Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Rhys Recommends... Top 5 non-traditional superhero comics

I say 'non-traditional' because I couldn't think of a more succint way of saying, 'not Marvel or DC, but maybe a bit DC, but not within their main universe, if you get me?' Essentially, these are the superhero comics that weren't created by Stan Lee or Bob Kane, which largely stand alone in their own universe.

I will count down, in order to create an air of excitement.

(Notable exclusions include: The Authority, which I loved in its early days but have found progressively more irritating as years have gone by and, I believe, they're now folding it in to the main DC Universe anyway; Welcome to Tranquility is generally well-written and endearing, but has never quite grabbed me enough to keep me hooked, but I do admire Gail Simone; finally, there's The Intimates, which was just got a bit too trippy by the end. All worth a read though!

So... now to the Top 5!)

 5. Invincible 

Invincible is the ongoing story of a teenager who finds out that his dad is the world's premier superhero (basically a Superman equivalent), but then discovers that said dad is actually an evil alien, infiltrating humanity in order to prepare for a full-on invasion for his people. So it's basically all about the lead character (Invincible), coming to terms with that, and becoming a hero in his own right.

It's very traditional in its storytelling, and art style, but quite current in voice, and has some interestign things to say. I slightly dropped off from reading it recently, and am a few trades behind, but I always enjoy it when I do eventually get round to reading it.

Recommended for: anyone who's got an interest in superheroes but is intimidated by Marvel and DC continuity. Also, teenagers.

4. The Boys 

The Boys is just bad-ass. It's by Garth Ennis who brought us Preacher, The Magnificent Kev, and some classic issues of the Punisher. Its audience is its title, but all the ridiculous violence and knob-jokes aside, it can be a pretty intelligent read, and is almost always engaging. The main characters, even the everyman Wee Hughie (whose look is based on Simon Pegg), can be unlikeable bastards, and some awful things do happen in it but... it's just so entertaining, and carried off with such confidence, that it's hard not to find the book charming anyway.

Recommended for: Blokes, largely, but ones with brains. Men who read Viz or FHM would probably love this.

3. Astro City

I once went for dinner with Kurt Busiek, don't you know. I didn't tell him how much I loved Astro City, but I wish I had.

These books are set in a city full of superheroes, and are largely told by normal people living there who witness these gods among men. It's largely an examination into how the existence of superheroes would actually affect the world around it, and it runs the gamut from wide-eyed wonder to the huge insiginificance one would feel being surrounded by these gods.

It's all told in a very personal way, in a very Busiek-like voice, and with solid, traditional art, I can't imagine anyone not being charmed by these stories.

Recommended for: readers of all ages, I think. Maybe someone who's read a few superhero comics before, and isn't so interested in the action, as that is not the focus in these comics, on the whole.

2. Ex Machina

Brian Vaughan must get really tired of this comparison but I think this is a pretty apt description... it's The West Wing meets superhero comics!

Ex Machina is the story of a man who is the world's only superhero, who can speak to machines after a freak accident, who becomes the mayor of New York. The comic follows him as he's just been elected, as he tries to stay out of the superheroics.

In the exact same way that you couldn't imagine finding a TV show about the workings of a political office interesting but in the end found it fascinating, BKV turns the everyday political intrigue of the NY mayoral office every bit as exciting as the superheroic bits. The art is incredible and manages a trick that I've never seen before: it's lifelike, while remaining full of life and atmosphere. I can't recommend this series highly enough, and in any other list would have been number one.

Recommended for: everyone.

1. Top Ten

Oh Alan Moore. You have written some excellent comics, and if I think about Watchmen, Swamp Thing and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and I'd allowed it, this top five might have mostly featured you. But this comic series, which is comprised of two 6-issue trades, one spin-off mini (Smax) and one original graphic novel (Top Ten: The Forty-Niners), is my favourite of the lot.

It's the story of a rookie cop starting out on her first day as a member of the Top Ten, a police precinct, in a world of superheroes. Which doesn't sound that brilliant but it just is! 

It's maybe not as earth-shatteringly beautiful or profound as some of Alan Moore's work, but it has to be the most entertaining, and the one with arguably the most heart.

I could read and re-read these books forever, they are so dense with smart artistic nuggets, character moments, and gripping cases. I want to read them all again right now, in fact!

Recomended for: all human beings with souls.

Writing Novels and Things #7: 10,001 hours (and things that are good)

I just want to touch on the 10,000 hour thing again for this post, if briefly, because I've been thinking about it a lot. Also, Funds For Writers have just launched an essay competition, which is more or less along the same lines (Diligence), and I think I want to enter it.

