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Nearly There

20 Jul

DucksWhen I decided to write a novel, I had no idea it would take so damn long to get all those pesky ducks quacking from the same hymn sheet.  I started in earnest in November 2012 and now we’re in July 2016.  The Ferret Files is due for release as an e-book the first week of August 2016.

So what have I learned over this time?

  1. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.  Many moons ago, I had a meeting with Micheal Jacob, who was head of the BBC’s commissioning arm for new shows ( I was trying to get a sitcom off the ground, with a bunch of pals) and he asked me in the very first pitching workshop we did what it was I really wanted to get made? Well, I thought about it, and thought about it some more. He looked at me knowingly, and said: “It’s not this show, is it?” And he was right. His advice was to find an idea that I truly believed in, then refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer. Whatever it took, believe in it, live it and make it happen.  Ferret is it. When I decided to set-to writing, I spent some time going through all my old notes dating back 15 years and rediscovered the fabulous furry Ferret.  There were a dozen one-off stories and to begin with, I tried to weave them all into one book.  Clue: it didn’t work.  So I took the best story I had and made it into the first novel.
  2. I can’t write and do a full time job.  Tried it, it doesn’t work.  The only way for me to write anything other than magazine articles, reports and short stories is to go at it full-tilt, full time.  3 years and 8 months sounds like a long time, but that’s elapsed time rather than time actually spent on the project. Broken down, Ferret has taken 42 weeks to get from idea to finished item, which I think is pretty good for a first novel. Of course, I’ve also broken the cardinal rule of being a first time author – don’t give up the day job…
  3. Get a support network.  Early on, it was Twitter and WordPress.  Then, when the manuscript had progressed sufficiently, friends and family, not forgetting the artist of the piece, Richard Argent. There was a point when I was hiding behind the illustrations, as in asking everyone what they thought of pictures rather than the text. Every writer goes through periods of self-loathing and hating the novel, it’s part of the creative process. Miraculously, whenever I was having a down period, a picture would appear, either in draft or completed form.  Knowing that someone else gets the characters was really important.  I can’t thank Richard enough for those lifts, especially as he didn’t even know I needed them.
  4. Do it for the love of Art, not the $$$. Enjoy what you do and make your finished work an expression of you. If I’d wanted to bring Ferret in cheap, I could have lost the artwork. But, I wanted to do something unique. Personally, I think the finished novel is better with the pictures – feedback will tell.  One change I made in the final draft, after talking it over a lot, was to remove the names of celebrities and replace them with text such as: ‘a well known English footballer and the ex-popstar missus’.  It’s a detective novel, go work it out. If you’re still stumped, go look at the illustrations. Russell Brand is brilliant.
  5. Find a good coffee shop. Not the Amsterdam type of coffee shop, somewhere where you can take your laptop, have a decent cup of coffee and experience life.  Remove those headphones, and watch and listen. Writing is a solitary occupation, and when you get blocked-up no amount of internal dialogue will unblock you.  It has to come from outside. Most of the situations and characters I create as an author are based on real life scenarios, either things I’ve experienced or stories people have told me. Occasionally, I borrow stories I overhear. Sometimes I borrow people. A coffee shop is a good place to start. If anyone asks you what you’re doing, tell them. At some point, you’re going to have Ferret2to talk about your work and practice makes perfect. So bat some ideas about, see what kind of feedback you get. Strangers are often far more honest than those who are close to you.

That’s it for today.  Now, where did I put my pint of Fursty Ferret?

 

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It’s a Wrap

8 Jul
Ferret in London

Ferret in London

Thirty months ago I set out to write a novel, not really having a clear idea of where to begin.  Being the sort of chap who learns best by doing, I threw myself headfirst into the task of producing a framework with major plot points.  It took six weeks to create the novel’s back story and the character arcs.  The writing commenced shortly afterwards and I proceeded at pace, adhering assiduously to the plan.  Two months in, I published some excerpts to this blog and after considering the feedback, realised that what I’d proposed was: a) far too long for a first book; and b) was not going to fly in its current form.

