Thursday, 30 June 2011

Mister Rhys Mystery, Case #4: The Bermuda Triangle

Triangles. Eh? They're the strongest shape. They make perfect formations. You put two together and suddenly you have a star (of David). It's the shape for all men: for brainy academics, and for people who like sport (snooker). It makes cheese tastier. It makes chocolate tastier. You put two together and you can fastforward. It makes music creepy.

It was only a matter of time.

Before December 1945, nobody had even heard of Bermuda. Even Bermuda shorts were the proverbial ugly sister, to Hawaii's Cinderella shirt.

'Bermuda?' the people would say. 'I think you're thinking of Barbuda.'

'No,' said the people's friend who'd originally heard of Bermuda, 'you're thinking of Barbados.'

And so the bickering would commence and, in the end, nobody would even remember where the conversation began. It began with Bermuda.

But in December 1945, Flight 19, five torpedo bombers on a routine training flight from Florida went missing. There were 14 experienced flying men between the planes and not one of them was ever seen again. It's thought that their navigation equipment went mysteriously awry and something something something BERMUDA TRIANGLE. This was confounded by the rescue boat plane, carrying 13 people, which also went missing mysteriously.

It appears that the Bermuda Triangle has the ability to disrupt electronics, to sking ships, take down planes, and to hide the evidence. And over the years, various mysterious happenings such as Flight 19 have been occurring, right under our noses, and no amount of technology or common sense have been able to uncover the reasons why.
Until now.

My opening paragraph was not just beautiful poetry, it was a series of examples of the mysterious and dangerous phenomena surrounding triangles. It's no coincidence that the Bermuda Triangle begins in Miami, the home of the bikini, an unholy trinity of triangles:

And I'm sure San Juan and Bermuda have their equivalents, though I will leave that discovery to the scientists. The fact is this:

Triangles are evil.

My advice? Destroy the triangles. Every last one of them. You'd be safest destroying any straight edge or corner, if I'm honest. Get a sander, or some sandpaper (you will need lots). When, and I mean when, the time comes... you will be grateful that you did.


Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Rhys Recommends... getting an OBE!

So yesterday, I was just hanging out at Buckingham Palace, wearing my finest new suit (Debenhams. Sale. Mid-grey. Compliment-attracting.) and my finest pair of new shoes (Clarks. Sale. Black. Creator of a multitude of pus-filled blisters) and then suddenly, everyone's all like 'guests up the stairs, recipients to the right.'

Well, imagine my surprise to learn that there was an 'Investiture' happening that day, the ceremony where the Queen of England hands out awards and knighthoods and such. As luck would have it, she'd intended to give one to my stepdad this whole time, who was also there, with my sister and my mum too. We were very lucky, I thought, to have put on fancy clothes that day, because really it was shorts weather.

So we went up the stairs, past enormous paintings of past monarchs and suits of armour (with people inside!) and arrived in the State Room, which has very high ceilings, extravagant chandeliers and an orchestra playing all your favourite show tunes (I spotted a couple from Mary Poppins and one from Les Mis), and also the National Anthem. In the room were all the recipients' families, a vast array of people from all walks of life. You forget that Britain has an empire sometimes...

A charming man then came and told us that they were about to begin and that we shouldn't clap and to try to keep talking to a whisper. And then a delightful little old lady walked out, carrying her handbag and wearing a lovely silk floral number. And then she told us we were allowed to sit, which she didn't have to, because she's the Queen and she can make us do whatever she wants. But she just wanted us to sit.

And then the ceremony began!

They did the knights and the dames first, and then there were the OBEs. The Queen would stop and have a chat with each one, which was very cute, and then they would bow/curtsey. I don't think it had occurred to me that bowing and curtseying were different things before, and that they are gender specific. If you'd asked me before yesterday to bow, I think I may actually have curtseyed. Essentially, bowing is bending with your back and curtseying is when you bend at the knees. And I have a bad back, so I'm inclined to bend with my knees, you know? But I won't make that mistake next time, oh no!

So, we were all supposed to be quiet, but then some woman called Ann Lennox came out, for her services to Oxfam (NB. I'm assuming that this is all a matter of public record already and I haven't invaded anyone's privacy here), and there was as closed to an uproar as there got in the room, as I discovered the sound of 300 people whispering, 'Is that Annie Lennox?' Which it was, and she looked pretty amazing. and then we settled in for more of the OBEs (which, by the way, you pronounced phonetically if you are in any way a bit subversive) and then came John, who we could see chatting to the guards as he waited to speak to the Queen (who I am resisting giving a nickname on account of respect), with his hands behind his back, wearing a slightly unironed shirt. Because he's like that.