(I wish I were Jewish, by the way, because I have a brilliant title for it, which would only make sense if I were Jewish. Fortunately, I am writing a short story that it also fits into, so the brilliant title will not go unused. I once seriously considered Judaism conversion, on a side note to this side note, and I took a class in Biblical Hebrew, but I didn't follow through. Anyway.)

So, the important thing about these 10,000 hours, I have discovered, thanks to the excellent article below, that these 10,000 hours must not be a mindless, unfocused slog whereby you churn out reams and reams of words (so Nanowrimo novels and Morning Pages may not count) just to say that you have. You need to learn from them, every time you write. You need to be looking into technique, structure, style, and all aspects of the craft when you're writing, or you're just reinforcing bad habits.

Put succinctly: Bad drivers don’t get better at driving. They just get better at being bad drivers.

So that's something to think about and has possibly changed the way I write entirely. I have been, at various stages, and still now, what is known in the writing community as a 'discovery writer' or 'pantser', which is a writer who doesn't really plan things and just writes. I have found in the past that this approach is quite effective, and often pleasantly surprising, but not always. And it would be more effective and pleasantly surprising if you were already an expert (i.e. you'd done your 10,000 hours), so writing well was instinctive, rather than lucky. So I'm going to try planning and plotting and things for a while, and see how that goes. In theory, it should mean that I have to do less of the dreary editing stuff, which I don't enjoy (apart from, occasionally, in my day job). 

I shall, no doubt, keep my public informed.

Now on to some nicer things, which means articles that say what I want them to say to make me feel good about my writing.

This one: Why Most of What You’ve Read About Characterization is Untrue

Is good.

Mostly, it's saying that originality (in this case with respect to characterisation but I think it works across the board) is in the way you tell a story, rather than the basic outline of the story. Because most of the stories have been told, but they haven't all been told in every conceivable way yet! For example, there's a story about a strong teenaged girl who falls in love with a vampire and it kind of tears both their lives apart. You could tell it one way, a la Twilight, or you could tell it the good way, and be Buffy. Broadly, they have similar stories, but it's in the telling that they vary so wildly. 

(This is probably not the best comparison, as they are told in different media, but you get the idea.)

When I was doing my masters, and novel work shopping, this one guy I knew was writing a really funny book that was essentially a diary of someone addicted to a well-known social media site. I always looked forward to the lessons where we'd workshop his stuff, because I knew I'd be able to read some witty, sharp, and pretty original, diarist writing that was always interesting. He always had a problem with it though, because he felt the plot was unoriginal, and I could feel him stalling on the whole project until he could think of a way to write a plot (and action and things) that nobody had ever thought of before. I don't know if it ever sank in but I would beg him not to think about that, because the thing that was special about his writing was the way he was writing, and there were no original stories anyway. I haven't heard from him since the course ended, but I do hope he finishes the novel, because it was very good, I thought.

So I thought that article was encouraging, selfishly, because that's what I believe and that is, I think, what makes my writing good. I have written a lot of speculative fiction (and the two short stories I've had published do fall within that genre), but I don't really see myself as a far-out ideas man. And I don't think you need to be to be a successful writer, is what I think! All completely justified by the above article.

Also, because I realise that this post is getting a bit long, this other article is fun, and quite informative:

Five More Mistakes That Will Expose You As a Rookie

I have to confess that some of these are new to me (fonts, character not being as important as story) and some I know but don't always follow (back story dumps) but a lot of them I already follow, instinctively (dialogue, names, first person). This is good, because it means that I am learning! Actually, it means that I have learnt! 10,000 hours, here I come.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Griff's Fairy Tales, Part 2: A Cat and Mouse Cohabitation

Cat and Mouse moved in together one day. Cat, or 'Catherine' to her parents, was a rotund but largely jolly sort of girl, who worked as a chef. Mouse, who had been called Mouse from birth, was a weaselly and sickly man, a mysteriously undisclosed number of years Cat's senior. They had met on Gumtree and, well, they had each thought the other harmless and neither could afford to live alone. And so, back to our opening, Cat and Mouse moved in with each other one day, into a fairytale ex-council two bed flat with its own lock-up.

Months went by and the two got to know each other better, for better and worse. Mouse found Cat very funny, and she discovered what an excellent listener he was, and they found that they were perfect TV-watching companions (they each knew when to make snide comments and when to shut up). On the other hand, Mouse's inability to wash up after himself, and Cat's propensity for eating anything in her line of site, had been cause for a few terse, cosmetically polite conversations.

