Monday, 31 October 2011

NaNoWriMo, Day 0: A Prelude to November

I have a clipboard. It has plans on it. It has story plans, and sub-story plans, and coloured stickers, and post its. Writing-wise, I don't think I've ever been prouder of myself.

Last time I did NaNoWriMo, I didn't have a clue what I'd be writing about, and I wasn't even sure of who the characters would be. This time, they're all fairly well-defined in my head, and will hopefully be able to speak, through my hands, on the page in a reasonably convincing way.

And I know all of the events! That's good, isn't it? It's nice to build to something. I spent about three quarters of my last novel alluding to something that I had made up yet, and it just kind of meandered to a conclusion that I scrapped together from what I'd sort of laid down in all of the building up. I don't think it was great. This time, I know the ending, and how the main character arrives there. Yay me.

This post serves as a smug, old warning. I am going to be posting on here every day, a short little post, to update on my NaNoWriMo progress. I predict the smugness graph will look something like a smile.


Thursday, 13 October 2011

Writing Novels and Things #14: Giving up

You think this is going to be me telling you how I've quit editing my novel again, because it's complete and utter shit. But it isn't [about that]! Novel editing continues apace, I'm about three quarters of the way through. I think I'll have increased the word count by about 25% in the process. Not sure how that happened...

ANYWAY, no, this is not about that, exactly, but it is about the virtue of quitting. I was listening to this Freakonomics podcast, about quitting and it struck a chord, largely because it was saying that quitting is a Good Thing. Admittedly, they meant like if you're in a bad job, or you're a prostitute, or something, but it works with all walks of life, including in literature.

Hope Clark wrote a little blog post about quitting books, recently, where she says that when she's reading, she'll give a book 75 pages to interest her and if it doesn't, she'll stop. That's what I do! Though I will, generously, give it 100 pages. If it doesn't entertain me, or at least make me feel things, I get rid of it, and still, crucially, feel entitled to have an opinion on it.

I know a lot of people who will not abandon a book. It might mean that they barely read anymore, or they don't enjoy reading anymore, but they will finish that book, and they get a bit upset when you say you didn't like something so you stopped reading it. There are, sometimes, insinuations... but whatever; in the time it took them to read that book, I read three others, and they were great.

This works with writing too, obviously. If an idea is not working, you should probably just give it up, and move on to something else. Maybe the idea just wasn't very good in the first place, or maybe it will be good one day, but not right now, with where you are as a writer/human being. It doesn't make you a bad person. There are loads of other things you can do!

And that is the crux-a-mundo. When you're reading a book you don't enjoy, you read much less than normal. If you're writing something that is not working, and is painful to write, you'll be writing less often that you usually do. Which is not a good thing. To keep it interesting (if not necessarily fun), you really do need to know when to cut your losses, however painful it might feel.

I'm assuming here that you're a slightly obsessive type of person who finds it hard to quit things, or to leave food on your plate. Waste is bad, I agree, but giving something up is not waste. We only have so much time to play with, and you waste it when you don't enjoy your leisure time.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Rhys Recomends... Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby's brilliant. If you think he isn't then it is, in fact, you who is not brilliant. You're unbrilliant. He is, I think, the writer I'd most like to be like. He's funny, extremely intelligent, a bit geeky, draws fully-realised, interesting, funny and likable characters, and has written some of the best books ever. He's also appeared on an episode of Jordan, Jesse, Go!, so I'm jealous about that too.

I started reading his books when I was but 12 years old with High Fidelity. I obviously didn't understand the intricacies of the writing, nor could I really explain why I liked it, but I just knew that I did. I went back and read Fever Pitch, a book about football, and I even loved that. It was About A Boy, my first literary hardback, that cemented my love for him though. It just made me feel all these feelings, and I read it over and over. I wanted to live inside it. And as an adult, as someone who has studied the... heck... out of a lot of books in order to analyse writing style, I can say with a reasonable amount of assurance that his books are, in fact, Good Writing.

