Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Gilchrist retires

Adam Gilchrist has finally retired from International Cricket. It's been a sad sort of announcement around my family, for the simple reason that my brother has spent the last few years idolizing him. There's a good reason for it, since Gilchrist more or less completed the job that Alec Stewart and Ian Healy started, making batting ability half the job of the modern wicket keeper, rather than just a sideline. On the other hand, perhaps the retirement will be good for me, since it might mean that I lose slightly fewer cricket balls in the fields surrounding my house as my brother does his best to emulate his hero.

These thoughts of cricket are mostly down to half an hour spent with Don Bradman's book The Art of Cricket yesterday. It's a very different sort of coaching manual to the modern sort. Biomechanics aren't mentioned once, and he's willing to admit that different people might do things in completely different ways. When's the last time that showed up in a coaching manual? And, of course, this one has the advantage of being written by someone who is statistically half again as good with the bat as anyone else who's played the game. Maybe his Test average of very nearly a hundred will inspire me to get my average in village cricket up into double figures this year. Then again, probably not.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Jasper Fforde, The Well of Lost Plots

This is not the first book in Fforde's series starring literary detective Thursday Next, and it sees her struggling to regain memories of a husband who's been erased from history, coping with the transition from the real world to the world inside fiction, trying to help out a detective novel due for demolition and solving several nasty murders into the bargain.

This is nothing if not a very postmodern novel, stealing liberally from the greats of the past, making fun of them when Fforde feels like it and playing the limitations of the average genre novel for laughs and serious points in turn. Mostly, the humour is the sort of thing that appeals to those with at least a reasonable familiarity with literature. One minor subplot, for example, revolves around the theft of all the punctuation from the second half of James Joyce's Ulysses, while the failure of Jurisfiction Agent Godot to show up for roll call is something of a running joke. It's the sort of thing where, if you take literature very seriously, you'll hate what he's done with your favourite character, but otherwise you'll be too busy laughing to object.

That's not to say it's without problems. Mostly, they come in the form of the footnotes. The idea of footnotes being the equivalent of phones in Fforde's literary universe is a clever one, but means that you spend half your time jumping to the bottom of the page, and often for what amounts to crossed lines and spam. Half a chapter is told in this way, and it's almost impossible to judge what order to read everything in. Also, if you're new to the series, the strangeness of it can be jarring at first, particularly as Fforde has taken at least as many liberties with real world history as with the fictional side of things.

On the whole though, this is a wonderfully well done, funny, clever book that should appeal to anyone who's ever wondered if the characters in Dickens ever wander off while the author's eye isn't on them.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Notebooks and exhaustion

I've just done something I almost never do, and filled up a notebook with work. Normally, I'll get distracted, or lose it, or lose momentum. Of course, this is probably not a good way to be nice to trees, but I'm choosing to see it as a good thing. I'm actually making some effort with this writing malarky.

Thanks to efforts discussed more fully in my fencing blog, I'm spending most of today too exhausted to do much, but weirdly work seems to be flowing anyway. Maybe it's just that I'm not trying too hard.

I'm part way through Jasper Fforde's The Well of Lost Plots (and about half a dozen other things, I really must stop doing this). It seemed to be trying a little too hard at the start, but now, I'm into it more, aside from the endless (and usually pointless) footnotes.

In honour of my brother FINALLY getting the parts for the guitar he's building:

Does snail-mail use real snails
Leaving slimey silver trails
Across the letters that they sort
No wonder post so often fails.

I'm too tired for more than that, or to help him set the thing up.

Friday, 25 January 2008

6 Non-writing tips for writing creativity

We've all read lists of tips designed to help creativity and get us writing. Most seem to involve writing exercises, and if I'm in the mood to write them, I'm probably also in the mood to write something else. Instead, here are six tips that aim to get you writing without you having to write anything.

1: Listen to some music. Or go to an art gallery, (or to the circus, if you prefer). Expose yourself to something creative other than writing.

2: Buy some stationary. It almost always comes with the urge to use it.

3: Go for a walk. It will help clear your head, and who knows what you'll see on the way?

4: Connected to 1, do something in a completely different creative medium to get the creative juices flowing. Play an instrument, or start a painting.