People marvelled at their names. Cat and Mouse marvelled at their names too. They decided, quite often, that they should have their own TV show. It could just be the two of them living together, watching TV and being funny. It would be called Cat and Mouse, obviously. Their friends said they would watch Cat and Mouse, if it were on, though these people were largely lying.

Cat and Mouse got drunk together one night, and Mouse told Cat that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever met, and that he hoped he'd live with her forever.

'Yes,' said Cat, 'yes of course I'll marry you!'

Mouse had certainly meant it as a compliment, but not really a proposal. He did not want to embarrass Cat, though, so he kept quiet that night. And the next day, and then for a few days, and then through the engagement party and the sending out of the wedding invitations. The RSVPs rolled in, and it seemed that almost everyone they knew was definitely going to come to their wedding.

One card, he noticed, was from his old Uncle Ratty who was not going to be able to attend. But had sent Mouse a parcel! Inside the expertly-wrapped brown paper parcel, was a jar of fat and a note.

'NOT TO BE SHARED,' it said.

Mouse, secretly and mysteriously devoted to his Uncle Ratty, took the jar of fat down to their small lock-up, just a short walk from the flat. Cat never went down there, afraid as she was of spiders and dust and locks. He left the jar, still in its parcel wrapping and returned to the house. He loved Uncle Ratty's pots of fat, and could not wait to tuck in, once it had matured. He did not notice Cat peering out from behind their living room curtains, nor was he aware then of quite how jealous and inquisitive she could be.

A few days later, Cat was preparing to leave the house, dressed all up in her favourite non-ironic 80s power suit, and Mouse casually asked her where she going.

'A christening!' she responded, shrilly.

'Whose?' asked Mouse.

'A friend's, God, why are you always interrogating me?! Why won't you just let me breathe, Mouse, why?'

She stormed out of the house, down to the lock-up and found the package from Mouse's Uncle Ratty. She was surprised to find that Mouse had been hiding a jar of fat down there. He knew she loved fat.

She battled with her conscience for many moments, almost seconds, and then she popped the lid, scooped her fingers inside, swept them across in a circular motion, and shoved them into her mouth, sucking them savagely until they were fat free. She did the same again and again, until her conscience finally caught up with her, which roughly coincided with her feeling full. She had eaten the first third of the pot.

Cat waited in the lock up for the approximate length of a christening, and then returned home. Mouse was there, flowers in hand, apologising deeply for attempting to invade her privacy by asking her who was having a christening. She said he was forgiven, with her arms folded, to let him know that she was being the bigger man. Mouse asked the name of the newly-christened baby. Panicked, she said the first thing that came into her head.


'Oh,' said Mouse, still tender from their argument, 'that's...' but he didn't finish his sentence because he didn't know what it was.

The following week, Cat left the house. On her way out she saw Mouse looking at her, and asked:

'Another christening?'

'No! A naming ceremony, actually! Zut alors, where is the trust in this relationship?!'

Occasionally, in moments of high emotion, Cat broke into the language of the kitchen, which is French.

She slammed the door again, and went down to the lock-up again, and ate a little more of the fat, so that half of it was now gone. The fullness seemed to have taken hold earlier this time. When she returned home, Mouse did not have flowers for her, but did ask the name of this one.

'Half-empty,' she said, as she moodily retired to the bedroom to make up.

'Pessimistic hippies,' thought Mouse as he followed Cat into the bedroom.

Cat tried to forget about the fat, waiting down in the lock-up, and she managed it for nearly a month. She, quite shiftily, left the house early one morning, dressed in finery.

'Where you going dressed like that?' asked Mouse, though he almost knew the answer - he thought it would be bris.

'Baptism,' Cat replied.

'Right,' said Mouse. 'Of course you are.'

Cat was enraged, and hissed.

'Are you implying that I'm a liar, Mouse? Are you calling me a big, fat liar? Big fat, fatty bum bum liar, that's me! Why don't you trust me?! Parce que, je suis un vache!'

She broke down into a million dainty tears, and when Mouse tried to comfort her, she flinched from his grasp and slipped out of the door. She went down to the lock up and gorged herself on the remainder of the fat, no longer bothering with fingers, and instead guzzling it straight from the upturned jar. She was famished and it was delicious. Cat was a notorious feelings-eater. she would have devoured the fat even if she hadn't really wanted to, though she had very much wanted to. When she was finished, she remained in the lock-up for roughly the duration of your average baptism, and returned home.

Mouse was sat by the front door, looking sheepish and mousey.

'I'm sorry,' he said, with a tone of deepest apology, 'I'm so sorry I missed... um... Thingy's baptism.'

'All-done!' said Cat, a mite snootily.