To honour this, I am going to rank his novels, arbitrarily, into my own special Top 5! Read on...

[I did say novels, which excludes such excellent reads as The Polysyllabic Spree, Fever Pitch and 31 Songs, as well as his short stories and films. If you would like to know how I would rank his films... I'll tell you!
1. High Fidelity
2. About A Boy
3. An Education
4. Fever Pitch, the English One
5 Fever Pitch, the American One (Because I haven't seen it, largely.)]

5. Slam

This is a sci-fi-ish young adult adventure, but not really. It's mostly just a Nick Hornby book, with this one weird bit of time travelling, and a kind-of talking Tony Hawks poster. I did really like this book, but it didn't stay with me much after I read it. The plot is kind of all over the place, and I don't think the resolution is that strong, nor the characters that compelling. This is all relative though, because every page is still alive with brilliant Hornby-isms (such as the afore-mentioned poster, with its often wise, but largely inappropriate quotes from the Tony Hawks autobiography, and the generally unglamorous teen pregnancy vibe).

4. High Fidelity

Basically, I couldn't really decide on a proper top 4, because they're all brilliant, so I have ranked these in order of which I'd most like to read again. This is bottom of the 4, largely because I've read it loads already, and seen the film quite a few times too. It's great, you know it is, with its list obsession, and collecting obsession, and love obsession. I would say that I never really got the love of Barry's character, or for any of the male characters in the book, to be honest, but it is probably one of the funniest and, in the end, is quite romantic. I think he'd write it differently now though, maybe less ponderously? Maybe more ponderously?!

3. About A Boy

This book helped me through my teen years greatly. So much so, that I think I'd find it quite painful to read again. What I do know is that the dual narrative works brilliantly, and Ellie is my second favourite creation of Hornby's, and it's one of those brilliant funny/sad type books that will get you. Every. Time. Yes, anyway, this is, I think, Hornby's superior coming-of-ager, as it features two characters growing up (one a boy and one a man), with hilarious and moving consequences. Just try not to read it thinking about Hugh Grant or the boy from Skins, if you can. You can have Toni Collette though.

2. Juliet, Naked

This is his most recent, and I don't have much more to say than that it's lovely, beautiful, and kind of perfect. If Slam is Hornby's SF YA novel, then Juliet, Naked is his chick-lit novel. The premise is something like this: woman [this is not the only reason that this is chick-lit-like, I am not that kind of man] lives with man obsessed by obscure rockstar, and is dissatisfied by her life with him, through a series of unbelievable events, she conducts an online romance with the very same rockstar and eventually falls in love with him in real life, blah blah blah. But, you know what I'm going to say, the way he does it is just so good! The only reason this doesn't win is that it doesn't have any one stand out, show-stopping character (though the rockstar's son is a cutie). Thoroughly recommend reading this, even though I have slightly spoiled the ending (but not really).

1. A Long Way Down

And here is our winner! Four people meet on top of a roof on New Year's Eve, intending to kill themselves. Hilarious hijinks ensue. Did I mention that one of the characters, Jess, is one of the best literary characters of all time? Well now I have. She's a spiky, chav-ish, lost girl, who hates big words and bickers fantastically with Martin Sharp, a disgraced TV presenter who likes big words. This book revived my love for Hornby after, erm, How To Be Good, and it did so big time. You'd think a book that's split between four completely different narrators would get confusing, or feel jumpy, but it never does. It's just brilliant. And funny. And it asks all kind of deep questions, if you like that sort of thing. Also, it features the only Hornby music reference I have ever got, which makes me like it even more.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

I ♥ the 90s (comics), #2: Grant Morrison's JLA

Back in the 80s and early 90s, everyone loved British writers, mostly thanks to the creative and commercial successes of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. Writers like Mark Millar, Peter Milligan and Warren Ellis started getting higher profile gigs with the big publishing companies. DC, in particular, was very good at taking chances on these weird new writers.

