about this blog

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 called ‘juliet’

2006 Reading List

Being a list of books read during the current year.
· Peter S.Beagle: The Last Unicorn
· John Christopher: The Pool of Fire
· Ayerdhal, & J.C.Dunyach: Étoiles Mourantes
· Haruki Murakami: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, A Wild Sheep Chase, Kafka on the Shore, South of the Border, West of the Sun, After the Quake, Dance, Dance, Dance
· Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
· Jonathan Stroud: Ptomely’s Gate
· Ayerdhal: Consciences Virtuelles, Mytale, Balade Chroréïale, La Bohème & L’Ivraie, L’Histrion, Sexomorphoses
· Philip Pullman: The Broken Bridge
· Frédéric Lenormand: Mort d’un Cuisinier Chinois, Madame Ti mène l’Enquête, Le Palais des Courtisans, L’art délicat du deuil
· Jonathan Coe: The Accidental Woman
· Arthur C.Clarke: Rendez-vous with Rama, The Fountains of Paradise
· Arthur C.Clarke & Michael Kube-McDowell: The Trigger
· Arthur C.Clarke & Gentry Lee: Rama II, The Gardens of Rama, Rama Revealed
· Angie Sage: Septimus Heap Book 1 - Magyk, Septimus Heap Book 2 - Flyte
· Ian McEwan: Amsterdam, Atonement, The Innoncent
· Roddy Doyle: The Commitments, The Snapper, The Van, The Woman Who Walked into Doors, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
· Christopher Fowler: Disturbia
· James Morrow: Towing Jehovah, The Eternal Footman, Blameless in Abaddon
· Laurent Genefort: Omale, Les Conquérants d’Omale, La Muraille Sainte d’Omale, La Mècanique du Talion, Une Porte sur l’Ether, Les Chasseurs de Sève, Le Sand des Immortels, Les Croisés du Vide, Les Engloutis
· Melvyn Burgess: Redtide
· Terry Pratchett: The Carpet People, Night Watch, The Last Hero
· Tobias Hill: Underground
· Matthew Pearl: The Dante Club
· Helen Fielding: Bridget Jones - The Edge of Reason
· P.D.James: Cover Her Face, A Mind To Murder, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, Innoncent Blood, The Skull Beneath the Skin, Death in Holy Orders, The Black Tower, Shroud for a Nightingale, Death of an Expert Witness, A Taste for Death, Devices and Desires, Unnatural Causes, A Certain Justice, The Murder Room
· Lawrence Block: The Burglar who thought he was Bogart, Out on the Cutting Edge The Sins of the Fathers, In the Midst of Death, Time to Murder and Create, A Ticket to the Boneyard, A Dance at the Slaughterhouse, A Walk Among the Tombstones, The Devil Knows You're Dead, Everybody Dies, All the Flowers are Dying, The Burglar in the Closet, The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza, The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams, The Burglar in the Library, The Burglar in the Rye, The Burglar on the Prowl
· Orson Scott Card: Enchantement
· David Brin: The Kiln People, Postman, Uplift War
· Ian Rankin: Resurrection Men
· Justine Larbalestier: Magic or Madness
· Margaret Atwood: Surfacing
· Michael Connelly: The Black Echo, The Concrete Blonde, Trunk Music, Angels Flight, A Darkness More Than Night, City Of Bones, Lost Light, The Poet, Blood Work, The Lincoln Lawyer
· Herbert Lieberman: The concierge, La Nuit du Solstice, Le Vagabond de Holmby Park
· Eoin Colfer: The Opal Deception,
· Jasper Fforde: The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots,
· Ian Sansom: The Mobile Library - The Case of the Missing Books,
· Alexandra Marinina: Black Note,
· Faye Kellerman: Stalker,
· Jonathan Kellerman: Blood Test, Monster, Doctor Death, The Murder Book
· Sue Grafton: D is for Deadbeat, E is for Evidence, F is for Fugitive, M is for Malice, N is for Noose, O is for Outlaw, P is for Peril, Q is for Quarry, R is for Ricochet
· Nouvelles des Siècles Futurs, An Anthology compiled by Jaques Guimard & Denis Guiot

Reads from 2003 are here.
Reads from 2004 are here.
Reads from 2005 are here.

