Monday, 10 September 2012

Festival of Writing 2012...An Afterthought or Two

Friday 7 September, 4.57pm

“What have I done?  What have I done?  This is going to be the worst weekend ever.”

Sunday 9 September, 5.25pm

“Why does it have to end?  I’m not ready for it to end.  That was the best weekend ever.”

A lot can happen in three days.

There may be some reading this who will know exactly what I mean.  For everyone else, I am referring, of course, to the Festival of Writing, run by the lovely and frighteningly organised people at The Writers' Workshop.

At 9am on Friday morning, I embarked upon my first long-distance train journey, headed for the beautiful city of York.  Having boarded the correct train and identified my seat with minimal imitation of a deer caught the headlights of an oncoming car, I was feeling very sensible and grown-up.  Passing the time with self-satisfaction and tourist-level interest in the scenery flying by, I barely felt the ripple of trepidation about the festivities ahead.

Fast forward to the University of York campus, where lines of people are snaking back from the registration desk and voices bounce around the hall and strangers smile timidly at each other and old friends race to greet each other.  It’s all going on at once and I’m having flashbacks to Freshers’ Week.  I just want to lie down till it goes away. 

The horror of facing an entire room full of strangers would fill a thousand pages on its own.  When that subsides it begins to settle on me…this is a writing festival.  I’m surrounded by writers, real writers, and agents, and publishers, and people who are experts on everything and in every way smarter and funnier and more exciting than me.

Then I have a lie down and remind myself that I am not actually thirteen years old.

Fast forward another few hours, and I’ve already met some people who I am sure will become life-long friends.  I’ve shared stories and conversations with wonderful writers.  I’ve heard brave souls read their work aloud for the entire festival to hear, and applauded them all.  I’ve made so many great memories and it’s only the first night.

Any attempt to list the highlights from Saturday’s workshops and keynote addresses would be pointless.  I might as well just post the entire programme.  How would I even choose?  In one hour-long workshop a fully-formed character came to life from nothing more than a pair of letters and a number.  In another I was taught about suspense by a writer I respect and admire.  Later, I had the ultimate light-bulb moment when I discovered exactly what kind of writer I am and always have been.  Add to this some well-placed Jurassic Park references, a character motivated largely by prawns and some serious celebrity spotting and you have the tip of an iceberg made entirely of highlights.

I made a weary and weak attempt to summarise the weekend on Twitter, describing it as “superb, intense, emotional, inspirational.”  It was all of those things and much more, but someone else helped us say it much better in three short phrases.  “I do.  I do.  I can.”

If you don’t know what that means, I only have one thing left to say…Festival of Writing 2013.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Five Thoughts on a Friday: Amongst other things, prawns

Welcome to the new Five Thoughts section of What Happens in Hayden.  On a Friday. Hence the title.

Here I’ll be sharing a round-up of the top five things on my mind each week (or just the first five random things that pop into my head when I’m writing it).

Here’s what’s been bothering/amusing/distracting me from writing this week:

Editing Lessons

The good news?  I have been writing.  The bad news?  While editing my work in progress I’ve had enough ‘D’oh!’ moments to fill an entire blog post all on their own.  This week in particular I have learned that the delete button is not my friend.  The delete button is bad.  He (I’ve decided it’s a he.  His name is Del.  I know, imaginative, right?) sits there, inches away from my fingers, whispering to me, enticing me to jettison entire sections of perfectly serviceable prose because it’s not quite right.  There nothing wrong with that, is there?  No, nothing wrong at all, until it’s three in the morning and you remember that really funny exchange between two characters that would fit perfectly in this chapter.  ‘Now where did I save that? Oh…’

Delete button = bad.

Big Brother

No, not that one.

Our fearless leaders have unveiled details of their Communications Data Bill, outlining plans to protect us and ensure that our democratic way of life endures by, um, spying on us some more.

Now I’m not saying that Orwell would be rolling in his grave (standing watching over us with his arms folded saying ‘see?  I told you so’, maybe).  I’m also not saying that somewhere buried under the sound-bites and jargon there isn’t something that resembles a good intention (where is it that the road paved with those leads to again?).  What I am saying is that while I recognise a need for law enforcement to move with the times and keep up with innovation in technology, I feel like every time I open a newspaper I read about another new project that will chip away another small piece of my privacy.  It’s all for my own good, I’m told, but I shudder at what lies at the bottom of this very slippery slope.

Resident Evil

On a completely unrelated (ahem) note, this week saw the release of the latest trailer for Resident Evil: Retribution, prompting from me the kind of geek meltdown that even infrequent visitors to this blog will have come to expect. 

I LOVE the Resident Evil movies, and no, I don’t even have the decency to be ashamed about it.  What’s not to love?  Zombie apocalypse, stuff exploding, Milla Jovovich as the coolest monster killer since Buffy – in 3D!  The new one looks like it might be the best one yet.  I could go on, but by doing so I would inevitably reveal that I know far too much about the Resident Evil games.  Instead I’ll let the trailer speak for itself…

If you didn’t think that looked like the most fun you could have in a multiplex then…well clearly you’re just not as amused by a zombie apocalypse as I am.