Grant Morrison was one of these weirdos, and he was Scottish if you can imagine. They tested him on Animal Man, which was excellent, but relatively small fry, and also Doom Patrol, which I think was for people who are smarter than me. He was known then (and still now) as someone who writes outside the box. Outside the box and down the street and round the bend. So I imagine that getting him on board to relaunch one of, if not the, biggest franchises that DC publishes, was seen as something as a risky move.

But it was, as I'm sure you've guessed because you're very intelligent and handsome, a risk that paid off, big time.

Firstly, Morrison took what was then seen as a pretty big leap, and he started his run by only letting people on his team if they were already super popular. There was, I'm sure, outcry when Metamorpho and, erm, Fire were ousted in favour of Superman and Wonder Woman, but... it was a stupid outcry. Look at that first cover. How badass is that?! If you ignore Superman's hair, of course, which is still unforgivable. Super-Mullet go! Anyway, yes, Morrison began his run with what became known as the Big 7. That's Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter. And in the first storyline, he showed that the most dangerous of them all, was the unpowered Batman. 

Like we didn't already know, pfft! (Awesome.)

Morrison knew what his audience wanted. There were all the big plots and neat ideas of his usual work, but less of the obscure storytelling and breaking the fourth wall. It was just great big balls-to-the-wall superhero adventure, with threats that could really challenge this team of near-gods.

What would happen, for instance, if Batman were evil? That would be Prometheus, who very nearly takes the whole league down. And what about if the Martian Manhunter's people were alive and evil? Big-time destruction. And what if God were angry?

Not long into his run, Morrison started to introduce more characters. Tons of them. JLA became a veritable army, and introduced some brilliant new(ish) characters. There's Huntress and Catwoman, and Connor Hawke (the new Green Arrow), and Zauriel, Steel, Oracle, Big Barda (best superhero name ever) and Orion. He even made Plastic Man kind of cool. And the whole thing became bigger and bigger and totally, don't hate me, epic.

It was slightly affected by the excesses of 90s comicdom, unfortunately. Remember when Superman died? You do. And do you remember when he was instantly revived in this weird blue, electric form? Probably not. Well he's all blue and electricity-y for a large part of Morrison's run, which is rubbish. And when he's not, he has Super-Mullet. Thinking about it, Superman was the real victim of 90s excess...

I just loved this run. It was like watching a really well-produced, big-budget, intelligent blockbuster (like, say, the recent Star Trek film), for forty issues. And what could be better than that*?

*to a very specific kind of person

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Mister Rhys Mysteries, Case #12: You Can Read Minds!?

There was once a man, from Israel. A strange man, with unique supernatural gifts, and a message. People began believing in him, and his gifts, and his message, and they began to follow him. And then came the naysayers and the non-believers who made it their mission to discredit and humiliate this sacred man.

This man? Sir Uri Geller*.

His enemies? The media and science.

Geller was a man of extraordinary gifts and, refreshingly, didn't pretend that they originated from anywhere spiritual or religious. He was honest: his powers came from aliens. So what? But that isn't enough for some people, oh no, they want 'proof'.

He could do insane things, like read minds, and make spoons melt, and dowse, and predict sporting results with a nearly 50% level of accuracy. Isn't that proof enough? Apparently not. Scientists would say his mind reading was just 'a parlour trick', and that a nearly 50% accuracy rate when it came to predicting sporting results meant that most of the time he was wrong, and that placed him somewhere below most sports fans.

And then there was Johnny Carson and the Tonight Show, which set out to 'interview' Uri and 'disprove' his dowsing and spoon-bending ability. See the video below for this supposed evidence.

He was tricked! Probably. Everyone knows that alien powers are very shy, and who's to say that the host hadn't tampered with things? Maybe there was no water in any of the canisters, and maybe the spoons were made of non-melting, indestructible materials. Who will ever know? Cynics can be just as corrupt as the 'frauds' that they attempt to discredit, n'est pas?

