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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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writing about the story known as ‘Died’

2004 Reading List

Being a list of books read during the current year.
Moving Pictures
Soul Music
Faust Eric
Small Gods
Carpe Jugulum
Men At Arms
Feet of Clay
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
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!
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
The Sound of Coaches
Blewcoat Boy
- Leon Garfield
The River Styx Runs Upstream [Le styx coule à l’envers - Nouvelles]
- 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.
a pause in the pause

The opening chapters to Leon Garfield’s The Empty Sleeve have so far been wonderful. So full of ideas, sparse and pleasantly written, and that little sinister noise rustling at the edge. Kim stops me from time to time to ask about a word, but that’s fine, shows that she’s listening. I just hope that she’s enjoying it as much as I am.

Kim is with Emiline, who is getting quite rounded, this afternoon. I can believe that she’s pregnant seeing here like that [of course, it could be a very severe case of indigestion, but let’s not go into that]. They have gone to see Shrek2. For some reason this does not tempt me, and so I am quite happy to let them enjoy it together.

I am profiting from the peace and quiet to make the notes for the rewriting of Chapter One that I should have done three days ago. I always thought the psychology of this chapter was weak. But there again the lack of psychology is not necessarily a bad thing, I was aiming for Beowulf and that just seems more Thomas Hardyish than Henry James. Anyway, I have now found glimpses of 19th century Medieval slipping in: sort of The Lady of Shalott [which makes me think of this more precisely this ] meets Beowulf.

[complete aside on this subject. This brought to mind one of my first visits to the National Gallery when I must have been around 16. I rushed along to see the pre-raphaelites—probably getting distracted by the John Martin paintings that I discovered there; wonderful stuff for 16-yr-old boys…—and in front of, I believe that it was The Lady of Shalott, was a very beautiful girl, 18 to early twenties, a very pale pre-raphaelite style type of pretty, gazing up in awe at the paintings; she had a great plaid of thick red hair that stretched down to her bum. At the time I was utterly knocked out by the effect. About twenty years later, I realised that she probably posed in an around that section for most of the day, as it all seemed a little ‘too much’, both as an effect [affect?] and a coincidence…]

Anyway, I will continue with my Tennyson meets Beowulf and see where it leads. I wanted some Arthurian references around the place [there are others already there], so this isn’t too bad. It reads, at the moment, like something that one could have read in Arthurian stuff, but not quite able to put one’s finger on. That is, I confess, the sort of feeling that I’d like.

As I take the time to think things through in preparation for redrafting, other parts are also coming together: changes, bits that need adding. I am also realising that there are some more stories hanging around the edges of this one. I will resist until I have finished this—and, of course, then I have Died to write—but it might be interesting to explore some of these places again. We’ll see.

. . . . .

Note to myself: iTunes Precursors and Contemporaries is pretty dismal. I was wondering how hard it would be to put together a good recommendation engine. Have to think that through some time. Could be easy to do badly…

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blurb for Died

As I have started work on Pirates, and in order to start getting things ready for the next, worked on the ‘blurb’ for Died today. Of course, this may change en route, but it is designed to get my creative juices going. So here goes:
. . . . .
The First Time I Died…

He is known as Mr Esterhaze, but that is not his real name. He is known for his magnificent puppet theatre, but that is not his real occupation.
Jill, however, knows the truth. She knows because her best friend is one of the little girls that Esterhaze has killed. And now they’re out for revenge…
. . . . .
Definately the sort of book that I’d like to read.

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life etc.
What is the most difficult?

Yesterday I had two strange experiences. The first was the formal interview required under French law before one can be fired. Surreal wasn’t the word. No, sick was more like it. You are being praised to the heavens to such a degree that it starts becoming suspicious, but you’re still being fired. I think that I would have prefered the treatment of a boss that I heard about from a friend: you were called into an office; he would have his checkbook in front of him—“How much?” was the question. And you collected your papers on the way out.

Then I tried to write a synopsis of Juliet. I consulted about 15 sites through Google. All explained in length how to write a winning synopsis that is guaranteed to sell your book. I imagine that the quality of writing and the actual book should also have some merits, so I took the titles with a small truckload of salt. What I did manage to pull together was a rather sketchy—and at times contradictory—structure and modus operandi. The part that I found the hardest was the idea that the final document should just be one page long. I tried that, it became a blurb, not a synopsis. Yet, all the sample synopses that I found online were about 3-4 pages, so I don’t feel bad about mine being in the same case.

Initially, Juliet has a complicated structure—a ‘Y’ shape. With two stories paralleling each other until they join. During the forks of the Y, events happen on one side and are paralleled on the other. To make things worse from my point of view, initially everything was chronological, but this made practically all the first scenes, rabbit ones and Juliet didn’t get introduced until chapter 2 (when reading this to Kim, she just assumed that Juliet was a rabbit too. Oops! I changed everything to start with Juliet and establish her first). In the synopsis this comes over as choppy. Now, of course, because of all that, I have severe doubts about everything. And it took about 4 draughts to get the beginnings of the current synopsis.