I almost had Gary

Yesterday Walt Disney World announced some of the celebrity narrators for this year’s Candlelight Processionals.  Since I’ll be celebrating my birthday at Walt Disney World, and my birthday happily coincides with all the pre-Christmas goings-on, I was just a little bit excited about finding out who would be narrating on my birthday.

I opened up the link on my phone, anxiously scrolled down to see the name…and it was none other than Gary Sinise.  Cue another geek meltdown (it’s been a busy week.) 

Then I read the list correctly.

I won’t be seeing Gary Sinise at all.  I’ll be seeing Isabella Rosselini.

Now before I have Ross from Friends kicking down my door, I have nothing against Isabella Rosselini.  I’m sure she’ll be a lovely narrator, but I wanted Gary!  For five blissful minutes there I thought I would be hearing the Candlelight Processional narrated by Lt. Dan/Mac Taylor himself.  I should have known better.  I just don’t have that kind of luck.

The King of the King Prawns

The absolute highlight of my entire week was courtesy of a giant King Prawn.  Anyone who knows me may at first be shocked by that statement – after all, the mere sight of a prawn generally sends me running, screaming, from the room.  This prawn, however, is different.  This one has a Spanish accent.

Pepe the Prawn hijacked the Disney Movies UK Twitter feed this week to answer the questions of his army of fans.

I could write about the fantastic use of social media to promote a movie blah, blah, blah, but I’ll be honest – it’s just funny.  It’s really funny.

Here, Pepe reveals the best way to cook a prawn...

So there you have it – a little bit of politics, some zombies, and a giant felt prawn.  We have it all here on What Happens in Hayden.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Movie Monsters of a Different Kind

I am guilty.

I have been neglecting my blog, leaving it to languish unloved, unfed, and – though not exactly unusual – unread while I was off tending to other matters.

I would like to be able to report that I’ve been distracted by issues of epic importance or even –whisper it – finishing editing my book, but that would be a big fat lie.  What have I been doing?  Well…I’ve been at the movies.

Yes, really.

Alright, so I’ve not been there the whole time, and I have also been embroiled in the painstaking process of taking apart my manuscript, fixing the problems and putting it back together again, but mostly, I’ve been at the movies.

It started with a little plastic card.  Actually, it started before then, when a budget limited by the demands of Walt Disney World vacations forced me to choose between three different movies I desperately wanted to see.  It’s something of a first world problem, I’ll grant you, but a problem nonetheless.  Fondly recalling my days as a student, when my disposable income seemed substantially larger and one or two movies a week was the norm, I decided I’d had enough.  Now for a monthly fee I have a little plastic card that lets me see as many movies as I like. 

Problem solved.  Well, sort of.  Now I have new problems. 

I’m moving right by the outrageous amount of time I’ve since spent in a darkened cinema, and the fact that seeing The Avengers multiple times has unleashed a time-consuming new obsession with Jeremy Renner, and going straight to the real issue – other people.  Not all the other people, but a select few.  You know the ones…

The Facebook Addict

You’ve seen them, the person so addicted to Facebook, Twitter, emails, My Fitness Pal, the picture of Justin Bieber on their screen, that they can’t endure a two hour movie without looking at their phone – in all its luminescent glory – approximately 72 times.  We get it okay?  You’re a popular, important person and you want the whole cinema to know it, and no, that bright, shiny light from your phone illuminating the twenty feet around you is not in any way irritating.

The Aura Crusher

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you are the only person/couple/group in a cinema, someone will feel compelled to sit beside you.  Right beside you.  This sort of behaviour is not confined to the realm of cinematic entertainment – bus travel also brings it out in people – but the dark room/long movie combination makes the awkwardness extra special.

The Statue

I blame modern cinemas and their sheer vastness for this.  The anxiety and strategic planning that go into choosing a place to sit are just too overwhelming for some people, inevitably resulting in paralysis – usually at the entrance – that will last approximately half the length of the movie. 

The Oblivious Bystander

I have some empathy for the Oblivious Bystander.  They have wandered in off the street, looking for somewhere warm and cosy to catch their breath and they’re left completely confused.  They don’t understand why they’re in a darkened room full of people, all staring intently at the big, bright screen with moving pictures, or why they’re the only ones continuing to talk at full conversational volume.  Though I find the endless prattle about someone’s pregnancy or how this guy cheated on that girl just a little bit distracting, I feel bad for The Oblivious Bystander.  They’ve paid £7.80 just to come in and catch up with their friends and those inconsiderate actors are talking the whole time!

If you have encountered these people at your local multiplex and, like me, have not yet learned how to function in adult society without experiencing a spike in blood pressure, there are ways of avoiding them.  Go to an earlier showing.  Stay at home and watch DVDs instead.  Be generally more tolerant and understanding (I’m totally working on it.) 

But where would be the fun in that?