But Uri is a psychic, that's indisputable. He's not Professor X level, obviously, but he's up there. Maybe it's his entrance into the entertainment industry that made his claims appear less valid and has attracted so much scorn. Or it could be his chairmanship of oft-predicted-to-win-but-oft-lose Exeter Football Club, or his association with man-child Michael Jackson (and his ill-fated recommendation that he let Martin Bashir film that documentary), or his insistence that there is Egyptian treasure buried off the coast of Scotland, or the fact that he tried to sue Nintendo as he felt that Pokemon defamed him. Who can say? Who would want to say?**

All I know is that Uri: I believe.


*Uri Geller is not, technically, a Sir.
** Geller is notoriously litigious - it is best not to say.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Writing Novels and Things #13: Making Deadlines

Before I start this post, I just want to say that everything I said in my last post is still true: I have begun editing my first novel (again). In the first paragraph I saw, which I had apparently already edited, I found about eighty mistakes. It was excellent. Still, I am persevering on account of how it is good for me, and things.

HOWEVER, I have also decided that I am going to write another novel. And this novel will be written in November, or 50,000 words of it, and I will be doing it with others. That's right, I'm doing NaNoWriMo again! I said I wouldn't but I will. And the reason that I am doing it again is, mostly, because it makes me write, and the reason it makes me write is because it gives me, to all intents and purposes, a daily deadline.

Writers are, I imagine, like most people, and like to procrastinate. I like to procrastinate a lot. When I'm not procrastinating, I imagine that I like getting things done, but in those times I am completely deluding myself. I like not getting things done, if they don't need doing quite yet. I love writing, but I also like, well, lots of other things and some of these things are a bit easier than writing, so sometimes I do those things instead. Things like watching Hollyoaks and making hummus and eating hummus, things like that.

But when I have a deadline, and certainly one that is imminent, I work hard, like a normal person who likes working hard. When I was doing my CW masters, I read all the books and wrote loads in and out of the classes, because the deadlines were weekly, and I had to do all that work to be good for the next lesson. I barely went out for two years, outside of term-time, and I felt very pleased with myself.

NaNoWriMo is a bit like doing a masters, except it's about 1/24th the duration and involves far less reading and much more writing. When I did it last year, I very rarely felt stressed by the experience, I was just happy. It's satisfying, being able to tick off your word counts every day, you see, and, also, writing all the time is a bloody pleasure. You get to make things up and then make them real! It's pretty sweet.

This year, I have only vague ideas about the novel I want to write. I know I want it to be an comic adult fantasy novel (and by 'adult', I don't mean sexy, I just mean not 'young adult'), and I have some notion of characters and setting, but nothing very concrete. Which is fine! The best part of NaNoWriMo for me last year was watching my own story unfold and evolve before me. I barely even knew what was going to happen then (which would be obvious if you'd seen the first draft - which you will not!).

When I get round to writing my proper literary novel, I will be planning intensely, and crafting as I go, and the writing will take me a lot longer than a month. I don't know if NaNoWriMo (incidentally, the most irritating word to type in all existence) produces good-quality literature, possibly not, but for me it has been so useful in showing me that I can write a book, even if writing a good book is still somewhat beyond me.

This time, I am going to let the lesson stay learned. I am going to give myself a daily deadline for writing (say, 300 words) and I am going to stick to it come hell or high water. Definitely.

Also, this now gives me a deadline less than a month to finish editing my last book. Please do nag me about this.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Mister Rhys Mystery, Case #11: Disappearing Woman

There is a tendency, amongst some, to make grand, sweeping statements about women, in order to get a cheap laugh. 'They can't drive!', for example, or 'they have no sense of direction!', or 'menstruation really happens!', and so on and so forth. Some of us, however, are far too classy for such things, so please do not expect that level of misogyny in this post. Women make excellent drivers, have senses of direction at, or only slightly under, the level of men, and I'm not touching periods with a ten-foot pole. Literally.

