Archive | April, 2014

Goodreads, badspellings…

25 Apr

Setting aside for a moment, the illiterate title of a website dedicated to reading and writing (is it a horror of messy hair extensions that I’ve subscribed to?), I’d like to consider the merits of the ‘social cataloguing’ site Goodreads. Friends kept on mentioning it, so I thought that I’d give it a look. I allowed Goodreads to import my Twitter account followers and within three days I had almost 200 friends on the site. I suppose this illustrates that the more you work on your ‘internet presence’, the more the interconnectivity of the web kicks in. Does all of this serve any purpose, though?

I’m also an author-member of Library Thing. I have to confess that I’ve hardly looked at this site and have found it intrinsically uninteresting. Whether this is due to my not having explored its possibilities or its innately boring nature, it’s difficult for me to say. If Goodreads enables the individual to connect with like-minded readers and writers, that has to be a good thing, I think. I’ve linked up with fellow admirers of Georges Perec’s Life a User’s Manual, for example, so maybe this will lead me to other authors that I’ll like, of whom I’m currently unaware. We shall see. And it’s interesting to discover the books that other people are reading and what they have to say about them. I’ve detected the rot of self-promotion seeping in, though, with one writer/reader listing his own work as his favourite. Hmm…

A large quantity of books hidden behind the Christmas tree in the author's front room...

A large quantity of books hidden behind the Christmas tree in the author’s front room…

All social media have their limitations. They’re about the people that you meet and how able you are to interact with them, given the obstacles that each of the sites inherently places in your path. I enjoy blogging and reading the posts that my friends write (please take note, WordPress!). Once you reach a certain number of followers/blogs followed, though, it becomes increasingly difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. Twitter’s USP of limiting communication to 140-word characters ultimately undermines the ability to connect. And that’s to say nothing of the constant stream of self-promotion that makes it all but impossible to pick out anything of interest. It’s the same needle in a haystack that blights your blog feed. I find Facebook pretty boring in the main with the same quizzes and YouTube clips endlessly recurring. And I just can’t get interested in Pinterest or Instagram.

I’ve actually discovered an interesting new social medium. It has connectivity pretty much the world over. There are no advertisements or outages. It’s called RealLife. You go to a café or bar and talk to people. If you don’t like what you find in your news feed or comment box, you walk to another café or bar and talk to someone else. Then when you’ve had enough, you catch the bus home.

The fact that Goodreads is now owned by Amazon strikes me as worrying. That one, hyper-capitalist corporation should have so much control over a vital cultural activity is a disturbing development. Democracy and government, communities and national boundaries are becoming increasingly irrelevant in the corporate age.  Kautsky got this aspect of society right, it would seem.

Any thoughts?

All text and images © PSR 2014

Report from the Writing Den

20 Apr

I’ve just returned from the writing den and a very restful week in the Breton countryside. There was a trip to the coast with beach-combing, a visit to a beautiful town filled with timber-framed buildings, long country walks and a meal at a crêperie for a friend’s birthday.

My reading material consisted of the first draft of a writing friend’s very long novel. It was just as well that it was entertaining and well written! And then I began re-reading Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller. It’s every bit as good as I’d remembered.

As mentioned, I’ve recently switched from writing one work-in-progress to another. I’d actually left this manuscript on the back-burner for a year and a half. For all that, I’ve managed to get fully immersed in it again already and I’m currently feeling pretty confident about it. It’s a sequel of sorts to the war novel that I’ve written. As I’ve remarked before, it’s probably deeply unwise to embark upon the sequel to a novel that has yet to find a publisher. But it’s a book that I want to write, so what the hell! Even if it turned out to be a work of genius, such is the state of UK publishing, it probably still wouldn’t make it into print. I’ve added another five thousand words or so. Almost from the outset, I’d imagined a sequence of three books – the first set in the Second World War, the second in the Cold War and the third in the near-future. I even wrote a couple of thousand words toward the last of these projects, so all in all, it was a very productive break.

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Early spring view through the writing den window

I noted that I’d finished reading Tove Janssons’s Moomin books to my children and that we were going to have to decide what to read next. We took The Wizard of Oz with us and we’re now near the end. They’ve enjoyed the story and I’ve enjoyed doing the voices (you should hear my Dorothy…). Any suggestions for our next read will be gratefully received.

HappyEaster or Ēostre’s festival, whichever you prefer!

All text and images

From Project B to Project A

7 Apr

As those who’ve read this blog from time to time will be aware, for the past eighteen months, I’ve been working on a novel that is now around 80,000 words in length. For three or four months before that, I was working on another manuscript with a Cold War setting, a sequel of sorts to my previous work. I called this my twin-pronged approach. The idea was that when Project A ran out of steam, I could switch to Project B with renewed enthusiasm and a rested eye. In recent weeks, I’d started to feel that I’d maybe reached that point.

So this week I’ve begun to revisit that long sidelined project. The sections that I’d already worked on are far more complete than I’d remembered. It’s an idea that I first thought about some six years ago, so I’ve had plenty of time to mull it over. The structure and cast are very much in place. I talked about the writing process that I employ in my previous post. In essence, I work as some sculptors do. Just as the sculptor might begin with a wire armature, so I create a narrative skeleton first of all. The artist will then flesh out his figure in clay while I drop passages into my framework.  In theory, all of this ought to make it easier to return to after such an extended break. Hopefully, it won’t turn out to be a Frankenstein’s Monster, requiring 240 volts through its chest to shock it back to life, an Odbod that walks and talks but whose constituent parts have quite clearly been stitched together. Time will tell…

Inside the writing den - somebody really needs to tidy up in there...

