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This blog documents my staying at home and writing (and the subsequent whatevers to that writing). It also serves as an online journal for friends and family. It is more-or-less guaranteed to be sans intérêt to most anyone else.

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Sending news to Mum and the world since last week

2004 Reading List

Being a list of books read during the current year.
Sourcery
Hogfather
Moving Pictures
Pyramids
Soul Music
Mort
Faust Eric
Small Gods
Carpe Jugulum
Jingo
Men At Arms
Feet of Clay
Maskerade
Lords and Ladies
Reaper Man
Witches Abroad
Guards! Guards!
Interesting Times
Equal Rites
The Last Continent
Wyrd Sisters
The Eighth Colour
The Light Fantastic
Dark Side of The Sun
Strata
Only You Can Save Mankind
Johnny and The Dead
The Discworld Companion (with S.Briggs)
- Terry Pratchett
A Child Across The Sky
The Wooden Sea
The Land of Laughs
From the Teeth of Angels
A Marriage of Sticks
- Jonathan Carroll
Northern Lights
The Subtle Knife
The Amber Spyglass
I was a Rat!
Clockwork
Count Karlstein
The Ruby in the Smoke
The Shadow in the North
The Tiger in the Well
- Philip Pullman
Charmed Life
The Lives of Christopher Chant
Witch Week
Howl’s Moving Castle
The Magicians of Caprona
- Diana Wynne Jones
What a Carve Up!
The Rotter’s Club
A Touch of Love
The Dwarves of Death
The House of Sleep
- Jonathan Coe
The Empty Sleeve
Smith
The Sound of Coaches
Blewcoat Boy
- Leon Garfield
The River Styx Runs Upstream [Le styx coule à l’envers - Nouvelles]
Ilium
- Dan Simmons
The Black Book
Set In Darkness
The Hanging Garden
Hide And Seek
Black And Blue
Bleeding Hearts (Jack Harvey)
Witch Hunt (Jack Harvey)
- Ian Rankin
The Wish List
Artemis Fowl [2]
- Eoin Colfer
Smoke and Mirrors, Neil Gaiman
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K.Rowling
The Shining, Stephen King
Eastern Standard Tribe, Cory Doctorov
Free for All, Peter Wayner
Desolation Point, Dan Brown
Darwinia, Robert Charles Wilson

2003’s reads can be found here.
writing
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just to be getting along with

Put like that it sounds pretty good: I managed between 800 and 1000 words yesterday. I won’t be more precise than that for the moment as I have no intention of going back to count them, never mind read them. I could say that working yesterday was slightly more bearable than gouging one’s own eyes out, but that would be overdramatic. I prefer to say that it was like trying to dig a hole in deep and cloying mud. And that as soon as you managed to pull a spadeful from the heavy sticking morass, it all settles down and you can’t see the trace of your hole. And it was about that much fun too.

Today, to make things better I also have doubts about the story. This is new. Before I just had doubts about the writing. Now I find the story boring, predicatable and linear. This is not the sort of thing to fill me with enthusiasm and the desire to get down to writing.

Apart from that, I noticed yesterday that I have used 14 supersize black ink cartridges, since I started working on this book. This implies that if I manage to finish I will use up about 40. Somehow this seems sort of crazy to me.

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choices and avoidance

Sometimes it’s not just a question of ploughing on ahead at any price. At the moment I’m having severe doubts about Stone’s voice. It’s a distinctive one, and hard to get flowing without it sounding false and put on. And that got me thinking about chapter structure. That how a good chapter, the ideal one, should burst in on you, surprise and draw you in, run you up and down the roller-coaster then drop you off at the end wanting more. All the while advancing the story, placing the plotpoints for the future, and developing the characters to where they must go. Of course, there are exceptions to this: the last chapter, for example, might need to be a smidgen more calm… This isn’t writing to a formula, it is just describing the feeling I want, the adventure pulling you in and in, and wanting more and more. This explains perhaps how I feel that a chapter is successful, or why I feel that it should end at a certain point.

And so I wonder should I report what Stone says, except when I really want to hear him. But reported speech is much less dramatic than dialogue.

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off-track

Didn’t post yesterday. But I did finish Chapter Six. I also noted everything down for Chapter Seven. This looks like it is going to be a long one. As I was making notes, a whole bunch of events started slipping into the story. I sincerely hope that I don’t have to cut it into two chapters, that would not be good for the story.

Spent some time researching Welsh place names. I will be needing to do more of that, too. I also need to do some reading research. Which means less time writing…

I will be having Kim with me from July 7, so that means that it will be difficult to write then [as well as, more importantly, unfair to her]. I have a week and a half writing ‘binge’ in front of me to advance as much as I can, before I will have to put things aside for two weeks. So, in no way, will I be finished for July 17th.

But is that important?

Well yes and no. No, as I can continue in July an August when I don’t have Kim. And there’s a good chance that I can get everything finished by the end of August. Which means that when job-hunting comes around it should be in the typing up and correcting phase. I can send out copies to any of those foolish enough—oops! I mean, nice enough to have volunteered to be alpha readers.

And then ‘Yes’, as I had two months paid leave to write everything and I have blown it. I should have factored in Kim being with me and planned to finish on or around July 7. And I have fluffed it. Disappointing. And let this be clear: Kim’s presence has no influence on this. If I was on schedule I should be around Chapter Ten now. I am not. This is my fault.

Small argh.

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kim’s end-of-year show

We went to Kim’s school end-of-year show. It was predicatably bad and embarassing, and sad for the those who had actually worked to achieve something.

I arrived late. I had sat down at five o’clock and had woken with a start at ten to six. As I had planned to leave at half five I was late… Anyway I went into overdrive and arrived in front of a silent closed school at ten past six without getting a speeding ticket in the metro corridors.

There was another father just leaning against the railings outside, but that was all. I rang the bell. Nothing. He noted that there was no noise, and as school shows are very noisy events, this was suspicious. Had we got the wrong day? Even so, where were the kids? At ten past six they had never ever finished getting rid of the kids…

I looked for a poster or something. Nothing. There were the minutes of the last School Council meeting. Scanning that I saw an item named End-of-year show: it said that, this year, the show would be taking place at a municipal hall not far from here [the last time I went there I was part of a group all dressed as Santas, but that is another story]. I asked the other father if he knew of the hall. He didn’t. I explained that I was waiting for Ludivine and gave him directions if he wanted to go on ahead. He preferred to wait for me so I supposed that my directions had been too vague. Anyway after about another five minutes Ludivine turned up and we set off.

As we approached the room there was [again] nothing to be seen. This was in part because the room is in fact underground and there is only a gate and a staircase visible from street level, but I had been expecting a poster or something along the lines of “Parents of children from the school at 22 rue Saint-Maur: it is here.” Nothing. But the gates were not locked and so we slipped down, past some security guards who said that it [whatever the ‘it’ was] was just starting, and on, down further underground and into a large dark box.

We eventually found seats without crushing too many toes: one of the advantages of the dark was that they couldn’t see who it was doing their feet in like that…

There must have been about 500 parents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins and everything that passes for family and whatever in that room. Perhaps more. About a third were children under ten. These were school children waiting for their turn to go up on the stage, or younger brothers and sisters of the same. You do not inflict a two hour ‘show’, where the pauses between the ill-conceived acts are longer than the acts themselves, where the sound [disco music?] is turned up to instant deafness level, without the kids getting bored, tired, starting to chatter, play shout, and cry. So this went on for two hours.

The new Head has done lots of good work for the school. This is part of that. Before the teachers couldn’t ever talk to each other, nevermind the parents. And coordinating something like this would have needed a United Nations’ Peacekeeping force. With the Head before he took over, the PTA exploded in flight after a couple of months leaving a total absence of dialogue for all the schoolyear. That Head also sent me letters threatening to take me to court because I refused to put Kim into school on Saturday mornings when she, or I, was too tired. Please note: it was she at the beginning of the year who said that she could understand parents not putting their children in school on Saturday mornings, and that she didn’t mind. And that by everyone’s admittance—head, teacher and Kim—they did nothing on Saturday mornings… I sent her a very bolshy note back and we stayed at daggerheads for the rest of the year.

However for all of the Head’s enthusiasm and good work, he is working in France, and he is French. The French have no idea how to organise a meeting that doesn’t take all day. Nor do they know how to organise any public gathering. It can’t be genetic, so it is either cultural or something they put in the water here.

Any idiot can tell you that something like a school show would be better as a 45 minute extravaganza, or, as a compromise, as two half-hour sessions with a good 15 minute pause between them. That pieces should be rehearsed [and preferably interesting] and not just be 30 kids bouncing up and down vaguely in rythmn on stage to deafenly-loud disco music [village people???]. Even the rehearsed pieces were too long—a set piece of songs revolving around bal populaire—or just badly [un]staged—a demonstration of renaissance dance that used twice the number of people it should and wandered aimlessly for twice the time it should.

Insert sound of me screaming here.