2006 Film and DVD List

Being a list of films viewed during the current year.
· Good Night, and Good Luck, George Clooney
· Pompoko [Heisei tanuki gassen pompoko], Isao Takahata
· The Pacifier [DVD], Adam Shankman
· Millions [DVD], Danny Boyle
· Truly Madly Deeply [DVD], Anthony Minghella
· La Double Vie de Vèronique [DVD], Krzysztof Kieslowski
· Layer Cake [DVD], Matthew Vaughn
· Ice Age: The Meltdown, Carlos Saldanha
· Natural City [DVD], Byung-chun Min
· Garden State [DVD], Zach Braff
· Volver, Pedro Almodóvar
· Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan
· The Ladykillers, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
· Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Michel Gondry
· Tideland, Terry Gilliam
· A Cock and Bull Story, Michael Winterbottom
· Flightplan [DVD], Robert Schwentke
· Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Gore Verbinski
· Casino Royale, Martin Campbell
· X-Men: The Last Stand [DVD], Brett Ratner
· Superman Returns, Bryan Singer
· Nanny McPhee [DVD], Kirk Jones
· V For Vendetta [DVD], James McTeigue
· La Science des Rêves, Michel Gondry
· Infernal Affairs II [Mou gaan dou II] [DVD], Wai Keung Lau, Siu Fai Mak
· Infernal Affairs III [Mou gaan dou III: Jung gik mou gaan] [DVD], Wai Keung Lau, Siu Fai Mak
· A Tale of Two Sisters [Janghwa, Hongryeon] [DVD], Ji-woon Kim
· Mirrormask, Dave McKean
· Labyrinth [DVD], Jim Henson
· The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy [DVD], Garth Jennings
· National Treasure [DVD], Jon Turteltaub
· The Weather Man [DVD], Gore Verbinski
· Bandidas [DVD], Joachim Roenning, Espen Sandberg
· A Bittersweet Life [Dalkomhan insaeng] [DVD], Ji-woon Kim
· Babel, Alejandro González Iñárritu
· The Fountain, Darren Aronofsky
2005 Film and DVDs are here.
Black as Snow

This is just to announce that I have put Juliet online under a Creative Commons licence. It is serialised daily, and will end at the start of April… Enjoy.

The book is called “Black as Snow” and is available from this link.

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Juliet, alone in the world

At the end of the year, I sent Juliet off to a new reader, and I thank her very much for slogging her way through my words. And also for writing back, sending me encouragements not to stop there. I won’t embaress this person by naming her here, but knowing her as a person—however distantly—and as a professional in the publishing industry, means that I attach importance to her words. While she may qualifiy, or rather disqualify, her judgement, it was precisely the kick that I needed to stir me to action.

So yesterday I swatted up my list of agents, and sent out tentative enquiries as to submitting the ms. It is too early to know if any of this will come to anything, but even as I type, Juliet is on her way to other hands, eyes, and opinions.

Now that Juliet is out of my hands, and launched upon the world, for better or worse—she may find her way, but she may just as likely return home, exhausted to sleep for a while within the covers of the folders on my desk—I have been thinking about what is the subject and the matter of the book as I attempt to advance on the others.

It is clear to me that—anthropomorphic rabbits aside—this is a coming of age tale: how Juliet comes to terms with herself, with her new life, with herself, and her abilities, and qualities. This is the novel that I wanted to write. Yet, alongside those events, and the other characters’ actions, there is another presence in the novel.

I never name the place where she lives, but for me it is the Sussex countryside where I played and roamed and explored when I was young. At that time, stumbling onto a sort of bucolic Narnia just through the next thicket, would not have surprised me. This was the possibility that was always there, waiting, suspended, just around the corner. I am not certain in this fenced and frightened time that children still have the liberty to wander as we did, but I am pretty sure that the desire to do so, to go out and invent the land, that that need is still there.

This possibility offered by the land—or the sense of ‘place’, for want of a better term—drawn from my own experience, is also present in one of my other working manuscripts. The opening scene of Tooth—for the moment, at any rate—takes place with the protangonists routing for flints in a freshly ploughed field. Exactly the sort of joyful and pointless thing that we got up to.

As I now have four books on the boiler (well, three, if I consider that Juliet is off the boil, and may be revised, but is, to all intents and purposes, finished as is) it is also interesting to look at the themes. While they are all in the magical fantasy canon, there are nonetheless two different undercurrents running in there.