Monday, 16 April 2012

First Loves and Library Cards

It’s one of those life-defining moments, one that you know is coming and you think you’re prepared for, but hits you like lightning all the same.  It’s the moment when, for the first time in years, you see the long lost love of your life – your first love, long after you lost it.

It happened to me today, and it was exactly how you’d expect it – the awkward tension, both of you knowing it’s been so long and so much has passed, that flash of irrational guilt, knowing that they know they’ve been replaced, and that a newer, fancier model has taken the place they once held in your heart.  And then there’s that other moment.  There’s the moment when you feel that spark, and you realise that feeling might still be there…

I’m not talking about a person!  I mean, really, my husband reads this…or at least he claims he does.  No, I’m talking about the other first love…the library.  (So I’m a geek.  Did my three posts on The Hunger Games not give that away?)

Yes, today, for the first time in enough years to be ashamed of, I set foot in a public library.  I found out that my town actually has a public library.  I went to the library, and I liked it.

I was there to collect my 24 copies of Stephen King’s Misery for World Book Night (and we’ll skip on by the awkward moment when none of the librarians seemed to know what that is).  While I waited, I looked around me at the endless rows of books, and absorbed that unmistakable library smell – you know that library smell - and I suddenly wondered what I’ve been doing all this time.  I suddenly wondered why I don’t come here every week.

There was a time when I loved nothing more than heading down to the library and spending hours just looking at the books.  It was around the time when in my humble opinion the greatest injustice of civil society was that they would only let me take out a maximum of ten books at a time (and even then it was only with the adult library card – juniors were stuck with six.  Six!)

Though it may shame me, I will admit it now – I was seduced.  First it was the shiny big stores with their clean, white lights, entire sections dedicated to individual genres and not just rows of books but floors full of books with smooth new covers.  Then the stores fell away, their sparkle diminished by the bright light of a new love – the Kindle.    All sleek and stylish, it turned my head with its multiple book capacity and buy-with-one-click convenience.

What of the humble library?  Is there room for more than one love in my lift?  I think it’s time to find out.  I want it all back – the odd, forced hush, the cute little ping when the books are scanned out, the plastic book covers – all of it.  Even the smell.  Especially the smell.

So I’m taking it back.  I’m going right back down to that library and I’m going to register and I’m going to get myself a library card.  They still have library cards, right?

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Battle: My Hunger Games Trilogy Pt 3

Forget the battle between 24 young Tributes – this is the real battle…book v movie.

Book v movie…book v movie….I'm a slave to two masters on this one because I love books and I love movies.  When a book I love is made into a movie there’s potential for the ultimate meeting of mediums, or for disaster.

As reported previously, The Hunger Games was as successful an adaptation as I’ve seen in a long time – it was as faithful as cinema would allow, alterations were seamless and the casting near-perfect.  Rather predictably, it set me off on a review of other book adaptations I loved, and some I didn’t…

Salem’s Lot (1979)

Okay, so the casting isn’t perfect, and some of my favourite characters from the book are missing (or irritatingly rolled into one), but this version of Stephen King’s classic just sort of gets it.  The muted, small town horror translates nicely on the screen, and the entire thing is defined by two things - that scary-child-at-window scene and that vampire.  The 2004 TV movie should have worked – it had restored many of the small stories and more of the townspeople of the Lot made an appearance, but it was just too self aware, the characters too knowing.  I’m a huge fan of Rutget Hauer, but his version of vampire Barlow just didn’t have the same impact.

The Notebook

We have to whisper this one.  I know for some people this will be nothing short of sacrilege, but – sssshhhh  - I preferred the movie.  I’m not sure how much this has to do with seeing the movie before I read the book, but compared to Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams on screen, the book just didn’t have the same intensity, or appeal.  Before I have fans of Nicholas Sparks beating down my door, I would like to add that I enjoyed the book, but it seemed like we were almost at the end before much had happened, and I was more invested in the characters on screen than in the book.

The Lord of the Rings

Let me first say that fantasy is not my thing, and Tolkien’s books have always been something of a challenge for me.  After three attempts I still haven’t made it out of the Shire.  I don’t want to say it’s boring, exactly…okay I do.  (Again, I’m not bashing the book here, it’s just not my cup of tea)  On screen, though, it’s a different story altogether. 

Jurassic Park

I do love a blockbuster, and I’m not entirely unconvinced that this isn’t the greatest one of all.  Steven Spielberg took a decent, if not exactly page-turning, book and made into a true spectacle of entertainment.  The vibrations in the water glass, the raptor chase in the kitchen, the electric fence, the John Williams score – is there anything about this movie that isn’t iconic?

The Vampire Diaries

I first read the books as a teenager, and I loved them.  The television show has very little similarity to the books, and I love it.  It’s completely bonkers and the plot grows more strange and convoluted with every hour, and this old-enough-to-know-better fan is completely hooked.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t…


I know I said fantasy isn’t really my thing, but when it comes to movies I’ll pretty much watch anything once.  Eragon was a harmless, pointless kind of movie, one that normally I would have forgotten about had curiosity not got the better of me.  The movie seemed to be missing half of its story, and when I learned that it was based on a book I wanted to find out the rest. 
The main question I was left with after reading the book was why bother?  If you’re going to adapt a book, should it not have more than a passing resemblance to the, you know, book?  I mean besides having the same title and both having a big blue dragon.  As harmless a film as it was, as an adaptation it was terrible, and it was unique in that it seemed to deliberately rule out any possibility of adapting the rest of the series.  Very odd.

