Full Steam Ahead, Cap’n!


I’m a father of two small boys.  Which means, almost inevitably, I know certain TV shows and films off by heart.

I had a hunch this would be the case when Child #1 was born, so I made the vow that these films would be Pixar films.  I love Pixar, let’s just get this out of the way now.  They have not done a damn thing wrong.  They even took NASCAR and made it interesting, which is on the far side of impossible.  No other studio could take a character who says only two words through a whole film and inject him with so much, well, character.


Anyway, I had my attention brought to a series of Tweets from Emma Coats, one of Pixar’s story board artists of guidelines she learned from the guys at Pixar when she joined them.  It’s fortuitous that these come just as I’m stalling with the novel, and the answer was so head scratchingly obvious I needed it in 140 characters for me to see it (it was Point #7 in case you were wondering).

I needed more plotting.  I had a ‘you know what would be cool?’ setting, and it is cool and will fight to the death anyone who claims otherwise, and a kick arse start, but found myself floundering at 50,000 words, with only the vaguest of ideas where I was going.

I’ll stop waffling here and post Emma’s rules.  If I ever meet her I owe her a drink.

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.


Head Slappingly Obvious


So here’s the position I’m in right now.  I’m a beginner writer.  I’ve written… god knows how many short stories, had  a few published, one aborted novel (and to invoke His name again, I hope to god no one ever finds its tracks), half a YA novel (temporarily shelved, not abandoned), and a full novel.  That i put to one side as it was missing a certain something, and that, i recognised in a rare moment of clarity, was context.  It needed its own world to be set it.

So, I set about novel number two.

And this si where I’ve stalled.  40,000 words in, and I’m struggling.  I’ve written another 5 short stories this past month, and that’s because I’me trying to avoid the elephant in the room that is the problem novel.

I’d admitted to myself there were two problems to it, that I was just hitting mental block after mental block.  Nothing huge, just feelings of setting and the purpose of specific dialogue, and then, like it was meant to be, i came across this.  A piece from the lovely Rachel Aaron on how she increased her daily word count from 2 to 10 thousand words.  It was like she was speaking to me (or at least 33% of me, the ‘timing’ section I know is beyond my ability to organise myself) on planning scenes and cutting out the bits you don’t enjoy writing.  I mean, it is so obvious, a real ‘trees for the forest for the bark’ moment.  Why should anyone read them if I didn’t even want to write them.

I’m seriously questioning if I’ve overstretched myself with this novel.  I still don’t know how its supposed to end, god knows how many characters and three main viewpoints across a continental-wide war half based on actual events….but 40,000 words is too many to throw away.  I’ll be taking time to remap out what I’m writing and I will damn well finish this gosh darn book!

And when I do I’m going to email Rachel and thank her.  You see if I don’t.




Like many I was hanging out for the Venutian passage of the sun yesterday, and was also one of those dissapointed by total cloud cover.  Luckily NASA had me covered with their live feed, but the Japanese space agency went one further with this super hires shot.  Enjoy.


Don’t be so Bloody Obvious


Way back when, when I was a wee nipper, probably the eighties so there’s a chance a mullet was involved, I remember watching a Sherlock Holmes film.  I can’t remember the name, nor even who played Holmes, and I’m pretty certain is a ‘inspired by the tales of Arthur Conan Doyle’ more than an adaptation of one of the stories, but a scene from it has stayed with me since.

It was towards the end, when we find out the mastermind was really one of the gentlement helping Holmes with the investigation, but really he was forging money on the side for…. I dunno, unicorn training possibly.  Anyway, the scene opened with him and his henchman on a hackney cab being dropped off on some suitably misty docks.

“That’ll be tuppence ha’penny,” says the cabby.

“Here you go,” says the arch villain, and hands over some paper money.  “Keep the change.”

“Cor blimey, guvnor!  That’s more money than I seen in my bleeding’ life!  Gaw bless ya!”

“It’s quite all right,” says the villain, “I print me own,”  Cue knowing laugh.

Then the henchman leans over and cuts the driver’s throat.

No, even back then when little Mikey was watching in his Ghostbusters jammies something struck me as wrong there.  We were supposed to believe that this man, up until now a perfectly level, likeable gent, had a sinister, sociopathic side he somehow managed to hide from the world for 50 years.  Which is fine, I suppose, it could happen.  Has happened in real life, but then we also have to believe he would do something so unnecessarily cruel as to have  useless exchange, a baseless quip and then kill someone for no reason?

I’m assuming the director needed a way visually demonstrate this guy was now the baddie.  Which is fine.  Unnecessary, but fine, given ti had already been established, but it destroyed the believability of a character set up over the course of the film.

I’ve been thinking about this recently as I’ve been listening to A Feast for Crows, the , oooh, fourth book in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire?  I think it’s the fourth, the audio books are split into two and I get confused easily.  Anyway, the character of Brienne.  We meet her in the second book, and she plays heavily in the third, and in both she’s  a strong, feisty and more than capable character who proves herself to be one of the best one on one fighters in the kingdom.

