This month’s Pictonaut Challenge is Sci Fi, in honour of the release of Mass Effect 3. That’s a computer game, for those not in the know, and to be brutally honest it is of little significance in my life. My gaming habits are restricted to endless Tetris and getting stuck on Monkey Island, with a bit of Wii Bowling/MarioKart for luck. Mass Effect 3, meanwhile, ‘plunges you into an all-out galactic war to take Earth back from a nearly unstoppable foe.’ No coloured blocks or weak puns, then.
I have some lunchtime reading for you in the form of February’s Pictonaut Challenge, hooray! This picture screams fantasy, I’m sure you will agree, so I cracked out some silly names and had at it. Enjoy.
“It’s got nuts in,” he added lamely.
Not so very long ago I brought a thing to your attention, namely the intentions of writer, scientician and internet user The Rogue Verbumancer to begin a monthly writing challenge via his blog. Every month he will post a picture, and every month The People of The Internet are invited to do a piece of writing around it, 1000 words or so in length. My one for September will follow momentarily; but you should read the other entries too. Only today Lord Verbumancer has linked to them all on his page.
Also before I post this, a disclaimer: I am so out of practice with short stories after all the novelling I’ve sort of forgotten how to do them – they generally read like a chapter from a book now. I don’t think this one does, but I’ve been wrong before. Captain Tact is the only other human to read it so far, and he pronounced it ‘weird’. I’m not sure whether that is good, bad or indifferent. If anyone has any further feedback, you know where the comments box is.
Anyway, here is my take on Grenade in the Rain. Continue reading “Glempy’s Pictonaut Challenge: Grenade in the Rain” →
I think I’ve probably saved the biggest and most important question until last. It’s a divisive question that splits the opinions of many. I’ve seen it cause full on brawls; I’ve seen it ruin friendships and shake empires. There is without doubt no single question that carries such great weight, especially in the arena of writing. So:
What is your chosen fuel when it comes to writing?
Ah, the age old question.
I have to come down on the side of tea, although I do have a coffee first thing. And I try to drink loads of water when I’m working as well, mainly just due to a vague notion that it’s probably a good thing to do. But plain old breakfast tea with a bit of milk is very much the beverage of choice for me.
I came across an article a while ago which I linked to in a previous post, about the different rituals of various authors. It claims that Balzac drank between 50 and 300 cups of coffee a day, which seems incredible. Maybe I’ll try following his example when I write my shockingly realistic book about the French Revolution…
Is there one book or writer who has influenced your style more than any other? For me it was Gormenghast. A book which after reading utterly transformed the way I wanted to write, burning away years of childish whimsy and leaving me with a decidedly darker and wordier style. Has a book ever had a similar effect on you or has your style evolved independently?
There are definitely a couple of writers who have influenced earlier short stories I’ve written, the main ones being Spike Milligan and Roald Dahl… The Milligan influence comes in where I’ve created characters with ridiculous names like Ivan Itch, and with Dahl there’s the kind of Tales of the Unexpected sadness that creeps in sometimes alongside the silliness. That’s a style I am trying to return to with my children’s books. More recently I’ve fallen in love with the style of Andy Stanton, author of the Mr Gum books – his stories genuinely make me laugh out loud – so I suspect there will be elements of his silliness influencing me too.
Having said that, writing this much in such a short length of time has meant I haven’t had a lot of time to read over the past few months, so I think that my voice has probably evolved relatively independently in 2011. There are tons of authors who I’ve read and come away thinking yes, that was amazing and profound, I want to do something like that – but it never quite turns out that way. I would love to write like Margaret Atwood, for example, but I just don’t have the themes or deal with ideas in the same way as she does. I’m incorrigibly frivolous.
I also think that much more than being influenced by other people’s stuff, the thing that has impacted on my writing during 12 books in 12 months is personal experience. By that I don’t mean that I’ve solved a murder or fought a dragon, I just mean that random pieces of conversations I have overheard, or interesting looking people I’ve seen when I’m out and about, have turned up unexpectedly. And the books for grown ups are all really Scottish, which was never my intention, but I guess that’s happened because that’s where I’ve always lived.
Still, this might all change when I’ve had the opportunity to research my genres more thoroughly. Ask me again when I’ve read Gormenghast!
Since you’ve been writing for so long there must no be one character you’ve created who now stands atop a mountain made from the corpses of his fellows screaming “Look at me! I am the best! I have conquered you lesser creations and made you unto nought but dust and memories!”. That is to say: of all the characters you’ve written about over the years which one holds that special place in your heart as “the favorite”? And what is it about them that makes them so special?
