My Week In Writing (21/05/17)

20170521_175211Well, first of all the big news: I resigned from my job this week. I’m still hoping to find an entry level position in publishing, but I can’t stomach staying in my current job any longer. Four more weeks and I’m out. Hopefully moving to some kind of temp job. I’m trying not to think about it too much, when I’m not actively job hunting – this level of uncertainty is a terrible thing!

That out of the way: I started reading Summer and marking it up for a final round of edits. So far I’ve found two glaring flaws I’d previously missed, one of which I’m pretty sure has been there since draft one. I have no idea how I missed it for so long! I’m on chapter three, and stalling to do some minor re-structuring.

Settlement 359 has passed 140k and despite my best efforts, I’ve started a part eight, titled Freefall. Things kept getting worse and worse for my protagonist, so I rolled with it and now she’s struggling to recover from mental time travel-enduced amnesia. However, I’m pretty sure part eight will be the last one… I’ve been saying this for a while.

I’ve started work on an entry for Big Finish’s annual short story contest. Torn between two ideas, not sure which is best, and as I don’t have to have a completed story to enter and I can submit more than one, I might as well try and do both.

Speaking of Big Finish, this week I listened to a William Hartnell era Lost Story called The Dark Planet, which was both a fairly typical sixties Doctor Who story, exceptionally dark, more or less impossible to do on film now let along fifty years ago. I’m not surprised it didn’t get made. It’s fascinating listening, though.

This week’s Doctor Who, Extremis, was absolutely phenomenal. Beautifully executed mindscrew and absolutely terrifying – my only concern is how they’re going to top it with the (by the looks of it, more conventional) follow up!

I started reading Darling by Jackie Kay, which is slow going because you can’t just rush through a poetry collection, you have to pause and contemplate, y’know?

Next week, I’m planning to listen to some monthly range Big Finish stories with the Fifth Doctor (my fav!) and start reading The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, the last of my birthday books. Otherwise, I’m job hunting relentlessly.

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How I wrote a novel on purpose: Ash

“The wind’s blowing from the north.”

I don’t say anything. Above us, the sky is solid black, and the wind tastes like smoke.

“That’s a good sign, ye ken. Your mother’s a north witch.”

“I suppose.” I look at my trainers. The toes are scuffed to hell and back. They’re starting to pinch. We were supposed to be going shoe shopping next weekend.

“You’ll be a north, one day.”

I look up at Heather. She’s smiling down at me nicely, her bobble hat pulled low on her head. That soft, sympathetic smile I’m going to be seeing a lot of shortly, and I’m already sick of it. “I guess.”

Up until last November, I’d never done National Novel Writing Month properly. Although it’s not enforced, technically the rules request that you start a completely new project rather than continuing something you’ve already started. Almost all my NaNoWriMos have been continuations of existing projects.

(And before anyone asks: no, of course I didn’t count what I’d already written towards my NaNoWriMo total. I started a new document each time and ‘married’ the sections together later. I don’t know why some people find this difficult to understand!)

Come late October 2016, I had two projects I wanted to work on: my 2015 NaNoWriMo, which was a fairly successful attempt at my ‘big’ novel, and Settlement 359. Both were, at the time, stalling. Neither thrilled me. As late as the first regional meeting, I still hadn’t made my mind up.

Then, on the night of October 30th, I had a dream. My dream went something like this: I was a teenage girl in some kind of magical world. I was sent to live in a big house with several other girls (one was a young Natalie Portman). The house had magical paintings on the walls that were part of a protection spell.

After a spell in the house (ha) I was menaced in the garden by a demon that took the form of a hooded figure. It moved very slowly towards me and it was important that I walk rather than running away, if I wanted to escape alive. After that I was taken out of the house and to somewhere safer.

I woke up, and thought there’s a YA fantasy novel in that dream. Then I thought, this is fate.

So, come November 1st, I started an entirely new novel, with an entirely new fantasy world. I went in with a solid idea of how magic would work in this world and the ‘demon in the garden scene’ as my goal to work towards (I figured it for an act one climax, of sorts).

Otherwise, I was winging it. I threw in new characters whenever I got bored. It’s in a first person voice, which is a first for me in long-form fiction. The central plot twist came to me in the bathroom at work. It was all very exciting.

I wrote about 70k during the month of November and this past January I finished it off, bringing it up to 83k, which isn’t too bad for a rough first draft.

What’s it about? This is the ‘official’ blurb at present:

Ash’s mother is a witch. Ash’s mother has disappeared. Locked in a safehouse for young witches, Ash tries to make sense of what has happened and of her destiny, but the force that took her mother is closing in, and a snap decision to protect a human girl threatens to break everything apart.

