Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Brief Thoughts on Plots

Plots are odd things, hard to tie down. They always seem to want to shift as you make them. No sooner have you finalised things absolutely, definitely for the last time (honest) than it occurs to you that things might work better the other way around.

They're also an area where people (by which I mean me) sometimes avoid thinking about the weaknesses in them. Sometimes I'll go around several rounds of edits wondering why a story is flat, changing small things, playing with dialogue, or characters, or description, or anything but the bit where the problem actually lies.

One of the stranger things about the ghostwriting is that I get the plots fully formed. That creates tremendous freedom to concentrate on those other aspects, but it also creates the need to stamp very heavily on the urge for things to change as you go. That's actually a good thing, sometimes, given how easily I can wander off track with these things.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Announcements and oddments.

I am in some ways a very faddy person, particularly on the guitar, where I drift into things briefly before going back to what I was doing anyway. The last few days have seen me experimenting with, of all things, a thumb pick. For those who don't know, that's like a little plectrum on a ring that you slip over your thumb, letting you play fingerstyle while still having the sound of the plectrum. It is also quite famously the preserve of country playing hillbillies on their banjoes. And Chet Atkins/Brent Mason, obviously. Not very rock.

Trellis Poetry have announced that one of their authors is looking for odd form poems to add to a book on the subject, so if you have a tendency to write in unusual forms, it might be worth taking a look here.

The sports centre of the agricultural college down the road from me is running a fencing class. I thought I might pop over and take a look, especially since someone from my normal club is planning on doing the same.

It's weird. Although I can write to order perfectly well, what with the ghostwriting, I still seem to have problems doing so when I see a themed issue of something, or a competition, or anything like that. It makes taking advantage of things you see advertised on forums slightly harder, on the whole.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

What I Haven't Been Doing.

It occurs to me that I've said hardly anything about England's tour of Bangladesh, or indeed about the Indian Premier League. It also occurs to me that there are probably good reasons for that. The former was played on dead pitches that robbed the Test series of all entertainment value. The latter, while full of exciting moments, seems to overdo things a little. I mean, two matches a day for over a month seems a bit much, doesn't it?

Equally, I haven't written much about what I'm reading, mostly because I can't remember much of it. I seem to be just sort of drifting through books without anything particularly catching my attention. Among the things I do remember: some urban fantasy in the form of Keri Arthur's 'The Darkest Kiss', Richelle Mead's 'Succubus Shadows' and Laurell K. Hamilton's 'Flirt'. The first is a decent all round adventure, the second is great fun, though I think possibly it overdoes the flashbacks just a touch, and the third was quite straightforward as the Anita Blake series goes.

It contained a wonderful bit at the end about the inevitable 'where do you get your ideas' questions, pointing out that different people can see the same thing in completely different ways, and that it's more about the way you interpret things as a writer/artist/performance penguin juggler (I may have made one of those up) than about what is happening around you.

Incidentally, I should know better than to write things like 'I'm finally happy with my first paragraph'. It is now the third, after I have had to alter the start to contain more of the dynamic between the main character and another who serves almost as a reflection of him in the piece. Is that something you do a lot? For some reason, I find the idea of pairs of characters particularly appealing, so it would be nice to know that it is somehow normal.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010


One of my short stories, 'squired up', has just been accepted by the editors of, and will be up there at some point in April.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

No, the other way round...

The news from Brandesburton's AGM is that the cricket team will have no second team this year, so I doubt I'll get to do much. In theory, the provision of an evening team should provide a few chances, but that tends to be the night of the week I'm fencing. Maybe if I call it 'concentrating on my swordplay' I can make it sound like a good thing.

I'm getting on with the sequel to the ghostwritten thing, and have discovered that, although I know plenty of interesting, long, and otherwise complicated words, I tend not to use them when I'm writing.

For my own WIP, I have finally done something I believed impossible in the context of my writing, and produced an opening paragraph I am actually happy with. That tends to be one of the parts I find particularly awkward, and end up largely ignoring, in an 'if I keep going back to the first paragraph I'll never get anything done' way.

