A Busy Writer

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Have you ever stopped and looked at your life? I don’t mean literally. I mean, looking at everything that you do, everything that happens in your life, the things you can control and the things you can’t. I do it a lot, especially when I can’t sleep, and I wonder about my life.

When my head’s in the game, I’m what I call a busy writer. Usually, I’m  too busy. This is a result of me taking on too many projects all at once, which usually results in a project overload. At the moment, I’ve got a few things going on:

1. I blog here, for a start. Okay, so I tend to miss my posts because of a bad memory, but this is one of the things I do every single week. I won’t even count the weekend job for this.

2. I maintain my own blog and website. Both need regular updating, and when things in my life don’t quite go according to plan, neither gets very much attention.

3. I’m writing a non-fiction book. I’ve only revealed details of it to a few select people, but it’s going to become quite time consuming once I get my head down and write.

4. I have a research paper to write for college. The actual writing isn’t a problem. It’s all the parts before it that are causing me some major delays. As in, I haven’t touched it all summer.

5. I have fictional works to write. Time consuming, and I’ve lost all motivation to do much of late. Once I get back into the game – and it’s all a mindset thing – I’ll be flying through them. Well, not literally. My laptop wouldn’t like that.

6. Learning. I made it quite clear on my blog that I like to learn. This month, I’m supposed to start cooking. So far, nothing, but I do have a fancy new cook book and blog. I just need to get the ingredients and the time to make something. Then I can officially say I’ve started.

I’m sure there’s more, but I can’t think of anything right now. My point, though, is that when I’m actually in the right frame of mind, managing all these projects and tasks is actually possible. Sure, it involves jumping around from place to place, but seeing the end results really helps to keep up the motivation. When you take on a lot of work, be sure to plan your time to be sure you use it all accordingly. If you’re out of work or school, plan your day in such a way that you’re working from X-Y am/pm, and actually do the work.

Does that seem too hard?

It’s not, if you really care about what you’re doing. This doesn’t just apply to writing, of course, but my limited experience with other hobbies or businesses does hinder the examples I can give you. Just remind yourself that you have something important to do, and set that time in your day-planner to actually do it.

Me? I actually remembered to post this week. Now I need to find something else to do while you get your day planned and get some work done! Make the most of this and every day, and you’ll surprise yourself with how productive you can be!

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Dredding Monsters

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I hate when Hollywood tries to remake or sequel films. They rarely get it right.

You may remember Gareth Edward’s 2010 hit indie sci-fi film, Monsters. Filmed with only two actual actors, a camera guy, sound guy, and editor, and using local people as extras, this film raised the bar of indie films. With a budget of five figures (and low five figures, at that) this film is a testament to what can be done with brilliant cinematography, excellent acting, and minimal special effects.

I just read on iO9 that Misfits director Tom Green is to film a sequel, Monsters: The Dark Continent. The synopsis of Jay Basu’s script is thus:

Seven years on from the events of Monsters, and the ‘Infected Zones’ have spread worldwide. Humans have been knocked off the top of the food chain, with disparate communities struggling for survival. American soldiers are being sent abroad to protect US interests from the Monsters, but the war is far from being won.

Noah, a haunted soldier with several tours under his belt, is sent on a mission: an American soldier has gone rogue deep in the Infected Zone, and Noah must reach him and take him out. But when Noah’s unit and transport are destroyed, he finds himself with only a young and inexperienced cadet for company – the brother of the man Noah has been sent to kill.

The two soldiers must go on a life-altering journey through the dark heart of monster territory, accompanied by a young local woman to guide them. By the time the three of them reach their goal, they will have been forced to confront the fear that the true monsters on the planet may not be alien after all.

And this just feels wrong. Three paragraphs, and the only bit that seems true to the overall style and feel of the original is the very. Last. Line.

The whole success of Monsters was the simplicity of it, the basic get-home-in-one-piece plot, and the unbelievably low budget and method of filming. This sequel sounds to me like it is trying too hard to be a blockbuster by following Hollywood’s tired old formula of action, adventure, horror, heroes, etc. Everything Monsters wasn’t.

I may be proven wrong, and I certainly hope I am. But I predict this new sequel will fall flat on its face, purely because the filmmakers are trying to emulate the original’s success without repeating any of the elements that made it successful.

