Doing the Ironing

I’m really enjoying writing this new novel. How long has it been since I said anything remotely like that?

The past couple of weeks have been particularly intense as bit by bit I’ve picked away at what this novel actually is. I’ve had to be harsh and realistic with a lot of things; many of the things that drove me to writing this book have had to be chopped or changed in order to make it work.

In particular this involves the locations that, while they were perfect for individual sections of the story, were really acting as inhibiters to what the story wanted to do. In other words, the locations and some of the characters were holding the story’s development back without me even knowing it.

One of the most important things I realized was that the book doesn’t start at the beginning of the story; it starts two thirds of the way through. So where before I thought I only had some editing and tidying up to do to bring it all into shape, it turns out I’ve still got quite a lot to write.

It also turns out that I had to map out and write an entire back story in order to fully understand why the book starts where it does, how the characters all got there, and what their motivations were that led to them arriving at the book’s opening scene. That was an interesting process, which served to highlight all the holes and problems as as well as how much more complicated the story is to what I initially thought.

It’s been a fascinating journey that has led to me altering my entire book writing process. Compared to all my previous books, this will be the first novel I’ve written that has had full and proper outlining and preparation applied to it before getting a finished draft down.

There were around 62,000 words when I picked up Gatecrash as an “unfinished project” last month, so I now reckon there is another 20-30,000 still to go before I have it down. And it is this that excites me most. The fact that I now know what happens and am not writing blindly into the scent of a good idea is helping, and the fact that I know why and where all the little hints and twists are to go is extra helpful.

Best get back to it.

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At the Starting Blocks

It took two hours of careful construction, but my new writing desk came into being on Friday evening. I’ve built a few items of furniture over the last week but this was the toughest, mainly because it was so large compared to the others. Much sweating and swearing was involved – especially when I realized I’d installed the drawer runners the wrong way round. A quick fix was applied (with some more swearing) and I got there in the end.Then it was time to bring my trusty old Mac out of haitus. It was dusted down, warmed up, applications installed, updates applied, backups taken, directories re-arranged, clouds utilized, and finally after all of that, it was ready to go. Or at least it looks like it. More importantly, it looks like I’m ready to go too.

So what first?

I’ve two pretty large projects neither of which I feel as though I’m ready to just dive into, not so soon after not having written anything of substance over the past couple of years. That’s not to say the ideas aren’t there – they are – I just haven’t acted on them yet.

The completion of GATECRASH in particular requires a proper look, in particular second half of the book needs given a new direction and a total overhaul. The first half works well I feel, but the second is just a mess; thrown together in order to get over the finish line of a NaNoWriMo a few years ago. It needs some serious work. But I’ll come to that.

The obvious thing to do then is get my mind back into the right state of mind. The STELLA re-issue should help with that then, because although it’s not writing as such, it’s in that bubble and will help to motivate in the right direction.

I also have it on my GDR list to publish a new chapbook. There are several ways to go with this and it also means having to write, to think about writing actual words in a certain order. I guess what I’m saying is, it means I will actually have to switch on the parts of my brain that have lain dormant; the creative parts; the parts that went into all my other books.

Best get on.

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A New Desk

Two Thousand and Sixteen

2016 was a monumental year.

I married my soulmate, had the honeymoon of a lifetime in Paris and New York, bought a new home in a lovely part of Scotland, and moved in just in time for Christmas.

All in all, probably the best year of my life.

And although this blog (at certain points last year) was used as a means by which to focalize where I am, where I’ve been, my ups and downs, all that guff, everything has now settled; I feel happy, supported, balanced. In short, I’m burning to do some work.

Now, I’m aware I’ve had time off before and that I’ve used the phrase “I’m back” on a couple of occasions, but now really is the time for me. It’s been a long road I’ve trekked and everything in my life is now as it should be (and how I want it), and with the purchase this week of a new writing desk for a brand new writing room, I really have run out of excuses.

I’m at the brink; I simply must finish what I started.