'Right - wow - I'm sorry I missed his or her baptism. And I'm sorry I didn't believe you.'

'Yes, well, no harm done,' said Cat, in a tone that strongly implied that some harm had been done. 'Let's let that be the end of it then.'

'Great,' said Mouse. 'The thing is, there's a reason I've been a bit suspicious lately. Do you want to know why?'

Cat shrugged. She definitely did not want to hear the reason. She suddenly felt a bit sick and had a job to keep the fat down.

'You know how people say that if you can't trust, you can't be trusted?' Max continued, disclosingly. 'Well, I've been keeping something from you, my darling Cat, and it's been driving me literally insane. Actually literally insane, Cat!'

'What? Oh, don't worry about that, ha ha.' said Cat, flustering. 'My mummy always said to me that secrets are good for a marriage, anyway. I'm sure you have your reasons, ha ha ha!'

'No,' Mouse said, seriously, 'this is serious.'

He took Cat by the hand and led her back out of their flat, down the stairs and into the lock-up. She prayed quietly for a miracle. With her free hand, she rummaged in her handbag and came across a can of mace and a nail file. She promised herself that she would use them only in an emergency.

Mouse looked into his Uncle Ratty's package and a confused expression fell tentatively across his face. He pulled out the empty jar of fat, held it up to the light and looked quizzically towards Cat. A flash of knowingness landed with a thud on his face.

'Now let me explain...' Cat began, wagging her finger.

Minutes later, Mouse emerged from the lock-up, bolted it shut and returned to the flat. It would be nice, he thought, not having housemates. Nobody to tell him to wash up all the time, or to eat all his food, or to misinterpret drunken protestations.

Yes, he thought, he would be quite happy living alone, quite happy indeed.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Griff's Fairy Tales, Part 1: The Frog and Princess

There was a girl, called Princess, who was, appropriately, a real princess, in so much as she could be, on occasion, a royal pain in the arse. This was due, largely, to the fact that she was named Princess and that just wasn't her, really. She was the kind of girl who was rough and ready and less into the girlie things. Unpolished. Zesty. A lesbian.

None of which relates to how she found herself, one day, idling along a towpath, whereupon her way was blocked by a cheeking-looking frog.

'Hullo,' he exclaimed.

Princess was suspicious. She had once had a long and life-altering conversation pelican, on an ill-advised peyote-fuelled spirit journey. When she awoke, in her back garden, she discovered that the pelican was, in fact, a plastic Tesco bag stuck to a bush, or a dead seagull under a different, but nearby, bush. It was a real blow, because she'd forgotten what the pelican had said.

And so, her life continued on in the exact same way before, her life almost completely unaltered but for a new and profound distrust of talking animals.

'Hullo,' she replied, for she still had her manners.

There was a moment of awkward silence.

'Yes, well,' said the frog, 'I'm a talking frog. I imagine that illicits a fairly strong, guttural reaction, does it not?'

Princess shrugged and then nodded, and then, for no real reason that she could think of, she curtseyed.

'If you're scared, it might help if you... I don't know, just spitballing, you could throw me against the wall if you'd like,' the frog continued.

'But wouldn't that kill you?' asked Princess. She did not trust the frog, for he was very familiar, and a talking frog.

'I'm just trying to help you deal with your fear of me, that's all,' said the frog.

'I'm not going to murder you,' said Princess, 'unless you disrespect me or my family or, wait, what newspaper do you read?'

The frog looked Princess up and down. Over an obscure band's t-shirt, she wore a checked shirt that wasnot remotely tucked in to her low-slung skinny jeans. Her pockets bulged in obviously Apple-branded shapes and she was carrying a vintage Penguin book in her hand, spine cracked.

'The Daily Mail,' said the frog, 'and your mother is so fat, she has other slightly smaller fat people orbiting around her giant arse.'

Well that did it. Princess swooped down to pick up the frog, and he let out a little wheeze. For that level of disrespect, she would show him not to mess with a county-level shot putter. She pulle back her arm.

'Ow,' chirrupped the frog, 'ow ow ow ow ow!'

Princess dropped him back down to the path.

'You silly girl,' he admonished. 'Everyone knows you aren't supposed to touch a frog with dry hands! It's like touching us with fire hands.'

'I thought that was slugs,' said Princess, her alabaster skin rouging, girlishly.

'It's frogs and slugs!' the frog scolded.

Princess had had just about enough of this.

'Now you see here,' she said, waggling her index finger, on which was tattooed a small pelican. 'I've had just about enough of this. If you want me to kill you, does it matter if I have dry hands? Won't that help, kind of, anyway? You should be grateful, actually.'

