Saturday, 31 May 2014

What freezes a writer's blood?

I just started a new story.

Hooray, cheers, party hats, streamers, and all that other fun stuff.

Starting a new story is fun. It's like starting out on an adventure, or climbing to a high lookout to see a whole land stretching out in front of you. Where will you go? What will you do? The possibilities are endless.

But it's not all fun. Starting a new story can also be kind of scary.

I've had this story in my mind for a while. While I've been focussing on getting other stories done, it's been sitting up in my head, quietly waiting and biding its time. In my quieter moments, I've been able to toss it around in my mind, considering how it will work and what sorts of ways I can bend it and twist it to make it as fun as it can be (and apologies for the rather tortured mixed metaphors here).

But then, after months (or even years) of quiet consideration, the time comes to make a start on putting that story onto the page. And that's when things can get a little scary.

It's one thing to have the embryo of a story idea spinning around in your head. It's quite another to actually write the thing. There are so many reasons to be afraid. Will I be able to do the story justice? Will I be able to effectively convert what is in my mind as an idea into an actual story composed of words?

And what if it just turns out to be no good? In my head, it seemed like a great idea for a story? But now that I'm getting it written, is it really that good? What if I show it to other people and they turn around and say, "What a load of rubbish"?

So you see, the moment when you come to write a long-held story idea is actually a pretty terrifying one for a writer. But am I going to let it hold me back? Hell, no. I'm going to go for broke and get it written as well as I can. If I don't do the original idea justice, or if it turned out to be a dumb idea in the first place, I don't care.

Because if I did, then I guess I would never, ever be a writer.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Pulling away the table cloth

I love magic tricks.

I love to watch as closely as I can when a magician is performing. I like to see if I can figure out what is going on. I almost never do. Sleight of hand always defeats me, leaving me in awe of the skill on display. I often feel that, even if I gave myself heaps of practice, I'd never be able to repeat such clever tricks myself.

One of the tricks I really like is the "pulling away the table cloth" trick. You know the one where the magician pulls away the table cloth in one clean sweep, leaving everything on the table (particularly the precarious stuff like fully laden glasses sitting atop high platters) completely unmoved. I know, you could possibly say this isn't exactly a magic trick, but it's still especially skillful, and it's not something I could ever repeat myself.

But there is one way that I can emulate this.

I like to think that in some ways, writing compares to the tricks of a magician. We have our own kind of sleight of hand, even though it's more about the tricks we play with words. And I even like to think I have my own version of the "pulling away the table cloth" trick.

I suppose it's about playing tricks with readers' expectations. Get them thinking in a particular way, and then, with one quick movement, revealing something that throws everything in a completely opposite direction. By the time the trick is performed, those readers are a bit like the glasses sitting on the table. Just as the glasses have suddenly discovered there is no longer a table cloth underneath them, so the readers will see that the assumptions they made about the characters or the story have turned out to be completely unsound.

Whenever I finish a new story, I'm never quite sure if I've been successful or not at performing this trick, but it's a nice thing to aspire to. It means I'm always thinking, "How can I surprise my readers and challenge their expectations?" And that, to me, is one of the greatest things about being a writer.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Look - in the backyard. Is it a turtle? Is it a tiger?

Today is a really special day for me.

Okay, I know I say that quite a bit. So let me emphasise by saying it's not just any kind of special day. Today is a super special day. Because today marks the release of my very first picture book: Thomas and the Tiger-Turtle.

Thomas and the Tiger-Turtle is a story that is sure to change the world. It will reassess expectations about what is possible with the picture book form. It will radically change the way we view both ourselves and the world around us...

All right, maybe not. But it should be a lot of fun to read (and a lot of fun to look at the pictures too).

The story is really quite simple at heart. It's about a turtle that is convinced it's really a tiger, and about a boy who is determined to convince it otherwise. Thomas tries all sorts of ways to make the turtle see reality, including a trip to the zoo and an interesting game of tag. But when he finally achieves his goal, he finds that there's a lot more too friendship than that.

I've got to give a big thanks to the people at Evolved Publishing for helping this dream become a reality, and especially to John Cardinal for his colourful and fun illustrations that have brought both Thomas and the turtle to life.

You can get a copy for yourself, in hardcover, paperback or ebook, from the following sites:

Hopefully you'll have as much fun reading it as I've had writing it.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

If only I could type up my conversations

Words are strange things.

When I'm sitting at my desk, fingers on the keyboard, it's like they're my best friends. I play with them, arranging and rearranging them in all sorts of interesting ways, till what I have is a story.

I think as a writer I'm not too bad. Maybe not to everybody's taste, but not too bad all the same. Within the context of writing, words and I seem to have a pretty good thing going.

But we don't always get on quite so well.

There are other situations where it's as if words don't like me at all. It's as if they exist solely to play tricks on me, and to trip me up. Those situations usually occur whenever I talk.

