Saturday, 27 August 2011

A Trip Down Memory Lane. . .with some of the bricks missing!

I took a little trip down memory lane last night, and realised it’s riddled with holes!

My parents are re-decorating and are clearing out what they glibly refer to as ‘the spare bedroom’ – in the other words, the bedroom formerly known as mine.

As anyone who’s been through this process will know, this means less junk in my parents’ house and more in mine.

In my case it also meant facing the horrifying discovery that I was apparently more intelligent ten years ago than I am now!

Amongst the various artefacts found in the museum to the last two decades that is my former bedroom, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer mouse mat was sadly not the most embarrassing find.  Neither were the collection of essays and four chapters of a novel I don’t recall writing, all store stored on floppy disk.  Yes, floppy disk.  I really am that old. 

No, the really awkward moment came as I was skimming through the contents of some of my old university text books.  I’ve never been able to bring myself to sell them or throw them away, partly convinced that they contain knowledge and information that I will one day find essential.  Some of the more relevant books have made their way to my own house over the years, and all that’s left in my old bookcase are the first year books, reminders of the days when I thought I’d be studying English and History for the next four years. 

And right there, in a book of poetry I recall being partly responsible for my decision not to study English any further, were my notes written in the margin, and I realised with not insubstantial horror that I had no idea what they meant.  My own notes!

I had not only used words that I no longer recall the meaning of, I have no memory of ever having seen them before!  Now there’s a moment that causes anyone to need a lie down!

The answer is simple. . .to paraphrase a character from Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher, the memory warehouse is full.  In order to make room for highly important information such as the entire back catalogue of episodes of Home and Away, I have apparently discarded half of what I learned at university. 

Alright, so it’s perhaps not as drastic as that.  If anything it’s just a little depressing – it makes me wonder what other memories might have been left behind.  And then there’s the dream I had last night – it was the end of summer break and I was supposed to be back at university, but I’d missed the first two months of classes. 

I don’t think I need degree to figure that one out!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Life Before Disney

I have a confession, one that some readers may find shocking.

At one time in my life, I was not a fan of Disney.  (I’ll pause for a moment to let that sink in.)

This is something that some people find hard to believe but I assure you, it’s true.  There was a time when I might have scoffed at the idea of me obsessing about Walt Disney World vacations.  The mere suggestion that I would queue to meet a character would have sent me running for the hills.  And It’s A Small World?  Forget it!

It’s not that I had anything against Disney.  I love the movies, I know all the songs, but the theme parks?  I just hadn’t thought about it.  When I heard people talk about visiting Orlando, I thought of Universal Studios.  Now that, I thought, is my spiritual home.  Being a movie geek of epic proportions, where better to spend a vacation?  Sure, I thought it might be fun to visit Walt Disney World.  I’m going all the way to Florida, why not check it out?  But I doubt I’ll find much that I like there. 

Fast forward three years and I’m a full blown Disney super fan.  I devote endless hours to planning my next visit to Walt Disney World.  My Ipod is filled with music from the movies, television shows and theme parks.  Half my Twitter feed is related in some way to Disney.  Come to think of it, half my home is related in some way to Disney.  Already a self-confessed merchandise addict, how could I not have not about haven such as this?  Watches, jewellery, clothing, artwork, kitchen ware, collectibles.  You name it, I have it.  I could give you dozens of examples of how Disney has crept into almost every corner of my life.

So what happened?  Well, this. . .

I know, I know.  I'm supposed to say it was the first time I stepped inside the Magic Kingdom, but truthfully, it was here.  Right inside the doors of the World of Disney, the magic simply took over.

The Magic Kingdom moment came later.  A week before heading to Florida on honeymoon, I made a typical rookie statement, boldly claiming I would not be ‘one of those sad people who take twenty pictures of Cinderella’s castle.’  That much, at least, turned out to be true.  I took forty.  In the first five minutes.

That’s the thing about Walt Disney World.  As many times as people roll their eyes at me when they hear I’m going again, or ask me in a fairly aggressive manner why I love it so much, it’s something I just can’t explain.  I could tell them about the rides, and the food, and the music.  I could tell them how it feels to stand outside Casey’s Corner as the lights dim and Jiminy Cricket announces the start of Wishes.  I could try to explain the familiar smell of the water as I walk through the winding queue of Pirates of the Caribbean, always my first port of call, or how it feels to be Soarin', or how I am always just a little but worried that we're really not going to make it on Dinosaur.  But I would probably just draw even more confused looks and wearied glances, because they are just like me before I had my first dose of Pixie Dust. 

So I try to keep it simple.  Why do I love Walt Disney World?  Because it has everything I want from a vacation, and the second I step inside those gates the rest of the world disappears.  I know I’m going to have the time of my life each and every day I spend there, and when I have to go home I might even cry.  

