A Plague of Ladybirds: I haven’t written Fight Club.

This blog does need a picture or two.  Perhaps, once the drudgery of 3rd draft chapter edits are done, I can get back to some full time screwing around.

Chapter Nine has quickly followed on the coat tails of Chapter Eight.  You would hope so wouldn’t you.  Since writing ‘Le Moine Perdu’ I have been looking forward to these two final chapters.  They are the punchline to the set-up, the icing on the cake, the pus from the zombie’s pustulating sores, the final disconnect in a broken chain of madness…blah blah blah.  My point is (was) I’ve been looking forward to seeing how the book ends.

It’s strange to be getting close to sitting back and viewing it as a whole again.  It’s slightly disconcerting too.  Last time, in 1st draft mode, the panoramic view of the novel was one of a limp ended collection of fun roller coaster ride stories.  I’m hoping I have stitched them closer together, made them recognise and be familiar with each other…call themselves a novel.  I doubt they’ll want to jump into bed together and make babies just yet…I suspect I’m several revisions (and a lot of high powered – and expensive – help) away from that point.

The confidence has grown in that I think the two years I’ve spent on the book could now be condensed into a much shorter time.  I think I have improved.  I don’t think I would make the same 1st draft errors I used to make.  – Please don’t judge this mistyped, unedited blather of made up words as evidence of my improvidality.

The nuts and bolts?  Well after the 1st draft, some people reported missing the entire point of this chapter.  So this time through I tried to make it clearer, without spoon feeding the reader.  I eliminated a lot of useless and misdirecting text and really worked on Charles’s speeches.  Going forward from here, the art of allowing the reader to close the book, as in connect all the dots, will be an ongoing trauma…I believe.  I really don’t want to be asked to hand over all of it’s secrets.  That would be condescending to the reader.  Yet, equally, I would have just created a paperweight if I’m too vague.

Things for me to consider – make Ernest’s voice his own.  – Does the chapter title still hold?  …it is after all, only a “touch” of Medeas??

…on that, I removed a whole heap of symbolism after being subjected to another writer’s ghastly effort.  She was quite proud of her references, both symbolic and blatant – they struck me as a cheap pose.  I’m, most likely, equally rubbish for many other reasons – ‘Fight Club’ I have not written – but at least it’s one less thing I can despise myself for.  Ending on controversy and bitchiness hey…woof!!

I needed pictures?  Well following on the theme…At the 3rd draft stage, I am one of the following (Neither of which is a beautiful and unique snowflake):

Edward Norton - Fight Club

Brad Pitt - Fight Club

Please, someone, guess the right answer…

A Plague of Ladybirds: Somewhere between confusing and simplistic.

March has been frantic – but not just for writing.  I finished most of the 3rd draft editing at the beginning of the month…and then accidentally opened a games business.  As a result there was no time to do anything more on Chapter 8 until the last few days.

‘The Ersatz Script’ has several scenes that I really enjoy.  There’s the theme of nature, there’s more Victorian Gothic architecture and a stunning brunette in a silky dress.  These are the things one hopes will be made into a movie…choose your own favourite…I know mine.  I had to rely on my train expert cousin (Stuart) once again, to ensure my carriage/cabin/compartment references were correct.  Suspicion was also drawn towards tattooing a cat.  I heard rumour that this practise would kill a feline and had to back it off to a henna tattoo…because the idea of a tattooed cat was too good to abolish completely.

In returning to edit this chapter, I had to trust in myself.  I know that when I did the first draft, I invested a lot of time ensuring the dates, days and times were all accurate.  So returning to edit with a view to correcting grammar and story telling I didn’t need to distract myself with these aspects of the story.  The chapter jumps around a bit – hopefully in a fun way that the reader enjoys following – it’s always a risk.  Somewhere in between “Massively Confusing” and “Simplistic” will be fine for me.

I note that on many editing occasions I am in a creative mood.  When this happens, the edit turns paragraphs into glorious tapestries of narrative.  I walk away from these editing sessions with a feeling of achievement.  I also worry that the whole book needs this treatment.  I wonder if there needs to be an ebb and flow of these type of scenes.  Another ongoing concern is that the manuscript is moving too quickly and that scenes need more time.  On occasion, it seems to me that each sentence is an action rather than nuances around the action.  Again, if the narrative needs to be expanded upon this book could end up at 250,000 words!  …and require another 4 years work.