Is it really bad to admit I can’t remember that many of my characters?! 9 out of 10 times I write a story I put in on my blog (or in a little newsletter for my friends at school before that was an option… I was a cool kid) and then I forget most of the details. I didn’t even print out copies of those older ones for myself, which was clearly an oversight. They’ll be worth money some day!
To add insult to injury, I think at the moment my favourite characters might be some I haven’t technically written yet, unless you count a few pages scrawled out on loose paper that have since been lost! They are going to be in July’s book, which is for kids, and they’ve been growing in my brain for a few years now. Their names are Amelia Trousers and Snooky Jim – what’s not to love?!
I suspect that the more time you spend with a character, whether they’re loitering in the back of your mind or there on the page, the more you get to like them. That would explain why a lot of the ones I’ve come up with in the past have been banished to the misty watercolour corners of my mind – I didn’t start writing full novels, requiring large amounts of concentrated attention, till last year. I mean, I started a couple (as you do), but never really got very far.
The first novel I began (she said, tangentially) was based around an essay I had to do for Religious Education when I was about 13. We were asked to write creation myths for different countries from the perspective of the deity and I quite liked that notion. The exercise stayed with me and a few years later a book started to grow out of the idea.
It was a fantasy thing that began with what I thought at the time was a pure dead original creation story, although now I have reservations on that score… There were four gods – well, two gods and two goddesses, I think – and they represented the elements. I think the plot was that one of them wanted to be mortal and the others weren’t happy about it, so she ran away.
I know I named a couple of them after classical names for the winds – googling it I’m thinking maybe it was the male gods I did that for because Boreas rings a bell… that tells you everything about how much they stayed with me, doesn’t it?! But actually I still think there might be something in that story. There’s a lot to be said for creating your own world to play with.
I don’t just forget characters out of hand – that would be churlish in the extreme. I don’t have one favourite, though! I still have a lot of time for the cast of Torchwood:Dundee, which was a spoof (fairly obvious of what) that myself and a couple of other people came up with in uni around 2007. I had particular fondness for Shaktar, who was our Tosh character, and Teuchter, who was our Ianto equivalent. I wrote one of the stories that decided their characterisation and both of them were quite tragically funny but generally useless people.
In terms of 12 Books, I’m quite fond of Victor McGlynn, my Western protagonist. Overall this year I’ve spent more time thinking about him than some of the others, partly because the western was one of the genres I was less confident about, and I think he’s perhaps a more considered character as a result. The downside to that was that he was much slower to write, as I felt I owed it to him to get down things he would definitely say and do – there’s a lot less stream of consciousness blethering in that book (with the result that it’s the smallest word count so far). I’ve no idea whether he’ll appeal to anyone else, but I like him!
This week I will mostly be answering the questions of The Rogue Verbumancer, a scientician who occasionally masquerades as a writer on the internet, blogging here and tweeting as @Glempy. Here’s what he had to ask me.
It’s obvious that you enjoy writing, otherwise you wouldn’t have embarked on a project of such herculean proportions. But why do you enjoy it? What is it about writing that keeps you coming back for more?
First of all, I find writing fun. I don’t know why, exactly – I just enjoy doing it and I would blow other stuff off in its favour.
It’s an impulse I’ve had for a long time, I think because the process of creating feels good and I like the notion of engrossing people in a story as much as my own favourite authors engross me. I remember being really annoyed when I was ten, because I wrote a story that was about 12 pages long for a language exercise in school and my teacher kept not reading it. She probably had other marking to do, but I distinctly remember thinking she was being a hypocrite cause she used to bang on about how much she loved Gone With The Wind, which was much longer! The story was about a ghost called Jenny, who I think lived in a cabin in the woods and needed a bloke to help uncover the truth about why she died so she could move on, and I think maybe they fell in love? I don’t remember a lot more than that, although reading that back I wonder whether I should have re-used it for my paranormal romance! But I do remember one of the girls in my class telling everyone it was only that long because I wrote really big and left massive spaces between the words. I was deeply offended at the time an denied everything, but who knows, she might’ve been right! Can’t do that anymore though as I’m typing everything out!