And then he got his award! For services to local government in West Sussex. The Queen pinned on the badge (photo below - just of the badge - we weren't allowed to take photos during the ceremony), which I reckon she must do about two thousand times a year and so was an absolute pro. And then he wondered off stage and then we had about another 80 awards to go. Some of which were very inspiring (the man who saved 23 lives, the lollipop lady, the one who got an award for services to netball), but as I've mentioned, The Queen takes the time to have a chat with each and every one. So I may have got a bit fidgety and hot and thirsty and whiny.

Still, this was broken up by John's entrance back into the room, where he took a sit. While my sister and I pinned our mother down to get her to stop waving at him, we noticed with glee that some lady from the Eurythmics had just sat down beside him. And then they started talking to each other! My sister and I debated over whether it was more appropriate to ask him what The Queen had said or what Annie Lennox had said, when we spoke to him after.

Well, I was feeling classy, so I went for the Queen.

And that was the Investiture. Apparently we're getting a video, both of John getting the award, and of our reactions. I hope they didn't catch any of the eighty-five times my mum told my sister and me off for misbehaving...

Just briefly, we also went to Atul Kochhar's restaurant Benares, and that was amazing. We ate this:

Which looked a bit like this (if you're interested, the lamb was possibly the best thing that's ever been in my mouth):

So yes, as a day out, I recommend that you all have a family member get an OBE.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Writing Novels and Things #3: Self-Publishing

Publishing is probably not something I should be thinking about right now. I should probably be thinking about all the work I have to do in order to get this novel in any kind of good condition. I should be thinking of ways to make my first chapter more dynamic than just an argument about a pen. In summary: I Should Be Writing.

But, well the media is conspiring against me, you see. The Guardian has only gone and released two interesting articles this week, both on Self-Publishing:

How self-publishing came of age
Self-publishing stars

These, coupled with the poisoning effects of listening to successful self-pubbers on the I Should Be Writing (link above) and Writing Excuses podcasts, have made me start thinking (and getting excited) about it. Self-Publishing, not It.

There are all these websites, notably Amazon's CreateSpace, that are designed to help you Self-Publish, and the success stories are very compelling. Authors who do it this way tend to sell the books cheaper, say a couple of pounds, but then get all the profits for keepsies, bar the Amazon royalty. In this crazy Kindle world, people will happily download a cheap book with a nice cover, regardless of who's written it. Loads of people! And you do need loads. People are making money because people are buying their books in bulk. You're probably not going to make much money if only your friends and family buy your books... which actually goes without saying, and has done throughout time. But you do need to get half the internet to buy your book, is what I'm saying.
Schlock Mercenary: The Tub of Happiness
Which is still all based on the supposition that you want to be successful which of course I definitely do not. Nuh uh. No way. Not me.

Honestly! I like having a job. The attraction to self-publishing is slightly different for me.

My boyfriend is in a band. He gets to make music (beautiful music, I think) and he gets to get up on stage, all with his friends. When they've done a gig, or release something, they get to work together to achieve... together. It must be so nice to have projects with your friends. I mostly work alone. I write alone, obviously. I sometimes go for a whole day without interacting with anyone but my significant other. I'm not lonely, I do definitely have friends, and nice ones, but it would be cool to have a project with them, you know? A reason to band together, for a greater purpose than just, you know, hanging out. And that purpose, my friends, is making money art.

I have a friend who's an illustrator, one who's a graphic designer, and another who's a copyeditor/proofreader (but doesn't have a website yet). I haven't posited this idea to any of them, by the way, so please don't tell them I said this was happening, but I just imagine us all getting together to make this book, with the cover, interiors and content all amazing and... it fills me with warm feelings.

Of course, having said all that, I do already make books for a living, so it could turn into a bit of a busman's holiday. And I do sometimes fantasise about being an editor's favourite writer (I pretty much keep a league table of my authors - and yes, I have relegated). I think, in truth, I want to be published 'traditionally', at least at first. For the validation and stuff.

Cut to me totally self-publishing my first book, fnar fnar!

Writing Novels and Things #1.5: Rewriting (A cool animation)

I just wanted to share this awesome animation with you. It is very cute to look at, and is also a personal account of one writer's struggle with revisions. They should all be made to do these, writers.

Episode 1: Revisions (I'm A Failed Writer Series) from Yuvi Zalkow on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Mister Rhys Mystery, Case #3: The Black Sheep

I have noticed a worrying trend in the newspapers. Unlike my previous posts, this is not a question of existence, because the proof there is incontrovertible, but a question of why? And, more worryingly, a question of where this is leading.