Of course, Kim was on in the next-to-last two pieces so I couldn’t even do the decent thing and see her performance and disappear discreetly into the sunset. She looked hopelessly stressed out in an aimless singing/dancing piece that had about 60 kids all up on stage together, and then managed to drop her drum and fluff her solo in her percussion class piece.

In fact the only decent events of the night were the last two pieces from the percussion class and the hiphop dancing from the centre de loisirs who work with the kids on wednesdays and during the holidays. They were short, rehearsed, and had a reduced number of kids on stage.

Afterwards I saw Kim desperately peering out into the audience and went to find her. She was looking for her mother. I had seen her arrive earlier and pointed Kim in the direction that she had taken after giving Kim a big hug. On hearing that Ludivine was off at the toilets she disappeared off to find her before I could stop her. Anyway, they saw each other and said ‘Hello’ also. Ludivine having also seemed how tense Kim looked on stage asked her how it had been. ‘Oh fine,’ she said. ‘I played it very zen…’ Yes, Kim. Of course.

She ran off to look for her mother.

When it was all over we went looking for her to say ‘bye and found her bobbling around. Her clothes had disappeared. Eventually it turned out that one of her friends had taken all the clothes that she had found in the dressing room. That meant she had Kim’s. Except that the last time I had seen the friend she had been heading to the door. With a bulging plastic bag.

Anyway, friend was found. Everyone said good bye and on the way out Oumou collared me with all her kids around her, in arms, tied to her back and clinging at her legs, and cried out to me ‘Oh! There you are! Kids, look it’s Daddy. When are you going to pay some upkeep for the kids, eh?’ Which is funny the first time, but she says it every time we meet.

Oh well, that was Kim’s end-of-year show.

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rant
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iTunes

So I finally tried out iTunes to see what it was like… There was some good news, but overall I’m disappointed albeit with one proviso. Let’s start with that.

I am clearly against the ‘subscription’ model for renting music [the All New Napster ModelTM. I don’t want to pay 9.99 euros for months on end and then have my music disappear. I had reserves about Apple’s model, but no more. I went online, bought a disk that I had been seeking Glassworks by Philip Glass, all 6 tracks for 5.94. Reasonable.
I have just looked at amazon.fr and it is currently available as a CD for 10.50. Once I downloaded the tracks I immediately burnt them to CD as an audio disk and tested this on the home audio system. No problem. Whatever copy protection there is, is not carried onto the audio disks. This was my worry: you can use the iTunes-purchased tracks on only 3 computers I believe, and I change about every two years. I read that one can remove authorisations from a computer, but I have no idea how this works [This is, in itself, worrying, if I a computer geektype like myself cannot understand this stuff what will Jane Public make of it..?] But by burning the material to CD I am assured that I will continue to have the files that I have bought as music available to me as music, even if it is not a carbon copy of the original file that that music was delivered as [hope you’re following].

That was the good point.

Now the bad ones. I had read that the interface was supposed to be exemplary. It is not. I found it wasted space imposing thousands of choices that were in no way interesting [Top Ten, Other people bought, Playlists…]. And worse than that, there is no way to personnalise it. I want, for example, to say that even though I am in France I am not at all interested in French Pop music [about 50% of the content of any given page], and would prefer it to open on the ‘Alternative’ page with music and info about these ‘x’ artists and groups that I have selected. Then I can get directly to the music that interests me. [Were navigation quick and simple that might not be so annoying…].

On a minor point, I would also like to see Wishlists: where friends can go on line and buy me music and that it would be waiting for me with a short note the next time I go online. I would like to see an affiliate program so that I can add links to these pages, for example, and earn some mullah on buy-throughs.

Another minor irritation: even though the interface mimics a web page, it is not posisble to spawn a new window through cmd-clicking a link. This means that you spend all your time clicking backwards and forwards. And not only is the downloading and rastering of the pages slow [I have a boradband connection—what can it be like for a dial-up line?], but there appears to be no page caching, and so each page is painfully downloaded again and again. A most excrutiating experience.

If iTunes is supposed to be the best interface, then what are the others like?

But the worse point is in the selection of music available. If you want anything with any personality that exists out of the mainstream [I accept that some mainstream music does have personality, but it is not its primary characteristic] it is simply not here. I have been looking to buy Yann Tiersen’s Rue des Cascades for some time. Unknown. Even his very nice soundtrack for Good bye Lenin is unheard of. And the world famous Amélie soundtrack: nada. Even Amazon.com scores better on this. I have been wanting the track Your Ghost by Kristen Hersh for years, but don’t want to buy the album. This is the sort of thing that iTunes is made for, surely. Except it doesn’t know her. Oh well, Gary Jules singing Mad World from the Donnie Darko soundtrack. You guessed it: unknown. I can go on: Michael Nyman’s film music..? Hector Zazou? Paddy McAloon? Disturbed by Ilya, No Peter Gabriel at all… [I’m looking for The Tower that Ate People]. No R.E.M., no XTC later than about 1998. I’m pretty sure that I will end up finding albums and tracks I want, as I think that other material will eventually come on line, but it is balefully lacking on that front at that moment.

One final point that I did not like at all. I opted for a shopping basket rather than a one-click purchase [I don’t like one-clicks OK? It is my right not to like it: bear with me]. On any other site you browse and put your material in the basket. Then you get your card out at the checkout. Not on iTunes. You have to create an account giving all your details in order to create a basket. I do not like this. This and the fact that the service doesn’t have enough of the music I enjoy will be the reasons that I will not stick with this beyond a trial period.

Next week I’m going to give eMusic a try out. It offers a simple download of up to ‘x’ mp3s a week according to a subscription scheme, but once you have downloaded, it is yours. They also have an offer of about a dozen free mp3s when you sign up.

Can’t be bad…

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being boring

Chapter Six stands in all its statistical glory at 3800 words and so should see its conclusion shuffling toward the sunset today or tomorrow. I have been back and added the material that I realised was missing and have also been working on ideas to weave the other details into Chapters Two to Four. Occasional brownouts while my ISPs servers fried out and stopped me from researching ravens and crows.

I can start thinking now about Chapter Seven. This will be a tricky one. I know, I keep thinking this for each one and, to a certain extent, it is true. However this will be tricky as nothing ‘adventurous’ happens. It is designed to be the waiting. There are some important points to put across but all those are in the waiting, so that doesn’t make for exciting events. So, I need to convey a period of stasis and boredom, in a manner that is interesting enough that a reader will want to continue but still boring enough to reflect what is happening.

So, as SupermanTM jumps across a rainy, boring weekend in one fell swoop, I go back to my pen and paper. But thereagain, I don’t have to prance around in tights, either.

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sailing

So that’s most of the re-writing down. Wasn’t much. I think I may have a couple phrases to move around and to play with, but almost there. Still not advancing very fast.

While working on this passage I realised that I have never, ever, been on a small sail boat [what I call small, may not be: 10-12 metres, is that more medium-sized?]. I am sitting here in a noisy [the trafic that runs outside], dark [I keep the shutters closed] flat in Montreuil, just east of Paris, and imagine the noises and feelings and smells of this boat. And the food. I think that before I do the final draft of all this [and when will that be, pray? This summer? Next?] I should find someone who can take me for a sail.

Volunteers?

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the journey

So now we’re off on a journey. I was going to say all four of us, but it occurred to me that it should be five—McHarry, Colin, Stone, myself and The Reader. The last one gets capitalisation for the moment as he and she doesn’t exist. He and she sits up in my head, grows impatient at me at moments when the story lags, or when I shirk work—“When am I going to get the next part?”

And on the first day of the journey—this journey; the whole book is a journey, but this journey in the journey, that breaks with their previous lives and situations and throws them out on a strange sea—a storm blew up, out of nowhere as these things sometimes do. It had been cloudy since morning, but this just blew up, like the wind that had been tearing at the trees outside but more terrifying. And this morning I realised why the storm blew up, and that means that I must go back over all those pages that I thought were reasonably acceptable (when I saw all, I just mean four and a half, nothing extraordinary, but all that I have produced in the last two to three days) and rewrite them with the knowledge of this morning.

Then I must get dressed and washed, perhaps look for some clothes, think about getting a haircut, and go off to meet with Nadja near the fountain at St.Michel where, she says, we can get a Japanese sandwich.

The best laid plans…

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trivia

In the triva section at IMDb for Swordfish it says that On the floor of Holly’s room, a copy of the cult cyberpunk novel “Neuromancer” by William Gibson is visible. Well, I can tell you that the other book next to it, with its cover turned to the floor, is the Puffin edition of The Magician’s Nephew by C.S.Lewis as I recognised the lovely Pauline Baynes illustration.

This is because we rented the DVD the other night. It was a strange (strange as in ‘strangely’ bad, not as in strange peculiar-mind-games-and-other-mental-messings-up, like, for example, ‘Ring’) film. It seems that it got good reviews because Halle Berry has very pretty boobs. That and the explosion at the beginning which was more impressive that Halle Berry’s acting generally. The dialogue was supposed to be sharp… I suppose that may be the case if you are a merikan of about 15 years of age. The ‘hacking’ was ridiculous, about the level of the aforementioned lady’s golf swing—and I don’t play, but I can tell someone making a fool of herself.