For Thursday's fencing (and the traditional pre Easter break messing around) I suggested a wrong-hand fencing tournament. Perhaps this was some sort of clairvoyant moment, because currently, the shoulder of my dominant arm is aching and largely immobile.

Friday, 19 March 2010


A quick plug for 'Basilisks, Brian (and a really bad first day)' the sequel to 'Receipt for a Dragon', to be found in the new issue of Aphelion. At the very least, it should go some way to explaining what those induction lectures at the start of jobs are actually for.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Spring Has Sprung

Like a giant slinky. Or, for my fellow fencers, like that moment you take the tip off a foil or epee, forget to keep your hand over it, and then spend hours hunting for the resulting explosion of tiny parts. Anyway, it is nearly Spring, so it's also time for those lists you get of 'signs of spring'. Here are some that generally show up around my house.

  • My cat takes to living outdoors, specifically, to wandering off over the fields in search of those huge mice he's seen (deer, in fact, but he really doesn't seem to get the difference). Of course, he's also scared witless the first time he sees next-door's tortoise out and about for the year. Not a big fan of moving rocks, apparently.
  • The result of all this outdoor activity is usually the second sign, which is that my cat comes in with a bloody nose/forehead, having been pecked by something bigger than he is, such as a pheasant.
  • A series of small holes start to get worn in the lawn as I try to remember how to bowl the googly.
  • I usually have something of a deleting spree at about this point, euphemised as 'spring cleaning'.
  • I look up and realise that half the fencing season has gone, and I have still only fenced the Yorkshire sabre. One of the joys of living well clear of the main clusters of cities, I suppose. Bring on Sheffield.
  • I start wondering when the next (insert favourite author here) novel will be out, because this is invariably the gap between the 'we're going for the christmas market' brigade and the 'potential summer blockbuster' lot.

Monday, 15 March 2010

From POV to Pob.

Pob being an annoying children's TV character from the eighties, if anyone cares. He didn't say much, wore jumpers even an archaeology professor would have baulked at, and generally needed several other characters explaining things for the programme to work at all.

The thing is, does their involvement suggest that in complex situations, the incorporation of additional points of view might be a good thing? Possibly not. Pob was very much the dim witted core around which the rest of it revolved, and without him to make them feel clever, many young children might not have been interested.

So why am I writing about TV characters no one but me remembers (I sometimes have the worrying thought that I might have halucinated the whole thing, which raises some scary questions)? Mostly because I've just realised that I'm giving away too much in my current WIP by jumping around the points of view. Unlike the previous couple of efforts, where multiple strands more or less demand the shift, these jumps aren't giving me anything new. Better then, I suspect, to home in on the one character and stay there. Just so long as he has more dialogue than 'P-O-B'.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

When in doubt...

I've had a little clutch of rejections come in at once, and although my initial thought was just to spin everything round and send the rejected ones to the other places in the hope that they would like them better, it also seemed like a good moment to think about what I'm writing.

Particularly, it seemed like a moment to question whether I'd got stuck doing one thing, namely slightly twee comic fantasy. It seems very easy to get stuck saying to yourself 'this is what I do', simply in an effort to establish a voice, but what if you're wrong? It would be easy to end up as almost a caricature of yourself when writing.

At the same time, of course, the things you like are the things you like. I'm not about to start writing historical drama or deadly serious literary fiction, because I simply can't imagine wanting to. It's more a case of looking at what else I do. Possibly strange as well as just funny? That's certainly the tone I'm going for with the novel I'm working on, and it may prove popular. Straight ahead silliness always seems to fall into that editorial category of 'I enjoyed this, but no.' When in doubt, do something odd.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Cause and Effect?

I've more or less finished the first ghostwriting project, and the client wants to go straight into the sequel, so I must be doing something right. Now, if only I knew what...

Just to echo something in the paper this morning- the presentation of TV history by newsreaders/other presenters doesn't always work. I can't really comment on the David Dimbleby series in question (to the extent that I'm not 100% certain that I haven't got confused and it's the other brother) having turned over in a strop after ten minutes over annoying things like beginning a history of the British Isles with the Roman invasion, but all too often there are problems associated with a lack of real expertise, such as a lack of connection with the argument as it stands, or an insufficiently critical approach to thinking about the past. This isn't always the case, and whichever Dimbleby it turns out to be is certainly a great broadcaster, but really, would they ask Simon Schama to run political commentary and present the news?