All this is my very long winded way of saying that it’s now 5 weeks till I go to Walt Disney World!  Come on, sing it with me. . .

"It's a world of laughter, a world of tears. . ."

Friday, 19 August 2011

Just keep writing. . .

With the various household crises on temporary hiatus, and my ‘6 weeks till Disney’ hysteria having peaked two days ago (‘5 weeks till Disney’ hysteria starting tomorrow), my attention has turned back to the epic saga that is editing my novel.

To use the word editing is probably something of a understatement.  True, some chapters only needed a little bit of work, but others have been completely rewritten and entirely new sections have been added. 

There have been times when, much like my main character Amelia, I’ve held my head in my hands and thought ‘I can’t do this.’  I worry that I’m butchering my own work beyond recognition, and that I’m obsessing about every little piece of writing advice that streams through my Twitter feed.  Most of all I worry that I’m never going to finish. 

The hardest part of the process has been deciding what to let go.  I’m trying to achieve a balance between telling the story and letting it tell itself, and that means sacrificing some of parts that have been floating around in my mind since the beginning.  Part of the reason I started this novel was that for the first time in a long time I had a beginning, a middle and an end, and I couldn’t wait to start writing it.  But the finished product was too long and, in parts, too slow, and some of it had to go. 

It’s at that point where the work begins to change, and I started to wonder if it would ever be what I’d imagined.  Slowly but surely, though, it’s starting to take shape again.  I’m sticking to a schedule, working out a routine and in hopefully only another few weeks work it should be complete.  Of course now I’ve gone and said that. . .

To get there though, I’ve had to take a drastic but necessary step – IGNORE THE ADVICE.  The internet is home to a wealth of information for new writers; prompts and hints and tips all appearing directly in my Twitter timeline, helping and guiding, but distracting.  Much of it is valuable advice, but right now I have to focus on what I want this book to be.  After all, if I end up with a story I don’t like, what’s the point?

So it’s on with the cuts and rewrites towards the next, even scarier stage – the test reader!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Sunday Book Club - The Passage

Call me morbid, but I enjoy a good apocalypse. 

Whether it be the suburban hell of Dawn of the Dead’s zombie-infested shopping mall, the small town devastation of Jericho or the frantic terror of Stephen King’s Cell, there’s something compelling about the idea of the end of everything.  Standing head and shoulders above them all as my favourite is another King masterpiece – The Stand. 

It was no surprise to find, in the further reading section at the end of Justin Cronin’s The Passage, a reference to King’s hefty tome.  Echoes of it are apparent throughout The Passage, primarily in the rich detail, the sometimes startling shifts in perspective and narrative style and the myriad of protagonists. 

As a reader I felt like I’d been taken on a similar journey as the one I experienced on first reading The Stand, from the dawning horror of the end as it unfolded before my eyes to the emotionally draining passage of time for characters so vividly created that their fates became more important than the story itself.  I found myself racing through the final chapters of the book, both desperate and sorry to reach the end. 

Like The Stand, The Passage depicts a United States ravaged by a virus; instead of bringing death, the virus turns its victims into vampire-like beings with almost no sense of memory or self.  There are many similarities in the stories, but it is unfair to make too many comparisons.  The Passage soon moves past any shadows of The Stand, Cronin creating a world entirely different to the typical King landscape, which often draws its horror from the familiar.  One neat moment in The Passage sees a band of survivors seek refuge in a Las Vegas casino, the slot machines and card tables completely beyond their understanding, their confusion upon finding the Eiffel Tower outside of Europe particularly touching.

  The story is split into parts, and initially suffers from a jarring leap in time, shifting from the creation and immediate aftermath of the virus to 80-odd years later, as we join an isolated colony of survivors, apparently unconnected to the protagonists we left behind.  One of the triumphs of Cronin’s story is that the reader realises along with the characters that everything happens for a reason, and everyone has a part they must play.

Any attempt to summarise the plot would be a disservice to it, contained as it is in upwards of a thousand pages (a pause here to salute the Amazon Kindle, negating the need to heave that one around!)  It is a story that asks as many questions as it answers, ending with a genuinely breathtaking cliffhanger and a tantalising taste of more to follow.  Roll on 2012, now known to me as The Year of ‘The Twelve’.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Only One Woman Can Carry A Watermelon

  The world has many reasons to despair today.  Countries face financial ruin, chaos reigns in cities across the UK, and as ever politicians are flapping about ineffectually.  I look to the world of entertainment for a little light relief, and what news awaits me?  They are remaking Dirty Dancing.  Despair indeed.

