Let’s play “spot the writer”

30 05 2014

I was on a train the other day. Commuters, students, travellers. All crammed together. Sweating. Swearing internally. Feeling their lives being stolen away by the thief who never stops ticking away.
I was on a train in a seat so I was a bit better off that some of the others. In a seat with a window so even more fortunate in that, even if I had so desired, I couldn’t have got up to offer my seat to anyone with greater need. The moral question of when you should make that offer is one to be pursued another day.

The lady squeezed besides me was a wriggler. A squirmer. A jiggly itch I felt myself wanting not just to scratch but get a wire brush onto. However my view changed when I glanced at her tablet.
Her wriggles had been caused by typing, pausing, silent muttering and shrugging, deleting and typing again. She was a writer!

It wasn’t a boring presentation for some dull bank or insurance company and it wasn’t a glossy PR campaign. It was a book. Chick-lit from what I could make out in peripheral vision through the privacy block of a modern front-facing screen. Chick-lit – just my bag! If the train had been less busy I would have introduced myself and we’d have been more than collaborating before you could say “Next stop Clapham Junction”

However, it was busy and she was obviously at a difficult connecting juncture of getting her heroine linked up with the love interest.

I have written on a train, many times. Busier than this as well when on a long one via Cairo. How many are there I wondered? As I stood to edge past bags and feet and pools of melted pensioner I looked around. How many busy fingers were creating their own world? How many closed eyes hid characterisations, storylines and synopsis?

I found myself composing a battle cry. If my struggle to reach the exit had not been so onerous then those morning commuters would have seen an occasionally familiar face shouting, “Get writing my little beauties! Get writing and your next stop will be success!”

Next time!

These are a few of my favourite things

25 05 2014

No. Not “The Sound of Music” film or soundtrack.

In my recent time away from t’interweb (see WordPress blog of 16/09/13) I thought about my reliance on technology, on things, possessions, services and asked the oft-mooted question. Are we really only three meals away from anarchy?

Setting that thought aside for another day I settled my thinking on what things I like. Not “needed”, not “essential”. Just things I like.

My computer? No, just a tool.

But my pen? I do like my pen. It isn’t valuable in a monetary sense but I’ve had it a long time. I won it in a writing competition aged 16. I wasn’t first, not even second but I still got something in exchange for a piece of my mind jotted down and appreciated by someone else. Even now I think about that every time I pick it up – carefully – because the lid no longer clicks shut fully and the ink does occasionally ooze. As I said, not monetarily valuable!

My chair is also a winner in the liking contest. A Captain’s Chair on a swivel. Slightly frayed and the odd hole now in the leather – it just suits me!

As blogs go, this won’t hold much interest for many of you but if you have persevered to the end and before you move on please ask yourself the same question…

What do you actually LIKE in your life?

Secret doors, dream sequences, lucky breaks and coincidence.

19 05 2014

There is such a thing as coincidence. Happens all the time. Meeting someone on a train you haven’t seen since school is a coincidence. Having the same birthday as a relative is a coincidence. Not liking Manchester United is normal but also a coincidence what chatting with new friends.

But should you rely on coincidence in your writing? Would it stretch your reader’s credibility if your hero was “coincidentally” watching CCTV live output when the villain of the piece walked by? No matter how much it may happen in real life, you are not creating real life. You are creating a new world in each of your reader’s heads. It may have foundations in the real world but it dances to your tune, your rules.

If not coincidence, how often can you rely on a contrivance to get you through a sticky plot cul-de-sac. The most famous dream sequence in recent(ish) cultural memory is a whole series of Dallas on US TV. However many episodes (20+ probably) all a dream whilst one character took a shower? This is not credible.

The secret passage from a prison cell. That’s credible if you lay enough groundwork in the rest of the book – old castle, passages on the upper floors, historic unexplained escapes etc etc. But putting a secret passage behind a vanity bookshelf to hide a crime no-one know is happening may be stretching the drumskin of reality a touch more thinly than it should be.

Of course, I am not you. I wouldn’t do it but doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. I read a book years ago where everything just happened as it should because of coincidence not contrary to it. I was laughing out loud at parts of it. Unfortunately I don’t think the author intended it to be a comedy – which is why I am not stretching my memory to remember the name of it now. Libel and slander, not for me thanks!

It would be a bit of a coincidence if anyone out there in the blogosphere had also read it and then read this blog.

Quirks in your writing – what do you always include?

16 05 2014

Clive Cussler appears in each of his Dirk Pitt novels. Somewhere, for at most a page or two, a silver haired gent appears in the narrative and says or does something a bit helpful to the hero before never being seen again. It’s nice, a kind of magic in each novel. Something to watch for. Something you know is coming and you wonder how he will weave himself into the world this time.

Hitchcock loved a cameo in his films, and what will be world be if the next reboot of Star Trek doesn’t rely on one flash of light that shows a Spock moment somewhere. If we ever lose Nimoy I expect CGI will be fired up with pointy-ears a-plenty and he’ll save every one of us.

Do you have a gimmick? Something you always put into your writing which makes you smile as you type. It may be you do it just for yourself and if anyone noticed you’d deny it. Perhaps you set it as a challenge for your readers in the know.

It’s strange but it’s true that, for me, in stories if not in blogs, it is not complete until I have a Queen lyric or two somewhere in the crazy paving. Perhaps in the dialogue, perhaps in prose. Somewhere Freddie, Roger, Brian and John live again

Cultural references again. Positive stereotypes in your writing

12 05 2014

I talked in a previous blog about the difficulty of finding an innocuous name for your heroine without the baggage of being named for someone famous, someone your readers associate with traits uncommon to your character. Depending on the age and demographic of your readers, Julian could be seen as Clary or Fellowes, Tom could be Cruise or Stoppard, Maria could be playing tennis or singing.
Instead of seeking to avoid falling foul of unwanted associations you do have the option to embrace them instead. Find a big personality, someone everyone knows with unmistakeable mannerisms – then take it to extremes in your writing. Give your character the name Biggins and everyone in the UK has a picture in their head which you can build on. Use Eastwood and you will struggle to distance yourself globally from the hard man of film. So do it! Build a tale around an Eastwood who is struggling against the stereotype but cannot help but slip into character when at parties, to meet girls. The accountant who acts a film star?
If I want a quiet northern girl to blossom in my story perhaps she should be a Miss Horrocks? Victoria W is always telling jokes in her job and seeking a way to perform for a living?
Of course, the difficulty with this is that you may be in danger of being sued if the person you are obviously parodying to extremes is not 1) dead or 2) willing to play along with your libellous words. So, using positive stereotypes may be one only for the braver writer. Perhaps the rest of us should stick with making people up –made from bits and pieces of scores of others, but made up all the same.
If one is a gay comedian or another is a short, religious action hero then it is just a coincidence and any reader wishing to overlay a real person on the loose descriptions I write is welcome to do so. It’s all in their heads anyway!