Whilst I didn’t reference my notes on this chapter I note plenty of easter eggs…some of which I recall…others I hope a reader will surprise me with in 20 years.

Something which remains in stasis about this chapter is the degree to which Henry and Poppy hold Charles culpable for the evil doings around their house.  He has to be responsible for many but not all the events.  I’m wary of branding him with the label of guilt, only to have to undo the brand later.  It’s not really a twist if I tell the reader one thing and then untell them later.  This being said, Henry and Poppy ARE unreliable narrators at this stage…more balancing, it’s got to be enjoyable…right?

Well, I have a week off over Easter and I’m already on my final read through of Chapter 9!  The problem will be that I anticipate a return to Chapter 8.  There are the novel sized exposition points to make in these final three chapters and I want them to be woven into the narrative in a comfortable manner.  It’s so exciting to be near the end of the book.  The delivery of the twists will be key to it all working.  Perhaps, once it’s done, I will read through the book several times to iron out the plot before giving it to an audience to see if it’s confusing/simplistic.

 

A Plague of Ladybirds: Houdini through a keyboard.

Finished the 3rd draft edit for ‘The Butcher’s Tale’ in 24 days.  I think the panic came after dawdling through January.  It also helped that this chapter wasn’t heavy on introducing the new story threads.  Most of all, I think it went quickly because I love this story.  It’s the Chapter following the story that inspired the novel.  (Please note that that story is sub-first draft level work…until further notice).

I’ve often responded to the question, “Why are you writing a book?” with the same answer.  Whilst editing this chapter I realised I have a new answer: To Escape.  Work has been shitty.  The business has been shitty…everything seems shitty.  Disappearing into the world of Greysham and trying to get inside Henry’s head is an absolute tonic for this.  So how much is that worth?  If the book never gets published, I’ll never get the fame and money all the non-writers think I’m doing it for.  If it never get’s published I will get the fun of sharing it with others and HOPEFULLY giving them some entertainment, a thrill, a ride…  But this book helps me stay sane.  It reminds me that all the nonsense that goes on really means nothing.

In this chapter, Henry realises this too; it’s all nonsense.  He also thinks he can just leave.  It’s all a choice, we can all leave our lives for something else.  How many of us do though.  It’s the dream that keeps us going.

Once again, this chapter is heading to the UK for my cousin to read.  He’s a whiz on the railway system over there and has helped me in the past.  I’m hopeful he’ll be able to help me polish up the railway-bits.  Bogies, couplings, carriages and guard’s vans are foreign to me…I can’t even type carriages; only “carraiges”

I’m polishing up my Twitter profile as a writers version of myself.  This is hard.  There’s not much to write about as a writer.  …and I don’t want to be “myself” too much just yet.  He’s liable to say something really stupid and repel interested writer-types (that’s if the rest of me doesn’t already do that!)

And finally, in this month, Ewan McGregor is in town!  I’ve long said I imagine him in the role of Henry, so now people are encouraging me to stalk him with a crumpled, 3rd draft version of my novel in my white-knuckled fist.  It’s nae gonnae happen.  If he ever reads it, I hope it will be through the right channels.  I have no wish to approach him like a rabid fan…otherwise, he will probably think I am a rabid fan.

…now if Eva Green or Emily Blunt were in town…
(They’d be Poppy, for those of you playing at home!)

A Plague of Ladybirds: Once bitten, edit!

Momentum.  It’s all about momentum.  I finished work for two week’s leave and put down my editing chisel.  Christmas happened and the New Year started.  What failed to follow was the 2012 editing frenzy.  As January 2013 passed me by I became more and more convinced that the task ahead was too tough.  Surely, I’ve forgotten too much about the book now.  How can I edit something without a thorough knowledge of what has gone before?  My deadline approached and the fear of failure sunk its teeth in.