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What I am excited for is the forthcoming Dredd feature film. Now, I liked Sly Stallone’s take on it. Visually, for me, it was perfect. The uniforms, Lawmaster bikes, Lawgiver guns, everything looked good. Yeah, the plot had more holes than a pair of fishnets, but I still enjoyed watching it. However, Carl Urban’s Dredd looks to be much darker, harder, and more realistic, in line with recent hero film remakes as Iron Man and the Dark Knight trilogy. I can’t wait!

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I haven’t seen Prometheus yet. I’ll probably catch it on iTunes, I just don’t have time to see films at the cinema these days. But I am going to be trying to catch The Dark Knight Rises at some point.

What are you looking forward to this year at the movies? Tell me in the comments below.

Of Hamsters and Vest Tops in Darkness

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I’ve recently discovered the joy that is Apple TV. Not a toy for everyone, but great for procrastination. I have an iPad (3rd Gen) and its brilliant, so being able to AirPlay things is still novel enough to not be getting old anytime soon. I’ve also found Netflix. Yeah. So, first horror film review:

Darkness, starring Anna Paquin (True Blood) and Iain Glen (Game of Thrones) starts off well, family in a new home, middle-of-nowheresville, teenage daughter worried dad is going to have a relapse of his mental breakdown. Things get creepy as dad finds an old, boarded up room, the lights start flickering, and younger brother Paul begins losing pencils under his bed, suffering unexplained bruises, and drawing pretty gnarly sketches of dead children.

Unfortunately, as the tension mounts, the writers seemed to have got a little excited about the plot. Cue an Ouroboros (Our Rob or Ross anyone? Lister!) under the floorboards, creepy but helpful old man, devil worship, a forthcoming eclipse, and an overly long exposé as to the hows and whys. It could’ve lost nearly fifteen minutes here, and still been pretty clear. The ending is not too predictable, and suitably ambiguous.

I enjoyed the film, gave it a 4 star rating on Netflix, but it could’ve been better. Plenty of shots of Paquin running around in a strappy vest top (not that I’m complaining…) and Glen chewing the scenery trying to make the best of a bad job. Overall, good rainy-night fare.

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You may remember mention in the past of Reggie, the LitDen hamster. You’ll be glad to know he’s made the transition from the old forum to the new blog site well. LitDen Towers uses a lot of energy (I think that’s just Paul sending Darren Shan fan mail again, but I’m not sure) and Reggie has taken to his new job like a hamster to a… wheel. Huh.

Anyway, he’s now in the cellar, spinning the wheel that turns the generator that keeps us going. He’s well fed, I found a nest of gremlins the other night, and he doesn’t seem to be able to tell the difference between them and small children. Thankfully. So far.

So, I’d just like to warn all visitors not to venture into the cellar without me. He’s not caged anymore, just a reinforced titanium gate at the bottom of the cellar steps. You don’t want to lose an arm or a head, now do you? And please don’t complain about that awful whirring noise in the middle of the night. A six foot long hamster on a wheel the size of a double decker bus is gonna make a racket. Why do you think I sleep in the attic?

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Editing has begun on the new Anthology. I have stories already submitted last time, and a few new ones to be going on with. Email Paul if you’d like to be involved. No set time limits on this one yet, except I need all stories in by August 31st.

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I’m intending to split my posts up, proper reviews and writing discussion fortnightly, with other stuff in between. As with all plans, that may go tits up at any time. Watch this space. For now, that’s me done. A glass of brandy and a boom are waiting. I’m currently reading The Mammoth Book of Steampunk (ed. Sean Wallace). All I’ll say is: it’s brilliant. Also, Captain Brown gets about a bit, doesn’t he?

Music and mood

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I write creepy stuff. If you hadn’t already noticed… Well, you’ve not been paying attention, have you?

I like dark, macabre, spooky things. Things that will disturb and unsettle. Getting the ideas for this kind of thing is easy, you just haven to read the papers on a daily basis and you’ll have plenty of ammunition to prove people suck. Channel this suckiness into art (“Make good art!” Neil Gaiman’s recently impressed on the world. He’s right, as he usually is.) and you have horror. Or dark fantasy. Or science fiction with a dark, horror twist. That’s the easy bit.