I am, of course, talking about the evil ovis, The Black Sheep.

(Just as a side note, when I say black, I don't mean the colour, I mean the evilness. This is in no way a racial thing, as the sheep in question are predominantly whiteish.)

The signs have been there for quite some time. I am about to show you some quite shocking examples and then I shall explain the dire consequences. Brace yourselves.

It started with Human Face Lamb:

Then there was Dog Lamb:

And then, most recent (and worrying) of all, Flying Sheep:

This pattern is clear. Those with their head in the sand would have you believe that these are individual cases, unrelated to each other, just one-off mutations, coincidence or pranks, but these people are wrong. This is my theory:

It's well known by just about anyone who's ever read a book (which I have), that those who are bullied will, eventually, go on to become bullies themselves. This is psychological fact. Now, think about the sheep throughout the ages. Let me see, there's:
  • Humans killing and eating them
  • Occult sacrifice (like in the Bible)
  • Humans cloning them against their will
  • And stealing their milk to make sub-par diary
  • The wolves, and big cats, that are always having a maul
So, you can agree that they might, as a species, feel a little bit annoyed. So we've established a motive, but what on earth is going on? Ever heard of Cross Species Mimicry? Possibly not, as I just coined the term, but it works something like this.

Tired of being messed around all these years, the sheep have decided to fight back. But how? Well, they've learned how to simulate the appearance and gifts of other species, presumably in order to begin a stealth attack on humanity. Admittedly, I am unsure of the science of this, but in the immortal words of Jeff Goldblum, 'life finds a way.'

They could be any one of us.

Working From Home Forever: Day 9

I may still be in my dressing gown...

But I digress! Kind of. Today is another milestone because I have done EXERCISE, like back in the olden days when I saw human people every day and had to wear shoes and shirts and underpants to work. (Well not every day, not the last one.)

So yes, today I had a personal training session at the local gym, with a very nice man named Ivor. Ivor made me do things with things I'd never seen before. One of them was like a little handbag made of heavy metal and filled with heavy metal, and he made me swing it betwixt my legs, which looks ridiculous but made my muscles hurt. All of them. He also made me do this thing where you're stood holding a rope in each hand, to the side, and they both have weights on. I felt a bit like Samson, but with better, sweatier hair. And there were barbells and twisty trunk rope things and these mats on the floor; it was all so new and scary! (I had seen, and even used, a floor mat before, apols for the lying implications.)

Did you know that new gyms have TVs on everything? This one had, at a guess, one TV per square inch? That's... I don't know if that's good or not. Does Loose Women make you want to keep on going...? I think I'll stick to my awesome gym playlist thanks.

You know how when you do intense exercise, it hurts the next day? And sometimes, if it's particularly intense, it hurts even more the day after that? What does it mean when you already have all that next-day pain just two hours later? I'm slightly scared that I'll be crippled by Thursday.

I also finally constructed my bike (I had handlebar issues, if you can believe it) and braved the Bristol traffic. It was actually far less scary than I'd thought it would be. In fact, ridiculous hills aside, I think Bristol may be reasonably well-equipped to deal with cyclists.

Cut to me, bleeding and dying on the side of the road. Ha ha ha!

Anyway, this is all a good thing. I think if I'd left it much longer, my bones and muscles may have atrophied, and gradually I'd lose the use of my limbs. And they'd have to be amputated to stop the diabetic gangrene and then I'd have to replace them with bike parts and the, well, I'd be a wheeler.

I do like the arm flares though and I already have my own helmet... And then maybe I'd be around people...

Monday, 20 June 2011

Mister Rhys Mystery, Case #2: Bigfooty

If my last M R Mystery about The Bristol Hum was apt, given that I'd just moved to Bristol, then this one about Bigfoot is super-apt. Everyone knows I have big feet! I suggest watching this video to get you in the mood:

To make this topic even more... topical, there was a report just recently, stating: Bigfoot Investigators to test hair DNA. Which is referring to a clump of hair that was found mysteriously by truckers, on a truck. According to the article, 'it's creepy, and it's not a bear.' So it's definitely not a bear. But, just playing devil's advocate, could it be the hair of any of the other mammals that exist?

Well that's what the Bigfoot Investigators are about to find out! Yes, yes that is a job and you wish it was yours.

Bigfoot Investigators are, of course, a special breed, and they have a natural enemy, one that's blighted their attempts to find Bigfoot ever since he was first invented, I mean spotted. That enemy, my friends?