Rather than soldier on, I changed track, rethought the plot and cut the size down, turning one book into two.  In the process, I was forced to edit out two of my favourite scenes.  That really hurt.

The first draft took nine months nearly full time.  I spent roughly 4 days a week, 8 hours a day writing, and 2 days a week reading advice columns, character hints and other writer’s blogs.  All very useful stuff and I urge anyone who’s struggling with a first draft to do the same.  The ending was all a bit rushed, I needed to get it finished so I could go back to work.  So much was missing, so many loose ends untied.  That was June 2013.

Steady, cowboy

Steady, cowboy

Two years later and the second draft proper is finished, with the ending now complete.  One of the advice columns I read – I can’t remember who said it, or I’d post a link – but paraphrased it goes like this: think of yourself not as an author but a pilot.  The audience has climbed aboard your plane, participated in the take off, flown the flight.  If you’ve done the catering right, they’re all still aboard (apart from the ones who freaked and parachuted out early on).  Now, they’re trusting you the pilot to land the effing plane, so you better not disappoint.  In the case of Ferret, the plane has an outbreak of snakes, there’s a pair of armed terrorists aboard, food poisoning has incapacitated the flight crew, the landing gear is jammed and there’s a storm directly ahead.  Oh, lordy…

Truth be told, it’s the most fun I’ve had in years.  Well, since IBM declared me persona non grata for producing a series of films, with the participation of their top brass, which supposed the firm was run like the mafia.  They terminated my contract and tried to impound and incinerate every one of the DVDs.  Fortunately, they failed.  Anyone who know me knows that every once in a while I have to create some noise and cause trouble.  It’s a genetic trait – I blame my father for instilling in his children a healthy disrespect for the establishment and their organs of justice.  Company newsletters were my thing for a while.  Three times I went too far for the liking of management, collecting one written and one verbal warning.  Fidelity Investments took great exception to a piece about tattooing barcodes on the back of their employee’s necks and checking them in and out with a barcode reader, for security purposes.  Shortly after that I moved on to short stories published in various magazines, regarding working practices in IT, with names changed to protect the guilty.  The guilty may not have spotted themselves, but their co-workers did, which forced me to switch to a series of pen names.

All in the Edit

All in the Edit

Ferret ups the ante considerably.

Whilst it is a work of fiction, it takes many real life experiences garnered from hanging about with consultants, working in high finance and on confidential government projects.  I’ve not set out to spill any secrets, merely write a tale of how these organisations behave under the covers.  Believe me, this is a full-on cage rattler – lord knows, I’ve taken enough time to get there.

I’m now commencing the final edit, which I’m really looking forward to.  I know from making movies, that the editing studio is where those six hours of footage become 5 minutes of freaky fun.  Hard work looms, but I can’t wait to see what comes out the other end.

 

Musical Influences

22 Jun

music is what feelings sound likeI’m a big listener of music, always have been and if I need to escape from the world for a while it’s the headphones that I turn to.  Judging by the number of people I see on a daily basis wandering around the city, on public transport and even down the gym, I’m not alone in this pastime.  With so many people on the planet tuned into their favourite sounds, it will come as no surprise to learn that fictional characters have musical preferences too.  Let me put that another way: if you’re writing a character and they DON’T have a favourite tune or band, you’re missing a trick.

Personally, I’m a fan of singer/songwriters with a story to tell (Neil Young, Bob Dylan), symphonic rock (guitars plus keyboards and an orchestra), and plain old guitar driven rock.  In years gone by I’ve listened to practically everything from high tempo punk to stoner rock with its gyrating, sludgy bass.  Somewhere in-between comes the Seattle sound, led by Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

I find with music that certain songs act as an anchor to certain feelings, and simply playing the right song takes you back to the right head space.   Conversely, if you have a favourite song that you used to listen to with an ex, it can be too painful to listen to that track or album for years on end.

