Monday, February 28, 2005

The Compulsive gets his Fix

For a compulsive communicator, feedback is oxygen. From the moment of starting to write a novel it may be two years before that first breath of feedback. A long time to wait. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the instant feedback of doing talks, public readings and performances. This week I have both tasks - the novel writing and the performance.

On the feedback-speed scale, blogging sits somewhere between. You post something up and (hopefully) feedback rolls in as e-mails or comments on the blog.

And on the subject of feedback - thanks to the people who e-mailed to say they enjoyed the audio file Between Tired Moments. For those who like that sort of thing, here is another one.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

After the Curtain Drops

What happens to characters after the book is over? If you've spent a hundred thousand words following their progress, it's natural to worry about their fate, to get attached to them to some degree. Readers want to know. Writers also.

And when, as a writer, you kill off a character that the readership were fond of - you get complaints. When I wrote Backlash, I was fairly sure that people were going to be shocked by one of the deaths (I won't say who). But I discovered that some readers had also latched onto another ill-fated member of the cast. I even got complaints - of the nicest possible kind.

So - just as a game - I worked through a 'what if' scenario in my head. What if not everything in Backlash was as it seemed - because things are seldom as they seem. What is true within the context of one narrative may prove skewed from a different point of view. A goodie may become a baddie - or vice versa. And truths held to be self-evident may be revealed as lies.

The result of this musing can be found at the end of the following link. If you follow it and want to comment - that's fine. But please don't put any spoilers in your feedback - just as I haven't put any in the story.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Do Novelists Work Weekends?

Novelists may pause in writing, but they never seem to stop thinking about writing. On a day like today, however, when Wales is playing France in the 6 Nations - there can't be much room for anything but worrying. Until after the game, of course.

So, instead of writing some sparking new words for the blog (or old words in a sparking an unexpected new order) I thought I'd offer this...

I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, February 25, 2005

From China to the Tay Bridge

In my mind I am deep in China right now, standing at the reception desk of a hotel, talking to an attractive young lady, getting instructions as to how to find a particular jetty on the riverfront. Exactly what will happen there – I don't yet know. It is late in the evening and that part of the city is poorly lit.

Then an e-mail comes in. Whoosh! I tear myself away from writing my novel - breaking off from Sichuan Province and the wharfs and jetties of the Chongqing City riverfront. Then I start to read the latest instalment in an increasingly strange conversation currently going on through my blog in response to A Conversation with Linda.

Well worth reading. It does make me laugh. But come on guys… you could be reading a well-regarded and recently published crime novel instead of making up poetry.

Couldn’t you?

Ah well, it was worth a try.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

A conversation with Linda

I only asked how much time she thought was wasted on trivial e-mail conversations. Instead of answering quantitatively, my good friend Linda sent me a few lines of verse - which resulted in the following e-mail conversation...

Linda :

I find that whilst I do not shirk
my duties when I am here at work
an inspirational pause or two
and beverage can aid me through
and then when focussed on my chore
I like to think I get through more.


But think how much more you'd achieve
if you weren't always taking leave
wrenching your attention from the delightful work
of a medical secretary (or clerk)
to partake in biscuits, tea and blogging
and think of the internet link you're hogging!


Should I feel guilt then when I write
an e-mail and no more delight
In sharing an occasional comment or two
with friends such as yourself who
I might otherwise rarely share
a thought with and how dare
you accuse me of internet hogging
when you are using both e-mail and blogging!


Data flies from house to house
silent as an airborne mouse
It wouldn't do to make a racket
when sending out a data packet
else your boss might reassess
your salary and pay you less.


Although maybe I whoop and shout
if happy sometimes when I'm out
when typing e-mails at my desk
the noise I make is somewhat less
I doubt my boss, should he pass by
would think that anything was awry.


One of the perks of the self-employed
is having no boss to be annoyed
I can set my own workload
be disgraceful - no conduct code
I can make loud whoops and hollers
But I wish I could earn more dollars.


Whilst of course envious to a certain degree
In so many ways I would rather be me
I have done all my work (and done it with style)
and helped a dyslexic, which was very worthwhile
and managed to gossip and drinks cups of tea
but without the temptation of food, naps or TV.


Temptation is the one thing I could never resist
so please do not mention food I insist
for now - as I'm typing this speedy reply -
you've started me thinking of chips, beans and pie.


I ate some chocolate (very nice)
But for now that will suffice
But if I go out in the rain
I think some chips might ease the pain.


This rhyming ping-pong is a delight
but you do hold the copyright
of every word and every verse
(both the better and the worse)
And though I'd like to blog the lot
(at least the bits that I've still got)
You might want to publish a compilation
(for a doubtlessly grateful nation)
Did you have anything planned
or should I publish and be damned?


Although I admit that it is a hoot
I see this simply as trivial pursuit
If you wish to pursue a more serious line
then anything wish will be perfectly fine.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Hold your Horses!

If you read the last post and are about to start of on a journey to Shefford Library – STOP.

The event has been postponed. Date to be arranged. There are weather warnings out for tonight. Hazard Warnings, one might say. Drivers advised to stay off the roads. So...

Shefford, we will see you soon.