The fact that I’m trying to write the synopsis is actually good news. Thomas, a friend of Ludivine’s, knows the editor in the Children’s division of a reputable British publisher. I must send her over the first three chapters and the synopsis. Now, my reasonable self knows that nothing will come of this except a polite refusal letter in a few months. However, it is nice to know that I will get even that. It also means a slight foot in the door when Pirates (which will be better than Juliet by a magnitude of 10) is finished. And that could be fun. And if that is not the one… well there is always Died.

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hard at work

I have been progressing like wild fire on Pirates. While this is undoudoutably A Good ThingTM I should have been working on Died, or at least, that was my intention. And Juliet is awaiting another revision.

While I don’t believe in inspiration—just hard work. I can’t really feel up to adandoning a good creative streak when the ideas flow on and on. Perhaps inspiration favours the prepared notebook?

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I finished my latest runthrough on Juliet last week. I think that I have all the plot mechanics ironed out now; things that were too vague are definately clearer. But I am still not satisfied with the manuscript. I tried reading parts out loud and immediately heard problems of rythmn and structure. Small argh. These are moments when I think that dictation software is a good idea. (I know it isn’t, this is just shifting the problem elsewhere.) So a new rewrite is due.

This week I set out to continue Died. And got hijacked. Two new chapters for Pirates appeared. Just like that. (Just the plot, not the writing… would it be so easy…). What really happened was I was thinking about different plot mechanics and twists and these prequel scenes appeared. Prequel in that they take place before what was previously Chapter One. This is annoying as I had decided on a particular structure. This is not annoying in that they are good and interesting and solve a lot of later problems. It just means that I must go back and cross out the structure idea.

(I might as well explain the structure idea: Pirates is in 5 parts—seems like a good structure, and fits the plot—each part was to be narrated by a different person from the book, in that it would be his/her POV in play there. Except the new prequel chapters can’t be narrated by the person who should do Part One. He cannot, cannot be there. Impossible. Shucks. It was a nice idea. Medium-sized argh.)

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this is not denial

I finished the latest run through with Juliet and have probably 10% of the work in blue with comments to myself inside braces. This may not seem like much but that is at least 5000 words in limbo. More even in fact as there often second and third choices in there. I understand that this is because this is special for a number of reasons, it being the first real work that I have attempted (oh, all right, the second then…), and the fact that I want it to be good. And finished. I think that the only way to achieve this is to put Juliet aside for a while.


The sigh is because Died isn’t going better. Expanding my notes is so slow. Yesterday I probably managed 5 lines. 50 words???

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two green apples

Ludivine has just called saying “Do I want to join her over at Les Halles to eat out?” As I had planned to write tonight—she being out with a girl friend—I had to say ‘no’. Well, I didn’t have to and I did have to hesitate a lot, but I want to advance, and I have been thinking and planning stuff in my head and particularly I can see a twist at the end of Juliet that I would rather like to try out… So I will put aside the apples and cheese and stuff that I bought to do some cooking. (This being an activity unlike work but like washing-up that is condusive to thinking.) I will sandwich instead.

Apart from that, I have decided that my mind has liquified (all is the fault of the mindnumbing stuff at work). And now it seems that I have been working on revising Juliet for what feels like months. This story is supposed to be finished. I want to get on with Died and the Pirates. Small argh.

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those revising days

I am surprised to find that editing and revising texts is such hard work. If I go at it for more than a two hour stretch I am exhausted and not good for much else for the evening. Certainly not writing. By pausing after about 90 minutes I manage to pull in 2 one-hour-and-a-half shifts with 30 minutes lost in the fold.

Writing can be exhausting but it can also be elating. Not always, but I have found myself lifting my nose from a 6-hour stinker without realising just how time has passed. This does not happen when revising.

There is also a limit to the number of times that I can read the same text over and over and still see it clearly. To this end I have discovered a list of words that I believe I use badly. These comprise, and this is not yet an exclusive list, and, was, were, in order, that, like, thing; others will probably get added over time. So how do I revise like this? At this stage I type, for example, and in the search field of the word processor. This generally—if I do it right—shows me the first occurrence of and in the text. I read the sentance. It may pass, in which case I press CMD-G right away to inspect the next one. Or the sentance may seem wonky. With or without my questionable and. Then I try to rewrite the sentance, and any others that may come before and after. Sometimes this works. Sometimes I just call up the colours palette and mark the offending passing in blue. In my code that means, come back later with a fresh head and clear out this here mess. Then I press CMD-G. You get the idea. Sometimes I will see consistant bad use of a niggly word. This is how in order, like, and thing came to be added to the list. But by just looking at seemingly random snatchs in this manner my eyes stay awake to typos and mistakes. I’m pretty sure that I’d have missed most of these if I had just read through, as the sense of the story would have caused the my eyes to see the ‘right’ words, precisely those that aren’t there.