It’s structured, I hope, a bit like an unfurling flower. It opens in a world very like ours, but with the occasional witch. Each bit of new information given about witches, their origins, and their powers, renders the world they live in stranger and more alien. About halfway throught, the main character and her friends journey into the Land of Fairy and it just gets weirder from there.

Ash is on hold at present, until after I finish editing my other novel… and writing my other other novel… you get the picture. But it was a lot of fun to write and I’m very pleased with the result – looking forward to writing that second draft, just as soon as I have the time.

“This is Fairy, Ash. Anything is possible.”

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My Week In Writing (14/05/17)

20170512_155627I’m in Berlin! I’m writing this in my hotel room, with a view of a rather orange abstract nude painting. My window looks out over downtown.

I’m here with my parents, primarily to look at museums. We’ve done the Neues, for Egyptian artefacts, and seen the very famous Nefertiti. We’ve done the Altes, for Greek and Roman stuff, and seen the Severan Tondo, which I was excited about, my stepdad was interested in, and my mum, I think, was just sort of confused by.

We did the Pergamon, which was a touch disappointing because as it turns out, the Altar of Zeus plus a whole wing of the museum is under long term refurbishment – but there’s still a lot of very exciting stuff to see.

And then we had a look around the Bode, where we saw some more recent (ie, after the fall of Rome) sculpture, including a Donatello that we had to chase all around the renaissance galleries in search of!

We’ve always been around the cathedral – me and my mum climbed the dome while my stepdad stayed on the ground, being afraid of heighs and in possession of a dodgy knee. I probably should have stayed with him, cause it turns out the stairs up to the dome are far more nerve-wracking than I’d expected. The way up wasn’t so bad. Down was harrowing.

20170513_123140We stopped by Checkpoint Charlie, mostly to have a nose around and take some pictures – we didn’t do the museum but did have a look around the shop, which has the most surrel array of Berlin Wall themed tourist tat. I bought a piece of the wall. Or I think I did. No way to tell if it’s genuine wall or a bit of some other wall.

We’ve also had some very nice cake, admired some modern architecture, and stopped by the Haagan Dazs shop (twice).

Other things I’ve done this week: I made some good progress on editing Summer. It’s on hold till I’m back in the UK, but I’m finally starting to feel like I can actually make it into a good book.

I’m trying to keep up with Settlement 359, but it’s slow going because I don’t have the energy, and because I’ve reached a tricky bit.

I finished reading The Circle Opens and I have three out of four reviews posted on Goodreads. And I read Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay, which was a fascinating and moving read.

Next week, I’m going back to Scotland, catching up on some TV I missed, and for one reason or another, I’m not thinking much beyond that.

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Review: The Cat Returns

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(Note: between job interviews and anthology submissions, no time to write a proper blog post this week. So, here’s one I made earlier –  ie, dug out of my drafts from 2013.)

Whisper of the Heart was a reasonably complex and original coming of age story with a perfect blend of fantasy and realism – but evidently the most popular part was the dapper talking cat, Baron Humbert von Gikkingen, for he got a kitty-themed film all to himself.

It’s a much shallower film than its predecessor, with less detailed animation and a straightforward fairytale plot. Schoolgirl Haru saves a cat from being hit by a truck. The cat transpires to be the Prince of Cats, and his father, the Cat King, is so grateful than he insists Haru take the prince’s paw in marriage. Not enthused at the prospect of marrying a cat, Haru seeks the help of the Cat Bureau. Therein enters the Baron, a living cat figurine who is determined to save Haru before she is transformed into a cat forever…

It’s pretty standard children’s fantasy far, with a lot of kitties – and I mean a lot. If you’re a cat person you will probably like this film. If you’re not a cat person you might come out of it hating them.

The ending is something of a disappointment, with Haru having grown as a person by virtue of… I don’t know, adventure? And cats? But it’s worth a watch, partly for the star-studded English dub (Anne Hathaway as Haru, Tim Curry as the Cat King, Cary Elwes as the Baron) and partly because it’s pure kitty-filled fun.

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My Week In Writing (7/5/17)

20170430_205810To be quite honest, I’ve had a hellishly busy week – two job interviews + a meeting to discuss volunteering + an anthology deadline. And then next week, I have two more job interviews! And after that I’m going to Berlin. So, that’s going to be a fun ride.