5: Find a new place to write. Sometimes, writing in a different place will change the way you feel about the act of writing.

6: Don't panic, relax. Apparently, people are most creative when relaxed. Trying to force yourself to be creative can sometimes create exactly the stress that stops it from happening.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Maryjanice Davidson, Swimming Without a Net

I've been reading Swimming Without a Net by Maryjanice Davidson. It only took a few hours, partly because she has the knack of drawing the reader along, but mostly because it was so short. On the whole, I enjoyed it. It's good fun, and the sort of undemanding read that everyone wants from time to time. As the second book of her new series, it seems better than the first, presumably as she's settled into a new set of characters, and the shift to third person p.o.v.

That's not to say there aren't flaws. The main character is remarkably like Betsy Taylor, the heroine of her previous series, not to mention really quite annoying on occasions. It's sometimes hard to have sympathy for a lead character if you suspect that you wouldn't be able to stand more than a couple of minutes around them. The book's brevity also sometimes means things jump along faster than is really comfortable, not giving the plot time to develop.

On the other hand, the supporting characters are intriguing and fun, the tone is light, and the whole thing is handled with a sense of enjoyment. If you don't demand that it should suddenly reveal War and Peace like depths, this could be just the think for a lazy afternoon's reading.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008


Unable to resist for very long, I started some reworking on the novel yesterday. In a strange way, I almost prefer this stage to the initial draft. There, it's like a flood of words pouring out whether I want them to or not, very exhausting. With redrafting, there's more a sense of conscious control rather than getting caught up in the moment. The only slight downside is that first moment, when you look at the work you thought was so great as you were writing, and think 'It's horrible, it's rubbish, there's sooo much to fix.'

But that's all right. We can change that.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Avoiding Edits

I've spent much of the day avoiding starting the rewrites on the novel's first draft. Thankfully, it's not procrastination. I'm just trying to leave it a little while to come at it with fresh eyes. Finding myself with this draft finished, I've suddenly found a lot of energy for the PhD thesis. It's not so much that I was distracted from it by the fiction, because I felt stuck on it before I started; it's more that concentrating on something else for a short while has renewed my commitment to it.

One stupid thing that's helped is putting the thesis in double line spacing. It's something that most editors require for everything else, and as a result I'm now in the habit. Because it's easier to read, it doesn't feel so much like a dense, headache inducing mass anymore.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Old Things Found

Transfering things between computers, I've just come across an old floppy disk containing a few unfinished pieces of work I'd deleted a while back. None of them is particularly wonderful, but looking at them with fresh eyes, maybe they were false starts I needed. Maybe I can even make them work now.

On a different note, yesterday saw Shaun Pollock's last appearance in an international 20-20 cricket match. He's retired as the highest wicket taker in that form of the game, and even if the record won't last more than a month or two, I'm still glad to see him hold it. He's been, not just one of the best bowlers in the world, but one of the best allrounders for years, and never seems to have gotten the same credit as the McGraths, Flintoffs etc.

Friday, 18 January 2008

First Draft

About an hour ago I finished the first draft of the sequel to my first novel, Searching. That is currently in the build up to publication. Obviously, I'm going to look at this first draft in a day or two and decide to change almost all of it, but that's half the fun.

When I haven't been writing, I've been reading Sophie Hannah's Hotels Like Houses, which is amazing. There's something about her poetry that just seems like the perfect marriage of form and substance.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Beginning with a poem

So, the first blog entry. Hmm...perhaps I should have done it at a point where I had more to say. I supose the first thing to do is to point out that I already have a fencing related blog over at www.fencing.net, and will continue to make any fencing related entries there. This will probably end up devoted more to reading, writing, assorted sports other than fencing and, very occasionally, history. I'll probably also occasionally subject people to very bad pieces of poetry. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Silly Words

Rhyming orange isn't nice
But florenge works a treat
Just don't blarz to celebrate
On any busy street.

Or if you need, for metre
A shorter word to use
For marmalade use zelca
Then throw in onzi too

So nalarise your jelco
Fluuge your fluugal cup
Poetry is much more fun
With half the words made up.