In my new home, one of the spare bedrooms is being turned into something else, something beautiful; I’m aiming to create a space for creativity, reflection, idea development, and of course, writing. That won’t be the room’s only purpose, mind you, but for me it will. The new desk will sit at a window looking out over my new hometown, and is south facing so I can get a tan as I write!

By the end of the week the desk will be built and installed, my Mac set up, and everything should be ready to go. In fact, I’m hoping to do my first proper work in a verrrry long time this weekend.

GDRs

With all of this coming to fruition, I spent the Christmas holidays developing a new set of GDRs (Goals, Dreams & Resolutions) for the coming year. They’re different from previous years, in that they take into account my long lay-off but try to press the right buttons to motivate me in the right direction with the right pieces of work. It took me a while – I had to be mega-realistic with myself with what I believe I can actually achieve.

There are two things I’m going to be working on in particular this January.

The first is the continuation of my work on my greatest unfinished novel to date, GATECRASH. I need to sit down and seriously think about where this book is going and what it is trying to achieve before I just dive back in, which is where I’ve gone wrong already with it. The goal is to complete the first draft by end of February.

The second is to repackage and republish STELLA and to include it in a double-publication issue with BACCARA BURNING. It took me a long time to get the book rights back off the publisher, and now I have them, I’m going to do with it what should have been done in the first place: make it work. I’m aiming to have this back on the market in the Spring.

Blogging won’t be as frequent as it used to be. Once upon a time I blogged religiously every day but I can’t see me going back to that, mainly because of my day job commitments (I leave the house at 6:30am and don’t get home until 7:30pm) but also because it will detract from the writing time that I have left.

I’ll think about publishing my GDRs this week. I still think I need to shape them a bit but when they’re done, I’ll consider putting them up to make them public. 

That way, it’s harder to deny they ever existed.

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Chris Hadfield

Chris Hadfield

I went to see Colonel Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut of some considerable fame, speaking at the Usher Hall last week. Talk about inspirational! His 90-minute presentation with videos, sound, imagery and even song, was as enlightening as it was gripping, as humorous as it was humbling, and as inspirational as it was joyous.

The whole evening wasn’t what one might have expected, i.e., a review of what we already knew through previous interviews and social media posts. It was a journey through the emotions, thoughts and idiosyncrasies of an astronaut waking up on the day he was to “leave Earth” and what then followed.

It was fascinating stuff, truly amazing to listen to him describe the sensations and thoughts while walking up to the space shuttle: “I’ll either be floating around by the end of the day or dead.” And it was the wee things, like how all the astronauts jumped into the air at once when the lift taking them to the Shuttle entrance got to the top of the lift shaft. Silly stuff, but gave the impression of a bunch of excited people finally fulfilling years of training and dreaming.

And the training! Is there anything the guy can’t do? Absolutely everything is covered and trained for in minute detail, every eventuality in order to be able to cope with the most constantly asked question throughout his journey: “what could kill us next?”

For me, hearing him talk about looking back on a planet with no borders and a human race as one, was quite remarkable. It left me feeling very small and insignificant but at the same time part of something great and wonderful.

Writing Progress

Good progress is being made on my next novel, GATECRASH. Work has been moving relatively smoothly – a fresh set of eyes on a story has definitely helped – but the last couple of chapters have been very sticky. I remember the original versions of both chapters and neither of them were easy to
produce in the first place. Hindsight, and a new perspective, has meant I’ve been able to approach the problems differently, allowing myself not to feel disappointed with having to bin both chapters and re-write them from scratch. As a result, they both flow better and work as a much slicker link to the next part of the novel.

I’ve recently noticed feeling this way about a lot of my writing since I came back to it. It’s almost as though not thinking about it for so long and diverting my creative energies elsewhere, has helped to clear my mind and remove the cobwebs; scrape away the dead moss, so to speak. Suddenly, I feel that all those difficult editorial decisions that need to be made are clear as to what needs to be done, when in the past I might have been struggling to see the woods for the trees.