Resistance is Futile

Resistance is Futile

The Ferret Files is a mix of high finance meets secret societies meets government conspiracy; the right band to get me in the Ferret headspace is without a doubt Muse.  Matt Bellamy of Muse is a musical geek who loves a conspiracy theory, which is just perfect.  The other band I listen to a lot is Nightwish, a Finnish female fronted rock act who deserve to bigger internationally than they are.  Fantastic live.

In order to tell the story, I’ve chosen a number of characters who each have POV chapters.  When writing, it can be tricky to flip between them and get in character.  As each of them is a different person, with differing musical tastes, one of the tricks I use is anchor songs.

Ferret’s anchor song is ‘Uprising’ by Muse.  Cyrano, his drug dealing tricky best mate’s anchor song is ‘Somebody Put Something in my Drink’ by the Ramones.  Marcus, the gay government official is anything by Kylie, but specifically ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’.  Juliet, Ferret’s posh girl-gone-bad girlfriend has a thing for bad boy rockers, so it’s Guns N Roses for her, ‘You Could Be Mine’.  Damien, the confused Account Executive who wants to tread the boards, but daddy would disinherit him – he’s fond of Les Miserables.  Flamen Dialis, High Priest of Jupiter – he listens to Pink Floyd.

conflictFor me, my character’s differing musical tastes help me to feel the conflict brewing between them, and ultimately it’s conflict and conflict resolution that drives any good story.  If everyone listened to the same music and wanted the same thing – well, there’s no point in me picking up a pen.

Cyrano, for instance, with his love of fast tempo punk is never going to get along with Marcus, who’s busy secretly prancing about in feather boas.  He’s also going to have a thing or two to say to Ferret about liking safe pop/rock.  Ferret & Marcus on the other hand, they get along just fine.  Whilst Matt Bellamy of Muse isn’t a true bad boy, he is quite bonkers, so Juliet will live with this while dating Ferret, just as Ferret will live with the odd bit of G’N’R in his life.  Cyrano and Juliet: funnily enough, they’re instantly drawn to each other, and such an attraction is never going to sit well with our hero.

Have a great week.  And while you’re at it, have a think – what’s your theme song?  What single song sums up who you are, your wants and desires?  One day you’ll have to make a fabulous entry, and that’s the song that you’ll want playing.  By all means, leave a comment and let the world know what it is.  In the meantime, never underestimate the power of music to evoke powerful, positive emotions in both you and others.

 

 

 

 

 

Groundhog Day

31 Jan

Groundhog DaySo here I am once more, back on the final chapter of the Ferret Files, nineteen months after the last time I was here.  Things have moved on – in a good direction, the whole novel feels much better and my characters are much happier with their lot.  How do I know? They’ve stopped bitching to me about unfulfilled desires and hanging plot lines.

So what have I learned during the second revision?

1) If you have a novel inside you that’s demanding to see the light of day, write it.  Perseverance is key.  Set to and don’t stop writing until you’ve finished.  No excuses.  Really want it.  Focus on how great it will feel once you’ve reached that final chapter.  Make pictures of the day you write ‘The End’.  Chances are you’ll have to reorganize your life and miss out on things you’d otherwise do.  Sacrifice is no bad thing.  It hardens your resolve.

2) There will be days when you want to tear your hair out, days when you think you’re a dillweed for ever imagining you can write and days when you don’t get started until 8 hours after you planned.  On the flip side, there will be days when you feel amazing inside.  You’ll have a smile for everyone, especially yourself, over some delicious one-liner, a clever plot twist or a paragraph of narrative that’s good enough for Jehovah.  Those are the days that make it all worthwhile.  People will think you’re on drugs.  Let them.

