Saturday, 29 June 2013

Signing on the dotted line

I've never been one for autographs.

It's always struck me as a bit too sycophantic - while I like to admire people, there's a sense of putting them up a bit too high on a pedestal. Maybe even something a bit desperate or fetishistic.

Of course, like all of of my hard and fast rules, I'm happy to make exceptions.

I do have two autographed items that I maintain with love (if maybe not as much care as they deserve).

One is my autographed Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. Given that Douglas Adams is one of my major inspirations, it feels kind of cool to have just that little piece of him, especially as he's sadly no longer with us. The book is rather ragged and falling apart these days, but I'll never get rid of it.

The other is my autographed Mad Magazine. Mad was a massive inspiration to me as a kid - it really gave me a sense of the big world and how there was so much that could be made fun of, as well as the idea of satire as a powerful mechanism for humour. I loved how it covered a really broad range of styles, from sharp political satire to just completely random and oddball (like the wonderful cartoons of Don Martin).

It was kind of a special thing when I was being taken around New York by a cousin and happened to pass right outside their offices. Of course, I dragged the somewhat nonplussed cousin inside, where I got to meet the editor, William Gaines. He was very cheerful and friendly, happily giving me a free copy of an edition that had been damaged in the post and signing it on the spot.

As a writer myself, I haven't done a lot of autographing. I guess I'm not quite in the Douglas Adams league. And besides, most of my books are ebooks, and while I know there are electronic ways to do autographs, it doesn't quite feel the same. But I do have a few children's books in print, and I have done a bit of autographing for them - one was for the child of a friend who was most upset to see their book had been scribbled on.

And that's the big problem I'm likely to face if I should ever get famous enough for people to want my autograph. I don't have a decent signature. My handwriting is completely disgusting. If I ever get that popular, I suspect I'd need a handwriting double.

Here's hoping.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Full steam ahead - and no going back

Everybody tells me that the best thing I can do as a writer is write a series.

I can understand why. You get your reader hooked and then they'll keep coming back, wanting to know exactly what happens next. You get them to build up a strong relationship with your characters, so they'll really care about what happens to them. It makes complete sense.

I'm just not quite sure if I can do it.

There's a couple of problems.

The first is that I have a really short attention span. By the time I'm halfway through something, my mind is already moving on to something new. I can barely keep the focus to work on one individual book, let alone a major project that involves three or more books.

The other problem relates to the way I develop my stories. As I've mentioned before, I call myself a plontser - which is something halfway between a plotter and a pantser. I usually have a broad idea about where my story is going, but I'm constantly filling in the details and making up a lot of stuff as I go.

This means that, especially with first drafts, I change my mind a lot as I go. If you read any of my first drafts, you'll see how things change, maybe even characters and their names change, from chapter to chapter. It's something that I gradually tidy up during the rewriting process.

But imagine if I did this with a story that spanned multiple books. Halfway through book three, I'd realise that there were a bunch of things wrong with book one that I'd want to change. Only problem is, by this time book one is most likely done and dusted.

Clearly, the only way I could manage this process was if I didn't release any books until the whole series was done. This would mean constant re-editing of all books. I'm not sure I could handle that.

Having said that, I am having a go at a series of a sort. Once I get my third Neville Lansdowne story out (tentatively titled Scrawling), I'll have three volumes of Neville. I suppose it's kind of a series, even though each story basically stands on its own. I'm not sure if there's some sort of a rule I'm breaking there as far as series definition goes - and I don't really care anyway.

So I'm continuing to churn ahead with Neville's new adventures - and I'm not looking back at his old ones. We'll see where he takes me next. 

Saturday, 15 June 2013

I know who is to blame

I've finally figured it out.

I know exactly who is to blame.

Let me clarify that. Being creative in this day and age is not easy. There's so much that's already been done. It's really difficult to come up with something completely fresh and new.

I think it's like that in a lot of different areas. Music for instance. When I listen to new songs, I'm always thinking "It sounds just like this" or "It sounds just like that". There are so many great songs that have already been written that writing new ones just gets harder and harder.

It's just the same with stories. How do you come up with an idea for a story that's fresh and new when so many stories have already been written? I'm sure that whatever I write, there's always going to be someone who has the same reactions to my stories as I've described above to new songs. It seems to me that with each subsequent generation, as more stories continue to be written, it just gets harder and harder to come up with new ones.