'Who said I wanted you to kill me?' asked the frog, shockedly. 'I just wanted you to throw me against a wall, is all. So that I'd turn into a prince.'

'Oh yeah, that makes sense,' said Princess.

'We could try kissing, I suppose...' pondered the frog.

Princess had kissed a boy once because she thought she'd better be sure. It had been mildly pleasant, and the obvious signs of enjoyment on his part had been flattering, but in the end it did nothing for her. She had decided from that day forward never to use her stunning beauty to lead a man on again (for that kiss, we forgot to mention, completely ruined her kissing partner's life - a story for another time).

'No can do, Boss,' said Princess, knuckles to her hips. 'I don't swing that way, if you get what I mean?'

'But I'm a frog,' said the incredulous frog, 'it barely even matters that I'm a male one.'

'Nuh-uh, boyfriend. No spawn, no horn,' said Princess, who only slightly regretted putting on the American accent.

The frog looked most upset. He cried, saddeningly. He cried so much that Princess vomitted onto the towpath. The frog stopped crying for a moment, in order to be disgusted.

'I always vom when I see other people's blood or tears or vom,' explained Princess, as she wiped her mouth. 'What's wrong anyway?'

'I want to be a prince, and now a princess has come along and won't even kiss me and she has fire hands too! I'll be a frog forever,' sniffled the frog.

'Oh, pish posh,' said Princess, who didn't have the heart to tell the frog that she wasn't a real princess. 'Who wants to be a prince anyway? There's loads of those. Do you know how many talking frogs there are? One. And he's a right muppet. Trust me, frog, you're better off as you were.'

'Really?' asked the frog, eye-dryingly.

'Really,' said Princess, though she knew that she'd always prefer Kermit.

'And we could be friends?' asked the frog, desperately.

'Sure,' said Princess, as she looked around to check that nobody she knew could see or hear her.

'Princess,' said the frog as he hopped up on to her check-shirted shoulder, 'I think this could be the start of something really special.'

'Special needs, more like!' joked Princess and the two new friends laughed and laughed, all the way home.

To be continued...

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Mister Rhys Mystery, Case #7: Deals with the Devil

Have you ever wondered how certain people got to where they are in life? Ever noticed those people who have achieved disproportionately high degree of success despite having very little in the way of talent, charm, luck or intelligence? The mind baffles, does it not? How do these people, nepotism aside, reach such dizzying heights? How do they, in a world full of talented people, rise to the fore of their field, without ever providing any convincing evidence? Could the cause possibly be supernatural? Yes, yes it could.

There are, of course, over three thousand things that cannot be explained by supposed real science. The majority of these are the subject of intense interest, and more often that not are finally explained by Paranormal Invesitgators, like myself, a.k.a. The Real Heroes. However, the remainder (approximately 628.5 individual mysterious phenomena) cannot be explained by either science or PIs. Over the last few thousand years, these instances have been banded together under the catch-all term of 'Religion'.

These days, Religion is widely believed to have been invented by the primitive, right-wing Israeli media and is therefore the subject of much suspicion in this more enlightened era (with the exception of the more culturally astute brands of Religion, such as Wicca and Amishiness). This is largely due to the outlandish and far-fetched stories used to justify these faiths, the ethical piousness that accompany said stories, and to the arguably ridiculous costumery. However, if you wade through the chaff, there are one or two nuggets of truth in that steaming pile of 628.5 mysteries.

Miracles, for example, they are a thing. Just look at Jesus Toast! Turbans, and carrying a little dagger, and other such Sikh rituals, very pragmatic. And Daoism... well that's all pretty believable, I'd say.

Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1)And then there is the Devil.

The Devil was first made popular in a book called the Bible, and he is generally thought to be quite mischievous, if not entirely, definitely evil. He showed up in various texts after that, under a number of guises, but deals with him were first brought to prominence thanks to Goethe, in a story called Faust: A Tragedy, which is about a man who makes a deal with the Devil.

And what's one of those?

Essentially, a Deal with the Devil involves making a kind of deal, usually, but not always, with the devil. All you have to do is sell your soul and then you can get anything you like. It is commonly agreed that one should ask for something quite worthwhile, as selling one's soul is thought to lead to an eternity of torment in Hell (though this has never convincingly been proven). So, for example, fame and fortune are seen as worth it, but a delicious meal or, erm, anything else, less so.

You may now be seeing numerous images of  famous types running through your mind, wondering which ones have done the dirty deed? It's all of them. And what of reality TV stars, and the famous children of famous people? The answer is, scarily, the Devil has played no part in any of that, not even Peaches Geldof.

