Occasionally, the fact I sign my name as the fairly androgynous ‘Ali’ leads people to assume I am a man. This belies the fact that however peppered with links to my online endeavours my email signature may be, most recipients of my missives can’t be arsed clicking them.
Tag Archives: caligula
This is just a note to say I am going to be at Latitude Festival for a few days, so if anyone has any desperate need to read about the pros and cons of writing 12 books in 12 months you’ll have to content yourself with re-reading the blog from scratch.
I’m quite excited about taking a break and recharging my batteries, even if the forecast does seem to be monsoons as far as the eye can see. And at least if I come back with trench foot it might make for some good storytelling. Frinstance in October I could write about infected limbs becoming sentient.
Anyway I wouldn’t want to leave you completely in the lurch, so I am scheduling daily posts linking you to one site I like and one random 12 books blog entry I thought was fun. I hope that is acceptable. If not I will deal with your ire on Tuesday.
Today’s links are:
- Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog, which is very funny.
- An excerpt from the very first book.. ‘Caligula in Love’
As promised, here is a link to my interview with Simon Fielding on Leith FM from last Friday. It’s about 40 minutes long and is completely fascinating, so I urge you to make the time. Unfortunately the last part (FAQs) is missing, but you’ll get the gist.
It’s the third day of questions courtesy of Elaine from the Dreams and Whispers Blog, and she asks something I’ve never really thought about before… to choose which of my children I love the most!
Today’s question is about the characters in your books. For me as a reader, I find that interesting characters can really make a book brilliant. With you being on your fifth book now, you must have invented and thought about a fair few people, so which of them stand out the most – which two have been your favourite and least favourite so far?
I agree with you that characterisation can make or break a book. Good characters stay with you and you want to find out more about them – this is presumably why so many authors write in series. Whereas bad ones can make it difficult to carry on reading (although I’m pretty tenacious – it’s rare that I don’t drag my way kicking and screaming to the end of a book).
So far my favourite character is probably Caligula, if I can legitimately claim him as a character! I enjoyed trying to get into his mind and second guessing why he did the crazy things that he was meant to have done – that’s the revisionist historian in me trying to come out, I think. The sources on Caligula are fantastically biased but it makes for interesting reading.
I have a lot of affection for Victor McGlynn as well – he was the main character in the Western and I gave him quite a rough time of it with a pretty sad back story and a not amazing here and now, but he coped with dignity! I am also really looking forward to writing the main characters in my kids’ book in July, because I’ve been developing them in my head for about two years.
There aren’t any characters I haven’t enjoyed writing at all, but I suppose my least favourite is Jennifer, the protagonist of the last book. This is partly because I swithered an awful lot over how to write her – this has been the most difficult book so far.
I was trying to write her as a stroppy teenager but I think I may have gone a bit overboard with her lack of empathy and self involvement, so I’ll have to sort that out when I go back to edit it! Think I should make her a bit more likeable! Although having said that, Stephanie Meyer didn’t bother making Bella likeable and she did alright. Maybe I’ll just leave it….
Further to yesterday’s shout out for guest bloggers, Captain Fantastic writes:
I read on the blog that you are shamelessly trying to spin out more books than Sir Terry of Pratchett. For someone that’s spent many a year dreaming of writing an epic fantasy novel, yet produced less than diddly squat, I’m wondering how you get going with the process each time you start a new book.
I’ve read lots of different guides on how to get started writing, but everything I read says to start by planning the plot, or the characters. I’ve tried both and failed – horribly. The planning really bores me – like reading the Silmarillion – it’s dry and dusty and it takes forever. I really want to just spew out the random jumble of words in my head and weave them into a story as I go, but everything I read says ‘no! bad dog! Start by planning, plot, characters, themes, snore, snore, snore, ya-de-ya – have a biscuit’. I probably shouldn’t look for guidance in dog books…
I was wondering then, how do you plan your writing. Do you do anything to keep the planning side of things interesting or do you just leap right in and start writing? How do you make the actual writing process itself fun so that it’s not a chore to sit down and churn out 2000 words in a day? Any thoughts?
The only book I have really planned thus far was the one I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year. And even then, the ‘planning’ consisted predominantly of reading a few books in my chosen genre, then choosing 30 cliffhangers and assigning them to different chapters. I knew what the two main characters were called before I began, but I added everyone else in as I went along and got to know them as I wrote them.