The story here begins, as do so many others, with Amelia Earhart. She was so many things to so many people: a role model, a hero, and an idol to millions. Thinking about it, those are more or less the same thing... She had a lot of jobs though! One of her best known jobs was to try and break aviation records for women. She was quite good at breaking records, in that she succeeded at breaking them, and she became not bad at flying (unfortunately in that order).

One day, in 1937, she decided to break a flying-around-the-world record. It wasn't the First Person To Do It record, nor the Fastest Person To Do It record but it was The One Who Went the Longest Way Round record. It is, in these modern times, difficult to see why anyone would want to break an inefficiency record, but this was the Olden Days and that was just how things got done.

Anyway, all went well until it really did not. On her way to Howland Island (an island set right in the middle of the sea), Amelia's plane disappeared, and she was never heard from again, and nor was her plane. There are a million crackpot theories on what happened to her afterwards, and they are all nuts, apart from the one about her being a super-spy, which sounds fairly reasonable.

Now, here's where tings get spooky. Some other famous woman also went missing! For a bit.

That lady's name is Agatha Christie and for ten days in 1926 she disappeared from the face of the earth, returning with absolutely no memory of what happened. Now, I know what you're thinking:

a) Aliens
b) Unconnected

And my answer to you would be:

a) Probably
b) Wrong!

It's not just the famous old women that disappeared, I'd venture to guess that maybe hundred of other women have disappeared mysteriously in the last century, all apparently unrelated and for no discernible reason. That sounds like a pattern to me!

So, yes, it's almost certainly something to do with aliens, isn't everything? But what if this isn't anything to do with aliens? What if this is something altogether more... historical? Ever hear of a little group called the Amazons?

Now, did they really die out with the Greeks, like everyone says, or did they really go underground? And to what purpose are they abducting these brilliant women? Army-building? That sounds a bit far-fetched. Or does it? Think about it, they'd need to learn how all this modern technology works, so they took a brilliant aviational mind like Earhart's. They need to know about modern killing techniques, so they take the master of murder, Christie (just for a bit). They need numbers, so they take... all of the other women who have disappeared throughout history.

They're biding their time, clearly. It's been nearly a hundred years since they took Christie, and murder has moved beyond Poirot. It mostly happens in Scandinavia now. And aeronautical engineering has progressed leaps and bounds since Earhart went missing. It's clear, that when the invasion happens, it's going to feel a little bit steam punk, very old-fashioned and exquisitely uni-breasted.


Griff's Fairy Tales, Part 4: Learning Fear

There was a boy called Ute. He was unflappable and unscareable and bored. When someone asked him what he wanted to be when he was older, he would say this:

'Scared. I want to know how it feels to shudder with fear.'

Which made people around feel a sense of great unease. He was a funny boy, the kind you wouldn't trust alone with a beloved pet. You know.

There was an incident, one day, when his parents, sick of his constant pleas to make him shudder, sent him to a midnight bell-ringing lesson with his priest. The priest was a funny man, the kind you wouldn't trust alone with a beloved child.

Needless to say, the midnight bell-ringing lesson did not end well, with the priest spending a short time in hospital and Ute spending a slightly longer time in a naughty boys home. During this whole process, Ute felt annoyed, frustrated, and claustrophobic, certainly, but not once did he shudder with fear.

Upon his release, Ute travelled the world, attempting to learn fear. He ran with bulls, and received a nasty gash, he swam with sharks, he scaled buildings without ropes, then jumped off them with a tiny set of wings. It was exhilarating, all of this, but at no point was he scared. Ute began to suspect that he just wasn't the type.

One day, having wrestled an alligator, and while painting a sandwich board with a particularly inflammatory message that he hoped to don while walking through a bad part of town, an old man approached, and asked him what he was doing.

'I want to shudder with fear,' said Ute.

'Looks more like you're suicidal,' said the old man, stroking his hairy chin.

'Not really. Being close to death is supposed to make you scared, that's all,' said Ute. 'Not that it's worked for me, yet.'