Bridget Jones’ Diary

I love the movie.  I do.  As a comedy and a crowd-pleaser, it’s terrific (especially the All By Myself opening).  But as an adaptation it’s a huge let-down.  The book and Bridget herself are both much smarter than the film gives them credit for, and the character comes dangerously close to slipping into caricature.

The Twilight Saga

I’m not an expert, but I feel there’s more to adapting a book than sticking a pin in random pages and filming those.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Only two scenes needed to be done right for me to love this movie the way I loved the book – Mrs Weasley’s showdown with Bellatrix and Neville’s big moment.  That was all I asked.  Instead they were rushed, out of sequence and diluted.  Two scenes – it wasn’t too much to ask was it?

Sometimes, though, there’s a draw…take a bow, To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my favourite adaptations of a book despite being so different.  Gregory Peck isn’t the picture of Atticus Finch I see in my head when I read the book, but he is Atticus Finch.  We don’t get to see all the small adventures Jem and Scout have in their summer, but we know they have them.  Book versus movie?  Sometimes, there’s room for both.

What’s your favourite – or at least favourite – adaptation?

Friday, 23 March 2012

My Hunger Games Trilogy Pt 2 - The Review

It was almost a case of life imitating art as I walked into the cinema last night to find a teenager with her feet planted firmly on my seat.  Not sitting on the seat, just sitting with her feet on it.  My seat! (Think Ross’ sandwich in Friends but with furniture).  Sure, it doesn’t have a plaque engraved with my name or anything, but it’s where I like to sit. Thankfully, after some meaningful glances (i.e. wild eyed staring of the ‘one of us will have to move first’ variety), there was no necessity for life to imitate art, albeit more Seat Wars than Hunger Games.

If you’ve happened upon my previous blog post, you will know that it’s fair to say I approached this movie with some degree of anticipation (come on now, everyone likes an understatement!)  Book adaptations are always fraught with drama and as the lights dimmed, the potential for disaster wasn’t far from the forefront of my mind.  I’m happy to report that disaster was averted.  Mostly.

(Spoiler alert – if you haven’t read the book or you have but don’t want to know anything about the movie yet, don’t read on)

For everyone familiar with the novel, The Hunger Games opens on an unfamiliar note – the first of a series of breakaways from the point of view of heroine Katniss Everdeen – before a quick cut to District 12 gives the loyal reader their first sigh of relief.  Very little teen movie gloss has been applied to Katniss’ downtrodden district, and there are distinct echoes of Jennifer Lawrence’s role in Winter’s Bone.  Events unfold in a near-perfect replication of the book, beginning with Katniss and Gale’s hunting trip and gathering pace with The Reaping.  A few minor omissions or alterations can be forgiven – sacrifices have to be made to allow the story to breathe on screen and save the pace from a fatal stumble towards the end. 

Some sacrifices can’t be forgiven quite so easily.  The Hunger Games hinges on a concept that is inherently violent, yet the handling of the onscreen violence is almost cowardly.  Yes, there are problems associated with portraying children killing children, especially when trying to secure an apparently all-important 12A certificate.  No, it’s not a great idea to show every last drop of blood spilled in the arena, or for us to hear every breaking bone and every snapping neck.  But that doesn’t mean it should be treated lightly either.  The impact of several huge moments is dulled by our inability to experience it with the characters, notably the death of one of the youngest Tributes, and as we were constantly reminded by the marketing campaign, you shouldn’t have to see it to experience it. 

It says a lot about the quality of the rest of the movie that this seems almost like a minor complaint, and much of that quality is on display in the performances.  I will humbly take back any petty grumbling I’ve ever done about Josh Hutcherson – he simply is Peeta.  Lenny Kravitz, rather surprisingly, brings Cinna’s quiet loyalty to life in a way that was much more touching that expected, and Elizabeth Banks is delightful, if seemingly underused, as Effie.  Only Woody Harrelson seems an odd fit, appearing altogether less shambolic that we’ve come to expect from Haymitch Abernathy, and an awful lot more contained than he could have been.  It could simply be that he’s outshone by the wonderful Jennifer Lawrence, who is a perfect fit for Katniss.  She has the toughest job to do with arguably one of the least sympathetic characters, yet by the time she’s breaking down in the arena the audience is right there with her. 

Perhaps the greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is that any temptation to flesh out romantic entanglements and turn the movie into a sappy Twilight hybrid has been resisted, and by doing so the filmmakers have stayed true to Suzanne Collins story. 

Now, how many days is it till Catching Fire?

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

My Hunger Games Trilogy Pt 1 - The Wait

The moment is almost upon us…

As anyone who has sat within earshot of me at any point in the last five months will know, The Hunger Games hits cinemas this week.  To say I am excited would be something of an under-sell.