Great!  Finally a strong female fantasy character who doesn’t have to open her legs to get what she wants!

But in AFFC Martin goes and changes everything.  You see, poor Brienne is crippled by doubt.  Literally in some cases.  It started off intriguing, it being a counter point to the women we came to know in the previous two books, and added depth to the character.  But it quickly overwhelms her, so completely she’s unrecognisable as the same woman who beat the supposed best swordsman in the world and fought halfway across a country at war to deliver a prisoner.

A character is a living, breathing person, at best, a hook for a plot device at worst, but using the first to do the second destroys the work of a hundred thousand words.



Getting Edumacated


I’m a big fan of the Writing Excuses podcast.  It’s definitely a must-listen for any beginner writer out there, and it was also an introduction to me for the writings of Brandon Sanderson.  I’m in an odd position that I find myself a fan of Sanderson without actually reading any of his novels.  I enjoyed his short story in the Armored anthology from JJ Adams, but I feel after listening to him expound on the craft and approaches of writing so much I cna’t help but feel respect for the man.

Anyway, I’m saying this because I had a series of YouTube videos brought to my attention.  They’re a collection of classes Brandon gave to his college class on creative writing.  There’s a fair few hour’s worth of material here for people to listen to, and I already have, and if there’s a way to download them I will for future reference.

To Clutter or not to Clutter?


I’m a fairly spartan person.  I don’t know if this is natural or not, I mean I ache to buy a toy Warthog (of the HALO variety, not a pig) but I know it will just be something more to dust.

However, I may have been won over by New Crobuzon tube maps!

New Crobuzon tube map from society6.com

The talented people at society6.com have these for sale now, and I’m thinking this just may be a purchase for our new digs.  We’ll see if I can slip it past the missus.

In other news I’ve been a productive little writer.  Four short stories written, edited and submitted in three weeks is not bad, although O realise now it was an attempt by me to avoid working on the novel.  I subconsciously reached a point I knew I had to face I did not have a proper ending for a single book, just a jumper-ending to book 2, which will not help a first time novelist sell an MS.

Rather than be grown up and admit it, however, I of course stuck my head in the sane and wrote some short stories.  Time to get back on that horse, I think.  Wish me luck.


Think of Your Support Network


I follow on Twitter several of those motivational writer quote type accounts.  You know the ones, the ‘it’s not the size of the author at the typewriter, but the flavour of the paper’ type sayings.  I’ll be level with you, I’m not 100% certain I got that right, but the sentiment remains.

Anyway, one that continues to crop up is “marry someone you love and who thinks you being a writer is a good idea”, and this is something I agree with from the heart of my bottom.  I couldn’t have got to where I am today, which, as we’re being honest, isn’t exactly measured in light years yet, with the missus.  Not only does she provide the support and back I need to sit down for a quiet hour and bang out some words, but her and my boys are the reason I write.

I’ll never be  captain of industry, the regulations in Australia mean I’ll never be a firefighter, and I’m too honest to be a politician, but I want them to be proud of me, and I want my boys to have an example of ‘if you want something badly enough, and are willing to work hard enough, you can get it.’

I just wanted to say that.




PS – of course this post becomes null and void when I can’t get the wife to go to see the Avengers with me because it’s not a romcom.  We’ll just have to settle for The Woman in Black.  I told her it was based The Lady in Red…

Learning My Place


I’ve made no secret I have something of a man crush on Adam Nevill.  Or rather, on his writing.  Anyone who hasn’t read Banquet for the Damned, Apartment 16 or The Ritual is really doingthemselves a disservice.  His writing is visceral in a way I can only hope o imitate, and if the world is just he will become recognised as one of those writers whom the literati pretend don’t exist because it negates their arguments that genre authors can’t write.

Anyway, he has a new novel coming out next month, and the reviews I’ve read so far say Last Days is one step ahead of his last The Ritual.  If this is true I’m going to be a happy (and scared) reader.  So to warm myself up I went looking for some interviews with Nevill, and as i so often do after reading writers such as him or China Mieville express their thoughts, I come away feeling stupid.  How could I ever hope to emulate such a talented writer, and who am I to presume to even try?

Well I try because I’m too hard headed not to, and I always like it when I think I’m pissing someone, somewhere, off.

Anyway, please share my excitement.  Here’s a portion of the interview with Nevill from the fine people over at Spooky-Reads.com.

You’ve talked elsewhere about the real and perceived threat of physical violence present in society today, in other interviews, the nature of the Anglo Saxon condition. Here in the forest in The Ritual you still have a micro-culture represented, and despite ‘friends’ together, violence propagating. Luke clearly has anger management (amongst other issues) but do you see the violence a product of our times – impatience/instant reaction without thought – or as stemming from deeper cultural/atavistic seat?