[Please note, any images supplied during this blog post are purely decorative, and bear no relation to the topic.]


Writing Novels and Things #6: 10,000 hours

I've been a bit quiet on the blogging front this week, because I am generally a bit rubbish at having a life and doing my novel and blogging. Which is why I usually try my best not to have a life. Actually, in my life's defence, I have also been on a bit of a reading binge since rediscovering my love of the Adrian Mole series, and that has taken up a lot of my non-life/non-novel/blogging time.

But I've finished them all now (sadly - for they are genius-like in goodness), and also, in novel-updating news, I now HATE my novel and think I need a bit of a break. I was doing so well with the revisions, and actually enjoying the rewriting process, but at about the halfway point of the novel, I lost energy, and I know that I started to get a bit lazy, on account of how terrible I thought it all was, so I may have a bit of a break before I get back to it...

A source of much of my pain and frustration during this editing process has been a severe lack of faith in my talent and abilities and worth as a human being. This is, of course, not a good situation to be in generally, for persons, but I think it's possibly even worse when you're trying to write something. For me, I need to be in a cocksure, slightly conceited state in order to let the creative juices flow, uninhibited. When I write self-consciously, it's just not very good.

Well, unfortunately, I read an article entitled 'Are you good enough to write professionally?' which more or less confirmed that I am not yet a good writer. It essentially sang the virtues of Anders Ericsson's theory (put to good use in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success), which states that in order to be an expert at something (and in this case, I am interpreting that as 'publishable writer') you need to put in 10,000 hours of practice. And that practice needs to be good, well-directed practice at that. I have almost certainly not put in 10,000 of writing practice.

10,000 hours is equal to roughly 420 full days, which is about 14 months of solid writing. At the age of 26, I'm sure it is possible for me to have put in that much time (especially as school accounts for, say, 500 hours worth of writing). But I am sure that, even with my masters and creative writing classes and writing groups and my novel (which, by the end of second draft, I predict will have taken up about 200 hours), I am not even half way. [NB. I'm not entirely sure what this practice involves - is it actual writing, or does studying writing, or even just reading count? That would obviously effect my balance. I'm assuming it is just the actual act of writing.]

In a way, this is quite reassuring because I'm not expected to be good at this stage. In other ways, it is a bit daunting and also a bit depressing. I have tended to think that I have paid my dues and that, well, I got a distinction in my Creative Writing masters, so I must be good enough, right? And all those doubts I have had, I was able to rationalise away with 'No, I am empirically, objectively, definitely a good writer - a writer of distinction!' All those (admittedly internal) voices of dissent, asserting that I achieved that success fraudulently, by being relatively chummy with my teachers, and just reading all the books on the reading list, were ridiculous because my manuscripts were Externally Moderated Actually! And that is true, and, even though I didn't actually like my final manuscript, the markers (External and my teachers) obviously saw something in it. But I know that I am still not necessarily that good of a writer, yet.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4Being inexpert doesn't mean untalented, I realise, and putting in the hours is mostly quite an enjoyable experience, so I am certainly not taking this article as bad news. The more I revise my current, untitled but fish-based, novel, the more I see it as one of potentially several practice novels, before I even think about getting published. That thought is rather liberating, and has actually made me feel more inspired, after being a little down in the doldrums, writing-wise.

Today, I may even start brainstorming for my next novel: a comic, literary coming-of-ager, that is almost definitely not trying to be Adrian Mole.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Writing Novels and Things #5: Counting words

Revision continues. I'd previously thought that I'd be rewriting the first five chapters, reducing them to four. This was, unfortunately, an example of Bad Maths. What I actually did was rewrite the first two chapters, expanding them to four.

Most writing advice I've read advises that when you do a second draft of a novel, you should do lots of cutting out. Old Mr Prescriptive, Stephen King, says 10%, maybe more and that seems to be a bit of an industry standard, and almost nobody tells you to add anything in the editing process. So I'm not sure what it means when, so far, I've managed to turn what was 13,500 words into 19,500... do I win?

I'm not worried. I'm not worried at all. There are people who add with revisions (like Mur Lafferty), and I think mostly it comes from being a bit of an excited writer, constantly wanting to get to the good bits and forgetting basic concepts of storytelling and stuff. And so then, on revision, you add the in-betweeny bits! I'm not worried.