Settlement 359 is now sitting just shy of 132k and I really hope it’s coming up on the climax, though as I’m still not 100% sure what said climax is I really don’t know. But I am coming up on a scene I flashed forward to earlier in the novel, which is always exciting.

Summer is coming along nicely as well. I made a proper list of all the edits I still need to make and I’m working on 1-2 a night. I’m optimistically aiming to get this draft done in a month or so.

I submitted my story for The Temporal Logbook II. I’m not 100% satisfied with the finished product – I only managed to find one person to read it at such short notice and he found it confusing, which is a difficult criticism to take on board because it was supposed to be confusing. Just, in a good way. I hope.

I started re-reading The Circle Opens by Tamora Pierce. I got through Magic Steps and Street Magic, the two I read when I was a kid, and now I’m moving into new territory with Cold Fire. Once I’m done with all four, I’ll finally be done with all my Christmas books (hurray!)… and I’ll be able to move onto the books I got for my birthday. Starting with Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay.

I didn’t listen to as much audio stuff as usual, because I only worked a couple of days this week, but I did start listening to the third season of Jago & Litefoot, which in a delightful twist also features Tom Baker-era companion Leela. I’m about halfway through now and it’s probably my favourite season so far.

And I listened to The Children of Seth, part of their Lost Stories range. It’s by Christopher Bailey, who wrote some of my favourite Doctor Who serials (Kinda and Snakedance) and like his other stories, it’s dizzyingly confusing. I’m still not sure if I liked it or not.

Next week I’m hoping to finish The Circle Opens and listen to The Masters of Luxor, another lost story, this time from the William Hartnell era. And I’m going to Berlin, to see some museums and (I hope) eat some cake.

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My Week In Writing (30/4/17)

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The view from my window

April’s almost over – insert obligatory ‘can’t qite believe we’re four months into 2017 already!’ here.

Settlement 359 is now sitting at around 125k and rising and has somehow managed to grow another character, the delightfully named Georgiana Polymer Grace. Over a couple of days I went from ‘what are my characters going to do once they’ve broken into this base’ to ‘how would a pair of sixteen year olds blend in, can I justify a party of schoolchildren’ to ‘this party of schoolchildren is absolutely essential to my protagonists arc’. So that’s always a fun process to go through.

I have this very strong feeling that Georgiana Polymer is going to play some kind of role in the sequel. So far, I have no idea what the sequel will be about, but I know Settlement 359 isn’t a standalone, and I know I have characters I want to do more with (for example: Grover G, Lulu the kidnapped preacher’s daughter, the Ship Thinker). I’m equal parts excited to see where this goes and utterly terrified at the prospect of having to come up with 1-2 more books worth of plot…

I finished marking up Summer, so now I’m scrolling through the comments picking one a day to try and fix. Which is a slightly confusing way to edit, and I’ll probably have to spend a couple of weeks going over it chapter by chapter again pretty soon.

I’m also planning on moving around some of the chapter breaks, which means some moderate restructuring. I just plain don’t have the energy for that right now.

I started my Temporal Logbook submission, working-titled ‘The Tower’, which is now sitting at 7500-ish words. Which is to say, almost over the upper word limit, and maybe three quarters done. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that editing it will be manageable-ish. Hoping to have it written by the end of the long weekend, at the very latest.

I went to the Literary Salon at the Wash Bar, where I heard a talk about libraries and realised (to my shame) that I don’t actually have a library card. So, I should probably do something about that – just a matter of deciding which library I want to register with, I guess.

This week I finished reading Popshot: The Future Issue and reviewed it on Goodreads. I also read Slade House by David Mitchell and The Word for World is Forest by Ursula Le Guin (both short, both gripping). Got some notes for reviews but they’re both pretty heavy. Next week I’m switching to something lighter – I’m going to re-read The Circle Opens by Tamora Pierce.

I listened to the second two stories in Big Finish’s Raine Creevey trilogy: Animal, which was very 1989 Doctor Who so thumbs up there, and Earth Aid which is basically Doctor Who does Star Trek, with Ace Mcshane as Captain Kirk. Overall, I really strong trilogy of stories (even if none of them were outstandingly good) and Raine’s a fantastic companion. However, lots of questions left unanswered, and Big Finish’s continuity being as confusing as it is, I honestly don’t know if they get picked up in another story or not.

I also listened to season two of Jago & Litefoot, one of Big Finish’s many (MANY) Doctor Who spin offs. This one’s about George Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago, a pair of very popular supporting characters from The Talons of Weng-Chiang, a very popular Tom Baker story.