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bad day

Bad day. Bad, bad; bad, bad; bad, bad… Bad day. Nothing. Zero, zilch and nada all parading around the paper. Bad day. Can you get stage fright before a sheet of paper? It’s not a block, I can see the story, the characters, what must happen, where, how… There are a few words swirling around, and that is usually enough to get things rolling, but when I want to start… I think that I am scared.

I am getting into the ‘real’ story, the mystery and the wonder. I have been living with all of this for some time, the expectations an the visions, and I don’t want to disappoint myself. So I’m frightened before the sheet of paper where I have been taking notes, and scribbling and drawing the proportions of the boat.

So the rules today will be to write. Just write. Don’t think about it. At the end of the day I’ll have a couple of hundred words, something at least. This may be good material, it may be bad. But it will be something. And when I have something I can react. Until I have something I can’t react. So just write. Shut up and write.

Here goes.

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on their way

Chapter Six has just passed the 2000 words mark. Stone, McHarry and Colin have finally set off. They should have done that in Chapter Five but things got a little waylaid. Ludivine remarked to me yesterday as we were out strolling of a night that heroes, of course, never had trouble finding the toilets as they never went. So I told her that Colin and McHarry would not only be faced with the problem, but they would have to find a way to solve it. So now we know…

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doubt

It sort of creeps up on you. You think that you’re doing fine, that you believe in what you’re doing, and then… it’s there: looking at its nails, polishing them on the lapels of its jacket; looking at its watch. All those smarmy things it does to throw you off.

I read a lot. I always have done. Ever since school days. Ludivine told me that in France a heavy reader is now considered to be someone who reads a couple of books a week. I sometimes read that in a day. My reading list for this year is currently at about 30 books. That doesn’t count the books that I forgot to add to the list, the online material that I read, the eBooks, the blogs and so on. I tend to be an undiscriminating reader but that doesn’t mean that I don’t know what I’m reading. So, when I write, I have an idea of the effects that I want to achieve, and how to get there, and which ways to do that might be more interesting than others. Not better. More interesting.

I have read enough to get an idea of plots, character, POV, style, construction, and other things that I can’t necessarily name but we tend to know when they’re there and, others, when they are not. I know when I am writing a passage that flows. And when I am just hashing together notes. I know when I feel a scene needs to be reworked, or changed. Or even cut. When the writing is too flabby and fat. Or, on the contrary, too taunt for its own good.

I am slowly beginning to get the idea of pacing inside a chapter [although I know that I am going to write a book, sometime, that is just scenes, no chapters: and that I might even stick to that style as a generality.]

But there is still doubt. Not, is this the best I can do? I know the answer to that. Not, will people want to read this? I know the answer to that also. Is this something that people would be willing to pay to read… now that is a different question.

Doubt.

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no post day

No post day yesterday. Funny day. Fell out of bed at about six o’clock and at ten I was trying not to fall asleep on the keyboard. I was supposed to leave to meet Alain at eleven and I knew that if I let my head touch that pillow I would be late. True. I finally let my head hit the pillow at about seven that night. And woke at half nine. Missed all the music, even Le nozze di Figaro on Arte. Sheesh. I also woke grumpy and with a headache.

And I only managed to write about 800 words. No way am I going to advance on all this at this rate. Not counting the fact that these 800 words were rough, rough notes, the sort that I write when I say, well, I must write something. It was something, but I suspect that that was all.

And I got a letter from the Unemployment Office. This is the third bureaucratic FU in a week:

. I transfered my Social Security dossier from Paris to here. When Ludivine did it they just took down the info and it was done. For me they wanted a dossier with last three pay slips, previous info, proof of address and all. So that was a month ago, more even. I thought that they were taking their take, by what where would bureaucracy be without time wasting? And they got my address wrong. They had it written on about twelve different documents. And they got it wrong. So I will now waste time speaking with all sorts of jobsworth’s because they got it wrong.

. My bank has sent me a letter saying that my Visa card has expired and there is a new one waiting for me. Except it hasn’t expired and the number on the letter is not my card. And this is the result of a cock-up at the bank more than two years ago. And not only can I not contact anyone at the bank, and will have to waste time to get this repaired—with no guarantee that it won’t happen again in two years—but I will also have to scour my bank statements looking for the corresponding charges and insist that they reimburse them.

. And the Unemployement Office computer records keep confusing me with someone else and sending me menacing letters. I call up and dial into the service and everything is OK. They tell me to ignore all of this, but it is not only annoying, but the guy whose dossier isn’t complete and whose letters I am receiving doesn’t know that the Unemployment Office is threatening him in this way. And knowing that there is someone who is going to have even more reason than me to be angry with the Unemployment Office is no consolation.

And today I have managed about 100 words so far. Think I’ll go get a coffee and try and call the bank. Again.

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200 words

That is what I managed to write today. I would be the first to admit that this is not stuff of which records are made, but considering that I managed to slip this into the cracks of spending some time with Kim, I don’t think that it is too bad.

But the thing to note is not the 200 words, but the thousand that it took me to get there. I first write three lines to describe a scene. And then, in the second to last line added the word ‘gingerly’. Now why did I do that? I don’t know. It felt like the right word to go there. So I re-read the lines and saw why I had added it, except that the scene I had sketched out didn’t explain that. So I went back and rewrote the passage. And then the same thing happened again with the word ‘further’. So my final 200 words are the fourth or fifth rewrite, with each one developing the scene, and then being, slowly, tightened and honed until I am happy. Until I feel that it passes muster.

200 words. Not bad for a day’s work.

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Kim taking a shower

After breakfast, I suggested to Kim for the fifteenth time that she took a shower and got dressed. Then for the seventeenth time said that, no, she couldn’t have a bath. And then, once she was having her shower—remember, these things are supposed to be quicker and more economical than baths—so while she was having this shower, I asked her why she was just sitting in the bath watching the entire contents of the East Paris Fresh Water Reservoir disappear down the plughole while she wasn’t even wet. Note: French houses don’t have cold water tanks in the roof, so you get interesting things like diminuishing water pressure the higher up you live in a building. I remember a flat where I lived on the 5th floor, and if anyone else in the building took a shower at the same time as me in the morning, I could get nothing to come out of the bathroom taps…

Daughters, don’t you just love ‘em.

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on with the voyage

And suddenly Chapter Five was finished. It sort of crept up on me there. But I got to a point where it had the right length—in comparaison with the other chapters—and it reached a point that made a natural break. The end of the little twist scene that came about earlier because of the other scene that I didn’t see coming.

This means that all that I had prepared for the second half of Chapter Five will now be in Chapter Six, and this will get them to destination. I am still wondering about chapters Three to Five; whether they should have that little sub plot I keep thinking about in there. I have decided to make the decision when I came back and type up the draft. In the same way, I have noted that the name of Borrington should change, and that I should add a little cut scene at one point. Things like that. But I think that is acceptable for a first draft state. Most of this is pretty decent: a couple of scenes are just sketched; quite a bit of dialogue needs trimming [I’m trying to write it as it comes naturally between the different protagonists as if it were a transcript, but that gets a bit long and tenuous at times. I will tighten it up in the second draft.]

The question now will be how to, as far as possible, achieve the objective of finishing the first draft on or around July 15th, without putting so much pressure on myself to produce X thousand words per day, that it had the opposite effect and dries me up altogether.

Another method could be to jump ahead and do scenes that I can see quite clearly now, but I did that with Juliet and it didn’t help at all in the long run. Oh, sure, I produced a lot of work quickly as I was working on material that really flew, but when I pieced it all together there were vast differences in style and continuity. Editing Juliet was quite horrendous and I don’t want another experience like that and I am often tempted to go back, tear up that manuscript and rewrite it from scratch. I mean, it’s not as if I don’t know the story backwards now…

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dreams and things

Oops. I wrote another 300 words on Chapter Five last night, in bed around midnight. This isn’t the next scene, but a variation in a scene that I had planned but which came out different because of the Dinner Party at Gramps wasn’t originally in there, and well, things happened and became clearer.

As an aside, I think that there has been something going on in the background in Chapters Three to Five, two things perhaps even, and that I may have to go back and talk about those things.

Anyway, this means that Chapter Five is now nibbling at the 3500 words mark and I must be about halfway in. Now I know that I can come back and tighten up some of the dialogue which is too distended and full of ums and ares but I don’t think that I’ll catch 1000 words like that. So either this chapter will be long—more like the length I initially intended—or it will become two: something I don’t want.

Strange dream last night. Stuck in some dreadful town like Worthing waiting for a younger version of my Dad to have a look at some design project. I think that I must have been a younger version of myself, too. Finally he arrives and starts criticising the dummy placeholder photo on page one. Typical client reaction, they never understood what dummies and placeholders were… It just makes me think that the Colin/McHarry relationship is getting to me too. I mean that is how I intended to play it, it is just surprising that it gets into my dreams.