Inside the writing den – somebody really needs to tidy up in there…

I’m off to the writing den with my two little horrors in tow. We shall see how much writing I actually manage to get done… In the meantime, here’s a little snippet from Work-in-Progress No. 2.

Vales. Although a native of the Wednesfordshire Ledge, Patrick Stevenson had become familiar with the hills further to the north, with the Pennines and the Cheviots. Low flying practice generally involved swooping down through the steep-sided valleys of those hill ranges, terrifying villagers and their sheep. The navigator’s view of the countryside was pretty restricted in the rear of the bomber but he’d visited that part of the country before. One school holiday, his mother, grandfather and he had spent a couple of weeks during August in a rented cottage in a hamlet in Northumberland.  The boy had been fascinated by the shadows of the clouds as they scudded overhead, throwing fantastic shapes across the pastures that climbed the hillside on the opposite side of the valley. And one day, toward the end of the fortnight, he’d seen a spectacular sight that made a great impression upon him, the memory of which he’d found coming back to him from time to time ever since. As he’d wandered in search of bugs between one sloping field and the next, three mute swans had come flying along the valley toward him. Although he’d often seen the birds on the river at Wednesford, he’d never viewed them in the air before. On the ground, they looked far too big and awkward to achieve flight. And yet they did so with an effortless dignity, their snake’s heads and necks held out straight, the massive wings behind beating the air with graceful strokes. As the birds passed directly overhead, he’d been able to hear the deep thrum of their wings. He’d stood transfixed until they’d become three distant white specks a mile or so further along the valley, and then he’d been left with an overwhelming sense of melancholy that he’d been at a loss to explain. 

All text and images © PSR 2104

Four Questions about the Writing Process

3 Apr

My writing friend, Lauren Sapala, very kindly tagged me into a blog hop. Tagged me? Blog hop? I had no idea what these thing were, of course. It meant that I’d be answering four questions about the writing process then nominating four more writer/bloggers to do the same. So I asked four friends whose writing I admire. And only one of them was willing to take part… There was some unease about the ‘chain letter’ nature of such enterprises, something about which I also have my doubts. But since it was Lauren asking me, how could I refuse? Lauren’s blog is much more useful than mine and always worth reading whenever you’re feeling in need of inspiration to write. Besides, I’d already thought about my answers, so here they are. Lauren nominated me because she’s a fan of this blog – kind and crazy woman!

Upon What Are You Working?

I’m working on a novel at the moment. It’s reached the 80,000-word mark. It employs a rather experimental structure. There are elements of the fantastic in it and the world in which it’s set is both ours and not ours. It gives me the opportunity to make up places and languages and so on, all of which is good, clean fun. More than anything else, the novel’s about exile, loss and alienation. It turns out that it’s deeply personal too, which surprised no one more than me.

How does your work differ from others in the genre?

That’s a tricky one for me to answer as I neither read nor write genre fiction. The whole idea of genres strikes me as a convenience for marketing departments and I’m much more interested in writing, imagination and ideas than I am in packaging and advertising. Young Adult Dark Urban Romantic Fantasy… erm, no, thanks. Re-writing something similar to an original work so that it can easily be marketed is the precise opposite of creativity to my mind. It’s just too limiting, in the wrong kind of way. This is probably one of the reasons why my fiction has yet to be published! So I’ll take Gormenghast over written-to-order fantasy any day, Brave New World over a-la-carte science fiction.

I don’t feel that it’s for me to make claims about the otherness of my work, though. It differs from the writing of Borges and Kundera, say, or from Calvino and Perec in that it’s not as good as theirs… I play with words and ideas. I fool around with narrative structures, with the relationship between author and character. I tell tall tales. Whether what I do is in any way original must be for others to decide. Is there anything new under the sun?

Why do you write what you write?

I’ve always loved books. I’ve been writing forever. I strive to create the sort of book that I’d want to read myself. It’d be nice if my fiction reached a wider audience but it’s almost a matter of indifference to me, in the final analysis. I write because that’s what I do.

How does your writing process work?

It doesn’t always. I once spent seven years writing something and then binned it… The overall idea for a project generally comes to me in a matter of moments. Sometimes, it’ll be placed on the back-burner for years. I’ll then plan out an arc for it and write by infill. Several ideas may be conflated into one book. I always know where my stories are headed. I never write books in narrative order. I edit as I go along. When a manuscript of sorts has emerged, I’ll read through it, re-drafting. I’ll repeat this process many times over. It takes a long time. I have to fit writing into the gaps between work commitments. It’s not a method that I’d recommended to anyone else.

Another of the author's writing perches

Another of the author’s writing perches

Below then is a link to the only one of the four bloggers who agreed to take part!

P K Read – champagnewhisky.com 

Paula’s superbly written and informative blog concerns itself mostly with environmental and rural issues. As the name implies, she also writes about booze from time to time… It’s an eclectic mix and never less than interesting. I’m reading the draft of Paula’s novel at the moment. And darn good it is too!

Amendment! 

Another of the writers whom I invited has accepted the blog hop challenge – he’d been away from his computer, carrying out research in foreign lands. So please meet Mr…

…J D Hughes – jdhugheswriter.wordpress.com

J D is an occasional blogger. Quite sensibly, he spends considerably more of his time actually writing novels rather than blogging. His most recent book is called And Soon the Song. You can find extracts from his fast-paced and highly imaginative fiction on his blog. And when J.D.’s posts do appear, they’re skilfully written, cogent and funny.