9 June 2015

The latest episode of Game of Thrones reminded me why I stopped reading the books

*Post Preface* The following post is written from the perspective of a reader and a TV viewer, not of a writer, or a producer or anyone else. I write this preface partly for those about to peruse my words and mostly partly to remind myself. On the latter point, I will likely fail.

At one point in the latest episode of Game of Thrones, I actually exclaimed through sheer emotion to my fellow viewer and sister, "What are we watching here? I can't take this!" I didn't know what to do with myself. For those who watch the show, I don't need to spell out the moment. And no, this isn't like the 'Red Wedding' because I knew that was coming. Also, I didn't love Robb and Catelyn quite as much as I loved Shireen. Beautiful gem that she is (was). I kept thinking that the show was going to pull out some twist but no, as the creators *so love to do*, they allowed it to play out and we just watched as viewers, dumbfounded and aghast. I don't give two cents for whatever others think, whatever the show makers say about the 'necessity to narrative', or that it was going to happen to in the books anyhow. I don't buy it - and I'm about to say why.

Not *sniffle* any *sniffle* more!!!

It has no agenda. No sense. And of course, the world doesn't make sense and senseless things happen but this is a story here. GRRM has already given us a shit load of examples in which honourable people die horrible deaths and the world remains unfair and brutal.

We. Bloody. Get. It.

Now, how many times are you going to demonstrate that before it comes to the point where it no longer does anything but come across as ridiculous, as sadistic and...just plain stupid?! Where is our damn catharsis, release, KARMA? And no I don't buy that as a creator you just tell it and that you're not there to enforce an agenda or the *slimmest of slim* message of justice and/or karma or any universal goodness/decency. Bull. If you can persist on delivering a world continually grim, continually horrifying, then you can offset that from time to time. And by offsetting, I don't mean someone nasty also being brutally killed to somehow redress the justice (im)balance.

As a reader, I don't trot along a story with no expectations. That's physically impossible unless I'm an alien who's never encountered the concept of storytelling like we know it. What I struggle with (and more fool me, I'm sure), is how can there be so many characters introduced and then no meaning given to said character in the story? Direwolves! Cool. Oh wait, bloody fat good they were. Ghost doesn't appear enough to warrant anything. Same with Shireen - when first mentioned we understand she survived grayscale. Interesting. The fact she has and no one else has implicitly suggests something of worth, something of significance. Alas. More fool me. What's galling still is that in the show, a mere three or so episodes ago, Stannis says that he got every healer to treat Shireen - that she was his daughter, a Baratheon etc etc. It was touching. It was decent. Heartfelt. Oh wait, it couldn't have been that heartfelt after all because he willingly sacrificed his only heir for some magic voodoo clap trap. What. Was. The. Point?! In the same world where GRRM portrays magicness/superstition to be of little significance or anything worthy. Melisandre has 'failed' Stannis time and time again (Blackwater, right?), so this level headed leader is pretty stupid really.

AND he commits the crime of being exceedingly inconsistent in the *same season* of the TV show.
Serve the story through serving the character story - what the character would do in such and such scenario. I don't know the exact details of the book but in the show Stannis's relationship builds up with his daughter, he even claims that his men will need to ensure his daughter rules the throne if he were to die. I mean, come on! So what, are we meant to believe he had a memory lapse, or an emotional one? That kind of relationship is significant, it grounds a character. It does not then result in them doing something in opposition to that. That's the equivalent of crossing the 180 line in film. Though the latter is an aesthetic device, the former cannot be trivialised so. It questions the core of the character.

As my sis astutely observed, the show showed Stannis killing his daughter like he killed his enemies, like Mance Rayder. That's why I abandoned the books. I foresaw a seemingly endless sequence of such like harrowing events (and at however many books, why would I drag myself through that, ever worried that this bloated story will never truly be wrapped up satisfactorily since there's *too much of it*?). Surely, it's time for Daenarys to kill all of them with her dragons? I mean, who is left worth vouching for? And dare we vouch for them? (And no, it can't just be Jon. Don't give me six dozen books of bloated story and tell me there's only one or two characters to get behind).