Oh, yes, and the other night I dreamt that Noah Wyle was elected to the American Senate. And at the time it seemed very important.

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writing
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end of the day

Full Internet access came back and so I could research things like applejack and how to spell Customs and Excise. I’m happy with all that and quite exhausted: four full pages, probably between 1200 and 1300 words. And I won’t be able to work much this weekend with Kim here.

Off to Pirates of another type… Ludivine has rented the DVD with Johnny Depp…

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rant
§
cats

There is a cat conspiracy out there… and no-one is writing about it. I was peacefully reading Daring Fireball, basking in the thrill of being able to get in again, and not being sent off to some bit bucket in space by a hell hound proxy server somewhere, when I read this:
In short, a hobby-level Daring Fireball will resemble much more a typical weblog — blurb-length posts, often only to link to articles elsewhere. No cat pictures, but still.

Nothing to write home about you say.

Then I thought about the number of sites and blogs that I visit that have cat pictures and talk about cats. And—let this be clear—I am not a cat-enthousiast, and am not browsing the web actively seeking cat-news, cat-pix or cat-whatever.

Is the web in fact just some huge cat cabal to get their pictures everywhere? Does Tim Berners-Lee have a cat I ask myself?

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writing
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typewriter, pens and word processors

While copying out yesterday’s words I got to thinking about typing. Why [on earth, I ask myself at times] am I doing all of this longhand, especially as I have had computers with decent word processing capacity since at least 1983. And typewriters for longer than that. I can even bluff type.

[Aside: what is bluff typing? It is to touch typing what extemporisation is to composition. I can find myself round a keyboard, but more by the habit of about 35 years’ worth of typing than any formal training. This means that I manage a decent couple-of-dozen-words-a-minute before I have to peek at the keyboard and wonder why all my ‘h’s are coming out ‘j’s, for example—or exampke as I just typed that… I always used to type looking at the keyboard. And then one day, I found myself typing half looking, and so tried more-or-less-not-looking, and I haven’t looked back since. Although somedays it works better than others…]

I think that what happens, when I’m trying to type up a first draft, is that I am so concerned with hitting [mostly] the right keys that I transcribe what I have in my head, rather than listening to those words, on refining them, and then writing. I have been writing even longer that I have been typing and so have no problems with putting down a sentence, backing up, scrubbing out text, adding squiggly lines to a passage on the side, correcting the tense here and a bit of spelling there, moving on to the next line, remembering a passage on the last page or even in the last chapter, coming back to change that, typing a search request in Google, writing the next sentence. This all seems so much more flowing and ‘normal’ with a pen in hand.

The pen is also important. I once wrote with anything that came to hand. This went from pleasurable to mucky to frustrating. Ordinary ballpoints are fine: I’m no writing snob. However when they dry up on you, or gob on you, it is frustrating. And some ballpoints slip across the paper with greasy ease, others resist and you have to push them, which—surprisingly enough—makes for quite a bit of fatigue in the writing hand and wrist at the end of the day. And a decent cheapo fountain pen, one that has not up to now dribbled all over the place, or blotched, that has a flexible-enough nib, but doesn’t carve up the paper when you write, and—this is the bit—glides nicely with just a smidgen of opposition across the paper, seems to work fine, at the same speed as the thoughts. A slightly fat pen means that I have to put less grip on it. This goes against instinct: I thought that a thin one would have been better. But there you go.

I’m on page six of Chapter Five now. Getting there.

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writing
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day two without blog access

I have reported to my ISP that the condition I reported yesterday is still there. In fact, I have just realised, it has got worse: I could contact daringfireball.net yesterday. Today, no more.

There seems to be a problem between my computer and the net. Except today I am not alone. Tech support said that I am no longer the only person reporting this… some consolation.

. . . . .

Yesterday was a rough day. I rewrote the 1300 words from the day before, copying them to a less-muddled mess while everything was fresh in the mind. This meant that I only get to write a page and half [3-400 words] of new stuff. I did however do some research for Stone, and realised that there was a scene that I hadn’t planned coming along, and that this scene would answer a question that I had been asking myself about the interaction of the two worlds. So that’s positive. At least for me.

Another night in which I slept in 2 hour stretches with indeterminate pauses and dream fragments of fossils and angels…

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life
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the light in the hallway

I amaze myself: the hallway lamp is repaired.

I should explain… There are two switches in the hallway, either can be used to switch on or off the light. About a month ago, maybe more, I entered the flat, reached round the corner and flicked the light switch nearest the door and… nothing happened. Now, to me this was curious. Not because lights don’t blow in this world, because they do. But because before they blow they generally display symptoms along the lines of flickering, changing intensity of light and buzzing. This light bulb had done none of those things. A bad point. A point that implied [rightly] Future ComplicationsTM.

I keep the lightbulbs in the cupboard that houses the fuse box. I also keep the torch and the electricity bills there. In that way, if any electricity leaks out, it stays in a familiar environment. I unscrewed the old bulb, placing it on top of the cupboard rather than in the dustbin. Then I switched on the light again. Nothing.

The way that I saw it was that there were two possible outcomes: the second bulb, fresh from the shelves of the supermarket was well past its Sell-By date; there was a problem in the circuit.

I took the bulb out and exchanged it with one in the bathroom. It worked in the bathroom. Nothing worked in the hall.

That left circuits.

I had a quick look at the fusebox, to set my conscience to rest. It couldn’t be that, and wasn’t. There are other lights on the same circuit, had the fuse blown there would be other lights not lighting. QED.

So I did what any reasonable handyman would do: I abandonned the tools on top of the cupboard with the lightbulbs and left it at that saying that I would come back to it.

Like I said, that was three weeks or two months ago.

Recently, coming back to the flat at night we have had to use the kitchen light to see what we were doing in the hallway. This increased my annoyance factor to the degree that I finally decided to repair this. After a few more days my resolution had sufficiently hardened that this morning, a cup of coffee in hand, I looked up at the empty socket thinking ‘It’s you or me, kiddo. And I’m not going to let a simple light bumb get the better of me…’

I got the step ladder out and climbed up and looked at the socket. It was a screw-in job. I got the light bulb from next to the hot plate to where it had gravitated from the top of the cupboard. Any good DIY-er can talk for hours about the migration of disassembled objects around the house. And bad ones for even longer. Anyway, I unscrewed the light in the bathroom, screwed in the light from the hot plate, and lit the bathroom light. Voilà. It worked. But thereagain, there had never been any problem in the bathroom. I then took the lamp I had got from the bathroom and screwed that into the hallway. I then switched on the light. And this worked too.

Then I realised.

I had, up to now, always tested this light using the swicth by the front door, not the one next to bathroom that I had just used. And the switch just up by the bathroom that I had just used was, when I pressed it, neither on nor off. It was flat between the two states. The switching circuit that we have in the hallway works by flipping a connection from a first line to a second one or back again. If both of the switches are on the same line, there is light, else the circuit is broken, and there is none. This implies that each of the switches is always in one of two possible states: ON or OFF. We forget that there is a third, improbable but possible state: NEITHER ON NOR OFF. This is the equivalent of the tossed coin coming down on its edge. It’s not common, but it is possible. In my case, the possibility—and I am pretty sure about this—increases enormously when there is a little girl in the house who likes playing with light switches, among other things.

Anyway. Lights repaired, I can get on with other things. If only I can find my tools…

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writing
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the day after the night before

A very productive day yesterday. I wrote about 700 words in the afternoon—combine that with the about 300 words I wrote the night before and that makes 1800 in the same day. I doubt that I will keep up that rate—especially the writing instead of sleeping part—but it shows that 1000+ per day is achievable.

So yesterday evening I mapped out Chapter Five. Now, I hope, this should really get rolling.

Today will inevitably be a bit slower: I really must repair the light in the hallway. And I think that I should follow up on a few job ideas. Exciting stuff…

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writing
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back from walkies

4 pages straight off this morning. I started at about 10 o’clock and looked up at about 12. So at roughly 200 words a page, that means 800 more. Then I went out for a sandwich and decided to walk to Paris looking for sunglasses. I came back hot and sweaty and on the Métro, but feeling better for the walk. I would feel even better had I found sunglasses, but two out of three is a decent satisfaction rate.

I decided this walk business yesterday when I realised that not only was I getting nowhere fast, but I wasn’t having much fun being stuck in nowhere either. So, from now on, I will try for two walks a day, and at least 1000 words…

Famous last words.

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writing
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halfway point anyone?

argh

Woke up this morning with my mouth feeling like the bottom of the proverbial budgie’s cage. And I didn’t drink a drop. I think it is that cough or something plastering my mouth, nasal cavities, throat and probably other, more hidden and intimate, places with peculiar bodily substances during the night.

Another bout of insomnia. Well, not exactly. I think my sleeping schedule is just shot to hell. But I feel tired, go to bed… and then as soon as my head hits the pillow, my eyes spring open. And nothing.

However I did get up and write two more scenes. I also did a recount and found I am at 3500 words on Chapter Four. And none of these are ‘and’ repeated over and over. So yesterday I made quite an advance on the word-producing front. Which then goes to contradict was I was going to say.