Fortunately, the fangs of failure are more motivating than the allure of laziness.  I grumbled about this to a colleague who, on a drive one day, was kind enough to listen to my gripes.  I verbalised what I was stuck on: Why was Henry doing X, what would Roland be doing in response, is my whole book broken?  Talking aloud gave me the opportunity to solve all these puzzles.  My colleague typed them into his phone and emailed them to me.  The next day I started to edit again.

The Australia Day long weekend (which I embellished with an extra two days leave) became a five day editing marathon.  A week later, I have a 3rd draft Chapter Six in my hands.  It felt like work.  It really felt like work.  Nevertheless, I think I might have momentum for the next chapter now.  I hope that I won’t procrastinate quite as much in February.  The threat of only 28 days may be enough.

So the chapter was Arch House.  It did have a lot of thread fixes and subtle hints to drop.  I think the main story behind this chapter edit was the memory of some feedback it got.  One of my original readers said that this chapter could become an entire book.  Back in December of 2011 this was a huge compliment.  Now in 2013 I take those words a lot differently.  This chapter suffers from a LOT of “telling’ and not “showing”.  To show everything I tell would result in…a novel.  I think the original feedback may have been politely pointing this out.

My solution to this may be to split this chapter into two chapters.  That would break the format a little so I’m not sure.  There would be the opportunity for much character development and many quality scenes.  However, I must investigate the thinking behind “telling ” to avoid rambling “showing’…and so the bar continues to escape me.

An old favourite, ‘The Butcher’s Tale’ awaits me.
It is nice to revisit these stories.
They still give me a buzz of excitement.

A Plague of Ladybirds: Tidings & Tidyings

I completed chapter five, The Protean Mind, about a week before Christmas.  As per my usual routine, I then proof read it.  In this read through I found a few flaws in the exposition of who Orthama and his son actually are and what their motivations are.  I then did a lot more writing trying to improve the content of this exposition.  I think I have better information in the chapter now, but I’m not convinced the delivery is straight forward for the reader.  I’m starting to value the idea of a whole book read through once I reach May 2013 and have edited the final chapter.  This is more troublesome for me as I’m a terribly slow reader.

This month of editing also caused me concern over character.  I really want my characters to have different voices – obviously.  Poppy is definitely finding hers, Charles I’m not too sure about, although I know who he is.  Henry seems to be the invisible character – despite being the narrator.  There’s something that appeals to me in having characters who are similar enough to be in the same group and have common interests without pulling too many cheap shots.  By cheap shots I mean – lets’s have an Indian character, a member of the royal family and a thief from the docks.  Ok – all these people instantly have their own distinct voices but it feels a bit obvious.  I’d like my characters to be separated by nuances, like we see society – I think.

I’m planning on printing the book, once it’s done, and highlighting (in a separate colour) each character’s comments.  I could then zip through the text changing the dialogue to be specific to each character.  Poppy already has become the person with the odd phrase like, “dilly-dally”.  These are all quirks of dialogue I remember from my childhood – when I was surrounded by characters like Poppy, Henry and Charles.

Reaching the halfway deadline on time was also a joy.  For a long time I’ve been working towards starting chapter six by Christmas and finishing the editing by May (Miette’s birthday).  Landing at Christmas on target almost feels like a guarantee that May will happen.  This is reassuring when one is bogged down in the middle of editing a novel.  This being said, the end of May is FIVE months away!!!  By that time we’ll be thinking of tax again and the second half of 2013…a year which hasn’t even started yet!

So, today is December 27th 2012.  The family are about to go to the beach (ugh!!) so I get to stay home.  This gives me the chance to launch into Chapter Six – Arch House.  I think this is another pivotal chapter into the Orathma/Monk thread clean-up….so obviously, I’m nervous about chiseling away at it.  Here’s looking forward to the end of January 2013.

The Fall of a Sparrow

I don’t do Zombie Apocalypse Stories!  I refuse.  It’s just not me.  I feel cheap, now.  Consider this my last.

…unless I do another one.