I’m aiming to be done with this version of the manuscript – I think t’s now the fourth – before it goes to its firsts beta reader. And it’s been a few years now since I was able to say that!

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Reaching For The Stars

Star Wars

Rather sadly (to some), I’ve now seen Star Wars: the Force Awakens a grand total of six (6) times. I suppose one might argue I’m a little bit obsessed, but actually that’s quite wide of the mark. It’s more a case that the removal of all barriers leading to my creative energy and my raw imagination have all run amok!

Put more simply, it’s not just the continuation of the story from my childhood I find fascinating, it’s the whole creative process behind creating it – the attention to detail, the gay abandon, the wildly fascinating characters, the humour, the drama, the new worlds beyond worlds (metaphor?) – to be stimulating to the point of salivatory excitement. Well, not THAT stimulating, but it gets my creative juices flowing every time I watch it.

And of course, having grown up with the films, role-played the movies with my pals, and even once written the entire script of Star Wars: A New Hope from memory while in primary school, you can begin to see the effect it’s had on me since I was a wee person.

For me, it paralleled the cult computer game of the 1980s called ELITE, where one had to choose between conforming to the galactic rules or living a life in the shady underworld of space. I preferred to roam the galaxy visiting planets to trade with in order to scramble a living, while also trying to steer clear of trouble from other pirates, bandits and mercenaries. Cue Han Solo… you see where this is going, right?

Now, as a 42 year old man, it’s my passion for writing that the continuation of Star Wars has shone a heat lamp on, by re-lighting the desire to create and evolve my own worlds in the same spirit and creative energies that Star Wars came to life through.

Death

It’s been a hell of a few weeks where death is concerned; an outstanding start to 2016. Quite clearly, Mr G. Reaper has had his holidays and has got back to work with vigour and energy, killing off a whole host of famous and not famous names, some of whom meant more to me than others.

First up early in December, literary legend and old friend, William McIlvanney passed away aged 79. It came as a great shock to me given our history and I will miss his influence immensely. I kind of assumed he would live forever – he will through his work, that’s for sure – but it’s the direct influence he had on me when we spoke and finally met that will stay with me forever.

Then came a boyhood hero of mine, The Specials drummer John ‘Brad’ Bradbury, who just last week suddenly and out of the blue aged only 62. He was the man who gave The Specials their distinct sound, with his unique playing style in songs that meant to so much to me growing up. I’m privileged to have seen him play a number of times.

Brad’s funeral was overshadowed yesterday by the sudden death of David Bowie from cancer at 69. The world rocked to the news he had kept his terminal illness hidden, and while I wasn’t a fan of his work, I appreciated what he did and why he meant so much to others.

And finally, just last week while browsing through Facebook, I came across the news that an old friend of mine had also died suddenly. Duncan Robertson was an old pal of mine in the 90s who I enjoyed many nights out in Glasgow with. I’m remembering O’Henry’s, Rock Garden, and Fury Murry’s, and I’m also remembering when he opened the massively successful Candy Bar in Glasgow and then later in Edinburgh, as well as some of his many other business ventures. I last saw him in Charing Cross in Glasgow a couple of years ago while I was working there, and it’ll be his cheery smile that he met me with, that I’ll remember most.

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The Wrong Name

So, I have five goals for the year. Three fiction-related, one poetry-related, and the final one is all about reading.

Reading takes care of itself. I’ve always been good at mining out slots to read during the day and the Kindle is a major advantage to getting through more books. I remember when I got my first Kindle my reading increased dramatically, and able to synchronise what I’m reading across my iPhone and iPad has only served to increase the amount of opportunities to squeeze in as much reading as possible.

As for poetry, you may remember I take care of all of this under the pseudonym, Chas Stramash, but that doesn’t mean I have extra time in the day to write or publish poetry. As things stand, I have a half-written chapbook that was scribbled roughly into a notebook while on location in Sri Lanka last year. It’s a book that’s written itself more or less, and setting aside dedicated days to work on it – using poetry writing as a break from fiction – will ensure I get this goal completed easily and enjoyably enough.