I was going to say that as I wasn’t advancing on this book perhaps I should get out, go for works, do other things in order to tire me, so that even if I don’t get a book, I do get some regular sleep. But I also see that we are now nearly at June 17th, and my money will run out in a month [not forgetting that I will have Kim and so not be able to write so much], and if I want to keep to my plans and finish the first draft in my notice period then I should hurry up.

And that’s the sort of thing I think about over my morning coffee.

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writing
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running up that hill...

Chapter Four now stands at 3200 words. But it has been a hard slog. Again, there are whole passages that I don’t like, that feel heavy and leaden. I know that they must be there but they feel forced, they don’t flow. I will go through these tomorrow and add side notes and see if my opinion changes. Sometimes, reading through the next day, reading out loud to myself, I get a pleasant surprise, I don’t seem to have such a harsh judgement on yesterday’s words. Of course, this could just be proof that sleep mollycoddles the head, and curdles a little more of whatever I have left of those braincells. [Here I have a vision of my Mum saying to me as a youth that everytime I got drunk I lose thousands of braincells that will never be replaced. I can’t think why I have this memory, I am boringly sober, and I was just as so when a teen. Perhaps this is a false memory, built up after the event from pieces of something else… Perhaps my Mum thought that I was some sort of teenage tearaway hellbent on burning up my precious heritage of braincells before the ripe age of 24…]

Today was also a long hard day as everything took at least two drafts to come clear, so where I may have written 6 or 700 words, I, in fact, have probably written two or three times that number. All longhand on scraps of paper. And sneezed. But that probably wasn’t the writing.

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writing
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...miles to go before I sleep

Writing today has brought to mind a school trip to La Baule when I was about 13 or 14. We took the ferry, then all the party travelled on a night train across France. I have no idea if this was a regular, scheduled journey or a special train. We occupied a carriage and I don’t think that we set off to explore other carriages. Perhaps the whole train was full of kids… Night set in and we crossed the countryside. Except from time to time the train would stop, and wait. Sometimes for a couple of hours. At least that is the memory that I have. In our compartment we found the seats uncomfortable for sleeping so we reallocated places: all baggage was descended from the luggage rack and piled up in the middle, this allowed for four people to sleep with heads on one side of the seats and feet on the other. I, and another person opposite, each took to a baggage rack above. WIth a bit of adjustment, it became most comfortable. We also discovered the temperature controls and the lights, managing to make things reasonable for all. The first teacher to slide the door open was surprised, but we were peaceful and doing no obvious wrong so were left alone. For the rest of the night we drifted in and out of sleep and whispered conversations. And from time to time the train would advance, then slow and stop.

So this brings me to today’s writing: I definately know where I am going. I have clearly in my head [and my notes] all that I wish to achieve with this scene, and the next, and the effect and the purpose of the chapter. Except I am overwhelmed by sleep and doubt.

I made some more coffee… I have a large mug of it next to me even now. A fine, slightly earthy taste. I have pen and paper and notes. Dictionaries and Google to hand. But the words are either stillborn, or when I finally pull them out, kicking and protesting, they don’t feel right; out of kilter, out of place; ungraceful and awkward. Oh, and what sighs are these? We did nothing extarordinary yesterday, I got a decent amount of sleep: why am I so tired, then?

. . . . .

The above train journey brings to mind a friend’s story, years later, when I lived in France. He told that he took a train during the night that they set the clocks back. At exactly two o’clock in the morning, the train stopped, waited an hour for ‘time’ to catch up with it, and then set off again.

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work
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new résumé

I have updated my résumé online and downloadable as a PDF file

This is the French version as I’m currently looking for work here. If you have any ideas, please tell me. If you have any connections, please feel free to pass on the URL. If you see any faults… Oops! Please let me know.

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writing
§
helping Police with their enquiries

This is not Writer’s Block. I have no intention of meeting that fellow yet. So, this is not he.

Yesterday I wrote 3 pages which must be in the 600 words range. To get the current length of Chapter Four you need to go and add that to previous entries. That’ll catch the ones at the back who were fidgeting instead of listening: Yes, I know who you are.

Today I have been reading up on Police Procedure, about the collection of Evidence, about Forensic Services; about Charging and about Arrest. I have also found some info about Police Cars. I have also been out and voted in the European Elections, but that is another story. So I am neither stalled, nor stalling.

In fact I am trying to decide which is my best foot to put forward. I see a few different ways to treat the end of this Chapter. [I must be about half way. I wanted to finish it with the end of yesterday’s lines which would have made for a good cliffhanger, but decided that 4000 words was already a bit short for a chapter, and didn’t want to start making them smaller still.] I have tried to vary POV and treatments to keep some variety in the writing and the story. I can describe Stone’s arrest as a blow-by-blow account, or I write about it, after the event, as it were. If I do this, then I have different people/conversations that I can use. Which is the most natural? The one that best carries the story forward? So I have been scribbling notes and trying things out and at some point, the rest of Chapter Four will start falling into place.

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writing
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quick progress report

This is just to say that, undistracted by visit to office, Chapter Four advanced by 500 words. And Colin and McHarry are [still] well on their way to meet with Stone.

Additional Point N° 1
When I said that “Pirates is in a way the story of Jack and the Beanstalk”, I didn’t mean that I had nicked the plot. This may be obvious in that I have been writing it for three weeks before saying that here. And also, were I really worried of any consequences of that I may not have written here, in public so to speak. So what I meant is that, yesterday—small bing! just like that—while thinking about plot, the similarities between Pirates and Jack and the Beanstalk just came to me. And, no, I don’t find this worrying. Story plots probably tread a limited number of paths. And each telling wears that track deeper, and makes the story stronger. New stories come in telling these old tracks in new ways.

Additional Point N° 2
It wasn’t going in to the office today that slowed me down. Quite the opposite in fact.
I may have already mentioned this but I find the Paris Metro, a very productive place to write. The handwriting is sometimes a little hard to read [Does that say read or mud?], but these short ten-minutes hurdling through the tunnels between changes seems very condusive to writing. That is more-or-less how I finished the novel that I wrote the year before last. [Doesn’t mean that it’s good, just that it’s finished].

Oh well. And off to sleep.

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work
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returning to the scene of the crime

Went into the office today. That sounds like fun, doesn’t it…

In fact, MB and Hubby are in Copenhagen at a professional conference. As I have heard them blithly massacring english and understanding everything backwards I imagine everyone is having fun, and if tomorrow Denmark breaks off all diplomatic relations with France, well, we shall know why…

I had gone in to see Colleague Opposite who got back from Madagascar to find the desk opposite vacant. I wanted to thank him as he had brought me back postcards of Lemurs. Friendly advice: do not get me started on the subject of Lemurs.

Colleague Opposite was orange. He was not orange before he left, by the way. The sun, sea and whatever else there had bleached his hair and beard orange, brought out freckles and tinted his skin orange [well, all that was visible… a aspirin-white band flashed out from time to time from the sleeve of his t-shirt, so—wisely—he didn’t go topless]. Quite a surprise. He also looked quite relaxed. I was probably green. With envy.

I offered my apologies for disappearing like I did, and leaving the new site in such a state. He generously said that he would have done exactly the same thing, and I was not to blame nor to worry. He also said that he had repeated to MB that the work that I had been doing was way over his head and that he had neither the time nor the capacity to finish it. And so he told me that since then, MB has been wandering around the agency repeating to herself as well as to anyone she meets, that the site is fine as it is and there is absolutely no need to change it. So why then did we waste about 6 man months [person months?] working on this, revising all the indexing to integrate her dumb themes and categories, wasting days in meetings and dummies and me coding for months… Let me guess… It was to create work in order to keep me on and avoid firing me… Of course! Why didn’t I think of that.

We ate at the local Indian chippy, drinking Indian Kingfisher beer—it was all very pleasant—and thanks are due to Colleague Opposite for inviting me. I just hope that I will be inviting him out soon, in order to celebrate a happy event for him. And then we’ll all be laughing.

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writing
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on the road again

This is just to say that, undistracted by the coding changes here, Chapter Four now stands at 800 words. And Colin and McHarry are well on their way to meet with Stone.

Just realised today that Pirates is in a way the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. S’funny I didn’t think of that earlier. S’funny now I do think of it.

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system
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fixed

This is just to say that things no work as I intended. Links on site stay in this window, links off site open up a new window. This works [thanks to JavaScript]. If you don’t like this, I’m sorry, this is a feature that I worked hard to obtain.

There are minor esthetic problems, and the ‘Moving Aroundwards’ part doesn’t work on Archives, but I’m a lot further ahead than yesterday at this hour.

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system
§
archives

I have been playing around with Pivot for about 24 hours now, and finally the archives are working. The only major technical crink left to iron out is why all links on the site open up a new page and do not open in the current page as I wanted.

Getting there.

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life
§
odds and this and that...