3) Listen to your characters.  They know what they want better than you do.  If you push them about, they will fight back.  Take heed of what they say, take a deep breath and go with it.  You’ll learn things about your characters that you didn’t know and that’ll make you feel on top of the world.  See (2).  Any good story is the story of characters and how they change over time when faced with issues they didn’t expect to encounter.  If you’re ever in doubt about who your characters are, imagine them all at a dinner party.  Who forgets to wear a bow tie?  Who takes two, just in case?  Now lob a grenade in the room and watch them react.  This is a metaphor for something unexpected BTW, it doesn’t have to be a real grenade.  The point is to take your characters out of the novel, put them in a situation that doesn’t exist in the novel, add some chaos, watch and learn.

4) Not every brilliant idea you have has to be used immediately.  If it doesn’t fit, don’t try and cram it in.  Some ideas are so good, they’re novels on their own, they need space to develop and breathe.  So keep a notebook, jot them down and then leave well alone.  Rabbit holes will derail you. and once you’re down one, it’s easy to forget how you got there.  Think Alice in Wonderland.

5) If you’re stuck, blog it.  Social media is your window to the world.  If you have something that’s bothering you in the way of the plot, characters or even technique, write about it, put it down for a day and then think about pressing the publish button before you re-read it.  That should get the juices flowing.  Now you can re-read.  Saying something out aloud is very different to saying it in your head.  Often the shock will provide the answer.  If not, bash the problem around.  I tend to use other writers rather than my friends, just because they’ve not been up to their elbows in words and don’t fully understand what’s going through your head.

6) Write about stuff that interests you.  You don’t have to be the world’s foremost expert on brain surgery to have an interest in it.  Research is all part of the writing experience, whether you do it before you start, or while you’re going along.  If you find brain surgery to be as dull as ditch water, then leave it well alone.  Ultimately, you’re no different to anybody else out there.  If you choose to write about something that you have no interest in whatsoever, it will show.  Excuses will abound and you’ll find it difficult to finish.  Overall, you won’t enjoy the writing experience and readers will enjoy the reading experience even less.  Being happy is the key to being productive.  Writing about things that interest me while listening to music I love – there’s no better feeling.  See (2).

7) Read often.  The more you read good fiction, the more you learn unconsciously about the writing process and the art of story telling.  If you have difficulty with a particular plot point, see how your favorite author deals with it.  Ultimately, every story has already been told, but not every combination of words has ever been used to reach the conclusion.  Writing and music have a lot in common.  There’s only so may notes, yet new songs come out all the time and they still manage to be original.  Musicians have their influences, authors too.  Read.  Digest.  Be inspired.  Dare to reach for Heaven.

That’s it for today.  Now I’m back in the flow, I can’t seem to shut up…

 

My Top Six Writing Tips

25 Jul

I don’t normally do reposts, but this is so spot on it deserves a mention.

My Top Six Writing Tips.

This is THE END (my friend, the end)

30 May

I recently wrote those two little words that I didn’t think I’d ever see: THE END.

Two weeks later, I realise it’s anything but!  It’s simply the beginning of another cycle of hard work, towards creating a complete product.  Overall, I’m very happy with where I am, although a couple of key characters did things I hadn’t planned them to do near the end, which made for a few hairy moments.  As an author, if you don’t let your characters be themselves and express their flaws, then really you don’t have a body of work.  So they did their thing, created chaos and also revealed secrets I was previously unaware of.  One reveal has repercussions right the way back to the beginning of the book, which actually gave me a squeal of delight, as it helps to make sense of a pair of earlier scenes.

On the negative side, it’s taken nearly six months to write the Ferret Files.  I’d allowed three.

On the plus side, I did a word count and was delighted to come in at 105K – 25k less than I feared.

On the negative side, I’ve now got to go find a paying job.

On the plus side, an old friend who I’d lost contact with resurfaced, and with her a brilliant comic book artist who remains mostly unknown – now onboard for cover duties and illustrations.  I’m very excited about working with this guy, his drawings are nuts.