I think what gets me is that Shireen was the last innocent left, the last precious little gem. Unloved but still so lovely. Bloody bastards. Sorry, this probably reads as petty, as over-thought, as plain silly. It is all of those things (and yes, the writer gets to do what he wants, blah blah bleurgh...). But it is also a result of being absolutely disturbed and realising this is why I could never get behind the books. Thanks for the reminder, I'm out!

11 April 2015

Breaking the blog hiatus

Hi all. Sorry for MIA blog status of recent months. Last I reported anything of import it was to say that I'd finished my first draft of a novel-in-progress. Well, the good news is that the draft has been through several revisions into a penultimate version and is currently circulating with a few select people to get some initial feedback :D.

In this weird pocket of time in which I'm not writing everyday, I've been trying to fill it with getting brushed up on how to approach agents/publishing world etc. It feels odd not coming home with an intent purpose to write and a manuscript taking shape. So I think I might go ahead and get cracking with the next novel. I have felt rather listless but I also didn't have a huge urge to start tapping away at the keyboard for the next round of writing either - something I was becoming keenly worried about. Was I losing my enthusiasm already? I, who had been enthusiastically working away at a MS for well over 18 months? Would I be able to continue such a spree or was it a one-off? Silly thoughts, of course. I reminded myself I'd been writing pretty much non-stop for 18 months so what if I was not really doing any real writing for a month or so?

But I want that 'month' to be over now. I think not having a project to focus my energies on is detrimental to my wellbeing. Ok, little dramatic but essentially I mean not having a project that is the anchor to my days and weeks, well yes, it casts me adrift, like a planet bereft of orbit. No thank you!

I did make myself goofily happy by purchasing these though:

Also, not sure how much I will update this blog. Currently re-evaluating whether I have something of worth to share and tbh, I kinda wanna do a blog/vlog that focusses on Greek and Roman mythology etc. Will keep you updated on that.

Final note - made plans to take a trip to Crete at the end of the summer, so will be visiting the Palace of Knossos and 'soaking' in the setting of the my novel. Very excited about that!

27 September 2014

While reading 'The Beautiful and Damned' I just had to share...

Started reading this classic a few weeks ago and was beginning to despair that I *might* not actually like it. *bites nails* BUT I'm glad I persevered. To be honest the story only really starts at the sublime passage when Beauty is being told she will have to be incarnated once more to the mortal realm. How positively neoclassical!

It was as if Fitzgerald had an inkling he might be losing a reader such as myself and so threw this gem in to not only hook me once more but to remind me, foolish reader that I am, that he can still throw in the most charming and impressive pieces of text.

Then the other day, the story took me to the passage I simply must share with you because. Because.
I was so taken with this particular chunk of wordage that I put the book down there and then to let this passage sink in and marinate, undisturbed.

(I reeeeaaally don't think this is spoiler material).

WORD, Fitzgerald, WORD!

14 September 2014

Milestone Reached! Editing the first draft by hand

The vast chasm-like gaps between posts is inexcusable, reader. Would it help if I said that I've now completed by first round of edits to the manuscript, per manum, by hand?! This is the furthest I've got in the process of novel writing and the most methodical. I have technically got this far with the previous novel but that ended up staying in 'revision' mode for several years and in all fairness, was quite a haphazard state of affairs.

I've made all the edits, red pen and all and the result looks somethin' somethin' like this:

Ooh, look at all dem pretty tags!
One might be wondering, 'why make the edits by hand - you'll be needing to re-do them on the computer'. True yet I canna express how much joy I had taking the red pen out and making the changes physically on the page. Also spending a little paper and ink and overseeing a two hour printing job doesn't sound like fun but that in itself is so very minor. I basically assumed I was the editor of the script and oddly, it helped me to get some distant from the original work so that I didn't think of myself as the original writer. I know, I know I can't get as much objective distance and actual editor who hasn't been invested in this but it still helped. I honestly couldn't face doing the first round of edits on the computer, staring at the words on the screen. This way I kind of felt like a teacher or something, such fun! Plus I got to carry it around with me and edit during lunch breaks and on the bus (once).