Sometimes it used to really get me down. I'd get so frustrated. It just didn't seem fair that I was living in an age where so many things had already been done, and so many stories had already been written.

And that's when I realised exactly whose fault it was.

It's time's fault. I think that's clear. Thanks to time, I'm forced to be living in a later period than all those other writers who got in before me. If time was a little more flexible, maybe I could sneak back and get my stories out first. But no, time has to be strict and linear and one way only, leaving me stuck right where I am.

Of course, recognising a problem is one thing. Dealing with it is another. What can I do against this unfair behaviour by time? For a while I thought about maybe suing time - taking it to court for infringing my freedom of expression. But I had a funny feeling I wouldn't get far with that one. I considered the options of relocating to a different universe where the laws of time are a bit less rigid, but I just couldn't face the stress of packing and moving again.

So I guess I'm stuck with the situation as is. There's nothing I can do against the random unfairness of time. I'll just keep badgering away, hoping against hope that I can come up with that truly original idea.

And if anybody out there should develop a time machine, please drop me a line. 

Saturday, 8 June 2013

I'm a trusting sort of soul

Tell me something. Anything you want. No matter how fanciful. I'm sure to believe it. I'm a trusting sort of soul. I take people at face worth. I wouldn't exactly say I'm completely gullible. If you tell me the sky is green and the grass is purple, there's a very small chance that I might be a little suspicious. But, generally speaking, I like to try and place a little faith in people.

Of course, this is my typically long-winded and overly-verbose way to introduce the actual topic of my post this week. Faith in readers. And no, that doesn't mean I plan to talk about the religious beliefs of readers. It's something else entirely (and hopefully a bit less contentious).

It's another one of those things that people often tell you. You have to start your book with a big bang. You have to attract readers from the very beginning with excitement and adventure and lots of stuff happening. Don't give them time to pause and think and reflect. Just bash them over the head right away, so they don't have any chance to escape.

Okay, I can kind of see the point of this. Beginnings are vitally important, and you need to make the most of them to attract readers to your story, especially with all the competition out there. It's just that the whole "bash your readers over the head with action" thing to me is a bit of a downer.

I've always taken a bit of time to concentrate on my story beginnings. I try to start with something that will attract attention. But I also don't want to be too in your face. I like to leave a little room for a sense of intrigue. A bit of "hmm, what could possibly be happening here?"

Of course, there are some readers I won't bring along for the ride. That's okay. Better to find out at the beginning that my stories are not for them. But I like to think there will be enough readers to wonder what it is all about, and decide to keep going. In short, I like to have faith in my readers to take the time and the mental effort to engage, without me having to knock them out and drag them back to my cave.

If you're the type of reader who likes wham bam thank you ma'am, then enjoy. If you're interested in taking a little more time for something different, maybe I have something for you. 

Saturday, 1 June 2013

I remember everything. No I don't. Yes I do. No I don't.

I'm learning a bit about psychology at the moment.

I'm not doing any study. Oh no. As far as going back to school, I've definitely done that for the last time.

It's actually part of my work. That's right, my job means I get paid to learn stuff. And I don't even have to do the exams. Sounds like not too bad a deal to me.

Anyway, one of the main things I've learnt through my work-related exploration of psychology relates to memory. To summarise, when it comes down to it, we're really not very good at remembering stuff.

I can definitely relate to that. I seem to forget stuff left, right and centre. But it's actually even worse than that. Not only do we not remember a whole lot of stuff. But even when we do remember stuff, we tend to remember it wrong.

This explains how you can be describing some sort of incident that happened in the past with someone who was also there, only to discover that this person has a completely different recollection of it from the one you had. Who's right? Who's wrong? The answer is, probably neither of you remember it quite as it happens.

I can tell you that as a writer, I find this sort of thing happening all the time. Sometimes I'll read something that I wrote a while back. I might groan or avert my eyes. Then I'll say to myself, "Did I really write that? Did I really think this was something that was worth putting on the page? What on earth could I have been thinking at the time?" Of course, I have absolutely no recollection. But I guess the page can't lie.

Anyway, I think I had a point when I started writing this. What a pity that I can't remember what it was. Mind you, if I did I'd probably remember it completely wrong anyway, and it would end up all messed up. Maybe it's better this way for everyone.

Enjoy the week. May it provide you with numerous enjoyable, if most likely incorrect, memories for the future.