This is one of those weeks where the movie geek that lives inside me breaks out of her otherwise quiet existence and consumes me, turning a normally sensible (sort of) human being into a raving, raging lunatic who speaks of nothing but casting, exposition and correct ordering of movie credits. 

For the most part I like to think I keep that part of myself on a reasonably short leash.  Alright, so that’s a big fat lie – in reality I have to restrain myself from climbing over the seats on the bus to shake the teenager behind me who incorrectly quotes Patrick Swayze in Red Dawn.  My point, however, is that my geekdom, which rears its head for every Big Movie Event, is at its worst this week – not only is The Hunger Games going to be a spectacle (and I do love a spectacle) it has the enormous responsibility of living up to one of the best books I have read in a long time. 

In the week that the first reviews start to pour in via Twitter and the like, the anticipation gives way to something much worse – the anxiety.  People who know me well know that I live and die by the movies.  I love them or I loathe them.  I have outrageously over-the-top reactions to the slightest error in continuity or a laid-back attitude to basic plotting.  My tastes are diverse, though I abhor pretension in all its forms, and there’s nothing I love more than a good adaptation.  And there’s the catch – a good adaptation.  Can The Hunger Games possibly live up to the hype?  Can it possibly be as tense, as compelling, as downright entertaining as the book?

And here comes the anxiety.  I have every possible faith in Jennifer Lawrence.  She showed her quality in Winter’s Bone and her style in X-Men: First Class.  She’ll do Katniss proud.  It’s the other casting decisions that leave me a little less confident.  On first reading who had been cast as the male leads, I assumed the article had accidentally switched them around – Josh Hutcherson as sweet, sensitive Peeta?  Really?  I like the actor, but I’m struggling to see him in this role (though I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised).  And I’m skipping right by Lenny Kravitz…

Then we have the violence.  Seven seconds of cuts had to be made for the UK 12A certificate.  Director Gary Ross and the cast have seemed cautious in some of their interviews about how the blood-shed in the arena would be portrayed on screen.  The idea of toning it all down makes me just a little bit squeamish. 

Last, but certainly not least, on the list of things to make me crazy is the dreaded omission.  You know, that favourite part of your favourite book that didn’t quite make the cut (take a bow, Deathly Hallows Part 2), or that crucial piece of exposition that was left of the cutting room floor (Twilight, I am looking right at you)?  The idea of what might be left out is enough to keep this geek awake at night.

So thankfully we’re heading into the good days – anxiety gives way to anticipation.  I’m not talking about the generic “I’m looking forward to seeing that movie” type of anticipation – I’m talking about squeal-at-every-tv-advert, smile-at-every-poster, WHY-ISN’T-IT-FRIDAY-ALREADY?!  (Some call it hysteria, I call it being a fan.)  This is the kind of anticipation/madness that will set in tomorrow.  Tomorrow I’ll fume all day long, knowing that I could go see the film tomorrow night but that I should wait to pay day (ie Friday).  I’ll amuse myself by weighing up the relative benefits of IMAX and normal screenings, the varying levels of comfort offered by competing cinemas and the best time to go to minimise the chance of someone talking through the movie.  Most of all, I will spend the whole day thinking “please, just let it be brilliant.”

If I make it all the way to Friday before seeing it (unlikely), I’ll be ready with a review on Saturday.  I’m ready to love it.  I want to love it.  The odds are in its favour.  (Yes, I went there.)

If only they'd told me...

In the middle of a conversation with one of my oldest friends last night, I had an epiphany.  It was one of those moments when you think to yourself “why couldn’t I have figured that out sooner?”  If I had, the last few months would have been an awful lot easier.

So what is this is amazing epiphany?  I finally realised that – wait for it – writing is hard. 

That’s it.  Writing is hard.

I know it doesn’t seem like the most shocking revelation in the world.  I’m not about to have the world’s leading scientists flocking to this blog to marvel at my new universe-changing discovery. 

The thing is it wasn’t always hard.  When I was young, it seemed to come so much more naturally.  I don’t remember ever spending the enormous amount of time I do now agonising over every little detail, writing and rewriting then rewriting some more.  It didn’t seem to matter whether or not I used adverbs, or if I was telling instead of showing.  The fourteen year old version of me wrote naturally, and fearlessly.  It seemed so easy back then. 

Now that I think about, though, wasn't everything easier then?  The fourteen year old version of me could also easily scale the kitchen counter to reach the top shelf in the cupboard.  I haven’t tried it in a while but I suspect that these days that sort of thing would end in tears.  And an ambulance.  And possibly death.

I suppose then that it’s ok that it isn’t as easy as it used to be.  Writing is hard.  It’s supposed to be.  If only I’d realised it sooner, I might have had fewer moments of anxiety, self-doubt and downright panic.  Then again…

Coming soon on What Happens in Hayden – my Hunger Games movie trilogy (otherwise knows as What Happens When The Movie Geek Takes Over).