There are numerous moments when I've just scrawled 'LAZY!' in the margins. :) Or just lots of lots 'reconsider' and 'rethink.' There are so many times I made basic 'mistakes':

  • clunky sentences where the subject is confused, 
  • telling and passive voice, 
  • odd tense shifts, 
  • POV shifts, 
  • contradictory details, 
  • puzzling character motivations,
  • seemingly aimless interactions with no real stakes, 
  • info dump description thrown in when we're in the middle of actions - the list goes on. 

Was I embarrassed by them? Not really, because in truth there aren't any real 'mistakes' made in a first draft. Just stuff that needs to be sharpened, questioned and improved. The whole aim of the first draft is just to get to the story down, the stuff that's raging in your head, stuff that you haven't even really worked out what exactly it is just yet. This isn't really the stage where your exercise your best writing chops - it's your elementary stage. Only then you graduate into the role of actual crafter, (aka shit gets real).
The whole objective has been achieved though - in that it helped to understand the lay of the land fully and know 'what story do I have here?' Subsequently, it makes it that much clearer to know what needs to be done to make it better - more tension, MORE suspense, more active characters/more 'action'. Also more actual resolutions - some characters stories have an end but not much in terms of an arc per se and well I think more stuff, like secrecy or whatever, more needs to be revealed about them, exposing them, than having them just reacting to the current events. Not sure I've articulated that well but I get it in my head and notes etc. **Runs off to the flesh out the vague note 'More secrecy and past mysteries to be revealed.'**

Anyhow, I am very excited to make the changes and essentially make this story better! I ain't gonna lie, one feels rather chuffed :) Plus I have a hard copy of my work where I can probably look back at it and understand far more clearly how I've progressed. Take that MS Word 'Track changes'!

5 September 2014

Stumbled on...Reductress: Women's News. Feminised.

Ok, so while I work out what to cover in my next post (she's still writing those, you ask? Hey now!), I'm gonna hit ya with some funny-ness courtesy of the brilliant satire site, Reductress. Little ole me stumbled on them a few weeks back and it's become my regular go-to place for chortles.

Totally related to this one!
If you're a fan of cuttingly and dark-ish satire, well head on down. I challenge you not to laugh out loud when you read one of the articles. Also, I warn you there is a tendency to binge-read, as I often find myself clicking through to at least five more articles/posts. It's never about just one hit ><

11 July 2014

Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant

I had the great pleasure of hearing Sarah Dunant speak about writing historical fiction a few weeks back and I completely GET why she writes they way she does! (Is that ignominiously presumptuous, reader?) She's really quite passionate and vivacious, all hand gesturing and emphatic. She reminds me of my Classics teacher back in high school, only a little more jazzed.

Anyhow, once the masterclass was over, I sidled up to her, head bowed and mumbled my appreciation (aka tempered adoration) of her work, saying I looked forward to reading more about The Borgias under her penmanship. I held back, very Britishly, from blurting out that Sacred Hearts was one of my all time fave books.

I did confess that I once I read Blood and Beauty, I was really quite stunned that people lived that way, right there in the heart of the Vatican. Sorry, reader, I'm jumping ahead while you're probably wondering, what is she blabbling on about? Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant is a story of the The Borgias, the infamous Spanish family who dominated The Vatican for a certain time (late 1400s-1500s) and were basically like a Mafia clan. They were ruthless. To the extreme. Even though one of them was the actual Pope.

Courtesy of sarahdunant.com
After reading Sacred Hearts, I was intrigued by Dunant's follow-up and the subject material; I remember vaguely seeing some promos for a 'Borgias' TV show starring Jeremy Irons a couple of years back and being rather taken with the decadence and costumes, reader, which looked to die for. Obviously, I was sold on that.

Needless to say Blood and Beauty is a great read. We follow Rodrigo Borgia who becomes Pope from the opening and then we watch as he conducts his sons, Cesare and Juan and daughter, Lucrezia. Yeah, so a cardinal and then pope has illegitimate children and no one bats an eyelid. This is nothing, the least of all problems. And neither is it an issue that our pope is sleeping with a teenage girl either. That's what we're working with here. Absolute free reign while there isn't anyone else to challenge their might or wealth.