But how do you write without going mad?

Poe said he suffered from insanity, with terrible periods of sanity. Perhaps this is par for a writer, but I’d rather not be locked up as a nut-job just yet. How to avoid it? Don’t get caught find a way to channel your energy.

Everyone finds their own thing; my thing is music. I listen to heavy metal, a lot. This is good, head banging is extremely good for getting rid of pent up aggression in a mosh pit. The lyrics and mood of the songs are good, too. But that’s okay for violence. But what about the scary, generally creepy stuff? Well, I’d been struggling until recently when I discovered a new artist to listen to. Her name is Charlotte Eriksson, she plays under the name The Glass Child. You can find her here.

Her music is decidedly creepy, heartfelt and soulful. Her voice is unique, and certainly not to everyone’s taste. But then, neither is Evile or Slayer or Jessie J or Eminem. You like what you like, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Listening to Charlotte’s music is really useful to me. It helps me relax. It puts me in the right creepy mood, almost melancholy, but not quite, to be able to write creepy, scary scenes without the violence. This is what I was looking for.

I’ve not had chance to see her play live yet, but I fully intend to. In the meantime, here’s her official video for her single I’ll Never Tell, which showcases a pair of fantastic dancers, Enza and Francesco Cara.

We all have ghosts and scars, they are a theme which runs in my writing and Charlotte’s music. I’m going to be blogging fairly regularly on Friday nights. I hope Fridays will be the dark, creepy day on the LitDen Blog, full of creepy shadows and ghosts and scars. I want to explore the darkness, and I’d like you to come with me. Don’t be afraid, I’ll hold your hand.

In the meantime, what music do you listen to that puts you in the right zone for writing? Do you have playlists for your stories, to go with the action? Or just a general theme for whatever you’re working on at the time?

Places of Thought and Idea

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Where do you get your ideas?

It is a question asked commonly of writers, one which we all dread to hear. I know of at least two famous writers who claim to get theirs from a Wonderful Idea Shop in the High Street. I wish it were that simple, I really do.

For writers of all genres and styles, indeed for all creative types, ideas don’t just come when you sit down with pen and paper or brush and easel. No, they come in droves. All the time. The damn things never stop. Listen in to the mind of a regular person, and you would likely go mad. Listen to the mind of a writer, and you’d want to scratch your brain out of your skull with your fingertips. Through your ears. Whilst snorting your eyes out through your nose. It’s bad, believe me.

The hard part is not in getting the ideas, but catching them as they bullet through your conscious thoughts, and stuff them away to come back to later. Then being able to sift through all those collected ideas, and start collating complimentary ideas together to form plots and stories. It takes a lot of effort.

However, all writers tend to focus on their ideas while in certain places, usually personal to them. They are often odd places. Here are a few of mine:

The bus station.

I ride to my DDJ most days by bus. It takes about forty minutes, one change at Huddersfield bus station. (Useless trivia: it is actually called Springwood Bus Station, though if you were to ask any locals, most people wouldn’t know that. It’s just Huddersfield bus station.) Going to work, it is a fairly quick changeover, walking briskly the length of the concourse from one bus to the next. However, the home trip is blighted by not-so-regular-buses. On an evening, I can often find myself with twenty-five minutes to wait in there. So I sit, and I think. I watch the people go by, and a lot of my characters have appeared to me there. Simply people passing by, who I glimpse, become intrigued by. Perhaps snippets of conversation. An odd or intriguing look or mannerism. I note them down, often using my iPhone, and come back to my notes later.

The beauty of this is, most of the characterisation is my own imagination, sparked off by a simple sight or sound. It’s brilliant.

The toilet.

Strange, gross, disturbing. Yes. But I do a lot of thinking while s(h)itting on the loo. Let’s face it, what else do I have to occupy my mind? Squeezing a few turds out isn’t exactly stimulating stuff, now is it? The tiles are, well, tiles. There are only so many times you can read the full instructions and ingredients, in all seven languages, on the back of the shower gel and shampoo on the end of the bath before you start wanting to flush your own head down the loo. And unless something Really Exciting happens, like a spider scuttles out from under the towels and tries a figure of eight around your feet, or a member of your family, cross-legged and desperate for a pee, manages to burst in on you because you forgot to slide the bolt across, there’s not a lot else going on.