Fell out of bed before six this morning. This was a relief of sorts as the temperature was fresh. I opened all the windows to air the place, get some of the heat air moving and replaced by something cooler. When the sun rises, I’ll start closing.

Waking [and coughing] before six is slightly worrying as I didn’t go to bed until past two in the morning. I do hope that this is just to do with the heat, not with anything else.

Only managed about 150 words yesterday. And then, about 40 of those were rewriting work from the day before, but I do have an excuse. Well, an explanation.

Yesterday was my big day at the Unemployment Office. When I went to sign on, they gave me a pile of bumpf and told me to call the Job Centre for an Interview. I did. The Job Centre gave me a date for two weeks hence. Yesterday. I looked at the reading matter from the Unemployment Office. Half was little booklets about my rights and obligations, and their obligations and so forth. And there was a big folder thingy labelled ‘Fill in and take to your Interview’. I read it over. It was very nannying. I can understand that if you’re dealing with kids fresh from school who have no idea about job hunting, then it would be acceptable. Except that, kids fresh from school can’t sign on, as you qualify for Dole by working. And if they’re under 25 they can’t get Welfare either. That just leaves McJobs. So next time, smile at the kid opposite the counter: he or she certainly isn’t doing it for the career options. And Ronald knows that, and that’s how he manages to pay them so little, to cheat on the hours, and to generally mess them around by shifting shifts.

I filled out the form, grabbed my latest resumé and headed off for the Job Centre. When I got into the Interview Room, the girl asked if I had filled out the form: I said ‘Yes’. Not once did she ask to see it. This confirmed my opinion that it was a ploy to incite kids to get into job-seeking modeTM. The interview was painless except for the usual glitches in the Job Centre software: all comments had to be kept to 4 lines only; job categories are very restrictive; I didn’t entirely agree with the job description for my second category; you can only have two categories.

When asked, I said that I would be using family-and-friends network first, as well as surveying job sites but that things were very quiet at the moment [confirmed by the fact that there were no jobs for me in her machine]; then, in July I would spend some time with my daughter. In August, if nothing was happening, I’d contact Temp Agencies. And if by the end of September, the jobs hadn’t picked up I would contact the Job Centre again and perhaps consider retraining for something completely differentTM. She didn’t see any problems with that program and told me that the Job Centre would be expecting to see me again in December, and that the Unemployment Office probably hadn’t told me that when my notice period ended, I should contact them again to change status else they would cross me off the unemployment lists. This was very nice of her as, in fact, they hadn’t told me.

While leaving, she gave me an anonymous QA form to fill out. It was designed to see how well the Job Centre did the task of looking after me. I imagine that this is designed to give them feedback to fight the current government’s plans to allow Temp Agencies to compete against the Job Centres and deal with the unemployed. I wonder if the government shouldn’t just completely shorten the supply chain, cut out the middleman, and subcontract the work to McDonald’s… Anyway, I dutifully noted all the things that I have already said above, and tried to ignore the three female members of staff standing next to me trying to decide if a poster was straight or not. For at least 15 minutes.

Then I walked home under the scorching sun.

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writing
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chapter four

Just back from getting pen and paper from where I had left it by the bed. It has happened in the past, as I lay in bed just before [or after] sleep, that scenes, passages, words made their way through the mist and either, I had to lunge up and off around the flat looking for paper, pencil, anything, or I had to recite them and just try, try, try to remember them for later. And some is just imagery, like Magog raging around the stone halls and chambers, and how that must be echoed by, and echo, Colin’s later actions. That I don’t write down as it is just feelings. That, I let it flow over me, trying to feel the words to reflect those pictures, in the same way that the cold stones reflect the torch, and the sounds of grating armour…

But nothing came last night. I was exhausted by the heat, dried out, squeezed dry. I slept almost immediately. Perhaps then I dreamt out all the book in all its twists and turns and wonders, and then forgot, as I rarely remember the night’s dreams.

So here I am, this morning, washed up on the shore of Chapter Four. Nearly 400 words in. Now I have to push McHarry and Colin forward so that they meet up with Stone. And then the story can really start.

Oops!

Should a story really start on Chapter Five, possibly Six? I don’t know. It starts with a loud clap of thunder, this rolls on to Chapters Two to Five where it then appears to go in one direction [but if I have left the rigt breadcrumbs…] and then hops off those tracks into what could be considered a new direction. Which is the book’s substance. Perhaps this is why I originally saw it as having thirty chapters [in which case, ‘losing’ three or four to preliminaries is excusable, or, at least, understandable] and was surprised when I saw that it would only manage ten or twelve [which means that nearly a quarter of the story is not what I consider the central story…]. At times I feel that this is like if Lucy didn’t find the wardrobe until halfway through the book… But—paradox—all this is the story. And this is the way that I feel it should come out.

Should I gloss over the initial parts and then drag out the other? And, in this manner, redress the balance? I don’t think so… That feels like cheating on the story. Perhaps the best thing to do is to finish it and then see if it all feels lopsided.

Onward!

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writing
§
some progress

I’m not happy with it, but Chapter Three stands at 3750 words and I [as well as Colin, McHarry and others] am moving on to Chapter Four.

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writing
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Colin

The day is slow but on the move.

I am working on revising Chapter Three. It suddenly came to an end last night with Colin sitting and looking at Humphrey [don’t ask]. Today I need to go back, clean, correct and expand in places. Slowly Colin is taking shape. This is good, as he has become the central character in the stead of McHarry—to my surprise. He only arrived in here as it was more convenient to have someone for McHarry to talk to. He spoke to himself a little too much. And then it was suddenly Colin’s story. The only problem with Colin is that he is very reserved and taciturn, yet he needs—professionally—to convey large amounts of info to McHarry. So I have decided that in his job he can speak, albeit awkwardly at times; in all other instances he reverts to self.

There are long passages in Chapter Three that ‘I do not like’. For the moment I will keep them there and see what reactions they get.

Apart from that I think that the lorries spend there days dancing in the streets below, it is so noisy with beeping and roaring and puffing. And the weather is hot and uncomfortable already. I don’t know how I will last…

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writing
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evening interlude

Ludivine made me some coffee before going downstairs to buy exotic fruit like cherries at the corner shop. This is about her coffee.
. . . . .
This is coffee,
it is fine coffee,
it is your coffee.
You will love coffee
like your mother’s milk,
you will love coffee,
like rum, and other liquors of that ilk,
you will sleep to your coffee,
you will weep to your coffee.
Yes, this is coffee,
it is fine coffee,
it is coffee
and it is mine.
. . . . .
Right, now everybody knows and all is clear.
Thank you.

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writing
§
tangles

I am currently stuck at page 3.17. This could be taken to mean that I am at the seventeenth manuscript page of chapter three. Oh how wrong. I sometimes come back on pages during the drafting and so I get things like:
3.1 – 3.13, more or less normal
3.13+
3.13+bis
3.13++ [with two paragraphs at the bottom noted “use later”]
3.13+++
3.14

So there you know parts of the story.

But there’s more. Pages 3.1 to 3.5 are all marked ‘version 2’ as I rewrote them. 3.7 – 3.11 are also numbered 3.100 – 3.104 as at one point I was going to start at 3.7 but then changed minds again. And, of course, I may change minds [or just one of them] about this again at some point.

Pages 3.16 and 3.17 are being written because I planned them. But I’m sure that I will cut them. Like I may cut other parts of this chapter later. But I need to write them to know if I need to cut them. But writing them when I think that I am going to cut them is hard to get through this little skull which says, Well, why don’t you just skip them? And sometimes I think that little skull is right.

The other part is that if I write them as if they will be cut—i.e. badly—then either they will be, creating a self-forfilling prophecy [and a waste of time]. Or I will decide that they need to be in there anyway, which will mean rewriting them up to the same level as the rest of the material [and so the present writing is a waste of time also].

The only answer then seems to be that I should write them as if they are not going to be cut… as they probably will be.

Oh well, let’s get on with this…

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sunday morning

“Please try to remember that the purpose of baths—before flooding the bathroom—is to wash…” I said, handing Kim flannel and liquid soap.
She is at a curious age; whereas, for her, washing means dabbing at just the visible parts of her face and fingertips, she will languish in a bath for hours forgetting entirely to wash, until she steps out looking like a species of pink prune.
Then drying her hair; for once, she came to me and said “Papa, there are knots that I can’t get out…” and proceeded to let me comb them out in my usual caring and gentle manner without the usual screaming, cries and jumping up and down saying “You’re hurting, you’re hurting,” when I’m not, or I may be, but I’m just doing my best.
That sort of Sunday morning.
. . . .
The other part is that I finally stopped that hacking cough at 4 in the morning, that the baby upstairs still cries for quarter-of-an-hours on end [and the parents do nothing…], that Kim started coughing again at 6 this morning, and that at 9:30 I was in no fit state to get up. I am still coughing up that horrible greeny-brown mucus stuff and I feel as if there is an orangutan squeezing my chest permanently, or at least a small gorilla. I can’t remember feeling that breathing was so difficult since my lung collapsed 20-odd years ago.