Saturday, 10 March 2012

I mean it this time...

At last the long dark days of procrastination are at an end.  This is going to be a Big Writing Weekend.

No really, it is.

I know the fact that it’s already lunch time and I haven’t actually started yet probably undermines my certainty just a little, but on any day that doesn’t involve The Day Job my working day doesn’t generally start till after noon.  I’m optimistic.

Ignoring advice from people who know far more about this kind of thing than I do, I have been plotting.  In preparation for the Big Writing Weekend, I now have in my possession that most elusive of objects – my plot.  From start to finish, I know exactly what happens at the beginning, middle and end.  No more “I’ll figure that bit out when I get there,” or “that will come to me later.”  That worked better in the first draft, but this isn’t the first draft, and it’s time to get it finished.

I’ve been sharpening my weapons as well.  I have the teeny, tiny chopping knives ready for where I need them, but this weekend it’s going to be all about the giant red axe.  There are some characters I love, but I love them because they’re mine, and I have to be honest with myself and admit that they don’t really add anything to the story.  They have to go.  Quick, clean cuts – it hurts less that way, right? 

This (hopefully) final draft will also be three or four chapters lighter, and missing a section that has been present in every draft that’s come before it (resisting the urge to curl into a corner and weep even as I write this!)  Doing the old head-over-heart routine, I asked myself “does the reader really need to know this?  Really?  Yeah, but really?”  My first answer, of course, was “YES!  They need to know this!  Of course they need to know this.  If they don’t know this, then how will they understand this, this and this?!” 

I then had a lie down until the spinning went away.

I am learning the difference (again, hopefully) between what the reader needs to know and what I want them to know.  (Note – I am referring, of course, to my book and not my blog.  No one needs to know any of the insane rambling that goes on here.)  If this process was governed solely by what I want the reader to know I would be better dropping the writing part altogether and just recording my ravings on tape.  It would only last for three or four days, be subject to constant editing, weekly updates and my ever-eloquent ums, ahs and “did I tell you that part already?”

Perhaps not.

I digress.  Procrastination is over, it’s time to write. 

I am coming off the internet right now.

No really, I am.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

A Day in the Life of a Procrastinator

Today I’m going to write.  A lot.  I’m going to write at least ten chapters, and they’re going to be AMAZING.  They’re going to be epic.  They’re going to be the best ten chapters anyone has ever read.

I’m just going to lie in bed for another half hour first.  It’s only 11am.

Right, here goes.  Let’s just get this computer on first.  I better check in on my various non-writing related forums.  After all, some of my fellow Disboard members are battling to death over Fastpass return times.  I better see how that’s going first.  And I’ll have a read through Twitter and see what’s been happening there.

Oooh, Bless The Child is on Sky Movies.  It’s a weird choice for a Saturday afternoon, it wasn’t very good when it was first out 12 years ago and it’s not any better now, but I’ll just watch that for a few minutes.  Just a few minutes then I’ll get started. 

This really is a very silly movie.  I wonder how it ends.

Okay.  I need to start.  What I’ll do is just have a read through the first couple of chapters in the last two drafts, just to see what needs to be fixed. 

Computer has crashed.  I’ll have another read through Twitter, have some lunch and come back later.

I don’t really like these jeans.  They’re not very comfy for writing in.  I better change.

I wonder if anything exciting has been happening on the Disboards since I was last on there.  I’ll just have a quick look.  Oh, someone has been asking about the Sci-Fi Dine In Theatre.  I was a little disappointed in the food there but I liked the restaurant and would like to give it another try next time I’m at Walt Disney World.  What was on the menu again?  Hang on, I’ll just check the menu online.

There isn’t a lot happening online, now’s probably a good time to start writing.  Husband is watching football so I’ll put my Ipod on to block out the noise. 

Why do I have that song on here?  Come to think of it, I haven’t liked any of the last five songs.  I should make a new play list before I start writing.  I need a Bridget Jones-style mood compilation to go with the genre of my book.  It’ll only take a few minutes.

I should really go to the shops before the lottery desk closes. 

I’ve had a total plot breakthrough in the car on the way to the shops.  I’ll just pop in for a lottery ticket and head home quickly so I can start writing.  I’ll just have a quick look at the books as well while I’m in.

The Oscars are on tomorrow night.  I better pick up some snacks to see me through the night.

Right, it’s time for dinner.  I’ll watch Take Me Out and Let’s Dance while I’m eating, then it’s time for writing.

I changed back into my jeans before going to the shops and forgot that they’re not comfortable enough to write in.  I’ll just change quickly. 

Computer is back on.  I’ll go on the internet for a few minutes and look at some fancy houses so I can pick which one I want to buy when I win the lottery.

I didn’t win the lottery.  I’ll just have a quick look at the Disboards to cheers myself up.

Is it too late to start writing?  I’m not sure if it’s wise to start at this time of night.

Okay, I’m going to start.  Ipod in.

I didn’t put that song on!  Ah, I only charged my Ipod, I forgot to actually update it.  I’ll do it quickly now.  Wonder what’s on television.