With his children, Rodrigo is the papa bear and he has a great frightening degree of control - not necessarily forced either. His children genuinely does as he commands, as if he is the Lord and not Christ. But not one of them is feeble or submissive - they all have something to say, some stamp to make and they fight for it - even if Lucrezia is unashamedly used as a pawn. Dunant writes Rodrigo as rather quite pantomime-ish, his emotions as big as his frame - in a way almost too big, for it's as if he feels TOO MUCH all the time. It's pretty relentless but then, ah, it's the Latin raw passion and bull-like determination. It's equally found in both Rodrigo's sons and one of his fiesty daughters-in-law, Sancia.

It's all an enchanting concoction, both headily disturbing and alluring - people are killed, allegiances are switched as quickly as the wind turns and allies are enemies and enemies allies at the drop of a hat. Example (SPOILER) - Lucrezia is married to Alfonso, who is Cesare's great friend at first but a change in alliances means Alfonso's family is suddenly the enemy. Does it matter to Cesare that Alfonso is married to his sister, to Rodrigo that he's married to his daughter? Nope, nope, it's as black and white as that. Blood be spilling and adultery be happening all day, every day. Oh and a hint of incest is all the rage now!

We're in the Vatican but there isn't an ounce of godliness reigning any of these people's passions - whether it's senseless murder, profiteering or debauchery. The heart of the Catholic church be damned, basically. It's disconcerting to read but I know I'm not supposed to be surprised. I just am - a little. I've realised that I don't have anything against reading about an ugly world operating in the shadows of veneered beauty, I just like to know (or be reassured) that there is some sacred place in which to dwell, whether that's physical, mental or emotional. I feel really quite exposed when the settings and characters do not give that. (That's why I gave up on 'A Song of Ice and Fire' - SIDENOTE - reading about The Borgias in this way is not too dissimilar to reading about the Lannisters and how they go about controlling and manipulating).

Anyhow, Dunant's writing is infused with the passion she has for the genre and the time period. It comes to life like a painting that jumps and bounds and is rarely still. The only time my engagement lagged was when we have a period dedicated to Cesare's military accomplishments (wars and battles, ugh) but it's not for long.


Enthralling and appalling in equal measure. I really felt I'd been put through the ringer when I finished reading. It's as whirlwind as The Borgias' rise to power. When The Borgias show was being promoted, they were using the tag line 'The first crime family' - and if we take that as so, well whoa, did The Borgias hit the ground running.

Dunant is working on the follow-up book and I don't blame her - what ELSE can this family get up to?! I'm intrigued so I'll be tuning in.

 Chai Black
Taste Like: History and Spices 

20 June 2014

Spring Round-Up - Writers Group, Zombie Apocalypse, Finished MS!

YIKES to the MAX, reader, I haven't updated me blog for - what - 3 months? That's a quarter of a year.  I've just committed an 'unforgivable' in the world of blogging, methinks - as in an unforgivable curse in Harry Potter-dom. I wonder what the other two are?

Ok, so without further ado-es, a quickety-quick round up of what's gone down over April, May etc.

1. I took my annual trip to Paris with mumsy and this time we only did the day rather than the weekend. Twas lovely but nous some tres fatigues, reader.
2. I went to my first London Writers Cafe meet up - a talk about self-publishing and followed that by attending the groups 8th anniversary party recently.
3. I completed 2.8 Hours Later - a zombie apocalypse role play/immersive experience. You are running away from zombies. For. your. life.
4. I attended a supremely cool masterclass on Writing Historical Fiction with speakers Sarah Dunant and Celia Brayfield at Bloomsbury Publishing having finished 'Blood and Beauty' by Sarah Dunant shortly before.
5. I *AHEM* finished writing the MS for my latest novel. *Long, triumphant exhalation*

Ok so, I'll drill down on some o the more writerly points above.

MEET-UP and London Writers Cafe

I confess, reader, while I am thrilled that I've started to engage in the world of writers etc, I'm still aware that I haven't put any of my own work out there yet to be reviewed and critiqued by my wordsmithy peers. That's the next step, after I attend a class on 'building a community around your writing.' If you're in the London area and you fancy joining a writers' group, please check London Writers Cafe out - when I went to the anniversary party I chatted to a lot of cool and friendly people and the fab lady who runs it, Lisa, is just lovely and adorbs.