Book One of this project, Caligula’s Blog, was planned in the sense that I read some history books and had a rough time line of Caligula’s life, and I tried to write according to that – but exact details are a bit woolly when your get that far back so it wasn’t done with military precision.
I tend to take the view that if you are bored with what you’re doing – especially at that early stage – the reader will be too. When I planned out that first book, I couldn’t wait to start writing it, and doing so was much easier than the ill-considered NaNo attempt of 2009.
With 12 Books, part of me tends to feel like there’s no time for planning (other than thinking about it in my head a bit!), so I’ve been inclined to jump in and start on the first of the month – either at a point I am looking forward to doing, or a cursory opening scene just to get something out there. So far none of the openings I’ve written have stayed at the start for long, but they help me to get into the new story.
I think there’s a danger that if you plan too much you’ll overthink it, which is why the overarching theme of this project is to get something on paper and worry about continuity and plot holes later. Once you have that first 50k in front of you, it’s got to be easier to plan the next 50k than if you’re still stuck faffing about with outlines. And you may well see that themes and things have started to appear of their own accord, merely needing you to hone them a bit.
Having said all that, I do think having an outline can help you keep on track, as there are one or two problems with jumping straight in. Frinstance:
- You occasionally find you’ve written the same thing more than once.
- Sometimes you can get quite far in and then change your mind about something, or find it tails off unexpectedly, so you end up having to lose chunks of what you’ve written. But honestly I think that would happen with any first draft, because by the time you’ve done 50k+, left it a couple of months, and come back to it with fresh eyes, you’re going to have come up with new ideas, better ways of putting things, and so on.
- Jumping right in can mean you can lose sight of what you wanted to do. With book 3, I thought I had a very clear idea in my head, but I hadn’t written it down in any detail. Immersed in the tale, I got to around 20k, but then unexpectedly got stuck. I ended up breaking my ‘no editing’ rule and going back to read over it properly and change the chapters around. That helped me to decide on a direction, and I didn’t need to lose any of it – but I can’t guarantee that result every time, and on that occasion fell very short of the arbitrary word count goal!
As a general rule with 12 books I decided to write and write until I get to 50k – even if I know some of it is nonsense. After all it’s a first draft which is going to be severely edited – first by me and then by long suffering friends who’ll be asked to read it over before sending it to an agent who’d presumably make further suggestions before sending it to a publisher. There’s just no need to get bogged down in detailed planning at this stage, because when you get going you’ll almost certainly change your mind about at least a couple of things.
In answer to your last point, this means keeping things fun isn’t that hard at this stage. The process of coming up with first drafts is arguably one of the funnest, most creative parts of writing a novel. It’s the point where you can try things out, and it’s a bit of a challenge getting to that 2000 words a day which is enjoyable as long as you don’t let it become a stress or something YOU MUST DO at the cost of all else. The editing process, on the other hand, is far more laborious – that’s where writing becomes a job, and it’s how I reckon authors really earn their keep!
Hope this answers your question, and best of luck with the fantasy epic!
In university, I had a habit of working on essays right up until the deadline, then racing along to the history department to hand in essays right as they were being removed from the box. It would appear that, certainly when I am unemployed, I have retained this tendency, for not twenty minutes ago, right before midnight on January 31st 2011, I bashed out the last few posts of Caligula’s Blog. I’ve written 5905 words today, and I wouldn’t advise doing that much in one sitting because now my back really hurts!
The draft is very raw, and falls short of my 50k word target, weighing in at only 33, 173 words. However, given that I knew nothing whatsoever about the man on the 1st of the month, and most diary style books are shorter than 50k, I regard this as being fundamentally OK. We’ll see how that changes when I come to look over it again – April at the very earliest!
I dreamed last night I was standing in heaven, near the throne of Jupiter. It was very beautiful and humbling. I was about to say something, when Jupiter gave me a push with the big toe of his right foot, and I fell right on my face. When I woke up it turned out I had fallen out of bed, so that’s probably why that happened in the dream.
Doesn’t feel like a great start to the day, really. Still, things can only get better now that I’m awake! Perhaps I’ll sacrifice a couple of white bulls to the big man this afternoon though, just to be on the safe side.
Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus – or Caligula to you and me – was assassinated later that day by his own men. His wife, Milonia Caesonia, and infant daughter Julia Drusilla were killed by members of the Praetorian Guard a few hours later. He was succeeded by Derek Jacobi.