Thursday 30 September 2010

Progress in Writing . . .

I had a pleasent surprise last night. Working away on my current piece, I decided to do a word count. I usually do this periodically to know how far I've got, and it gives me a rough idea how far I have to go.

I don't know how other people work, and there are so many other writers that I know with working formats that I can't get on with. One person writes a novel like a series of short stories and then pieces them together; works perfectly for them. Someone else may not have a plan at all and find it difficult to stick to one. Their characters drift from scene to scene, and both them and the writer have absolutely no idea what's coming around the corner. It can be an exciting way of writing, discovering what fate has in store for your characters, and it can have some amazing results.

But they're not for me. I'm a planner - of sorts. I know the beginning of my story; I know the end of my story; I know important turning points throughout my story, and the parts I have to drift across are the parts inbetween these. I know where my characters are going. I know where they've come from and I know what's in store for them, be it a happy ending or a tragedy. I know it all. I plan. And while I'm working on one piece, I'm planning the next, although most of the planning is done in my head. I actually have very few notes written down.

Oh yes, I have many novels planned for the future, and I know what one is coming next.

My last novel (my 14th...ish) was the first novel where I implented the skills of proper world building. I must have spent well over a year editing it, slowly bringing my world to life, layer by layer. I did spend a long time editing it and putting it through critiques, but I didn't mind this. All my stories are based in this fantasy world called the Lieflunds, and by spending so much time building it, my job has been made easier for my current work.

But because I spent so long in the editing stage as opposed to the writing stage, I found it quite difficult getting back into the swing of writing something new. Because of this I feel that my current novel has suffered somewhat in it's progress. It was never intended to be as long as my last piece, but it still feels like it's taken forever to struggle up to the point where I am now. I'm aiming for the 80k word limit for this piece (not an unreachable limit, by far), but for a long time the ending has seemed so far off.

Imagine my surprise when my word count told me I had reached the 60k mark. What?! Where did the last 30 thousand words come from??

I'm not complaining though, far from it. My 80k aim is now in reaching distance, and with the end climax to look forward to, I'm sure the last 20k words will appear with no hassle at all.

Just goes to show that persistant struggling pays off . . .

Friday 24 September 2010

Pic of the Week . . .

This week's Pic of the Week is by the talented Anne Stokes. This piece is called "Water Dragon" and I thought it apt to help describe the sort of day we are having here.

WET . . .


Anne Stokes - 'Water Dragon'

Thursday 23 September 2010

Movie Review: Robin Hood . . .

We've been going on for the last few weeks about writing book reviews. A colleague of mine is making a big success writing book reviews for Hub magazine and getting his foot in the door of publishing - and a very well done to him. Even though this is actually a good idea, and a way to build a fan base before you even have your beloved work published, I can't help but sit there and think that reviews just aren't for me. And they're not. That's just me being honest.

But I still had to do my homework and write one - despite the fact that it's three weeks over due. Anyway, last night I treated myself to a movie night. I purchased Robin Hood on DVD - yes, the new one with Russell Crowe - and I curled up in my jim-jams on the sofa and pressed play.

Me, personally, I wasn't disappointed, so I thought I'd practice review writing on this. The thing to bare in mind with reviews is that it's the opinion of one person - and people differ, so not everyone will agree with this. In fact not a lot will. I've read some real dismal reviews about this film, and even though some of them state some valid points, I wouldn't go as far as giving it a bad review.


So, what's it all about? A hero coming back from the crusades and robs from the rich to give to the poor? Wrong. The film lacks any of that legendary, romantic hero malarkey - to a point. It's gritty history, not romantic dribble.

Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is an archer on the crusades with King Richard. After the King's death in France, Robin and a few fellow crusaders flea and make a run back for England. On their way they come across an ambush and discover that the party were escorting the King's crown and the news of his death back to the Tower of London. They also manage to catch the dying breath of Lord Loxley, and Robin is made to promise to return the Lord's sword back to his father in Nottingham. Seizing the opportunity, the group pose as Knights and use the crown as their key home.