Mostly, what I’ve taken from the experience of writing my first novel is a feeling of great satisfaction.  I knew I had the stamina and will to finish, but that’s not the same as actually doing it full time (I tried part time, it didn’t work for me).  What’s come out the other end in terms of first draft and story exceeds my expectations.  Considering my plan went to hell after three months, that’s good.  Yeah?

Neil Young got me started and saw me over the finishing line.  Nightwish and The Ramones supplied a lot of fuel in the middle.  FYI – I took a break to Berlin last weekend and let hair down at Rammstein.  Visited The Ramones museum just off Oranienburger Strasse – if you get the chance, go.  It’s a proper rock n roll shrine.  Bat for Lashes helped slow things down.

Jim Morrison and the Doors provided the closing song, with ‘The End’.

As long as the influence of all the great music this novel is infused with seeps out in the reading, you’re gonna have fantastic fun with this one.  I set out to write the novel I want to read, which no-one else has so far written.  And succeeded.  The rest is dominoes, all the way to the bookshelves.

A quick brush-up and it’s time to find some readers…

The Daniel Day Lewis Method of Writing

19 Feb

Here’s a question for you:

cubes

An addictive substance yesterday

Your hero has a cocaine habit.  In order to appreciate his/her viewpoint, do you seek out the drug and take it as part of the writing process, or do you simply imagine what it might be like when you write about it?  Do you talk to known users as part of your research?  Equally, when it comes to preparation, do you simply read about it in the press and make it up, or do you try it yourself?

Drugs are one of those things that are illegal, but a lot of people participate in – hence my question, which really boils down to this:  for the sake of authenticity, is it important for you as an author, to know about what you’re writing about in detail?  And if so, where do you draw the line?

It’s possible to become a drunk for a night, or a week as part of your research.  You can even sleep rough if you want.  You can develop a cigarette habit until you cough, and know what it’s like to hack one up every morning.  All this is perfectly legal.  Then we come to the illegal – joints, lines and injections, each increasing in addictive qualities and physical effect.  If you try something once and don’t like it, what do you do if a regular user tells you ‘you gotta get a habit man, to appreciate it’?

Then there’s the question of murder. Obviously I’m not advocating killing others in the name of authenticity, but is it something you might consider?

The question is open to the floor: how far are you prepared to go?

It’s a Pope-ish Kind of Day

11 Feb

There are two words which the media frequently like to misuse, which really wind me up when I hear them, in a spitting feathers kind of way.  People who work with me regularly soon stop misusing these words, because they know what’s coming if they do!

Pope-John-Paul-II

Pope John Paul II Pontificating

The first word of the day is to pontificate.  The clue as to what this word word means is in its first half – pontiff.  The ‘cate’ ing of a Pontiff – what does this mean?  It’s like the ‘tate’ ing of a cogi (cogitate), but done at a much higher level.  When a mere mortal chooses to think something over, that’s what we do – give it a bit of a mull, rattle the old six-sided brain cell around inside the skull, see which side it stops on, forget what we decided because it doesn’t really matter, then move on.  When a Pontiff chooses to think about something, he does so with god on his shoulder, in an ineffable fashion.  What comes out after his communion with god is infallible, and has been since 1870 when the First Vatican Council decreed it to be so.  Unlike the rest of us, the Pope can’t break a few balls or enter into banter over the communion wine (in Latin, presumably), because anything he says is true and can’t be questioned, except by god himself.  If the Pope tells you to ‘go f*** yourself’, not only must you do so, you must also be capable of doing it, because he can’t be wrong.

This is what an online dictionary has to say on the matter: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pontificate.  Apparently, the ordinary man in the street CAN now pontificate.  However, I disagree!  Pontification is reserved for the Pope and possibly the Queen, as supreme head of the Church of England.  Since the schism, we need a different word – the ruling monarch of England ‘Majecates’.  It’s a new word, so don’t go misusing it.