I find I tend to plot things better on the loo. I don’t take my phone or iPad in with me (unlike some people; I remember one friend frequently called me while she was on the loo. Most unsettling). So I can just sit, and think, and formulate the most recent scene I’ve been working on. The downside of this is being yanked from my thoughts when somebody starts hammering on the door because I’ve been in there half an hour or more. A second toilet is a must for families that include a writer.

In Bed

Once I’ve read emails, finished writing for the night, and moved from my desk or chair to my bed, I resort to a good book mostly. But sometimes, if something is bothering me, or not quite working out, I just lay down, close my eyes, and curl up with my left side down. This is where having only one ear is extremely useful. If I sleep with that ear down, I can’t hear a damn thing. I could sleep through the outbreak of World War III and wouldn’t notice. It was mainly because I felt the explosions that I woke up the night that Grosvenor Chemicals went up. Once my ear is to the pillow, that’s it. I’m gone.

But not quite.

You see, I’m still quite awake, slowly drifting off but not there yet. I’m running through ideas. I might be setting a scene, or focusing on a character or event. By leaving it hanging in my mind as I fall asleep, my subconscious mind gets to play with the ideas while I sleep. My dreams will sometimes (not always, but sometimes) bring me better ideas, or answer the question I’ve asked. More often than not, however, they are totally unrelated and leave me asking even more questions. But hey, they’re fun dreams!

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That’s three of mine. Where do you get your ideas? Where do you settle down to think? Can you beat me for oddness?

“A Rose by Any Other Name…”

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Recently, two people have influenced a certain area of my life that also reflects into writing: these people are John Green and Daniel Handler, both authors. Green mentioned in a video the line from Romeo and Juliet: “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, while Handler wrote a book that I only read recently called Adverbs. More on that later.

Green goes on to explain something about this line: Juliet suggests that what we call something isn’t important, only what the thing really is. “There is ample evidence that the words we use to describe the things we feel matter,” Green says. In short, Juliet and Shakespeare were wrong. What we call things is important. As people and as writers (that’s specifically as writers, not instead of being people) we all ought to take a long hard look at that; John’s example is that he has to say “I love you” to his brother Hank. If he were to say “I really like you a lot,” it doesn’t mean the same thing. For one, you can love someone without liking them. They’re called your siblings.

So I guess the point I’m making is that we need to be careful about the words we use, because they do hold a certain degree of significance. What we say matters. And trust me on this one – I know from personal experience from the past week or so that it really, really does matter what words you use.

So, on to Adverbs. To cut a long story short, this is a book about love, specifically the way in which it is shown and expressed and felt. My point is that Adverbs shows us that it’s not just what we say or do that matters, but also how we say and do these things. We’ll stick to the same lines as John Green and the book’s topic – love. Earlier videos from John and Hank’s channel tell us that for a year they couldn’t communicate textually with one another. This sort of kept up, a lot, though they make videos less regularly (every couple of days instead of every day) so the need to write emails and cards and letters and other such things kind of increased. However, it means more to Hank (I’m assuming) and more to the viewers of the channel if John says “I love you” on camera rather than in written form.

I know, that’s not an adverb. Let’s rephrase this, then. John looks at the camera. “I love you,” he says quickly. There: quickly. Adverb. He says it quickly because he’s already shown his discomfort when it comes to displaying emotion. Especially love, and especially towards Hank. He’d much rather have over 10,000 trees planted for him for his birthday than tell him he loves him (FYI, that actually happened: over 10,000 plants on 6 continents).

So I argue that we need to think about how we tell someone something. I think it’s fair to suggest that everyone reading this has Internet access of some sort, unless it’s been printed off and handed to them (in which case, I thank whoever printed it off in this hypothetical world). A lot of people with the Internet have an account on a forum or a social networking site. Not everyone, but a lot of people. Most of the time, people with accounts on a social networking site use it to talk to people they know in real life.

Is anyone seeing where I’m going with this?