A good question, and a big one. Violence is ever present, as is its potential to explode. Its causes are manifold. Its seat is embedded in human nature; we weaned ourselves on the genocide of other primates. Our continuing propensity for violence demotes us, in my opinion, down the hierarchy of the animal kingdom.

I think it’s why my stories stray into anthropomorphism and animism, because it’s a good way of depicting our grotesqueness. And there are so many circumstances that still seem to provoke violence; in fact, wherever more than one person gathers, it’s possible. And when we’re alone, even suicide and self-harm are possible.

We are assaulted for being young, old, attractive, unattractive, for being male or female, for leaving the house at the wrong time, for being black, brown and white; we’re assaulted because we have what someone else wants, we’re assaulted for being strangers, we’re assaulted because someone is frustrated, or angry, or aroused and derives pleasure from our distress, we’re assaulted because we are defenceless, or because Rangers loose to Celtic, or we’re at home when someone wants our laptop … and on and on and on.

How can we ever get to the bottom of this? A significant portion of humanity either has no conscience, or easily suppresses it. Another portion doesn’t think about consequences and seems to commit it out of recreation or a perverse sense of revenge for being disrespected. Yet another believes anything is justifiable in the pursuit of its self-interest. Another significant section was brutalised in childhood. For others it becomes the focus of their territorial and caste culture. Or, it can be a form of status. It goes on and on. The reasons for it are manifold.

Throughout history, the educated and civilised have also thrown their hat into the ring, repeatedly; invested and intellectualised their frustrations into scapegoats, demonised them and slaughtered them on grand scale. The ordinary will become complicit in political murder from behind a desk to maintain their position within a hierarchy. Violence becomes the discourse too easily, is almost legitimised around alcohol. There is a terrible irrational momentum in humanity that seems too easily roused, especially in group dynamics.

I’ve dealt with only a few areas of violence, for instance in Apartment 16 where it is recreational and random and unpredictable in modern Britain where repressed hostility is loosened so quickly by alcohol. A few years ago in a pub near where I live, a man was murdered inside the bar for complaining about another patron smoking a joint; eighteen people were arrested for the killing. We see the stats, but can you imagine the savagery in a supposedly civilised country? Eighteen people destroyed a stranger with their hands and feet. Even in Norway, the show home of the West, a subculture of young people murdered each other, then strangers randomly, and burned churches in the nineties.

From the streets and wars of the first world to genocide in the developing world; humanity is a force of violence. I’m speaking out loud and shouldn’t have to remind anyone of this. After all, tragically, it could probably be argued that human rights are a minority interest for the west. When will we evolve?

I think, increasingly, we also live in pathological times here in the west and that’s what feeds my concepts as a writer: a competitive, time-pressured, having-it-all culture driven by greed, resentment, and the show of me. There is something particularly vulpine and petulant about the violence that comes from it – whether it’s a woman scarring another for life with a champagne flute, or teenagers killing one of their peers who looked in their direction or allegedly said something to someone else etc..

The predictability is tedious. Doesn’t seem to take much provocation these days for someone to lose an eye, or worse. I’ve always thought it was a last resort to be pulled out when your own life was in genuine danger. Apparently not. And I’ll clearly never run out of material because of it. I sometimes wonder why all books aren’t about violence? And yet writing about the horrors of violence is most often seen as trite, or low brow. Well, as a species we are mostly trite and low brow.

Guilty Pleasures


I have a rule a try to follow.  Well, actually, I have several, such as ‘do not slap the guy ahead of you on the pavement upside the head for walking at a glacial pace’, but the one I’m referring to now is just as hard to keep.  This rule is; I try to read one book I really, really, want to reasd, followed by one I feel I should read.  The decision on what I should read is based on prevailing attitudes in the literary press and recommendations.  I do hold that all writers should read a lot and read widely, however kids and work, plus writing itself, means the amount of time I can actually read is tiny compared to a few years ago.

Which leads to moments of weakness like I’m having now.

I have just finished ‘Descent of Angels’ by Mitch Scanlon, book, um six, I think, in Games Workshop’s Horus Heresy series.  The series is pure IP geekiness, I’ll admit to that.  And the different novels’ quality varies from author to author, from the creative giant Dan Abnett and down.  ‘Descent of Angels’ was one of the better books, and I enjoyed the ride, putting it on the shelf after the last page and picking up my next read, in this case ‘Atonement’ by Ian McEwan.  I’ve found I’m a fan of McEwan’s without actually reading any of his novels, thanks to reading and watching numerous interviews, and have two books of his on my shelves.  Of the two, Atonement has the better reviews, so that one t was….. until I realised the next book in the Heresy series was another by Dan Abnett.

It took me all of 27 seconds to decide that time is short and books are not.

I’m loving the book, bythe way.  Abnett can set the scene of a war within a page.  The man’s a genius.