'Close to death, you say?' said the old man. He sat down next to Ute, which took a good deal of huffing, puffing, and time. 'If it's closeness to death you're after, I'll tell you where you want to be. It's not for the faint hearted, mind.'

'Do I look faint of heart?' asked Ute, though he was, for the first time in a while, slightly less sure of himself.

'You look like a real nancy, if you don't mind me saying,' said the old man, 'but maybe that's just the fashion.'

There was an uncomfortable moment between them.

'Where was I? Oh, lovely, yes, death.' The old man shot a finger out, pointing beyond Ute to a large-ish house on a hill. It looked, well, evil. 'That there house. If you're going to learn fear, you'll learn it there, you mark my words. And if you don't, there's a prize for anyone who'd dare stay there for three nights on the trot.'

'A prize?' asked Ute, who was beginning to like the sound of this challenge. He would either earn a prize or, finally, shudder with fear.

'Yes, a prize,' said the old man, 'that's what I said. There's a man what owns the house and he's said he'll give a cash prize to whoever manages to stay there for three nights, and they can marry his daughter, Princess.'

'A dowry, you mean?' asked Ute. The prize was sounding less like a prize.

'No, a prize. He's old fashioned. You don't win many wives as prizes these days, more's the pity. Tis a shame because I lost mine.'

Before he could be sidetracked by talk of lost wives, Ute set out to find the house's owner and to meet his future bride. He found the owner living in an adjacent, much smaller house. Ute knocked on the door, which was opened by a kind-looking old man, who introduced himself as Mr. King.

'And here is my beautiful daughter, Princess,' he said, gesticulating behind him and an annoyed-looking girl. She was beautiful, thought Ute, in a bit of a manly way.

'Princess King?' said Ute.

'Don't start,' said Princess, and Ute was instantly in love.

'So this house of yours,' said Ute. 'I stay there for three nights on the trot and I get to marry your daughter and loads of money?'

'Pfft,' scoffed Princess.

'Oh, dear,' said Mr King, 'there was a bit of a typo in the advert. I said "marry" but I meant "go for dinner with".'

'Yeah, I'm not a whore,' said Princess.

'But the money is still the money,' said Mr King.

Ute thought about it for a moment. Princess was scowling at him, Mr King was smiling kindly, and looking old.

'I'll do it!' exclaimed Ute.

'Marvellous,' said Mr King, clapping his hands together.

'You won't last an hour,' encouraged Princess, 'weedy thing.'

And so, with adventure in his heart, Ute tottled down the road to Mr King's other house, the haunted one. It looked very much like your usual haunted house, except it was more of a two-up, two down affair. He entered the house, without the least trepidation, and set himself up in the main bedroom, excited at the prospect of a date with Princess, almost as much as his imminent encounter with fear.

Not much happened that first night. There was the ghost army, of course, and the flaming zombies, and the mummy that Ute had to wrestle for a good half hour. They were diverting, but not particularly scary. The only abnormality Ute encountered was extreme fatigue, having been kept up all night by noisy paranormals. Fortunately they, and he, seemed to rest in the daytime.

On the third night, the house tried to scare him with spectacle. All kind of ghouls came down the chimney. A flood of disembodied body parts burst through the door, dancing and clenching with rage. Normal-looking people sauntered in, whistling show tunes, before completely exploding, showering Ute in soggy flesh. It didn't even make him jump. He saw RatKings fight to the death, before merging to form a RatKing, the likes of which you've never seen, and angry as Hell. There were other things too: bigfoots, griffins, chimerae, things like that, but Ute was not scared.

The next morning, he want back to Mr King's house and knocked on the door. Both Princess and Mr King answered, looking shocked to see Ute still alive.

'Finished!' said Ute, unable to control the smug grin spreading wildly across his face.

'Um,' said Mr King.

'I'll collect my prize tonight,' said Ute, when I take Princess on our date.

'Hold on...' said Princess, but Ute didn't hear the rest as he trotted back to the haunted house to prepare himself for dinner with Princess.