Snow falling on Literature

Great snow novels:

  • Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow
  • Snow Falling on Cedars
  • Polar Star

But what of the snow sitting outside the house as I type this? It seems to be melting - which would allow me to drive down to the Bedfordshire Book Festival tonight. But there is more forcast for later in the day...

I'm supposed to be performing Hazard Warning at Shefford library at 7pm. Right now it seems that the only way to get there (and back) will be by train. We will see.

Perhaps I should write a novel about it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Boiling it all Down

I've never met a novelist who enjoyed writing a synopsis of his or her book. Let's face it - after sweating over the detail of the text for close to a year, after living every moment of pleasure or pain with your characters, why would you want to reduce the thing down to a few hundred words of inelegant prose? They say: 'He who translates, betrays.' They should have said: 'He who writes a synopsis, mutilates.'

Someone recently told me of a game - writing a one-sentence synopsis for a famous book. The Lord of the Rings came out as: 'Small people go to extraordinary lengths to dispose of stolen jewelry.' Accurate, but perhaps missing some of the grandeur of the original work.

And just to prove how little a synopsis really conveys, here's another one: 'Thirty-something leaves step-father's carpentry business to go fishing.'

synopsis writing is certainly an ordeal. As for writing the back-blurb - don't even go there!

Monday, February 21, 2005

The Reader's Ghost

Writing, they say, is a solitary activity. Sitting in a room, on your own, dipping the quill in the inkwell of creativity. Or hammering away on the keyboard of inspiration (somehow modern metaphors never sound so good).

But writers aren’t really alone. There is always the ghost of a reader standing just behind them. For writers are always accompanied in their frenzy of scribbling (or tapping) by the notion of a person who might, one day, cast an eye over their work.

And in the world of blog-writing, this abstract presence takes on a pleasantly concrete and quantifiable form. At the bottom of the page there is a counter, which ticks away totalling up the visitors.

Who is Who?

I’ve had some feedback on the last posting, Writers’ Circle. All I have to say on the matter is this – if you think you recognise your own voice in the list of critical comments - I couldn’t possibly comment.

It’s true, I did have specific voices in mind for each of the comments in the list. But I suspect these characters could be found in many writing groups. I can tell you, however, that the radio play comment would probably have come from me. I love radio drama. The pictures, as they say, are so beautifully clear.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Writers' Circle

The comments start here.

“It needs more dialogue”
“You were writing yourself in. Get rid of the first three paragraphs.”
“Have you thought of writing it as a radio play?”
“I like the voice but the narrative structure is wrong.”
“I don’t understand. Is this the same novel you read from last week?”
“Could you read that bit again - where they’re on the kitchen table? I think it might be physically impossible.”
“Have you thought of writing this a poem?”
“You should have finished the chapter earlier. Cut the last page.”
“It needs far less dialogue.”

- then back to the beginning -

Friday, February 18, 2005

Coping with Bad Reviews

Four philosophies:

Mendacity “Me? I don’t care what other people think.”

Superiority “The reviewers don’t know what they’re talking about, dahling.”

Denial “A bad review? With my writing? Be reasonable!”

Pragmatism “There’s only one thing worse than being talked about… not being talked about.”

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The great webstat mystery

Webstats always leave me with more questions than answers. I know, for example, that someone arrived at my author site ( ) as a result of a google search on the phrase 'hoverflies wings'. Whoever it was returned the next day with a search on 'hoverflies wing beats'. Was this someone who'd heard of my poem '120 Wingbeats per second' ? Or someone researching hoverflies who liked what they read?

And then the question of place. This month I've had visits from Finland, Australia, Lithuania, Nicaragua, Romania and Taiwan. Now, I know my novels are published in French and Italian - but how did they turn up in those far reaches of the world?

Perhaps I will never find out. Or... you may know different. If you're one of those people - make a comment on this page. Please. Put me out of my mystery misery.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The search for extra-terrestrial life

It's called SETI at home. A program that you can leave running in the background on your PC. First it downloads a chunk of data from one of the big radio telescopes. This is a record of all that background white noise that the universe seems so full of. The program activates itself whenever it senses you are idle (fetching a cup of tea perhaps). It's job is to pick through the ones and zeros in the data chunk, and find anything that could be an organised signal.

So I downloaded it and am having great fun thinking that my computer might be the one (out of all the tens of thousands signed up) that will find that long-searched-for greetings card from a little green man or woman (though any colour would do).

But it strikes me as I watch it that the processing must be using some energy. And that energy must be multiplied by all the tens of thousands of computers taking part. It must equate to a volume of carbon dioxide. And CO2 - a greenhouse gas - is heating up the atmosphere. And global warming is one of the threats hanging over the future of the human race. And thus - through a (highly tenuous) train of logic - could the search for life on other planets be damaging the prospects of life on this one?

Perhaps not. It's all a matter of getting things in perspective. A couple of litres of CO2 aren't going to make much difference. Maybe, after all, helping us to get things in perspective will be the most important outcome of the SETI at home project.


Blogging as displacement activity? Does this mean I'll stop making so many cups of tea?

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Bless this blog and all who sail in her

A chilly February day, sitting in the study, surrounded by piles of papers (in no discernable order), curtains closed, the debris of a novel (almost completed) all around me. Having used up all my good grammer teaching and writing, am now reduced to what Word would call 'scentence fragments'. But at least I have - with this - entered the blog age.