Juliet and Died both have elements of terror in them. Terror, not horror. Horror for me is somewhat explicit. Terror is the feeling of unease lying behind the events and the characters. It is not explicite descriptions, but an atmosphere of disturbance and ill ease.

Pirates, and the latest sketches currently living under the name of Tooth, are on the other hand, adventures. It is perhaps caricatural—and revealing—that it never occurred to me that the principal character of Pirates was anything but male, even if his principal opponent is a very strong-willed girl (the good baddie). In fact, she is a much stronger character than Colin, and he does spend much of the plot being a wimp.

Tooth, came naturally with a female protagonist (probably as, like Juliet and Died it is being written with Kim in mind), but the plot is much more complicated, and I am currently battling on paper with lists of characters, groups, collections of people, waiting for the more forceful ones to push their way to the surface and impose their points of view. Lots of them will inevitably be male. I can’t help that. It’s the world that they live in. Although the absence of women, and the fact that my protagonist—not to say hero/heroine—is female, is part of the story/plot.

Why is it important to bring in strong female characters?

For a start, I’m pretty sure that children identify with strong characters. I don’t think it matters that much to them whether they are male or female. Just that if they are strong, they can feel for them in their struggle. Secondly, if girls can get a strong role—and not just as good baddies—it does provide a form of role model saying, Yes, you can do this. Girls can give as good as they get, and better even. As a father of three quite strong (and complex, and differing) girls, I am definately aware of this.

And finally, so many adventure stories are male-orientated. It is important that female characters impose themselves in the genre. I personally don’t have any qualms about my being an old white male trying to write this material: after all, Lyra—one of the most remarquable ‘heros’ of recent times—was also written by an old white male—makes us sound like gorillas, doesn’t it?—and she is absolutely marvellous. Would that I can become half as good a writer as Pullman is.

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...with a small ‘d’

It was one of those moments of weird synchronicity or coincidence. Call it destiny with a small ‘d’.

I was reading John Irving’s Widow For A Year just after Jay McInerney’s Model Behavior and, you know what? neither of these had chapters. They had sections of varying lengths, set off with a title, but no formal chapters. This, predictably, brought about the question of where the chapter as we know it in contemporary literature, came from in the first place. It is a bit like punctuation—so obviously there that you can’t envisage a world without it. And then you find yourself reading not one, but two books, that throw that out of the window. It was most liberating, even if I still don’t know who invented the chapter.

However, I saw that using this type of structure in Juliet would solve a lot of the little issues that I’d been having and were giving me doubts. So I pulled out the latest revision copy on the computer, duplicated it, and set down to transforming an awkward chaptered story, to an unchaptered one using the books I mentioned as models. This also—at last—gave me room for the new introduction that I had been working on for some time, the one that appears to quell my qualms about the start, and to adequately introduce the two separate twists of the Y shape.

And there it was… finished but for the shouting.

Juliet has been sent out to trusted beta-readers, and I’m anxiously waiting for reactions…

[Parenthetical remark about starts. There is a school of thought that says go for a hard-hitter and pull in the reader. This seems to be popular with agents and publishers too according to the advice that I see on the web—and the habit of now asking just for the first chapter of a manuscript. Yet, when I look back at books I have enjoyed—and now I going out of contemporary lit—they don’t seem to have the ‘get up and grab ‘em by the throat’ approach. This seems to be a modern thing, born of the need to quickly make a mark in a time of decreasing attention spans. Yes, a story should entwine you into it’s world and the initial dilemmas that it poses quite quickly, otherwise you’re not going to want to spend time with it. But does this mean that every opening scene must be aggressive and ‘in your face’? So where does one draw the hard-hitter line? For Juliet, I went for a start that I hope intrigues, that allows me to present her, and to introduce the world. No, it isn’t a hard-hitter. But I count that it encourages readers to continue… I’ll see.]

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I should not have stopped to think...

Since then I haven’t stopped. Thinking about little niggardly nagging things in the story, that is. [Should I have said, little niggardly nagging things in the narrative, or even, little niggardly nagging nuggets in the narrative, or would that have been overdoing things?]

Sorry for that interruption. As I was saying, thinking about these things that need changing. And thinking. And wondering if I shouldn’t work on the second draft of the half that is written, then I can incorporate those elements and see if it goes where I think it should [or, as I suspect, it might start heading where it thinks it should.] Whatever, this may help my waste less time [or waste it differently] when writing the second half.