It’s almost midnight.  I should probably go to bed.

Tomorrow, I’m going to write.  A lot.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

I Was Virtually There...

I had a new and peculiar experience today…conference by Twitter!

After narrowly missing out on the Writers and Artists conference last year, I was looking forward to attending this year’s event and soaking up the wealth of advice and knowledge on offer. 

Unfortunately, another financial commitment (also known as, ahem, a deposit for another trip to Walt Disney World) has once again stood in my way and it’s with a heavy heart that I woke up today, knowing I would be missing out on the day’s event.

Or would I?  After starting my day in the usual way (i.e. immediately checking my Twitter feed to catch up on the overnight news), I noticed that there would be a near-to live feed from the conference. 

Fast forward a few hours and I can honestly say I’ve had a more rewarding time on the internet today than I had any right to expect from a random Saturday afternoon.

Thanks to the live tweeting of the Writers and Artists Yearbook account itself (@Writers_Artists) and to the even more comprehensive - and lightning fast! -  tweets from literary agent Carole Blake (@caroleagent), I have page upon page on notes full of the kind of advice and information I had feared I would miss out on completely.  I’ve been sitting glued to my computer for most of the day, pen and paper at the ready, taking notes as if I’m actually there (though the sitting around in my pyjamas with husband bringing me drinks does somewhat shatter the illusion!)

Of course nothing comes close to being there in person, but if nothing else a live Twitter feed is a savvy marketing tool – did I find the tweets useful?  Absolutely.  Will I miss the next conference?  Absolutely not.  One of the fears I associate with events of this nature is the cost versus benefit debate.  Will it be useful?  Will I learn anything?  Is it worth the long journey?  Just from seeing the Twitter updates I can answer yes to all of those questions.

Benefits aside, it’s also been a genuinely enjoyable and interesting day (and arguably a refreshing change from my usual celebrity-stalking activities on Twitter!).  The information coming through is compelling, the advice invaluable, and it’s an entire Twitter feed of usefulness.  What more could you ask for?

I particularly enjoyed some of Barbara Trapido’s comments on the writing process – “plots drop onto the page like presents from above” is a particularly freeing notion and I intend to embark on this evening’s writing with that thought burned into my mind.  

Saturday, 4 February 2012

It was all going so well…

This was supposed to be a Writing Weekend.  It was meant to be one of those wonderful weekends when two whole days are lost completely to working on my novel, ignoring anything and all around me - just me, my Ipod and my book. 

After a week spent in a cabin with no noise, no neighbours and no Sky TV, I was off and running, flying through the editing process and feeling pretty good about myself.  I was smugly checking the word count at the end of each chapter and revelling in the hundreds of superfluous words that I’d successfully excised, congratulating myself on finally having broken through my editing horrors.

So at ease with my progress was I that I happily allowed myself a little break last night to do some reading, watch a couple of episodes of The West Wing and prepare myself for The Big Writing Weekend.

Where did it all go wrong?!

It happened sometime between 8.30am and 10am this morning.  The fact that these are not hours I usually experience on a Saturday morning may have been a factor – any other Saturday I would be grieved to be woken before 11am.  This however, was no ordinary weekend.  The Big Writing Weekend called for an early start, and much to the genuine shock of everyone else in the household an early start I had. 

I started off simple – making some notes.  Easy, right?  Em, not really, as it turns out.  Trying to organise my thoughts and ideas on a page seemed harder than leaving bed before noon on a Saturday. 

Then I turned to the book itself, and after reading the first couple of chapters I discovered a rather worrying truth – I have no talent. 

In true melodramatic fashion I announced to my husband that I was retiring from my short (and, ahem, non-existent) career as a writer, citing lack of talent and imminent torching of my manuscript as mitigating factors. 

My husband is mercifully rather more sensible than I am, and took this for what it turned out to be – a petulant fit of self-doubt and a symptom of advice and information overload.  The book has not been set alight (though the shredder was a serious contender for a while there, too) and I will shortly be resuming the editing process at an hour more suited to my serious lack of patience. 

I think too much.  This, I know.  Too often I find the writing process hampered by my being three or four chapters ahead of the one I’m actually working on, and every time I come across another piece of invaluable advice I immediately start to worry about how I can make it work in my story, and then worry some more that I can’t make it work, and then I have a tantrum.  Someone please tell me I’m not the only one…

So, now I have that off my chest it’s time for The Big Writing Saturday Night.  Music please…

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

A Guilty Pleasure?

Amidst the usual news and nonsense on my Twitter feed today I stumbled across this post on the Los Angeles Times blog that reminded me of my third year English teacher.  

During a discussion of an upcoming assignment involving an extended reading report, he outlined the types of books that were acceptable and the type that were not.  Top of the list for unacceptable books was anything written by Stephen King. 

The objection, it seemed, was less to do with the issue of what is or isn’t age appropriate (and believe me the novel I eventually chose for my own report was much darker than any of the King novels I have since encountered) and more related to the “quality” of the work.