The hobo.

You see, hobos, or 'homeless persons' to use the scientific term, are, in almost every single way, the exact same as Bigfoot. According to an expert in the field, this is not just a surface similarity, but goes down to the very genetics: 'Of course, if you take a DNA sample and it comes back near-human or primate, then it would match both Bigfoot and a homeless person.' Of course.

You would be forgiven for thinking that homeless persons we actual human beings, given their occasional use of language, and general human fleshiness, but this is, in fact, a myth. Homeless persons are close to human, certainly, and our nearest cousins, after monkeys and apes and Bigfoot, but science definitely agrees that they are a whole other life form.

And so unfortunately, this hair may not be from the lesser-known Bigfoot, but the more common hobo, and there's no real way of knowing. Until then, we will have to settle for the photographic evidence already compiled by the Bigfoot Investigators, almost all of which haven't been definitively confirmed as men in gorilla costumes/homeless persons:

 I'm convinced.


Sunday, 19 June 2011

Rhys Recommends... Creative Writing books!

Well I was going to call it Rhycommendations, so... you know. Could be worse.

Right, Creative Writing! I'll say right now, all these Rhycommendations (I will stop now) are of the non-academic variety, mostly.

So after academia, CW books usually fall into one of two camps: instruction and self help.

I'm not sure why it turns out that way, but it does seem to apply solely to this genre. If you were reading for a book about fishing, f'rinstance, they'd probably tell you about the kinds of fish, the bait, equipment, casting out, location, all that stuff. I doubt very much that they give you training in how to mentally prepare yourself to begin fishing, or how to keep on going, even if you've been sitting there for hours or how not to be jealous of your friend's catch. And there probably wouldn't be whole chapters on how best to deal with feelings of rejection. Some days, you just don't catch many fish, no big deal.

People with normal hobbies are probably just a little bit less emotional than your avergae writer, is what I'm trying to say. And if you tend to be a little sensitive, there are some books you should definitely read, and also some books that you shouldn't.

So I've mentioned it before but Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life is great, with advice very specific to novel writing, rather than the more generic self help you can get from other CW books. She writes about the Shitty First Draft and professional jealousy and how seemingly endless the writing process can be (that's where the title comes from: take it all one step at a time, and try not to look at the bigger picture too much). And she writes with a very human and quite funny voice, so it's a pretty neat package. Probably less stuff in the way of actual writing advice, but if you're a writer, you probably need the moral support more than anything, right?

If you are a bit of a touchy bugger, I would maybe steer clear of John Gardner's The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, though it  does provide some very practical and pragmatic advice. It's just that that advice is often that you should probably give up writing because you're not serious enough about it. Maybe I was in a bad place when I read it, and it was certainly before my writing-morale-boosting masters course, but I remember feeling a bit like I should probably never write again afterwards... But real people like it, so feel free to ignore me on this.

It's entirely conjecture, but I wonder if this similarly-titled book would leave me feeling confident about my writing...

The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers

 I think probably not.

Another one, which I'm pained to dissuade anyone from reading is How Not To Write a Novel. It is a genuinely funny (actually LOL) book, probably made moreso if you are a writer, or know people who are writers. But after reading about all the stupid things you shouldn't do as a first-time writer, it's hard to remember what you should do as a first-time writer. As a consequence, this book gave me the closest I ever got to The Writer's Block. 

But I was laughing quite a lot, so I wasn't all bad.

On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the CraftOn Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King is an interesting writing book/memoir, even if you're not a huge King fan. Though I would say, some of his advice is a little prescriptive. For example, he thinks a writer should write 2000 words a day. Um... some people like to spend time thinking about what they're writing, Stephen! And then he says that we should cut out 10% of all the words when we're revising. Which I would recommend for writers like him (he is kind of verbose), but not everyone needs to cut back. Some people need to add, even. But these quite specific points aside, he does offer some really useful advice and it's always interesting to hear about the lives of other writers, isn't it?

So these have all been novel-related, but I quickly want to mention comic writing books that I have enjoyed, if not actually used to write comic books yet. Firstly, Peter David's Writing for Comics with Peter David (yeah, his name takes up most of the cover), is very entertaining and insightful. PAD (as the messageboard geeks like me call him) is one of the best current (and past) comic book writers and totally knows his stuff, which he delivers in his usual, sarcastic and grumpy way. He is charming. There's also Scott McCloud, who has written on the medium of comics and also about writing them, both in comic form. They are classics, and really go to show what can be achieved in the medium. They're also just good reads.