“Some people say not to worry about the air
Some people never had experience with…
Air…air”
David Byrne/Talking Heads, Air [from Fear of Music]

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language and tongues

Trying to find a word and it came out in French: “mefiance”, a sense of mistrust. That happens: I’m building a scene and whole sentences come in French rather than English. I have been living here for about 27 years so in that time it is not surprising that the other language has worn down the floodgates and seeps over onto territories reserved for the mother tongue. I will look at the wall and the ceiling; roll the word around in my head; and then finally go and get the French-English dictionary to find a word in my own language.

I’m still reserved about French, though. I wrote Bill and the first two or three drafts of Juliet in it, and there are some passages that are quite good [he says modestly]. But I don’t have the intimate feel for it that I do with English. In English I tend to feel that I know what I am doing; in French, too often, the words take me places that I didn’t intend to go.

. . . . .
Oh, and if anyone feels like pointing me in the direction of a good course on the use of semi-colons and colons, I’m a taker. I never feel confident with these little beasties.

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breaking the back of Chapter Three

I am now over 10000 words into Pirates. And halfway through Chapter Three. I think that this is back on track.
OK, I freely I admit planned on writing a chapter every other day and this rythmn looks more like a chapter every week. But providing that I achieve that, I can live with it. I still want to finish, at least the first draft, by mid July, so that means that I should hasten my pace a little. This seems possible.
Fingers crossed.

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progress

Chapter Three is now 2000 words long and counting…

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a tale of general ineptitude

When I started work at The Place That Shall Not Be Named my Colleague Opposite indicated that there was a large hard drive with filesharing on, on C’s hard drive. This was the place where people stored mp3s. Staff brought in CDs, ripped them, and streamed the music to a player on their local machine. As I was working on a Mac I didn’t bother, I listened to the radio on iTunes most of the time.

Now fast forward a year and bear with me while I explain a rather annoying and intricate detail.

Most serious companies where IT is important have an IT charter. This document sets out what you and the company can and cannot do on the computers that the company provides. For example, you agree not to spread virii in your spare time, and the company agrees not to spy on your private mail; that sort of thing. However, in France, in the absence of such a charter, jurisprudence provides that a computer is a ‘private place’, in the same way that, for example, a locker or a drawer is. An employer, for the better or the worse, may not search a ‘private place’ if the employee [or someone representing the employee] is not present. Now I pointed this out to MB and Hubby when I arrived but, as ever, they reacted by saying that they didn’t need such things [an IT charter] in their company.

One weekend Hubby decided to examine C’s computer and came across the hard drive containing the mp3s. All 4 GB of them, all organised by artist/disk/title, just like the ripping software allow you to do. Hubby went through the ceiling.

He imagined that:
1 – C spent all her days downloading and organising the material instead of working. To that end he prepared charts in Excel* based on his calculations of an average download-and-organise time in order to show that she had been spending all her time for the past year doing only this. Of course, he is incapable of understanding that the computer can rip while it is doing something else because he personally has no multitasking capability, and that the software is perfectly capable of naming and filing the material without the need to do anything else.
[*Question: What is worse than an idiot? Answer: An idiot with Excel. Question: What is worse than an idiot with Excel? Answer: An idiot with MS Access… ]

2 – all of this were downloaded mp3s and thus ‘illegal’. I put ‘illegal’ in inverted commas as I have hundreds of downloaded mp3s that are downloaded legally from musicians’ sites and music discovery services. Possessing a mp3-encoded music file for which you possess the disk is of course, perfectly legal. Possessing a mp3-encoded music file where you have the permission from the artist and any other rights holders to download is also perfectly legal. But for Hubby, the company IT specialist, the equation was simple: mp3s = illegal filesharing.

3 – that this was company material that was being misued. In fact Colleague Opposite had bought the disk for the purpose of containing ripped files. It wasn’t declared as such, but it was he who set this up.

4 – that this was hidden. In fact, as I noted, everyone knew of it.

So MB did what any reasonable person would do. She called in a Public Notary to provide witness that Hubby had found the files on C’s machine. And she sent a registered letter to C informing her of her instant dismissal from the company. Following that, other machines were searched and Kazaa was found running on some. And some of the piggy-back spyware that lives on Kazaa.

Come Monday morning we were all invited into MB’s office in two groups, which she named, in front of us, the ‘conspirators’ group and the ‘nothing to worry about’ group. The first were given a bollocking, the second of which I was part, were informed of the ‘facts’ and told we had nothing to worry about. Personally I asked to be allowed to leave the group in order to give my reactions to the information later in private not wanting to embarass and contradict MB and Hubby in front of other staff. MB refused and asked that I speak.

So I said that:
1 – in April of the previous year I had advised them to ban Kazaa. I did not talk about file-sharing, for me that was a private matter for each person’s conscience, however Kazaa ate a lot of bandwidth and the spyware that piggy-backed on the system made the machines unstable. [Not as unstable as the cheapo-cheapo hard drives that Hubby installed in the machines and which crashed—losing unbacked-up data—with unsurprising regularity. When I arrived I asked what the backup policy was. I was told that all was under order. Yep. All was under order, the data bases were backed up but that was all. It took a year to get a reasonable off-site backup policy implemented for all the servers, and there was still no policy for individual machines…]
Hubby had decided then that Kazza wasn’t a problem [because he’d never heard of it…].

2 – I had also proposed then that they put together a charter to cover this activity. They had poo-pooed the idea.

3 – that in the absence of said charter their messing about in people’s machines over the weekend was an intrusion in their employees private lives and that any material gathered in that way would be looked on with suspicion.

4 – that there was nothing illegal about ripping music files for private use, nor in streaming music from one computer to another provided that the files were not copied in the process. [They informed us that they contacted a lawyer who worked for the French Music Industry Rights Protection Agency, an organisation that like its American counterpart wants to see filesharing made illegal, and wants to block the legal right to copy music that you have aquired legally. A neutral third-party then… And this lawyer informed them that the copying of files onto the computer was in fact an ilegal operation. As it is clear that MB and Hubby had no understanding of what happened, I question there capacity to explain clearly to said lawyer—whatever his agenda—and it is not at all certain that they understood the answer either: lawyers rarely give straight black and white answers…].

5 – that if C was ‘guilty’ of anything then I was also ‘guilty’, and that the practise of dividing the employees into groups of ‘nice, good children’ and ‘nasty, naughty children’ was ridiculous.

MB and Hubby were also shouted at by their accountant who told them they were just covering themselves with ridicule. They withdraw the dismissal notice to C [who negociated her departure anyway, arguing that she had lost confidence in her bosses—ahem—and they paid her about 6 months’ salary over the odds just to get off the hook.] Colleague Opposite received an unjustified and disagreable ‘warning’ letter and we promptly wasted about three months fighting an extremely repressive and badly worded IT charter that basically gave the employers the right to do what they wanted, and the employees extreme and unrealisable responsabilties under penalty of being sacked if they even coughed. While proposing a decent charter that laid out clearly not only mutual and compatible rights and responsabilities, I also told them that it would be a good idea if they trusted their employees a little, as so far it had been the employees who had acted the most intelligently.

We heard nothing more of the charter which is both a good and bad thing.

But typical of MB and Hubby.

Oh, and I got the sack. Pure coincidence.

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some friday morn

I have written up the 825 word scrawl that starts Chapter Three. I have written up a short scene that must happen just a bit later. I must now get McHarry home. It occurred to me that I still need to convey the information in the scenes that I cut, the scenes that have been hanging around for five years or so. What was nice about these was that they introduced McHarry and his distaste in a third person stream of consciousness that slipped into first person at times without you noticing. Not consciously. While it wasn’t action, it wasn’t description, it came over as McHarry speaking to himself, whether this was an internal or verbalised monologue didn’t matter. And now I must replace all that information. I doubt that I will do it so well…
I think that perhaps I should get out the papers from the unemployement office and fill them out ready for my interview next week. That will avoid the need to think about McHarry. Of course, come tonight I will regret not having advanced on him.

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fine words

Just a quick word to say that this is going along like the proverbial house on fire: the 36-word paragraph that sheltered 2 questionable words amongst an otherwise fine mess is now down to 32 fine words. Oh yes, it’s not just a question of slipping in another word, sometimes these things break or change the rythmn of the phrase and in a knock-on effect, I find myself rewriting a perfectly servicable sentence. This was the case. But, I ask myself, have I really accomplished soemthing with all this?

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weird scenes at night

So in between coughing my throat all over the place [and with that and my hopping up and down, and I am in bed and I am not in bed, keeping Ludivine from sleeping—sorry] I wrote another very fine 36 words for Chapter Three. These go with the 133 fine words from the other day. Making 167 [and not 169 as I have doubts about two of the words in the last 36… I suspect that I can find finer words still. We’ll see].