Roman_Legion

No Decimation Here

The second word of the day is to decimate.  Whenever anything is destroyed, be it crops, people or things, there are those out there in media land who commit the heresy of declaring it’s been decimated.  OK, I’m not the Pope, so I can’t really declare the misuse of this word a heresy, but you get the idea.  Decimation was a particularly cruel punishment carried out on a unit of a Roman Legion when it under performed. The unit was divided into groups of 10 and lots drawn at random. The unlucky one was then clubbed or stoned to death by his fellows.  Now, I’m all for a bit of decimation, provided it’s done by 10,000 of the general populace on 1,000 well chosen bankers and politicians, without the drawing of any lots at all.  A field of wheat toppled in a storm comes nowhere close to a 1,000 heads on poles.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about decimation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decimation_%28Roman_army%29.

One of my Catholic friends has a particular favourite, which is epiphany,  the common phrase going something like: ‘I had an epiphany the other day’.  Epiphany is either a religious holiday (6th Jan) or a book of the bible, it’s not a thing in itself.  The state to which the word heretics refer is a theophany, which is the appearance of god or a god to a person, and the realisation that follows.  A conversation may or may not be involved.  Every time the Pope pontificates, he undergoes theophany.  When he tells you to ‘go f*** yourself’, what you undergo when you realise that this entails chopping bits off to fulfill the request is also a theophany and not an epiphany.

If you really want to wind me up, the sentence to do it with goes something like this: When I was pontificating I had an epiphany that that crop decimation was carried out by locusts, not by flying cats after all…

Location Scouting for Bunkers

24 Jan

In the last few days I’ve had a bit of a locations ‘mare, in that I’ve got action happening in a government establishment that’s strictly off limits to the public.  Unless you’re a really well known author with connections, how do you write about such a place without ever having been there?

Grrr! Communications, Soho Square

My locations scouting for the Ferret Files to date has consisted of Google Earth, Google Maps, public transport and my legs.  I’ve set the majority of the action in London, with some of the defence industry shenanigans taking place in Bath.  Having worked in London on and off for most of the last 20 years, I know the place really well, above and below ground.   I had a mental list of places I wanted to use, well before I began the project, some of which are well known, others not so.  I have a keen interest in architecture and that includes burrowing, as in the creation of underground tunnels and complexes.  If there’s a London tour which takes in tunnels, chances are I’ve been on it.  My fundamental belief is that it’s not possible to get the vibe of a location if you haven’t been there.  And by been there, I mean recently.  If you don’t experience the vibe firsthand and lock it in, chances are your readers will notice, especially if they follow your characters around.

boris-bikes

A Boris Bike Yesterday

I live in Bath and have done for 12 years.  I’m just nutty enough to commute to London on a daily basis, which is OK for a short period, provided the end destination is near to Paddington.  Last year, I spent 8 months in the capital, living in hotels.  That allowed me to revisit all of the places I wanted to use, in my spare time.  One day, I needed to check out Regent’s Park, and let me tell you – it’s a long walk around the perimeter.  That’s when I used a ‘Boris Bike’ for the first time.  As an author wanting to get the feel of an area, the Boris Bike is an absolute boon.  It’s faster than feet, allows you to cover an area quickly and when you’re done, the bike is no longer your problem!  Thanks Boris!

My method of working, then:

  • Get a general feel for an area using Google Earth or Google maps
  • If there’s a building of interest, research it on the net, especially its history.  What was there before?
  • Go visit and employ your author senses to spot those interesting details that others miss.
  • If you can get inside, do.  These days, with security, it’s a lot more difficult than it used to be, but a mixture of cheek and charm works wonders.  I’ve been really fortunate, in that I work in IT and often get sent to random locations.  If I end up at one that’s interesting, I’ll use it.
  • Take a paid tour.  The London guides are really knowledgeable and they’ll show you things you’d otherwise miss.