Now when I did the first two draughts, these niggly words, as I affectionately think of them, appeared to fit fine. My tongue flowed over them with both ease and mastery. But that’s how it works. Now look back at this paragraph… no, right back. See that little did at the beginning? And that’s the sort of like the thing that I was meaning. That did brings nothing purposeful there. (It’s just hanging around feeling contrived because most of this paragraph is.) It’s a sign that I could tighten up that sentance; look for a more appropriate verb than ‘do’. And And that’s the sort of like the thing that I was meaning is an attempt to show all those horrifying forms in one sentance. Yuk.
Working at fragments and nibblets in this fashion also means that when I come back to reread the whole story I haven’t already bored myself to death with it. I can—reasonably—see it afresh and then concentrate on plot and the larger picture.

So revising is boring hard work. Which is probably why I’m writing this to give myself a pause. But also because I am annoyed at my lack of progress.

When I decided to write, that is write in the sense of producing fiction, and do it with a serious weather eye set on publication, I also made the decision that I would write something good each and every day. Get at least a couple of paragraphs under my belt before breakfast by the expediant of waking at some gawdforsaken hour and gnawing my pen until breakfast (which I have never done, but it was an idea that did come to me…). Without in fact going to those extremes, I have managed to keep up my rythmn. I have one completed novel (This is also a very bad novel and will never even be proposed to a publisher, much less a friend’s eye without the sort of serious re-write that would make open-heart surgery look like an afternoon stroll, but I did it. I started it, planned it out, sat down and wrote it. In dribs and drabs it took a year. But I did it, and there is a satisfaction in just knowing that it didn’t fall to the wayside.) I have one novel for kids that I am editing and at least two more in my notebooks (one, Died is in fact spilling out, even now). I also wrote about 20 poems in the last eighteen months, or which about a third are acceptable and will find themselves into a Christmas book. I also wrote a short story for Christmas last year. I finished that translation that I sent to Alain. I am getting there.

Except the days when I’m revising, editing and cleaning copy. Oh well.

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Died #1

755 words. This means I have managed to spout nearly 500 since last time. And while I know that most of these will be rewritten at some point, the voice for this chapter is slowly emerging. This is encouraging.

What is starting to worry me, is that the voice is almost adult and this was supposed to be for children. I accept that due to the subject matter it wasn’t going to be suitable for an 8 year old (as I hope Juliet is) but I suppose that I would have liked to aim at 10-11 year olds. But even then I might have to tone the language down. Or do I mean, water it down?. The language is not vulgar, nor chock-full of swearing or whatever. It is just rather Victorian at times and while this may interest the sort of kid that I was at 10, it is certainly out of the reachs for most, even readerly, kids nowadays I fear.

Apart from that, the story has decided to set itself in and around Clifton in Bristol. Any ressemblance with today’s Bristol is certainly strained to say the least; this was a place that I found most memorable when I visited it some 30 years ago. I suspect that I will be working from those memories.

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Small Argh!

200 words.

And even then that is a rounding up because the official count is 196. Is this really all that I have to offer for today?

Of course, I have most of Chapters One and Two of Died mapped out, but the words, when they get down on the paper and once I transcribe the crossings out, the squiggles, the side notes… it just doesn’t come out right. The ‘voice’ isn’t there. Small argh!

(asides: on another front, currently in iTunes, the wonderful and aptly-named radio paradise is playing Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. I have made another page of notes for Juliet. (I also wondered today if it was possibly to make a version that possessed no adjectives and no adverbs. Just the story, and then see what needed to be added back in. Will probably not get past the idea of ‘whataboutif’.) Also went with Kim and Ludivine (and Yvan from upstairs) to see the behemoths at the natural history museum (Have I ever mentioned how much (and why) I hate sites in Flash? This one is no exception. And did you hear the one about the Czech Republic?) It was pretty pleasant except all the pushing and shoving. And then this evening, doing nothing more energetic than walking upstairs I felt my back go ping. Even now it’s pulling.)

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A New Beginning

I don’t understand how caitlín r.kiernan can possibly say that she wrote XXX words so-and-so day (except perhaps the obvious answer that as a professional writer she had damn better know).

So the day before yesterday I started work on the ghost story—provisionally titled The First Time that I Died… (and hereafter for convenience’s sake “Died”). I now have, in addition to my note books with sprawls of notes, veritable wabes of them, that I fill out when riding on the Metro (I find the Paris Metro very condusive to productivity. I don’t know if this is a Metro thing or whether all public transport systems function in the same manner, the only other one that I have ever tried being the London Underground and then I was so young I can only remember dark cavernous halls filled with ticket machines because of the Brits’ charming habit of making you buy a ticket for the exact and precise station that is your destination rather than having a simple, ‘one-price-fits-all’ scheme like here. Passons). As I was saying before I was diverted by the Metro, I have three pages, each containing a variation of the intro. Each criss-crossed with notes, changes, reminders and question marks. Each page contains between 200 and 500 words so that, in all, I wrote about 1000 words over those two days. But how many will I keep? How many will stay on? How many will be reused? (Always a possibility, recycling words, no?)

I have also started compiling a list of changes for Juliet. In this way, when I will decide that it is time to go back and revise, I will also remember things that I must add in.

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