  I realise in the grand scheme of things it’s a relatively trivial gripe.  I could regale you with my take on the riots still raging across the UK, but my half-informed opinion on the subject will add little of value to the already rich commentary available elsewhere.  Instead I will reserve my ranting for a subject on which I can at least speak with some kind of authority. . .Patrick Swayze!
  My simple question is this – what are they thinking?  There’s no tangible reason I should be surprised.  After all, Hollywood has demonstrated again and again that no movie is safe from the reach of the remake machine, ranging from the marks-for-effort (Friday 13th) to the halfway entertaining (Dawn of the Dead) to the Have You Seen The Original?! (Yes, Halloween, I am talking to you.)  I can’t even bring myself to comment on Nightmare on Elm Street.

But Dirty Dancing?  Too far, movie bosses, too far. 

It’s a movie so iconic that couples all over the world line up to learn that famous finale, a routine so ubiquitous even Paddy McGuiness and Keith Lemon managed a near perfect replication.  Die-hard fans still flock to the Mountain Lake Hotel where part of the movie was filmed.  The late Jerry Orbach, an actor of considerable versatility and talent, will always, in our hearts, be Baby’s dad. 

And everyone knows that nobody puts Baby in the corner (sorry, I had to!)

The most disheartening thing is that when the new movie opens, and is watched by a new generation of movie-goers, some will never have seen the original. 

So this is my plea to Hollywood – leave the 80s alone!  For some of us, it was a golden era of cinema, when detention was a life altering experience, the girl from the wrong side of the tracks could win her man with the help of a home-made dress and Alan from Two and a Half Men, and yes, when we all wanted to carry a watermelon.

Take some comfort, 80s movie lovers, from the fact that some things, at least, are sacred . . .they would never dare remake Footloose.  Oh, wait. . .

Saturday, 6 August 2011

What Does Happen In Hayden?

I promised I would eventually share the meaning behind the title of my blog - what does happen in Hayden? The simple answer is everything, at least as far as my writing is concerned.  Hayden is the fictional home of Amelia Morgan, whose charmed life is about to fall spectacularly apart. . .

    How many times had she thought about this moment?  Death came to everyone. This much, at least, she’d known.  The last few months – now almost certainly the last of her life – had taught her the breathtaking speed with which a life could end unexpectedly.  Even so, had she really ever contemplated how quickly she would lose her own?  Maybe she had.  But it wasn’t supposed to be like this.
    It would be over soon.  How, she wasn’t sure yet, and she wasn’t ready to dwell on it and let the fear consume her.  She didn’t want to hear herself hope that it wouldn’t hurt.  And she wouldn’t think of the other one, the one already gone.  The one she feared, more than she feared anything else, had taken her place.
    She shifted stiffly, her legs sliding on the polished floor.  Even the tiniest movement took most of her strength.  She barely noticed now the thick, damp warmth pooling around her cheek as it lay flat against the floor, or the sharp twist in her skin, pulled tight by the ropes that bound her wrists.  At least she imagined ropes, wound around and knotted neatly, just like she saw in the movies.  There was really no way to tell what had happened when she’d closed her eyes. 
    Her legs were free.  They lay limp and heavy on the ground, dull weight that seemed to serve no more purpose now than to tether her to the earth, but they remained unbound.  She heard a voice, telling her that was important, that it was something overlooked.  The voice was telling her to get up.  She didn’t.
    This was how it was supposed to end. 
    And now, at last, it was clear to her where it had started. 

She has always been the one telling the story, the one who decides which character lives and which character dies.  For the first time in her life, she's caught in a story she can't control.

Amelia's story does have a title, and one that's likely to change more than once, which is the reason I haven't shared it.  The process of writing this novel has taken almost as many twists and turns as the story itself, probably more, and it has suffered more than once from own crisis of faith in its merit. 

There's a tiny part of me that wants to keep it hidden away from sight, with only me to worry how it all ends, but a book is meant to be read, isn't it?  So amidst all the countdowns to Disney (7 weeks tomorrow, in case you're wondering) and complaints about movie remakes, I would also like to share more about Amelia and the characters that populate her world. 

I hope you like it (and any feedback left in the comments section is both valued and appreciated!)

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Lacking in Life Skills Part 2

When I posted part 1, I really never expected that I would find an example for part 2 quite so quickly. . .

A little bit of background first. . .my house is cursed.  Not the fun kind of curse, the kind with the ghosts and demons and Zelda Rubinstein telling me this house is clean.  That kind of curse I could live with.   I, however, have the other kind - the kind with broken boilers, storm-damaged walls, faulty electrics, a pipe that emits a very alarming humming sound at all hours of the night.  On second thoughts, maybe this is the first kind. . .

It’s just one of those houses - in some ways it has brought us nothing but bad luck since we moved in, and today’s latest episode of Adventures At My House has highlighted another piece of useful information that, until today, I did not possess. . .how to turn off the water in the event of a flood!

After a thorough soaking, a few tears and a little bit of an argument over left versus right, I am happy to report that this is a basic life skill I have now mastered (and I hasten to add that the flood was not of my making!) 

Coming soon (hopefully). . .how to fix a broken kitchen tap!