This story popped out of a discussion with a friend and bumped into a Linkin Park song that happened to be playing on the radio.  The initial idea asked for a gender role reversal.  I wanted the woman to be making the tough choices and the male character to be along for the ride.  This soon grew into seeing my son in the role of the boy.  There were initial plans for a back story for the woman – she’s actually a stripper – but this seemed unnecessary in the end.  Just in case you wonder – she was going to be a stripper who liked the job for all the right reasons and was a well balanced individual.  Even though it’s simple and commonplace, this type of character structure seems to rub people up the wrong way – strippers always have to be drug-fucked, messed up and forced to do a job they hate…that’s not my experience.  This was not the focus of this story though, so it didn’t come to fruition.

After mapping out my beat points there were two main flashes of cool in the writing.  The first was the spiderman mask.  That wasn’t planned it just floated into the story and became essential.  I have to thank my son’s spiderman mask for that.  The second fortunate accident was when I was struggling over the title.

I had been listening to the ‘BBC World book Club Podcast” and Javier Marias was on it…yeah, I don’t know him either.  He wrote, ‘A Heart So White’.  The author was being interviewed by the crowd and somebody asked him about the title of his book.  He said he often mined Shakespeare for interesting quotes that could be story/book titles.  “Fascinating’, I thought.  Also, “I could look really intellectual here!”  So I went looking for quotes about, falls and inevitability.  The Fall of a Sparrow was what I found.  Hamlet said it.  ….apparently.  Sounded great and the way I read the passage, it seemed a perfect analogy for the story.  So I sneaked it in.

The purpose of writing this story was to enter it in an anthology submission request.  This is part of the effort to build a writing, biography of sorts before submitting the novel.  One of the requirements of the submission is that it has a twist at the end.  I can hear you now, “…but your story doesn’t have a twist at the end?”…yeap…I think I wrote away from the twist.  Oh well…

I’m certainly happy I was able to flirt with a story idea outside the world of ladybirds for a while.  That was fun!  Also, it was fun to use some of the “better” (I’m not saying GREAT…just better) writing techniques I’ve learned over the last year and a half.  I hope another positive maybe that it will serve as ten minutes of entertainment for those of you who stumble across it.

In the end, I think the cover, by DUST, outshines the story.  So if nothing else, we have a nice picture inspired by a story that pinches a little bit of Hamlet for it’s title.

*Apologies for the bad layout of the story, I haven’t the know how to set the paragraphs out correctly.

A Plague of Ladybirds: The finer tooth comb.

The Fusilier has been given the treatment.  It felt good to have some more meaty content to tackle regarding the new threads I’m introducing to the book.  I think last month I was worried about keeping on top of this.  My focus is very much on sentence to sentence decisions at the moment.  I’m making sure each paragraph has a singular purpose, splitting it into two where necessary, eliminating it altogether when it’s fluff.  However, because of this mindset, it’s difficult to be reassured that the big picture elements are being cared for.  No doubt this will mean that come May 2013, when I’m finished with this standard of edits, I have an entire book read ahead of me.

Another disconcerting find was in looking back at the earlier ‘edited’ chapters.  I had a read of God Spines to clarify a plot point and found a glaring plot error!  I’m distraught.  Considering that I felt that chapter had been edited within an inch of its life – absolutely no errors left – to have a slight reflective glance at it and find the fault – was soul destroying.  I’m realising that there are finer things than a fine tooth comb.

Ok, positives:  Well this month I finished chapter four AND wrote a quickfire short story for an anthology – more on this later.  The goal of entering short story competitions is to raise profile and to create a biography for when I start submitting this book in earnest.  I’m hoping to get an early start on chapter five (The Protean Mind) and maybe write another short next month.

Another weird positive – I’ve been more socially brave.  When told that ‘a writer’ is sitting in, “that corner of the party”, I’ve encouraged myself to go and talk with them.  Whilst this can be painful, needlessly humiliating and often awkward, I’ve rarely found that I haven’t walked away without a new piece of knowledge (count the double/triple negatives there – yes – they add up to what I wanted to say – no editing done here!!!).

So I push on to The Protean Mind.  I do feel low on energy, but my motivation is unstoppable.  To cease the process or even to slow it is unthinkable.  I want this first book now and only hard work will get it.  With this low energy, I feel like I may be making more errors.  Making the decision to have it professionally edited in May is also concerning me.  I think that now I may be letting certain errors slide…maybe?  I’m reliant on someone with skill picking them up later, perhaps?  The self-esteem continues to take a battering, most days I wonder about making things different and not better.  Of course, I forget about the moments when I’m ‘brave’ and rewrite a section and the result is infinitely better.  Like the characters in my book, despite my best efforts and small wins, my mental health is always worse off than when I started.