So I reckon that should be enough to get anyone started... but here are some others, I have read and found useful/enjoyed: Teach Yourself Creative Writing, The Writer's Idea Book, Writers on Comics Scriptwriting, Vol. 1, The Art of Dramatic Writing.

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of ScreenwritingAlan Moore's Writing For Comics Volume 1The Five-Minute WriterThe Writer's Idea Book

I wonder if I read to many of these things...

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Writing Novels and Things #2.5: Young Adult: An Appreciation (also: Phillip Pullman Was My Teacher)

Hare and the TortoiseThis isn't a retraction...

BUT, I think I forgot to mention some things the other day, which may have given the post a slightly meaner, sneerier tone than I'd have wanted. I have learned a valuable life lesson, and it is this: don't rush to publish.

Anyway, the things that I completely forgot to talk about were these things:
  1. I really, really like YA fiction, I think it's my favourite
  2. My favourite YA writer, Phillip Pullman, has taught me writing, imparting some incredible perls of writing wisdom... TWO TIMES!
  3. I have photographic evidence of number 2.
So yes, while I do mock Twilight, and sometimes Harry Potter, the reason I decided that my first novel was going to be a YA fantasy was because I love that genre. When I was young, say eight or nine, and decided I wanted to be a writer, it was not because I wanted to write the definitive literary coming of age novel, like I kind of maybe want to now. And it wasn't because I wanted to win the Booker Prize, because I definitely didn't know what that was. And it wasn't because I wanted to be the next Ian McEwan, obviously. Basically, none of the reasons that I have used to justify my desire to write as an adult.

The reason I wanted to be a writer when I was young is because I wanted to create new worlds, where cool stuff happened! What's the point in writing, I thought, if there aren't at least loads of wizards and stuff? Well, I do now understand why someone would want to write literary fiction (one of the most important things I learned during my masters, eventually, is that what I love to write most is characters, often at the expense of plot, description, action, and other essential aspects of good writing), and I think I do that pretty well too. But writing wizards and stuff? That's still awesome.

Which is why I chose to write my YA fantasy book, starring a talking salmon. It doesn't actually featurte any wizards but... well it does a little bit, actually...So yeah, I really admire a lot of YA writers and desperately want to follow in their footsteps, basically. If I can come anywhere near the talent and skill of writers like Phillip Pullman, Ian Serraillier and Michael Morpurgo, I would be super duper pleased with myself, and almost impossible to live with.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.I do realise, of course, that one can write, for want of a better name, Literary Young Adult fiction, but I think Judy Blume may have ruined this for me. Because she already did it and she won. Seriously, are there books better than Forever or Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret?, because I don't think I've read them (but please do comment if there are others I should be reading). I have An Abundance of Katherines on my To Read list so, you know, I'm still looking.

OK, so back to Phillip Pullman. He is the best, isn't he? The His Dark Materials Trilogy is without question my favourite trilogy ever. I could go on about all the good things in those books but mostly I just want it known that I was a big Phillip Pullman fan when I applied to do a Creative Writing masters at Oxford Brookes. Which is a course on which Phillip Pullman is a fellow.

In my two years on that course, he appeared before me two times.

The first, was this event:

And as you can see, we quite quickly became the best of friends. I did not, in truth, actually speak to him. But I did listen as he was interviewed on stage, telling us all about his career. I'd have been fascinated no matter what, but his voice made it all sound so... wisdomous! If I say he sounds like a posh Bill Oddie, you kid of get the picture, right?

And then he came and did an intimate lesson for us, which was brilliant. The one piece of advice he gave us that really stands out (though there were lots of others thaat I now wish I'd written down), was this: don't listen to music when you write.

Before that, I had stopped listening to music with singing in when I was writing, because I kept finding myself inserting song lyrics into stories, but PP (publishing pun!) said no to all music. It's about rhythm, you see; writing is all about rhythm. If a sentence is jarring, it's because the rhythm is wrong, mostly. When you're writing you have to be in silence, so you can 'hear' the words you're putting down.

I discovered recently, while listenig to a Writing Excuses podcast, that readers actually hear, rather than see words. So when we read, we are saying the words out loud in our head, not just looking at the words and understanding their meaning. The medium of writing is a means of putting our own voices inside the heads of others. Did you hear that? I'm a psychic and I'm in your mind!

So that makes rhythm super important to writing, and you can't be sure your rhythm is correct if you have other rhythms going on around you, is more or less what PP said. Only he said it all smart, like. And I've written in silence ever since, all thanks to my new best friend Phillip Pullman.