I don't know how this happened! When I was at uni, writing an essay was almost exactly as painful as pulling teeth, and went something like this:

Paragraph - word count - paragraph - word count - sentence - word count - word - word count - word count - word count - word - wordcountwordcountwordcount - oh, come oooooonnnnnnn!!!! - word count - pfft! - print, hand in, 2.1

And now I just want to put in all the words! It keeps growing, exponentially, getting longer, wordier and totally betterer. But I can't help but wonder... if keep on rerwiting, is my novel going to take over the world?

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Working From Home Forever: Day 25

You know those kids that would sometimes come in to your school, like maybe one day a week, because they were home-schooled but their parents thought it would be good to normalise them a bit, get them interacting with the stupid kids? Do you remember how smug those kids were, because they knew so much more than the rest of us, and they thought that was a good thing?! But nobody else liked them because they were completely not normalised and they had inhalers and crusty skin flakes and briefcases and stuff. Do you remember them?

Well I am one of them now... I have ALLERGIES!

AKA hayfever.

This is almost definitely a symptom of working from home - I'm just not strong enough to cope with seasons or plantlife anymore. I have drugs now, so that I can breathe properly, and wake up not thinking I'm in my own personal, dry-throated Hell. It may not be long before I need machinery to breathe at all.


I'm OK with it...

Monday, 4 July 2011

Mister Rhys Mystery, Case #6: Raining Cats and Dogs and Newts and Frogs

Now we get on to the juicy stuff. My next novel centres around a small community dealing with the blight of frequent storms, where the clouds deliver not just rain, but angry wet cats (tentative title: It's Raining Cats... and Nothing Else), so I have already been researching the phenomenon of raining animals for quite some time. And I think it's time to dispel some myths.

(Side note: I'm talking about land-based animals falling from the sky here, not birds and bats and other flying animals. Quite frankly, I'm not entirely sure how they get up there in the first place, nor how they continue to stay up, and I'm mostly surprised that it isn't raining birds all day, every day. No, this is about animals you wouldn't expect to see falling from the sky.)

Since almost the dawn of time, until this very year, there have been numerous reports of animals appearing from nowhere (or the sky) landing all over everything and generally making a huge, bloody mess (apart from the frogs which seem to be quite good at landing). There have been a number of reports of fish and amphibian rain, but also spider, worm and cow rain. My sources didn't actually reveal any instances of cat or dog rain, though clearly this informed the English lexicon and must have been a common occurrence around the time of English's invention.

(Another side note: each nationality has its own way of describing heavy rain. For instance, the Czechs say 'wheelbarrows' on account of their love of gardening, the Danish say 'shoemaker's apprentice' because... they like shoes, and the Norwegians say 'she-trolls' because they hate women. The warmongering history of many countries is evident in their idiomatic description of heavy rain as 'a stream of mallets' (India), 'pen knives' (Portugal) and 'axes' (Serbia). It makes you realise how good the English have it, and how sturdy umbrellas must be in some countries. Only the Flemish and Germans have cuter idioms, with 'kittens' and 'young dogs' respectively used to describe heavy/historical rain. But I digress.)

So why does it rain animals? Is it water funnels/tornados sucking animals up into the weather system? Is it God, blighting humanity with nuisance plagues? Is it evil shapeshifting sheep? Who can say? After years of actual scientific study, we are no closer to finding the answers. But it's definitely not the funnels or God. There is one man, one quiet, lovely inventor/author who may have found the answer, and hidden it deep within a children's book. A man named Roald Dahl.

Ever heard of James and the Giant Peach?

James and the Giant Peach

In this book, some giant insects use the string generated by a spider and a silk worm to hook a number of birds to a giant fruit, in order to help them fly it. Now, realistically, giant insects and spiders are more likely to eat birds than use them to pilot stone fruit, due to their lack of actual intelligence, but the science is sound. Mine and Dahl's theory goes like this:

What if, for personal reasons, a group of animals, let's say jellyfish, decide to 'fly the coop', so to speak. Well how are they going to do it? Well they can't very well swim away (because of the personal reasons, which likely vary from species to species but might, for instance, involve a surly farmer), so they enlist the help of nearby flocks of birds. They're saved! Except they forget that birds are stupid, due to their small brains - a load-shucking necessity for flight - and at about the exact same time, they all drop their cargo. Cut to a big stinking mess, which may or may not coincide with a storm. And the phenomenon of animal rain is explained.


PS. As a sneak bonus, below are unlettered excerpts from the graphic novelisation of my forthcoming novel, It's Raining Cats... and Nothing Else. It's based on a true story, probably.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Mister Rhys Mystery, Case #5: Spontaneous Human Combustion

Wouldn't it be amazing, if you had superpowers? Specifically, wouldn't it be amazing if your superpower were the ability to make fire? Think of all the fun stuff you could do; you could fly and burn stuff and stuff. Wouldn't that be amazing? No! It would make you dead!