But it’s within the fiction realm that I’m demanding most from myself over the course of the next year. I’m planning to complete three outstanding projects, two of which are more outstanding than the third!

So which one first?

I began work aimed at completing GATECRASH during the summer last year, and because it’s still fresh in my mind, and because I know where it’s going and where I want it to go, I’m going to continue with it first. It makes most sense.

It’s also the first book I’ve worked on using Scrivener, so importing it all back into a single document would not only be difficult, it would also mess up my research and planning that I’ve set up within the tool. I’ll be leaving all that as it is. Given that Scrivener isn’t available for the iPad yet, I can’t work on it in the mornings, which means I can fill that particular time a lot with other work… a new chapbook, for example.

There is one important thing that needs changed in this particular book, however, and I think it’s the reason the book has faltered on so many occasions. I am now, in the light of reflection, positive it is why I have been unable to finish it to any form of satisfactory level.

Most of the main characters have the wrong names. Only the lead female and one of the male characters have the correct name.

Changing the names of multiple characters is not something I’ve ever contemplated doing before. I’ve always felt that when a character is named – given birth to in my mind – he or she stays with that name for eternity. The same goes with how they look and behave (in my mind). But thinking about this with an open and clear mind, removing all prejudices and blaming mechanisms, I’m sure the wrong names are what is proving to be the fly in the ointment of this particular novel. They just aren’t sitting well despite being good characters. They have flaws and bags of personality, loud voices, the will of life and they hold the story up in a strong way. But there’s just something not right about them; they have the wrong names.

I’m terribly Sorry Matthew, but you’re just not a Matt!

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Goals for 2016

I’ve spent the last few days developing a new set of GDRs (Goals, Dreams and Resolutions), my first for around four years. I’ve spent enough time looking back at the last few years, analysing what came along in my life that meant I had to stop writing, and forgiving myself for dropping the ball. Looking back, I was in a great position and at times I feel like I’ve lost all the momentum I built up.

Those four years have remained in the back of my mind as I shape what will prove to be a critical year for me and my life in writing; pivotal even, as I attempt a “comeback” of sorts. To this end, I’ve been employing several methods for enabling myself to get back on the horse and motivating myself to the point of frustration:

  • I’ve re-read all of my old work: short stories, poems, and previous longer works of fiction (STELLA, BACCARA BURNING, SLICK, GREENER IS THE GRASS).
  • I’ve been contemplating the projects that remain unfinished from four years ago that I want to use to springboard back into things again.
  • I’m spending time with the characters involved in each of the unfinished projects to see who has the loudest voice, i.e., who is willing to help me out more.
  • I’m re-reading some of the works of my oldest friends in writing, and some of their work published since I moved into exile, for want of a better phrase.
  • I’ve been plugging back into some of my favourite blogs from writers who inspire me most.

And so for the first time in four years, I now have a fully developed set of GDRs for 2016; demanding, but not overly so; unapologetically challenging while keeping within the boundaries of optimal motivation. I like their familiarity and I like their freshness.

My life now, compared to where I was in 2012, has transformed completely. A lot of it is due to me coming to terms with who I am, some of it is down to pure chance and a splash of fate, but most of it is due to me deciding to take my life in the direction I wanted it to go; I have made my life into what I want. I’ll not be apologising for that any time soon, because for the first time in a long, long time, I’m really happy.

One of the few key things that remains is to re-focus and re-channel my creative energies into writing again. And that’s what the GDRs and the five motivational methods I outlined above are all about.

I’m not going to list all of my personal writing review and GDRs here, for that you will need to head over to the site run by Devon Ellington: Goals, Dreams & Resolutions, but for the sake of initially making it public, here’s my 2016 Writing Goals:

  1. Complete and Publish GATECRASH
  2. Re-write and Publish HUNTING JACK as a novel
  3. Complete NaNoWriMo 2015 Novel
  4. Publish Two New Chapbooks
  5. Read 40 Novels

Bring it on!

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