A thought on history, its uses, and TV more generally. One of the main facets of historical study is gaining an understanding of causation, or how to pick apart how things influenced other things to happen in the past. As such, it puts me in a position to notice some of the shoddy thinking at the heart of certain other programmes, notably those in the 'self help' genre. I turned one on the other night for ten minutes or so, because it was on immediately before something I actually wanted to watch, and even in that time we had things like 'This person didn't give up. Therefore to be successful you mustn't either.' Irritating, badly reasoned, and also, as it happens, wrong. You never hear in these things about the people who didn't give up, and still didn't get what they wanted, or about the ones who gave up at one thing and then threw their efforts into something that they were actually quite good at, do we?

Monday, 8 March 2010

Other people

A few thoughts as much about other people as they are about me. Even the middle one isn't totally me.
  • Since I occasionally mention that you should read Adam Wilson's short stories, here is an opportunity to read one without taking a trip to Scotland. Although weirdly, it's not several million words long, raising questions about whether he didn't just mug some hapless writer for it as they passed.
  • More than a week after the event, I'd like to mention that I came 5th in the Yorkshire Sabre. I've remembered why I don't compete too much, which is that I get far too competitive, and thus incredibly annoyed even when I do quite well. Well, I was in the medals after the pool stage. After last year's blip, Mike Berry is back to his winning ways.
  • He also just edged out my fellow Hull fencer Keita Azuma to win the Nottingham Open. Congrats to Keita on second place. I'd like to think that fencing him on Thursday until I was nearly ready to collapse had something to do with it. I'd like to think that...

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Post-Post Modernism?

The theory of history has fascinated me almost as much as the practice, if not more, and one thing is noticeable- the weird status of postmodernist concerns.

On the one hand, they never really took root as fully in history as in some other areas (linguistics, sociology, English etc). That is to say that, while people have certainly expressed an admiration for posmodernist ideas about the limits of language, the nature of the other, and so forth, that hasn't definitively translated into a postmodernist approach to doing history in practice. Even Foucault's writings on prison history, except for their concern for an 'other' group, work in a broadly recognisable way.

On the other hand, hasn't postmodernism been surprisingly durable? How long are philosophical and theoretical constructs supposed to last without being challenged and picked apart? These have certainly managed a few decades now. After all, I remember hearing of Derrida's death while I was still at school, while many of the major works must be thirty or forty years old.

Now, I'll admit that age doesn't automatically require a process of overturning, but it is usually in the nature of youth to react against what has gone before, so where are the people treating Foucault and the rest as old hat? The absence makes it seem that we're taking the 'truths' of postmodernism as settled ones, which seems almost anathema to some of the movement's central themes.

Of course, in history, the narrativist school has drifted along as a sort of postscript to postmodernism, even if it started life in decidedly postmodernist pickings-apart of the role of narrative in history by the likes of White and Ankersmidt. Reactions to that seem to have provided a convincing basis for the role of story, and coherent narratives, in history, and so may have done something to undermine the rather scattered nature of the stuff influenced by postmodernist concerns.

Even so, there doesn't seem to be any big movement taking over. Perhaps this is down to the distrust of such movements and their accompanying metanarratives inherent in Postmodernist thought, but I suspect it also has something to do with the slightly undefined nature of that thought, allowing postmodernism to adapt and absorbed new strands. Of course, I could be completely wrong (or just viewing the whole thing through a different set of cultural asumptions, of course.) So tell me, in your field, whatever it is, is postmodernism still there? Is it still the main theoretical standpoint? Did it even have an impact? Did you do as many historians did and read halfway through the books before deciding that it was a threat to your ability to do your job and ignoring it?

Tuesday, 2 March 2010


Just a quick note to say that my short story 'Your Evil Horde Needs You' has gone up over at Mirror Dance.