He picked her up at eight, and she answered the door in a power suit and with a notable frog on her shoulder.

'This is my friend Frog,' she explained, 'he's coming too.'

'I'd rather he didn't,' said Ute.

'I'd rather I didn't,' said the frog, to Ute's alarm.

Princess huffed, and looked crossed, and shrugged her shoulders, and the frog fell to the ground.

'Fine,' she said, as she closed the door, to the tune of a grumbling amphibian. 'Where we going then?'

They found a restaurant in town. Ute was, he thought, a perfect gentleman. He linked arms with her on the walk, steadied her when she fell, accepted Princess's assertion that her fall may have been due to his inability to let her go of her arm, and in the restaurant he pulled out her chair. She was an excellent listener. She listened so well! He told her all about his pursuit of fear, a fear so intense that he would shudder. He told her about the old priest in the bell tower, and about each of the nights in the haunted house, and about all the ghosts and such he'd seen. He boasted (slightly) about how nothing could scare him, and how never once in his life had he shuddered.

After the mains, Princess leaned forward and said, with charm and a smile, 'I can't do this.'

'Beg pardon?' said Ute.

'You may be the most self-obsessed person I've ever met. You've not let me talk all night.'

'Well that's not true, I'm sure you-' tried Ute.

'Oh really? Tell me one thing about me that you've learned from our actual conversation,' said the beautiful, reddening Princess.

'Um... you like frogs?'

'Good one. Here's another: I'm a lesbian. I was just doing this to be nice to Dad, but nothing is worth this.'

She stood up from her chair.

'You want to shudder?' she said. 'Here.'

She picked a jug of ice water from a nearby table and flung its contents into Ute's face. It trickled all down his chest and back and even into his pants. He gasped with shock and shuddered with cold.

'You're welcome,' said Princess as she stormed out of the restaurant.

The other guests were looking at Ute now, wondering how he might react to Princess's attack. Though a huge array of people, an entire cross-section of the village, they were all surprised at what he did next. He leaned back in his chair, his hands behind his head, and smiled the biggest smile they'd ever seen.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

I ♥ the 90s (comics), #1: Generation X

The 90s, while a cultural high point in music, TV and arguably cinema, are thought to have been the worst in comic bookery's history. In a post-Watchmen/Dark Knight world, everything was 'grim'n'gritty', everyone was an antihero, shoulder pads, huge guns and big-booby cheesecake was valued higher than story. Not to mention the fact that you would take home a pile of comics and realise that, though they all looked different on the outside, the interiors were all the same: alternate covers. It was a dark time, that's what a lot of people say. I, however, say differently.

My first example is the first comic I ever bought, and it was Generation X, the teen X-men spin off. Premise-wise, that doesn't sound great (though the title is clever, you must admit), but that's part of the reason that it was so surprising.

It's about two teachers, Banshee (the best X-Man), and Emma Frost (until that point, a villain), helping the next generation of X-Men through their teen years, made all the more volatile by living in a world that fears and hates them, and, of course, all the super powers. Inevitably, there's a lot less training to become superheroes, and a lot more teen angst and accidental adventure.

The teenagers each have a well-defined personality, and riff off of each other in a very Buffy-esque way (I think this predates Buffy though), and there is drama a-go-go with all the love triangles and mysterious pasts. There's Skin (who has grey, stretchy skin and... a mysterious past!), who likes Husk (can shed her skin and become other forms), who likes Chamber (who has no face but a slightly comedy English accent nonetheless), and there's Jubilee (from the X-Men), who likes Synch (who copies powers with a rainbow but isn't gay), who kind of likes M (who is perfect). There's also Penance, who is spiky, red and has diamond-hard skin (there are a lot of skin-related powers in Gen X - this is an excellent nod to the issues teens face with their skin, and is also, kind of, gross), and she has a mysterious connection to M.