Then I got up again and wrote 2 pages [about 500 words] just like that. These are not fine words. They are good words but not fine. They do possess a good feeling and I’m confident that with a little encouragement they can be groomed to fine words. And I wrote a page of notes as to how the rest of the Chapter should progress [not the plot points, I already have those, but how they should manifest themselves to Mistress Reader. Or to young Master Reader. The fictional—at this point—audience. But it is probably Mistress Reader, as I see it more as Kim…] It being by that time about 3 in the morning I didn’t feel up to the actual writing. So have I broken this Chapter? Can I slip the saddle on now, and lead it out of the paddock and start going somewhere. I don’t know, but I do feel more confident now.

When I was writing Juliet I read somewhere that one should cut out all the passages you ‘love’. It hurt, but it was true. They were there because they were lovely set pieces, but not advancing the story. The same thing happened here. I wanted to keep that old text in, partly because it was done and nice, partly because I liked it. But the story didn’t.

I suppose that in time I will learn…

. . . . .
An aside. As I’m writing all of this—initial draft and revisions—by hand, all word counts are by hand also. I’m getting to know what a 200 word page looks like and what a 250 word page looks like. When I rewrite a paragraph 5 or 6 times—yes, this happens often—then I count each word when I have finished. So when I say 36 words, it is. When I say 1200, it is just a matter of adding 250 word pages to 200 word pages. If you follow.

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back from the cinema

So we saw HP3. There were some disappointing parts, principally the kids [mostly Emma ‘wide-eyes’ Watson and Dan Radcliffe] still can’t act [Tom Felton, Rupert Grint and Matthew ‘Neville’ Lewis were fine though]. And the plot had to be hacked around to get it to fit. But while the latter part is reasonable and always open to debate, the former is just painful.

There are other errors, also. The biggest is that nowhere is any explanation given about the Four, about Remus’ role [and so why he recognised the map], and thus why it was such an insult to Snape, and the role of the deer reinforcing why Harry thought he saw his father, etc. On a minor level the means of neutralising the Tree wasn’t given and so it went from being scenery to instrument of murder and back again, which is a bit odd.

[Later update that came to me as I was going to sleep. Askaban was handled badly. It is just said that it is the ‘Wizard’s Prison’. The book is much clearer on the abject terror of the place, the toll that it placed on Sirius Black. And the ambiguity of the Dementors…]

However what was good was very well done: Michael Gambon and Emma Thompson appeared to adore hamming it up; Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman and David Thewlis were just right—each dangerous and sexy in their different ways… And the design! Visually and graphically it was invention after invention. I loved the new look of the buildings, the hillside outside the school, the Marauders’ Map, and much more. And the snow, and the visual effects around the Dementors, the transitions about the seasons… While these may not have been perfectly faithful to descriptions in the book, they were in the spirit of it. In fact, in cases, better as the book descriptions can be poor at times. [This is not bitching—writing is hard, imaging all this is difficult. Let this be clear: I think JKR is fine on plot, she is OK on dialogue and weak on writing. But she gets millions of kids reading and that is not bad. Hell, she gets hundreds of thousands of adults reading too! And the kids don’t care, they just read and discover they like it and just go on reading. And I’ll hope that they will comme back to these books when they’re older and they won’t see them as I do, they’ll still see them with their eyes as when they were kids and still adore them.]

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a funny thing happened on the way to the manuscript...

It occurred to me, this afternoon as I was lying down in the throes of a headache with the nagging cough that I have been dragging around for the last three days or so, nagging as those nagging coughs do.
[Aside: this is most unjust. When I smoked I didn’t cough, I didn’t spit up horrible substances like I am doing now. I was told to expect all this when I stopped smoking, being told that the body would reject all the gunge that I had accumulated in it for years. Nothing happened. My jaws seized up but that was all. No gunge. I wanted a smoke but that was to be expected. It was annoying but that was all. I was smoking 30 a day, by the way. Now I’m getting this and I don’t even smoke. It is most unjust. More so as, one year later, I would like a smoke. I don’t need one. That has gone. The nicotine craving is out of my blood—but maybe not my brain. I would just like the pleasure of sitting with a coffee and a cigar and enjoying a smoke. Sugar! What is worse is that I often dream that I am offered a cigarette. And that I refuse it. I refuse it saying, No, even if I know this is a dream, it would be cheating to smoke now. Look, I could smoke all I wanted in my dreams and it won’t harm or affect me in the slightest and my dumb dream self refuses. Sometimes I don’t understand myself at all.]
So anyway, this afternoon, I had an idea why Chapter Three was giving me all these problems. It is in fact the part that I wrote years ago. About six. I can clearly remember where I was. I was with N and we were in a restaurant where we used to frequent rue du Chemin-Vert. She said, tell me a story, so I started, and immediately McHarry was there, with his old mac and his temper.
So when I came to Chapter Three, I just wrote this, and updated it slightly. And then stopped. I could go no further. In fact, I can’t. While McHarry is here and everything, the story has gone beyond this. All that text [1200 words] will have to go as it no longer has its place in this version. This is difficult. This is painful. I like the words here, I like the ideas, the people. This is good material, it has been polished and smoothed. But it is no longer this story. [Perhaps—the idea comes to me as I write—I should try a short story with that part…].
So now perhaps I can stop complaining, and stop prevaricating, and get down to writing Chapter Three. The new one. This one.
. . . . .
Off to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban [Or, the prisonnier dans la cabane, as I tease Kim…].

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wednesday morning

Big argh! I found a cliché in my nice paragraph this morning. “A terrible thought struck him.” [Can thoughts strike? I suppose so. That would be personification. I remember that from English classes at school. Must have been in the lower sixth. We had great fun with that. I rather liked the English teacher. Can never remember his name. He had a north-country accent. Seemed young and earnest. And to like teaching English. “Silence seeped into the carriage like wraiths of smoke, playing around the travellers before seeking refuge in the luggage rack when no-one wanted to pay attention.” OK, strictly speaking that isn’t personification. Reification perhaps?]
What is a cliché? Or rather, what makes a collection of words one? I don’t know, they must have been fresh and valid at one point but have just become overused, worn, lost their freshness. So, at one in the morning the sentence was OK. But when I re-read it this morning it seemed threadbare and didn’t bring the right colours, temperature and all that to the rest of the words. So I changed it. I’d like to work on the rest of the Chapter but have things to do today. The washing up is done. That was that. Now there is shopping—nothing too big, ground coffee being the most vital commodity on the list—and I need to replace the variator on the halogen lamp; repair the light in the hall [while there is light to see what I am doing…]; buy the tickets for Harry Potter tonight; go to the library and change the books; try and get the archives to work on this blog. And on the subject of the blog, add a reading list. Don’t know if I can. Perhaps I really should have programmed my own.

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suddenly

I had jotted down a paragraph while drying up on the rest of Chapter Three [Note to myself: from now on we capitalise chapters. Note back to myself: Thanks]. I came back to this paragraph from time to time to jiggle it around. It found itself rearranged and added to. As the voice failed on other parts, this lone paragraph slowly jelled.
At last I realised that all that I had written for Chapter Three up to now was not good. That is, I had about 1200 words that were not right. But that today I had about 100 words that I really liked. 100 good words is—believe me—better than 1200 bad ones. I’d prefer it the other way round but, well, now I need to up the ante a little.
And I believe that I see where the problem is. This isn’t a funny book. There will be funny incidents—at least I hope that they will be seen as that—but the writing shouldn’t play for laughs. What do I mean:
“The Superintendant was very large. One had the impression of a bear that had been hastily shaved, but not completely successfully, and then slipped into an ill-fitting uniform.”
That is playing for laughs. It doesn’t work. It works even less in a scene that is meant to be building up to something terrible and poignant—the parents’ reactions to the kidnapping of their children.
. . . . .
I have possibly a better idea of where this chapter is going now. If only I can get it written. Even to first draft status. Please.

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after the party

Kim’s birthday party came and went. She did invite most of her class (argh!), however only four of the kids turned up (aaah!). She was positively burdened down with pressies—I know, I had to carry them back to her mum’s flat. And while Ludivine thought that I had exagerrated by preparing a programme for the afternoon that separated activities into 15-minute divisions (3:00 – blow out candles, 3:15 – eat cake…) by having this, as well as a big list of party games and prizes, I was able to occupy them and more importantly, stop them squabbling.
That evening Ludivine went off to her parent’s goodbye party with all the cookies she’s been preparing all day. I put Agathe (she was staying over) and Kim in the bath, then filled them with soup and then put them in front of Luputa, Castle in the Sky on video while I went to bed and watched Dark Water on DVD. The film was sadder than I expected. And creepingly uneasy rather than pure horror.
Ludivine and I watched Castle in the Sky on Sunday night after I took Kim back home. It was OK. There were some nice visuals at times but I felt that the story was a little stretched out. But thereagain, I’m not 9.

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chapter three... still

I have revised chapter two (about 5000 words) counting that this action would put me into voice for the following chapter. It hasn’t. I have written small fragments, some of which are acceptable. One even which could be considered pleasant. But it isn’t coming together. I will have to pick up from the bestest fragment and just continue from there and we’ll see. I don’t think that this is a problem with the plot. I am writing. I just don’t like what is coming out. I am wondering if this is in fact a problem with the character…

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