2.8 Hours Later

Oh, my days, reader. Before I launch into 'this was by far and away one of the scariest things I've done' spiel, lemme explain. Essentially this event involves going to a particular area of London (or whatever city it's being hosted in - these folks travel all around) - for us, it was spread out around Wembley Park. You enter this area with a team of several others (whoever you end up in the queue with while lining to get in) and your mission is to go get some fresh water and bring it back to camp. You have a map and you have certain locations to get to, where you type in a code into a computer terminal to get the co-ordinates for the next location. The scenario is an apocalyptic world and the 'asylum' needs resources - so you're venturing out into the zombie infested area to get them. You get tagged by any of the zombies, you're 'infected' and when you return to base at the end of the game and get made up into a zombie.

I kid you not, reader, these zombies proper run after you. I mean in one corridor we had to run past one zombie who crawled on the floor but the others came for you. and their make up and acting - well good enough for you to having a heart attack and running for your life. It was brutal. There were some areas where you had to run so much and more zombies would just come.

I don't why I did it - it's not my thing at all. I don't even like zombie movies! But my cousin was convinced it was an experience not to miss out on. But when we were crouching behind these banged up cars, waiting for a signal that the area was clear, even though we could hear zombies making noises around the corner, I kid you not, every single one of us were scared. I wondered what the hell I was doing there.

But we totes made it and the zombie disco afterwards was fun! Would I do it again? Hell, no. But I would recommend it. I'm kinda proud of myself too - if I was a sim character in a video game, I would have just contributed to my 'Overcome Fears' mission: '2014 Fear Quest - Objective achieved!'

The finished MS

Well, I'm pretty darn over the moon about this one. I set myself a target and well, I've also achieved this particular objective. Yes, yes, I still need to do a rewrite but I'm going to not look at for 10 days at least and then tackle it once more.

Furthermore, I'm pretty impressed with the word output in the last 3 months. In March we  were looking at 60,000 words. Now it's *ahem*, 120,000! So I doubled it, which surprised me because this story isn't hugely plot driven, or there aren't lots of event like instances but the last act, as it were, seemed to really gain pace. A lot more goes on then I realised in terms of how much words need to take to tell it. And reader, I know I'm getting ahead of myself because I'm still enamoured with the idea that this novel is a stand-alone but I don't want to leave Ancient Greece ever just yet, so I'm excited about the follow-up.

Now, I need to look out at the publishing options. On that note, some of the pointers I picked up from the self-publishing talk, hosted by London Writers Cafe.

- There's quite a spectrum for SP(self publishing). You can choose to do it ALL yourself - DIY SP (like speaker Ben Galley, who also does bake loads of consulting on the subject) - or have another publishing house to do some of the work for you. e.g. Matador Publishing.
- Polly Courtney, one of the speakers, listed her reasons why SP is done badly:

    1. Bad cover design
    2. No professional edit - you rely on beta readers, aka 'friends and family' and not someone who has an editing eye. She argued you can't really edit your own work alone, you need fresh eyes and there's nothing worse than seeing a line or phrase in the final print that you know could have been edited but wouldn't have picked up when doing it yourself. True dat.
Darn it, I knew I shouldn't have any of my characters reply with "Safe."
Totes takes you out of the mo!

So now to decide what is best for the novel nearly finished...I keep thinking that having to decide between trad publishing or SP means I might make the wrong decision.

Worse still, there's the nagging worry that I don't know who the book is really aimed for - partly because I wrote it for me. It will appeal to historical fiction readers or those who like mythology (I hope). So I'm clear on the genre, just not so much the audience? And I think that's the worse mistake, so I want to get sure on that, erm, for sure.

I think a robust brew is deserved as a mark of the triumph crossing the metaphoric 'finish line', reader. So I will settle on recommending 'Chai Red' because Yumchaa says 'Tastes like: Important work 
Drink When: You feel like a winner.' Shazam!