to mine, and gave it a comprehensive going over – clear, honest and direct. It was completely invaluable. From there I embarked on a comprehensive re-write that overhauled huge tranches of the original story, removed extraneous characters, discarded the awful, awkward romantic guff, and ditched the cliched terrorism storyline. Edited it basically.

I sent synopsis, blurb and sample chapters to any number of literary agents and collected rejection slips from each of them. I didn’t take it personally, but I did let it discourage me. And all the while, as the saying goes, life was happening whilst I was making plans.

And then they invented the kindle, and then, eventually, my wife read it (it was in a neglected-collecting-dust phase when we met, she hadn’t just been ignoring it!), and then I saw a tweet by the comedian Richard Herring, about how to self publish.

So I figured that my attempts to get it published in the traditional way had got nowhere and were going nowhere and here was a chance to actually have it see the light of day. I also had the thought that once I had done it, I could forget it. I was a little fed up of it what with all the time and effort and no palpable results.

But now there are more than 2,000 kindles in the world with my book on it. After two months. This frustrates and amazes me in equal measure. It is a massive number considering my original expectations – I thought a couple of hundred would be great. But I cannot shrug the nagging question: why not more? Or more specifically: how many more?

I also don’t think that this is the end of the story of the story. There is at least one section of the book that I think needs work, probably two. Both feel a little contrived and confusing. So I may yet edit and re-publish with some tweaks. And then of course, as and when a publisher picks it up….

My favourite authors: who and what I read.

My reading habits are eclectic and I don’t really have a genre I most like, no section of the bookshop I automatically head for. I’m a browser. I thought I might share some of my favourite authors, and why.

So in no particular order, these are the authors that I have read and most enjoyed and am most likely to look out for.

Mo Hayder. I read Birdman having seen a scribbled staff recommendation of it in Waterstones. The follow up, The Treatment had me hooked. Unputdownably good, I read it on a stag do. That reflects well on the book since you’ll know (or may reasonably assume) that not much reading happens on stag do’s, especially considering it was the most intense and punishing such trip I’ve ever done. Each and every follow up is a must read, either the Jack Caffery stuff or the stand alone titles. She is one of those authors who not only makes me want to read, but makes me want to write too.

Anthony Beevor. I like reading WWII books as I find the topic endlessly fascinating. Stalingrad was a book that sat waiting for a long time on the self before I picked it up, dauntingly large as it was. Worth the wait of course. A work of non-fiction with all the compelling readability of the best thrillers. Then I devoured Berlin: The Downfall and am currently working my way through D-Day. WWII is hardly a subject you’d struggle to find titles on, but you’ll struggle to beat these.

Mark Billingham. I don’t ordinarily do crime thrillers but along with Mo Hayder, I’ll make an exception for Mark Billingham and his superb creation Thom Thorne. A great supporting cast, well crafted thrillers, fast paced and witty writing.

Hilary Mantel. Sometimes a book takes you completely by surprise and demonstrates to you just how singular an experience reading can be. Engrossing, engaging, addictive, entertaining, educational. Wolf Hall was that book for me, the book that most got into my head since Catch 22. I’ve read several of her others since then and at some point will wrestle with the sequel to Wolf Hall and the huge A Place of Greater Safety.

David Peace. First I read The Damned United, interested by the story of Brian Clough that it told. Then I began with the Red Riding titles which are very different in their style but no less compelling. I have several more on my bookshelf now, forming an orderly queue.

As I write this I realise that there are more names to add to this list, so perhaps I’ll revisit this topic with a Part II. This isn’t supposed to be some sort of cliffhanger you understand. Just trying to keep it brief.

More than once

Now look, when I told you about this Blogcrasher, I never said it was just the once.

There was this:

“Over the last few years I have become increasingly aware of an odd phenomenon. Whenever the movie I’m watching is set in London, my home town, I become totally preoccupied by the locations on screen- do I know it, have I been there, is that continuity accurate?

It’s very distracting.”

http://www.thedepartureboard.com/flights-cameras-action

There was another time it happened too. Went to eat and everything. See:

“London is considered one of the finest cities in the world for eating out. There are 36 Michelin stars to be found across the capital’s eateries and as wide a range of gastronomic styles as one could wish for. But in the land of the hungry cockney, pie and mash is king.”

http://www.thedepartureboard.com/who-ate-pies-the-manze-eel-pie-house

That’s all?? No that’s not all. The first time it was a London thing. And I love London.

“It has been noted by more learned minds, such as the great London historian Peter Ackroyd, that one of London’s chief qualities is its power of regeneration. It is a place constantly changing and evolving, redrawing and reshaping itself. That runs largely counter to its major tourist draw; that of its deep, rich history.”

http://www.thedepartureboard.com/londons-open-secrets

And no, I don’t think that will be the end of it either. Just get used to it Blogcrasher.

Another blog

Yes that’s right WordPress Blogcrasher, I’ve been blogging for someone else. And it isn’t the first time either.

I enjoyed it as well, and if you really want to know about it go here: http://www.thedepartureboard.com/flights-cameras-action

If you think you’re the only blog in my life, you’re wrong. But you are my main blog, the one I come back to all the time, the place I call home. Don’t worry Blogcrasher, my next blog piece will be with you. Promise.

Last book I read.

Technically it was an In The Night Garden book with my youngest son this morning, but the last ‘book’ book was The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson.

I’ve read his first one, Them, and absolutely loved it. We all love a good conspiracy nut, and Ronson gives us several.

The Psychopath Test is a belting read, equating the common traits of psychopaths with the rich and successful – ruthless, heartless leaders of countries and companies. I found myself tallying up all the traits on the test with an old boss of mine who scored (by my reckoning) very high. I knew it!

It is of course broader than just an examination of what makes a psycho but takes in the whole nature of mental illness and diagnosing it, and more sinister, the industry that has grown up around it. Particularly sinister, pharmaceuticals.

Funny, intelligent and thought provoking. I’m really struggling to resist the urge to use the line ‘you’d be crazy not to’ not least because – awful punning aside – it’s probably in quite poor taste. There’s also some amazing stuff about David Shayler that I was completely unaware if. Great read.