So what makes it so good? It does sound like fairly standard superhero fare, now I type it up. But it's just so not. The stories, which are generally very quick-paced by today's standards, are always fun, full of great character moments, and often a little bit weird. The teams main villain, for example, is a vampiric monster called Emplate who sucks tasty young teen juice with his mouth hands, and is accompanied by a sassy little helper called DOA. They go on adventures in a world of elves and dragons, right after they fight evil mutants in sewers, and then they'll fight a horde of mutant toads, build a tree house and have a campfire. All the while, being witty and cute and with a real sense of danger.

Chris Bachalo, had a beautiful, slightly weird art style, and he peppered the page with little jokes and visually interesting ticks. Even if a page were mostly just people talking, it would be filled with bubbles or foliage or snow, or something. Basically, he made an effort with his panels, which weren't just a load of boxes plonked on a page.

And Scott Lobdell has never written better, in my opinion. Everything just clicked in this series - the characters all worked (and they worked together, importantly), the tone was just right, generally light-hearted but with this impending sense of dread hanging over everything, and it was just brilliant! If I had to compare it to something, it would be the best of teen TV, your Buffys and your Freaks and Geekses.

Issue #25 of this series affected me like no comic has or since. I was relatively new to comics, admittedly, but I really thought that every character was dead and I was supremely upset. I had completely fallen in love with all of the characters and to see them put through such hardship was... tough.

Lobdell left shortly after that issue, and Bachalo not long after. It carried on for another 50 issues, but... well it became slightly more generic, let's say, and kind of whimpered to a conclusion. But these first 30ish issues were something very special and, if they're collected, I recommend you run out and buy them immediately.

(I'm still mad about what they did to Skin.)

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Writing Novels and Things #12: The Fear

You know how, sometimes, you get yourself into a routine, like going to the gym every morning, say. You feel virtuous, and healthy, and then you get a bit pious. Friends will find you harping on about how much better you feel ever since you started going to the gym before work, and you've lost weight, and you're a better lover, and it's actually kind of easy, and your friends will pretend to care, because they're nice (probably) and, anyway, they do the same with kids and sports and the television and things.

AND THEN, you get sick, or you go away for work, or you get drunk and can't get out of bed, and the habit slips for that day. And then the next day, it's kind of hard to get out of bed, when you don't absolutely have to, so you don't go to the gym that morning. And the next day it's the same, so you say, 'OK, the routine starts back again on Monday,' so that's fine. But then it doesn't! Because you have The Fear! And then you get fat and die.

So let's do away with the charade and admit that this has all been a metaphor, and I'm actually talking about writing. The gym is writing, the weight loss is probably weight gain, but your friends are still your friends, I'd imagine. The Fear, as always, is The Fear.

Well, when I started writing my novel, I didn't give myself time to give in to The Fear. I wrote it in a month, at break-neck speed, and I was in the beginning stage of loving smugness right up until the final page.

Afterwards, I left it for six months before I started editing, which I began with the same kind of vigour and self-love. The thing about editing though, is that it takes a long time and that it forces you to engage your brain. This time and brain engagement leads to thinking, something that can be quite destructive when applied to a writer's sensitive disposition, and can end in creative meltdowns.

I had one, a little one, about halfway through editing the novel. It wasn't so much that I was upset, just resigned and tired. I felt like I was wasting my time, because it was rubbish, and it wasn't even fun anymore. So I walked away from it, to rejuvenate for a bit, and now, a few months on, I want to start it again but I'm afraaaaaid!

I'm not really sure how to tackle The Fear. Eventually, you just go and do it, don't you? If you're serious about wanting to do it. This week, I've just had the feeling that now is the time that I have to start, or I never will. And i'd be pretty annoyed with myself about it. It was OK for me to be made weary by the book, and I think it was the right decision to walk away at the time, so that I made sure to do the best job that I could on its editing, but it is time now. It's time.


PS. I totally started back at the gym this week!
PPS. I have a little piece about libraries up at Paraxis (with my first ever published 'art'), feel free to read it.