Alongside all this is the tale of Prince John and his friend Godfrey (Mark Strong). But Godfrey is more than just a friend. He's a traitor to the crown and is liaising with the King of France who is planning an invasion. His scheme is to use the rise in taxes as a way to get the people to revolt against Prince John, thus putting England at war with itself and leaving it open for the French.

But Godfrey didn't count on Robin Longstride.

In Nottingham, Robin is made discover his heritage, is acquainted with Maid Marion (Cate Blanchett) and then discovers the truth behind the invasion. It is he who manages to persuade to people of England not to fight each other, but to unite as a country and stand against the French - which they do and succeed. It is in this battle that Robin finally kills Godfrey, saving Maid Marion in the process. But Prince John is outraged when the people start to hail Robin and not him, thus, in a fit of rage, he classes Robin as an outlaw.

The story line feels like it could be continued, and indeed it could, because this is the point where legend begins; where Robin and his band of merry men hide in the depths of Sherwood Forest, and where they rob from the rich and give to the poor. But never, I feel, has the full reason why Robin was outlawed been truly explored . Now it has, and despite the fact this is still fiction, it paves a perfect path for the legends that we so know and love. And it still has those lovably rogues; the not-so-Little John, Friar Tuck and his love of mead, Will Scarlet, and the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham (who only has a few walk on roles, but a role that paves the way for the bigger role to come).

As for the film itself - I have to agree with some reviews that this isn't Ridley Scott's finest moment. It's no Gladiator. The last battle scene on the shores of Dungeness feels stifled. I'd imagine that if the French were to invade England, they would have had a larger army. The battle itself would have been bigger and bloodier. The scene's main focus isn't the battle itself, but Robin's flight against Godfrey. However, you can't help but be aware of the sparseness of everything around you as the battle to save England supposedly rages on.

I also found it a little odd how everything that happens to Robin is due to coincidence. He promises to take a dying stranger's sword back to his father - coincidence. The stranger's father happens to know of Robin's mysterious heritage - coincidence. The stranger's father and his father plotted together - coincidence. Some people believe everything happens for a reason. There's a name for this: Fate. For those who don't believe in it, it can begin to look a little unbelievable and pretentious.

BUT . . .

Life is full of coincidences. The world back then wasn't as populated as it is now. In a land ruled by one monarchy, why couldn't one Lord know the name of another? So the fact that Lord Loxley Sr knew of Robin's father could very well have happened. That's the thing with this film. It's not filled with the romantic fairy tales we grew up with. It's based on English History. I know it's something that shouldn't be taken as text-book gospel - it is purely fictional - but it's probably closer to the real story of what actually happened 700 years ago than anything else that's been told.

As for the film? I found it enjoyable with a steady pace - and if you're like me who doesn't delve too far into the 'hows' and 'whys' of a plot, who is quite happy to sit there and let the DVD entertain a couple of hours away, then you'll probably like it. I did, and if you ask my opinion? I think the Crowe still has it.


(So, how did my first review go . . . ?)

Friday 17 September 2010

Pic of the Week . . .

I haven't published a Pic of the Week for some time now. Yes, you can slap me down and punish me as you see fit. I deserve it.

Anyway, today I thought I'd go for something a little different. This is a picture that I drew a good few years ago, but I absolutely love it. Basically it's copy of a piece by Leonardo Da Vinci, and is a study of Neptune and four sea horses. The actual piece is very sketchy and very busy. My copy is lot tidier, believe it or not.

I sketched a larger copy of this, framed it, and now have it sitting on a wall in our office. I've never lived the fact down that there's a naked man involved though . . .

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Never Judge A Book By Its Cover . . .

Our theme last night was 'never judge a book by its cover'. Each brought a book with them, we chose one, and then wrote a short piece inspired by the front cover, regardless of what the actual book was about.

The book I chose was 'According To Bella' by Sally Murrer. The actual story is along the themes of a detective novel, but with a journalist doing all the interrogations and fine tooth combing around the murder before the detective could get there.
Strange how my imagination works.

Exercise: Never Judge A Book By Its Cover . . .