Yet, all this means a radical [i.e. complete, floors-to-ceiling, and possibly beyond] rewriting of Chapter One. Who knows if the story might not profit from that to go off into new and unknown territories.

How come they never warned about this at school?

. . . .

Decision number two. Send off ‘begging letters’ to agents concerning Juliet. Ow!

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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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And sometimes it all just falls into place...

I spent all day yesterday working on Juliet and then Pirates. Juliet, in order to get it finished; Pirates, because I had been pulling at the leash for a while now. Although I’d love to start writing I think that I need some more preparation, so I was writing out lists of info about all my characters: the four who are central to the story, the secondary line of folk, even the ghosts and bit parts. I want to get to know these people…

Around 1 in the morning, I thought I’d reread Juliet. I was surprised to find that the first chapter is not as bad as I thought it was! In fact it was quite good, and I even chuckled in a few places. What’s more, this was in places where I should have which I found encouraging. I will re-read the second chapter tonight and see if I have the same reaction.

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at last some good news

Well, as I just revised the synopsis for Juliet I thought that I’d try and write one for Pirates.

This was a pretty amazing experience. I’ll explain why: I have been living with the idea of this story for a couple of months now, even if elements—the character of Stone, for example,—go back twenty years. I have been thinking it through and making notes, some detailed, some just ideas, but today was the first time that I attempted to sit down, pull those together and see if they made a story. They do. A spiffing one with twists, turns and surprises right up to the end, even if I do say so myself. It is a sort of cross between Treasure Island and Peter Pan, so that means that the Jonathan Swift elements have gone. And it’s all a much more a boy’s tale than Juliet which is much more a girl’s tale. (Oh, I’m sure that Kim would like them both, but that’s the way that I see things.)

The other thing that this has is that the plot is a lot simpler without the Y structure like Juliet. It’s also strange because I thought McHarry was the central character and it has turned out to be Colin. This is very nice, but a bit surprising.

Oh frabjous day!

. . . . .

Curious, both Bill and parts of Pirates date from more than 20 years ago. There are also some of Lenny’s adventures from just a bit later. I was thinking that I should get to thinking about Died as that hasn’t had 20 years to distill down to a story, but I had forgotten about Juliet which just came from the image of the horse waiting below the window in the rain. The first provisional title was The Storm Pony. Anyway, currently I have the first 2 chapters of Died very clear in my head (and Esterhaze is a very nasty person) but perhaps I should work on that like Pirates.

And then my great worry… what do I do after that? Oh there is that Dreamcatchers story idea. Perhaps I should also take notes for that…

Or perhaps just bask in the idea of the wonderful synopsis for Pirates for just 10 minutes more…

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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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halfway point

I have finally hit the halfway point in revising Juliet. I have 27000 words under my belt for a total of 53000 (I just checked). It is, has been, and probably still will be, laborious.

I read a paragraph out loud once, then again. Then I check that what I actually said was what I wrote—quite often there’s a first difference here. Then I check that what I read was what I wanted to say—quite often I find that I may have made a slight mistake. Then I check for flow, repetition, rythmn, sound… Then when I’m happy with it, I also check that paragraphs and punctuation are as I think that they should be.

Then I change the typeface from the pleasant serif face that I used earlier, to a typewriter-like face, and change the colour to black. Passages that I had signaled as ‘in need of a re-write’, were coloured in blue.

Then I move on to the next paragraph.
. . . . .
The printer cartridge that I ordered has still not arrived. Of course the site said that it would arrive last Thursday. It is being delivered by the post and now they have a tracking system in place. It is supposed to be delivered to work which is in Paris, 20th district. The packet went to Gennevillers which is pretty normal. Now it seems to be in some warehouse in Creteil which is less normal.
Meanwhile printer output has gone from a dark silvery grey to faint pencil lead colour. Last night when I printed out the names of the new European nations for Kim to revise, we had to draw over the text to render it visible.

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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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juliet blurb

Just in case you were wondering, here is the blurb for Juliet:

Juliet finds the country farm where her parents have moved ‘just as interesting as old dishwater’ (her words, I hasten to add, not mine). But then a planned motorway, and the need to cut across a nearby wood for a service road, and the surprising way these projects affect a neighbouring rabbit warren, all conspire to make her life a little less ordinary.

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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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