Without assuming too much, I think all of these people with accounts on, for example, Facebook have mobile phones. Or at least a land-line if not that. I won’t suggest that we see all the people we talk to on Facebook all the time in real life. I don’t. I’ve seen one friend twice over the whole summer since early on May 27th, at about half two in the morning when he nearly threw me under a car. Most of the time I’ve spent talking to him has been on Facebook.

Here’s where the “How you say something” part comes in. We talk a lot. We talk on chat or in messages, whatever. Sometimes, but not always, we make phone calls. Here’s where the problem is: most of the important stuff isn’t said on the phone, where at least the line of communication is drawn a little more clearly than it is online. At least then we’re conversing properly, usually without any other distractions (like all of the Internet). And I’ve come to realise that too many people do what we do, only a lot of the time without the phone calls.

We’re a society forgetting how to talk.

Now, I will point out that I do also say things in the wrong way on the phone, not just online where it can be misinterpreted easier. It’s too easy to sound upset if you actually are upset. That worries people. A lot. Facebook is even worse. If you tell someone you’re really, really upset on Facebook and they’re not online, by the time they read it you could be gone and they’d worry. Trust me on that – I made the mistake before. Bad Paul.

I guess what I’m saying is, when Joey in Friends says “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it,” he was only half-right. It is what you say that matters and how you say it, in both the words the use and the way you express them, be it vehemently, sarcastically, quickly, objectively, whatever. It’s all important.

Now, this has been a fairly touch-and-go blog post. I apologise. I’m technically still on Internet Holiday for another day, at least, so no complaining. Just keep in mind what I’ve said, because I know it’s good advice (I can say this, because if I’d taken this advice I would have avoided a lot of unnecessary trouble).

Take care,
Paul.

“I’m sick of your lies! Secrets and lies! It’s always secrets and lies!”

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That wonderful quote is from The Simpsons. Unless you live in a cave, I don’t need to tell you what that is. (If you live in a cave, you must tell us how you found the blog… or even accessed the Internet!) I thought the line was appropriate to us, as writers, and to myself as an added extra, as an actor.

Now, I don’t know about other writers, but I have an awful habit of writing my friends into my fiction. A lot. Literally only last week I wrote a novella called Stepping Forward filled with some things a friend of mine may or may not want me to show anyone else. Ever. He has the first, and possibly last, reading privileges for this book; if he’s not happy with what I’ve said, then it goes into the archives of useless first drafts and remains a secret. As fiction, it’s already a lie. Despite the many truths in it, it’s a lie. For one thing, it’s set on August 25th 2010, June 21st 2011 and November 14th 2011… unless I’ve been asleep for a year and half, that’s the future. Therefore: lies.

I think it’s something we all have to accept, if we write fiction: we’re going to be lying for pretty much the rest of our lives. We could even be revealing secrets friends told us. Of course, at this point we have to allow our friends to actually read what we’ve written. Sure it’d be rude not to!

This is all food for thought, of course. If you’re subtle enough in your writing, your friends might not even realise that they’ve been massively incorporated into the creation of your fiction. Or, you know, they might not be bothered reading it. That’s always a possibility.

Now, it’s not just friends secrets that get put into books; Dan Brown likes to pretend he reveals the  secrets of the world in his many lies; I like to tell people stuff about myself. Usually it’s not something too dramatic, but it’s stuff I couldn’t say directly to someone. Once again, I’d request they read the fiction, the lies. Fiction’s fun that way; there’s no telling what’s true and what’s not, so when they turn around and say “You nutter”, they might just be referring to something you made up. (I am awaiting this exact phrase when the novella has been read).

As to that acting reference… well, like writers of fiction, actors lie for a living. Children lie, too. Everyone does. Lying is an important part of our society. Much of our culture is made up of lies. We enjoy them too much to try rid the world of them. Honestly is good, sure, but it doesn’t entertain as much as lies do. Lies are the canvas of fiction through which we thread our secrets, our hopes and our dreams; a million and one thousand things going through our minds all at once, crashing about, creating a mad world of fiction that can be set in any time and place we can imagine, defying every law of physics if we want, warping the very idea of a constant reality. Lies are sweet, delicious chaos.

So, this has been me bluffing my way through a blog post. I’ll be trying to be a little more coherent on my own blog soon, while also maintaining my policy of secrets and lies. I hope this has been at least mildly entertaining. If not, please complain. I love complaints.

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