The Secrets of Porton Down

Back to the original question: given that I’m an eyes on sort of guy, how the hell do I get inside of Porton Down, in order to write about the chemical and biological weapons research that took place there?  The answer is to use your imagination.  I’ve driven past Porton Down many times, but never actually been inside.  I have been to a dozen military bases scattered across the South West and Salisbury plain, during my time working in Defence, on a 6 month contract that lasted 12 years.

I love being around the military, they have a great mindset and an insane sense of humour.  They work on the premise that being underfunded, stuff will break or fuck-up – that’s life, get on with it then communicate the fix.  For Porton Down,  I know the sort of people who work there from my visits to DSTL in Portsmouth, I know that stuff broke or went wrong.  So I’m going to concentrate on the historical screw-ups that got us to where we are in the story, rather than precisely how it all looks.  All of the military bases I’ve visited in the South West are similar in design, so a generic bunker will do.

When all is said and done, I’m writing a conspiracy novel.  Anyone wanting to locate the exact bunker where the chemical experiments into psychic phenomena took place won’t be able to find it on a map.  Surely, that’s because the government buried it?  Or could the real reason be that I have secret inside knowledge of a black project, communicated to me by a scientist who worked on it and I’ve purposefully moved the location from nearby Boscombe Down, in order to throw the reader?

You’ll have to make your own mind up on that…

Those Duvet Moments

16 Jan

In the last three months of 2012 I pulled together the plot for the Ferret Files, working it out end to end, including Bios for all the main characters, their drivers and story arcs. I patted myself on the back for a job well done and then sat down to write the damn thing.

Let me tell you, ‘sit down and write’ is not as easy as it sounds.

coffeeI didn’t know it was going to be so difficult when I started. Having followed #amwriting and #amediting on Tw@tter for some months now, I’m certainly not alone in my aspirations and frustrations. Some days I just need to stay under the duvet; even the smell of freshly brewed coffee on the stove, wafting up the stairs can’t drag me to the keyboard.

I started out full of it, word count was everything. The higher, the better. Then I decided I’d rather write 1,000 good words than 10,000 bad ones and slowed down. What’s a good word? Shedopsycodelaphia is a good word (I made that one up, BTW). However, if I write it 1,000 times, it doesn’t make my work any better. Eventually I concluded that a good word is a word in the right place, which looks right, feels rights and sounds right when you read your work aloud, in character. Similarly, bad words abound when nothing reads right, feels right or sounds right when you read your work out. If you, the author become bored and start looking out the window, counting sheep, before you get to the end, it’s time for some serious editing.

How do you start?

Those are where my duvet moments come in. The first time I refused to get up to the sweet smell of brewing Bourbon (my blend of the moment) the missus thought I was stricken with the lurgy. The truth is, I was buried beneath the duvet, deconstructing the work of others, to figure out how they’d done something smart with their plot or revealed a certain character trait.

I started out life as a programmer, back in the days when 4K was a lot of memory. In order to become better at my job, I spent weeks hacking away at other people’s code, deconstructing what they’d done, in order to sharpen my own skills. I found I work best this way. Having someone tell me what to do, then repeating the exercise doesn’t make stuff stick in my brain, not in the same way that taking something to pieces and then putting it back together does.

DSC00347Those duvet moments are important to me. I don’t tend to read books anew, I choose something I’ve read before and I like. Then I put my analysis head on and read it in a different way, almost as an observer rather than a reader. How did they disguise that twist? How did they first make me dislike that character? When the plot took a turn of speed, how did they stop it from flying off the road?

I find that when I’m reading in this manner, my unconscious mind starts to shift my work around. This bit belongs here; that bit goes there. It’s like a gigantic mental jigsaw puzzle, as the pieces rearrange themselves in my head. It’s enjoyable, it’s work, but it doesn’t necessarily look like it to an outside observer.

There are many ways of getting better and this is one of mine. Once you’ve done the best job you can, then comes the really scary bit: showing your work to others. That’s a whole new blog entry.

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° BLOG ° Gabriele Romano

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