The hieroglyphs on the letter didn't make much sense to me - in fact they made little sense at all. To me it looked like a child had grabbed a pen and a piece of paper, and then scribbled something that vaguely looked like one of mummy's letters. Each symbol looked unfinished and unmeaning.

I studied it harder.

Something struck me as wrong with it. The note paper didn't have any creases in it. It was smooth and flawless - except for the precise crease down the middle where it had been folded in half and slipped in the envelope. A child would have creased the paper in its careless attempt to write the letter. This had none of those characteristics.

Something didn't fit.

I studied it even harder.

Working in the spy industry, I'm faced with many conundrums, and it's my job to figure it all out and turn it so it all makes sense. But this one had me baffled. The letter had arrived this morning, opened, and then passed straight to me. "What is it?" they had kept asking. I didn't know. They had to give me time.

And time I had.

I studied.

I studied each hieroglyph carefully. I turned the sheet of paper one way then another, but they all looked the same. Unfinished. After a while something flickered in my head, like a light flickering to life. I wondered what I would find if I held the note under a black light. Heading into another office, I grabbed one and shone it down. The paper glowed blue, but that wasn't the only thing that glowed.

The hieroglyphs completed themselves with white streaks of light. I felt elated with my success at deciphering the note - but then I read it.

It stated that there was a bomb placed somewhere in the building, that there was no use in looking for it because we didn't have time. The rest was a countdown. Five - four - three -

The person who sent this must have known me, must have known that it would be me deciphering it, and must have known how fast my mind works. As I counted down I became the clock, ticking ever closer to the explosive end.

Two -

They couldn't cut any wires in me. They couldn't defuse me. I knew exactly what would happen once I continued, and there was not a single thing I do about it.

One -

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Exercise: Bringing a Setting To Life . . .

I was lucky enough to have a whole week of holiday last week. I spent a week in the sunny West Country known as Devon – even though it was a cheap week because my folks live out there – but none-the-less. We done so much stuff that I can hardly remember any of it, but one thing that did stick in my mind was our drive through Dartmoor. I’m one of those strange people who prefers and appreciates the countryside more than the beach, and for those who are like me I’m sure you’d agree that Dartmoor is a beautiful place.

As we drove past wild moors, littered with thousands of sheep and wild ponies, and rocks and Tors, it really got me thinking about the setting and location of my novel. There’s a section in my story where my two MC’s are travelling across the open plains. Now, I’m ashamed to admit this, but I hadn’t actually put much thought into what this place was actually like. What is there apart from miles and miles of . . . grassy fields? The odd tree dotting the horizon maybe? A rolling hill?

It doesn’t work, does it, and I didn’t realise this until my drive across the moors. It’s supposed to be wild, untamed lands, and I haven’t been pulling it off, so I decided to give it a practice last night, to see if I could bring my lands to life. The exercise was to choose a location in your novel and describe it. This is what I churned out:

Exercise: Bringing a Setting To life . . .

The hill was steep and long, but by the time he made it up to the top it was worth it. The hills were no longer green, but the warm, welcoming shades of purple and yellow, of the heather and the cowslips that blanketed them. Trees dotted the distant hills in gatherings of five or six, their shapes casting individual and interesting shapes against the blue sky.

Behind him, the way he had just come, the hills were levelled and the lands lush and green. The horizon appeared miles away from the altitude that he stood, and he could follow the exact path he had just trekked with his eyes.

The scene in front of him told a different story. The land was rocky, with boulders littering his path. Most boulders were large and obvious to see and steer around, but some hid in the long grass and heathers, promising to make his journey treacherous.

A gathering of rocks sat on a distant peak, piled high as if a man-made structure, but this a natural Tor, and one of many that he was to use as a landmark to direct his way. He was grateful for these Tors, knowing that without them his travels would be difficult. Without them the weeks of crossing the open, rough terrain that sat in front of him would prove fatal, and he would be helpless against being swallowed by the wild expanse . . .

*I got good feedback from this but the one thing I failed to mention was SMELL. This is the one sense that always gets left out, but is an important element to include when trying to bring your world to life. I slap my wrist and promise to use it in my actual writing – but I smile at the fact that I wasn’t the only one to miss it out . . .