I'm absolutely terrible when it comes to talking. I open my mouth and I have no idea what is about to come out. In my mind, I have a perfect idea of what I want to say, but by the time the words are out, they often bear little resemblance to my original ideas. Other times, the word I want to say decides to disappear from my mind, leaving me tongue-tied and looking ridiculous. Sometimes, all that comes out is a garbled mess. At another times, nothing comes out at all. I just stand there, going "um, er, arrr," and various other unintelligible noises.

It's a real frustration, I can tell you. What is it about words that gives them such a Jekyll and Hyde personality, one minute so friendly and helpful and the next minute utter little devils? Whatever it is, it doesn't seem to be anything I've got any control over. Which, as a writer, is the biggest frustration of all.

I wish talking was more like writing. I wish, with every conversation I was involved with, I could take my time to craft the words I wanted to say. Maybe give them several drafts, as well as a final proof before I send them out into the world.

Seems like a nice dream, but I guess I'm stuck with reality. Time to get back to my computer, where I can get the words to do exactly what I want them to. And if you have something to say to me, I'm afraid the best I can manage in reply is "um, er, arrrr."

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Putting the dumb into Dumbledore

Okay, it's been a while since I did this, so today I'm going to have another go at piggybacking off the fame of a certain J.K. Rowling.

Before I start, I just want to clarify that I rather like the Harry Potter stories (although I do find some of the later ones somewhat bloated and in need of editing). I don't care so much for the films, but I've always been more of a book person so that's not surprising. So in case any Harry Potter fans want to take offense at this, I want to say that I'm totally with you guys. This is just meant to be a bit of fun.

The other thing I can say about myself is I have a background in academia (I know - scary but true). However, I don't have the academic's most basic calling card - the PhD. At various times, I have considered studying for one, but lots of reasons (mostly common sense) have prevented me. But in those moments of madness when I have considered it, one of the difficulties I have had is finding a suitable topic. Which takes us back to Harry Potter.

One of my PhD ideas was based on Harry Potter. It revolved around the fundamental premise that the only way the plots can work in these stories is if all the characters are stupid. I'll try to summarise it as follows:
  1. the kids are stupid, because they think they know who the villain us (usually Snape) but they always turn out to be wrong (how else can Rowling do her patented twist at the end).
  2. the villains are stupid - they're meant to be the most powerful evil wizards in the world, but they always end up getting foiled by a bunch of kids.
  3. the good adult wizards are also stupid - they never have the slightest idea what the evil wizards are up to, leaving Harry and his friends to solve (or mis-solve) the mystery while they stand around being wise and ineffectual (bit like that Jedi council in the Star Wars prequels - but that's a whole other universe of stupidity).
So there you have the basic premise. I even had a title for it - Putting the dumb into Dumbledore: the role of stupidity in the Harry Potter novels. I was pleased that I was able to include a colon, as a colon is a necessity when it comes to PhD titles (another PhD idea I had was the role of the colon in PhD titles).

And now, I suppose it's time to close my windows, lock my doors, and bunker down for the inevitable barrage from the Harry Potter world. Bring it on. I'm fully prepared to go first.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

The one thing above all that stops me writing

We writers face all sorts of obstacles.

I probably don't need to go into them in detail - but I will anyway because otherwise this is going to be a really short post.

There's the problems of finding the actual time to write. We're all faced with issues such as full time jobs, families, and other distractions tugging us away and severely limiting our writing time.

Then, when you actually get to sit at a computer, there are other problems. You're mind is constantly being pulled away by the delights of Facebook or Youtube or Twitter or the ridiculous variety of other social networky things. And even if we are gifted with iron will and concentration, and we manage to avoid the myriad of online temptations, we then have to battle sundry other writer's issues, such as writer's block and the general self-loathing feeling that what we are writing is just not up to scratch.

I regularly find myself face-to-face with all of these. But there's one other problem, one other issue beyond all others that has a massive impact on preventing me from getting my writing done.

I have trouble actually getting to my desk. 

Yes, it's true. On a basic physical level, it's almost impossible to get to my desk. You see, I write in my study, but it's not just my study. It also doubles as the place where everything in my house goes when it no longer has a place. Or it never had a place in the first place. Or it's in transition from one place to another. Or...I think you get the idea.

It's starting to look far more like a store room than a study. It's full of kids toys that are no longer played with, and various documents waiting to be filed away, and boxes of stuff that haven't even been opened since we first moved in. And right at the back, behind the piles of everything, is my desk and computer.

It makes writing a serious challenge. Sometimes, just getting through the mess takes all of my writing energy away. It's like going on some sort of military-style obstacle course. I feel like I should be putting on khakis, just to attempt it.

And that's a bit of a problem, isn't it. After all, with all the other distractions out there, I hardly need another factor getting in the way of my writing.

Oh well, I guess it's time to take a deep breath, put my best foot forward, and brave the hazards of my study once again. After all my future as a writer demands it.