I find that writing helps you process things – particularly when something is bothering you. That’s why the advent of blogging is a strange and terrible thing… When it comes to fiction, it’s fun because quite often things come out that I wasn’t necessarily expecting (although sometimes these things aren’t necessarily that good – eg when I was a teenager I wrote a series of stories that included some very embarrassing, deeply personal monologues when I was in a bad mood. They’d probably have been better in a diary or blog, TBH..). It’s only since I began doing this project that I’ve started trying to plan things, before that I’d sit down with a vague story idea and pretty much just write till it was done. That’s not the best way to do a novel, though. Not if you’ve only got a month, at least!
Is writing something that you’ve always wanted to do? Did you, from day one put your foot down and cry ‘I shall be a writer! And woe to all those who stand in my way!’ Or is it a career goal you’ve just stumbled upon unintentionally and decided to stick with?
In terms of how long I’ve wanted to be a writer, I can definitely date it back to primary school. I remember in primary 6 thinking I was very cool with my 3 As that I had in my career ambitions – I wanted to be an actress, an artist or an author. I kept up the acting in the local am dram group till I was about 18 or 19 but by that point I think I had lost my tendency to show off – I don’t know why, maybe because felt a lot more comfortable in my own skin so I didn’t need to borrow somone else’s anymore? That sounds ridiculously trite, doesn’t it. Clearly the real reason was that I could only do about 2 accents. And to be honest the writing took over – I started writing for local press when I was about fifteen and thought yes, I could be a journalist and make a living from that and then maybe segue into fiction later.
I was always pretty interested in writing books for children, and I applied to art college to do Illustration because I wanted to write the books and do my own drawings. I was accepted, but by the time I got the letters back from the places I’d applied to I was going through a practical phase where I thought doing an English degree more sensible, because as I said before then I could go make a living out of journalism and be an author later on. Essentially writing for a living in one form or another has been my goal since I was at least ten, so that’s fifteen years of it with varying degrees of focus!
Another week heralds another new questioner keen to know what on earth possessed me to tell everyone I’d write 12 books in 12 months. The Rogue Verbumancer is a scientist who occasionally masquerades as a writer on the internet, blogging here and tweeting as @Glempy. Here’s what he had to ask me.
There is one thing that has rather astounded me about your little quest. It’s not so much the writing twelve books thing. That’s a bit mad. It’s an established fact. But it’s only really a surface to the madness. Admittedly knocking out some 600,000 words will be no mean feat, but there is something which I’m finding even more epically daunting. It’s the whole genre thing. I’ve always gotten the impression that writing for a particular genre requires a certain type of thinking and way of doing things. I personally could never even approach the romance genre. Not even with a particularly heavy dose of Dutch courage and a particularly long, pointy stick (Give me knights lopping each other’s limbs of with aforementioned pointy sticks any day). But here you are lunging head long into twelve completely different genres. Is this just a case of some form of prenatural talent granted to you by the strange and unknowable deities of writing? Or something learnt after years of study at the feet of bearded Tibetan writing monks?
Basically, have you discovered some sort of knack that you’re not telling anyone about or are you just stumbling about it the dark with stick?
There were a couple of reasons for changing genre every month. One was to keep me from getting bored. Another was to expand my horizons and challenge myself. And naturally there was an element of cynicism – 12 books in 12 different genres, surely one of them has to be marketable?!
I have been trying to research genres each month, but it turns out I don’t have a lot of time for that what with all the constant writing. So I think really I’ve just skiffed the surface of most of them. My hope is to do some proper hardcore reading before I go back to edit the first drafts, so that if I’ve used any horrible cliches I can quickly edit them out before anyone else sees.
So essentially, what I am doing is writing books withing some very broad brushstrokes pertaining to each genre, and my own writing style permeates all of them. Have I met the needs of each style? To be honest, I’m not sure. But I’m not too worried about it. I read a post on Nicola Morgan’s fantastic blog when I was panicking about Book One (most specifically how accurate it needed to be, as it was historical and at least loosely based on real life) that really inspired me. This is it here.
What I really took to heart was that with a first draft, all you need to do is sketch everything out. You can afford to be a bit hazy at this point, on account of knowing you’re going to go back and fill the details in later, having conducted further research. This makes a lot of sense to me. After all, my arbitrary word count for each book is 50k, which is 22k short of the average first novel… I’ve got words to play with, there! And none of these books are going anywhere as is – they’re first drafts.
I guess that a lot of writers develop specific ways of working, particularly when they’ve been pigeonholed by their publishers into doing one genre. But at the moment I haven’t fallen into any particular habits, because I don’t have to. Maybe if someone gives me an advance for a Paranormal Romance, I’ll worry a little bit more. But until that happens I’ll keep experimenting and having fun within the rough boundaries that each genre seems to inhabit.