There's a theory, quite possibly compounded by 'fictional' characters like the Human Torch, that if one had the ability to generate flame, then one must be immune to its effects. Inflammable, if you will. Except that inflammable actually means flammable! In all likelihood, if you were able to make fire with your body, you wouldn't look like this:

So much as this:

And that, it is theorised, by me, is the cause of so-called Spontaneous Human Combustion: bad superpowers.

There are other things that people say is causing SHC, that are patently ridiculous, and I will burn down these straw men now.

1. Alcohol

This is because of Dickens and Bleak House, where a drunkard combusts all over the place. It does make some kind of sense, as alcohol is more likely to explode than, say, a normal non-drunk human person. But this can be disproved by virtue of the fact that certain Irish countries I could mention have yet to be entirely engulfed by a sea of giant, boozy fireballs.

2. Cigarettes, matches, lighters, etc.

Most SHC cases do occur at parties, pubs, houses: the kinds of place where, historically, people could smoke, and so some naysayers have put SHC down to accidental cigarette droppage/matches horseplay. Which is of course ridiculous. If someone had set themselves/someone else on fire with a match or cigarette, surely they would immediately jump to inform the relevant authorities? This theory assumes that we live in a world full of murderous liar types who like setting people on fire, and I think we can all agree that that's a world we'd rather not live in.

I'm sure some instances of SHC occurring since the smoking ban would further help to disprove this theory, but I have yet to find any. Though they are likely to have occurred, a lot.

 3. Methane

This one is completely cock-a-hoop. They say that the methane in our stomachs could maybe create enough heat, and be combustible enough, to make us blow up from the inside.


a) That's what farting is for!

and b) What about the pigs? And the cows? They make more methane than us, right? And you don't hear of any evidence of cows spontaneously combusting right there in the middle of the fields, right?

Unless... no, that couldn't be it... could it?


Friday, 1 July 2011

Writing Novels and Things #4: Motivation

I think I've mentioned before that half of all Creative Writing books are self-help, rather than actual manual. There is an actual legitimate reason for this, and that's because writing is, or can be, quite hard. There's a whole other issue of why one would bother doing it, if it's so hard, but that's possibly a subject for another time. Let's just assume that writers want to write except sometimes they don't feel like writing, or can't bring themselves to write, or are scared.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Complete First Season (Slim Set)So there's laziness, that's a thing that can stop you writing. I feel as though people who are inclined to write fiction, the dreamers, the Dorothys, the Dawsons, are probably the same kind of people who are easily distracted. Personally, I spent a vast amount of my teen years being distracted by Buffy and teen angst, and still am to a lesser degree. During university, I spent a lot of my time smoking alone in my room, playing on the internet and illegally downloading TV shows I'm too embarrassed to admit to watching (let alone loving). Even as a proper grown up, ahem, I can still find myself getting distracted by the vast array of entertainments available to me. Forums, in particular, sap a lot of my time. I don't even write in them! I just like seeing what other people think about things! Lurking bastard.

Anyway, all this distraction, really, is actually just the laziness, really, a failure to channel your dreameriness into something useful. I think a lot of people who like to write (or do anything creative) can get so busy being inspired by other people's creations, they forget to be creative themselves. Or maybe I'm just making excuses for them and they're just lazy. Anyway, the solution to this problem is growing up, basically, and, though I hate to use such phrases, a bit of self-realisation. Eventually, I think, you wake up to the fact that things won't get done until you do them. I am still having to remind myself of this on a daily basis.

But supposing that you are feeling all energetic and that you definitely want to get things done, there are still a number of personal demons that can stop you from getting any writing done. What if you're not feeling very creative? Time for another inspirational animation!

Or there are any number of books designed to help. I have this one: The Writer's Idea Book

And what if you get The Fear? Cripes, what if you do? Unfortunately, scientists have found, the only way to defeat The Fear, is to defeat The Fear, which you do by confronting The Fear. Applying this to writing, because really it's applicable to all aspects of all lives, if you're worried you're no good at writing, and this is stopping you from writing, you just need to do more writing. The Fear is really just a kind of overthinking, right? So stopping thinking is also good.

I think I had The Fear last week and it made me want to scrap my novel. But, well, I persevered, a little bit, and I had a mini-breakthrough! And now I'm excited about the book again. Phew! I expect about eighty more instances of this before the book is complete. I've now rewritten three of the four chapters that needed a complete overhaul, and expect to have the fourth finished by the end of the weekend. And then, may the wonderfulness that is picking my own book apart begin!