I recall that teacher’s words each and every time I pick up a Stephen King novel - and those occasions are not infrequent - and while I have never doubted his good intentions, and I can't help thinking it was just a little bit of snobbery.

In his article, David L. Ulin suggests that Stephen King is often “written off because he appeals to a popular audience.”  If the views of my former English teacher are anything to go by, he’s absolutely right.  The literary world fascinates me in that so many writers strive for commercial success yet when it is achieved they’re often berated for it.  That anyone could be “written off because he appeals to a popular audience” baffles me.

I am not completely ignorant of the reasons for such a view, and it’s true that I am an unabashed Stephen King fan so this ramble is as far from an unbiased point of view as you can possibly get.  It’s also true that I have no aspirations as a book critic – any reviews I offer on a subject are limited to “I liked it/I did not like it and here’s why,” but I confess, I just don’t get it. 

I’m long past counting the books I have read, and returning to a book for a second, third or fourth time (or tenth, eleventh, twelfth) is one of the great pleasures I take from reading. In spite of the spectre of third year English hovering over me, I often find it’s Stephen King’s books that I return to most often.  The reason is simple – I love a good story, and few people tell a story quite like Stephen King.

Some of my King collection

How many of us are afraid of clowns?  And how many of us are afraid of clowns because of Pennywise?  (Now personally I have no issue with clowns, but cornfields are entirely different matter…)

It’s too easy to cite the obvious though.  I could wax lyrical about the iconic King moments (I can practically hear my husband’s ‘don’t get her started’ now) but many have been transformed into cinematic images with varying success and are easy targets for dissenters.  The devil, literally in some cases, is instead in the detail.  When people ask me what I love about a Stephen King novel, that’s usually the answer.  

The detail that brings so many of the characters to life is enough to make the aspiring novelist in me sit down and weep.  I so rarely encounter a character in King’s work who doesn’t feel like a living, breathing person, such is the history and lifestyle crafted around them.  They are often intensely believable characters in unbelievable situations and his horror stories are all the more frightening for it.  Take Under the Dome – a  novel so richly detailed that the events of only a few days require 800 plus pages to unfold and not one of those pages seems superfluous, or The Stand, a genuinely epic novel that even when reading the uncut version I am still left wanting to know more. 

I started reading Needful Things on a flight to Prague and I remember frantically devouring as many pages as possible as the plane made its final descent, more than a little peeved that landing was interrupting my reading.

If I could turn out a novel even half as compelling I'd never complain about anything ever again.  Probably.

In summary, I like Stephen King novels, and that’s why.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Something About Nothing

This week’s news roundup equates to exactly that – something about nothing.  Or nothing about something.  Or something like that.

I know, it’s the most exciting blog post ever, right?

Hmmm.  On my mind this week are resolutions.  Hardly original given the time of year, I’ll grant you, but nevertheless I’ll plod on. 

The whole idea of New Year’s resolutions fascinates me.  Why do we make them?  What is the point?  I’m not sure I buy into the whole idea of a new year and a new beginning, especially when the first week of the new year is almost exactly the same as the last week of the year before.  Actually that’s not even accurate because it’s worse – you no longer have any reasonable excuse to eat chocolate and drink wine at random hours of the day.  (Not that I would, of course.  I’m just saying I could, you know, if I wanted to.)  Yet even without any real understanding of why I’m doing it I’m compelled to make a resolution anyway. 

This year, though, I have so many resolutions I’m practically a whole different person, and I don’t have an original one among them.  Write more.  Watch less television (will never happen).  Exercise more.  Reduce my daily intake of Coca Cola to resemble a normal human being’s.  The usual stuff.

(At least with only one can this week (so far) I’m sort of sticking to the last one.)

I’ve almost convinced myself I’m going to be a ‘new me’ this year.  I did, after all, recently learn to make soup, and I’ve started watching Come Dine with Me.  That right there is already a sign of self improvement.  Next week I’m attempting to master the ability to get out of the bed when the alarm goes off (as opposed an hour later after repeatedly hitting the snooze button), have breakfast and leave the house in an organised, grown up manner. 

I feel my mere consideration of it is already a sign that I’ve grown as a person.

In other news, I have writing guilt.  The printed copy of my manuscript is lying on my desk, staring at me in a mildly accusatory manner each time I pass by the study door.  Every time I open a new tab on my internet browser I’m confronted by a list of bookmarked agent websites and writing pages scowling at me and reminding me that publishing success is not likely gained by lurking around the Disboards and pricing imaginary trips to America.  Even my poor blog title is practically wilting in shame – what happens in Hayden?  Well, erm, not much really, not lately.  But between the Christmas revelry/insanity, soup-making antics, a delinquent bunny and all the resolution-making I can hardly be expected to find the time to write, can I?  So for the sake of my sanity – and my plot – I’ve had a two week hiatus from the painstaking editing process lest the crucial plot points become less about lies and murder and more about the correct ratio of lentils to vegetables.

Thank God it’s January.

Now there’s something I never thought I would say.

Coming soon (probably) – the trials and tribulations of losing the snooze button.