I have… complicated feelings about Jago & Litefoot. The show itself is great fun and both lead characters are a delight, but it belongs to this genre of light-hearted Victoriana that always makes me vaguely uncomfortable (I don’t like the Victorians – I’m writing a novel set in a Victoria fantasy world because I hate them). But that’s probably something I should save for a full review!

I’m still enjoying the new season of Doctor Who. Bill’s great, Peter Capaldi is on point as always, and so far we’re three for three on really good stories (and these last two had only minimal Matt Lucas!).

Next week, I’m planning to go to Inky Fingers, and (hopefully) workshopping a very strange sci-fi story with my writing group. I also have two job interviews, though, so I might be too busy for either.

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How I accidentally wrote a novel

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The only copy of The Challenge

In July of 2016, I was in that awkward place of wanting to start a new story, but having no new ideas. I cast about for an old idea I might be able to put down on paper – and all of a sudden, remembered a sci-fi story I wrote for my GCSE English coursework. I remembered it involved time-travelling aliens, a desert, and a pretty cool used future aesthetic.

Trouble was, on investigation it turned out I’d erased my copy together with all of my old schoolwork. Well, I’d got the idea in my head now. I figured I’d just try and do it again, from memory, and see where it took me.

End result: 120,000 words and counting YA science fiction novel. I didn’t mean to write a novel. I just wanted to start a new longish short story.

This isn’t even the first time. When I sit down intending to write a novel, it fizzles out after a few pages. Almost all my novels have come about after deciding to write a thing… you know, a thing, just something, no pressure. Just write a thing. Suddenly, the thing is 200,000 words long, and I don’t know how it happened.

My sci-fi novel is work-titled Settlement 359 (which I’ll almost certainly change). It’s a story about Cobey H, a 16-year-old human-alien hybrid living on a desert planet that used to be an oil colony owned by an outerspace superpower descended from the USA. There’s a conspiracy, and an interstellar war, and a lot of hybrids with superpowers, and around about act two it all goes a bit Slaughterhouse 5 (one the time travel kicks in).

And it’s pre-novel history is pretty interesting. I through this idea around a couple of times, before committing to it and turning it into something unrecognisable.

The Challenge

I remember I was dead set on writing sci-fi for my English Language coursework. Screw literature, I wanted to have fun and be honest about myself and what I write. I’d also just got done watching Firefly and wanted to write something with a similar vibe.

The first version of The Challenge was about some kids travelling to an abadoned space station and it was basically a haunted house story in space. Which now I look back on it, is actually a pretty fun idea, but it didn’t go anywhere. At some point I realised I had no actual plot, put it aside, and started over.

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A space map

Same title (which might have been part of the assignment? I honestly don’t remember), same aesthetic, totally different story. The second version of The Challenge was about a girl called Callie who lives in a blended human-alien community. Callie has some alien genes, and shares their time travel powers. She spends the story trying to convince the alien priest to let her participate in their coming of age rite, which involves a select group of young people travelling back to the foundation of their society.

Like I said, I deleted my only digital copy, but while clearing out my childhood bedroom, I found a hard copy complete with notes in the margin from my teacher. It’s alright, considering. There’s a pretty glaring structural issue and the used future aesthetic I wanted so badly doesn’t even figure that highly, and the time travel doesn’t make a lick of sense – I remember being acutely aware of that last problem at the time. I’d kind of glad I didn’t get to re-read it before starting the novel. Might have put me off.

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Visual development for the webcomic that didn’t happen

I think I meant to make it a longer story, but at some point I accepted that I was never going to write it, because I adopted the setting (at some point dubbed Marikesh) for another project I was writing, a romance story set in an outerspace monarchy. I wanted it to contain several planets, and grabbed a ready-made one. At one point it was going to be a webcomic, so I have a lot of drawings for it, but that never got off the ground. I never intended for Marikesh to really appear in the story, and it didn’t.

But the romance story did focus on the ramifications of being an interspecies hybrid, which is the central theme of the novel I ended up writing.

Settlement 359 has not been an easy ride. For some reason, I only recently realised that when writing a novel one doesn’t actually have to include all the minutiae of one’s protagonist’s life, so the early sections are, er, a bit padded.

Cobey H spends a lot of the novel stuck in a rut, and not even really trying to get out. She’s a difficult protagonist, one who dodges the call to adventure at every turn because she just doesn’t want any trouble, you know? When she finally goes, she quite literally goes kicking and screaming. Why did I write her that way? I honestly don’t know, but I think it’ll work. I hope it’ll work.

Right now, I’m in part 7, Endgame, which should involve the climax, which should lead into a happy ending. I’ll keep you posted.

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