There will be a reprieve at the end….right?

Or is it…write?

A Plague of Ladybirds: The long cold winter turns into spring.

I’m on the long slog.  I’ve set myself a goal of one month/one chapter.  The month is spent chiseling the first draft down to second draft size and readability.  I then run Grammarly over it, I then run Word over it again – I then read it through and correct anything I see as out of place or clunky.  Editing creates a lot of errors too!  I’ve found that I can complete this cycle in around 30 days (including full-time work!).

It’s nearly November and I’m under the pump to finish God Spines (Now Chapter Three!).  I may just about do it.  I have enlisted a new group of chapter by chapter readers so that I have an audience to feel obliged to.  This whole process will, hopefully, be complete by my daughter’s birthday: May 2013.  At that point I think I’ll be willing to have it professionally edited.

I came to this conclusion as I don’t know enough now to make good changes for the better and not just to make it different.  The professional editing will teach me more and also get this book close to being ready for submission.

Of course, I say all this with the same breath that says, “I have never seen the bar.”  Meaning, every time I improve and ‘reach’ the bar, it is raised another few inches.  Fortunately for me, the bar used to move in increments of miles before!!!

My main panic at the moment is remembering to introduce the new threads of the overall story.  Every so often I panic, thinking I’ve forgotten.  What I do forget, is that I can always go back and tinker later…there’s always another draft…

…the long cold summer awaits.

A Plague of Ladybirds: Le Moine Perdu

Well I completed the NEW first chapter a week or so ago and it’s gone out to test readers (thank you all).  The title was confirmed by two French speaking friends, one of whom is living in France and IS a Frenchman.  So I’m confident I haven’t screwed that up!!

As for the rest of the chapter, well it breaks the rest of the book and now I have to thread a storyline and modifications through the novel.  I’ve got to say, that the more I do this, the less confident I get with my writing and decision making within the writing.  The fun has definitely gone out of it but the drive is still there to push it forward.

I have started on the Hide on the Head chapter.  This chapter needs a lot of work to blend it into the new first chapter.  It’s also written rather poorly, in my new understanding of what is required (which I admit may be far short of ACTUALLY what is required!!).

Anyway, Le Moine Perdu has a few Easter eggs in it of course.  The one I’m not hiding one bit happens in the medical practice.  It belongs to a Dr Silverman, the receptionist is called Sarah and the first patient in the story visits regarding her daughter Laura.  This is a desperate attempt to one day impress Sarah Silverman…be friends with her for a minute and then decide one of us is a colossal pain in the ass…I can’t decide who it will be!!?  There are more Easter Eggs, some of which I can’t remember now…

So, I’m re-writing the beginning of HOTH with the hope it will all be edited by October!!  Two weeks and counting!!

A Plague of Ladybirds: The “Woofy” Chapter

Can you believe it, I’m back in the chapter writing business.  I have two needs I identified.
1) To clarify the characters, especially Henry.
2) To have the big sell-out, reader-can’t-put-it-down, opening book chapter.

So I’ve plunged back into writing a new chapter – known as Chapter Zero.  Hopefully this will develop Henry some more whilst giving the book a faster paced start.  I certainly feel the pressure doing this.  All I’ve got to do is write the MOST AWESOME book opening so that publishers will want to sign me.  No big ask is it?

So now the format of the book will look like a deliberate intro to the three main characters with the first three chapters being: Henry = 0, Charles =1, Poppy = 2.  But fuck it…so what, that might not be such a bad thing!?  But that wasn’t the original intent…a happy accident perhaps.

Well I woke this morning (bluesman) with the idea for Chapter 0, so today I mapped it out and tonight I banged out 850 first draft words.  It was fun!  Fun to actually write again and not edit…even though I did that in the end too heheh.  Of course, this first-first chapter will now create several new threads throughout the book which will need resolving.  Maybe, just maybe, this will also require another chapter around chapter seven!?  But we’ll see.  I don’t want to cheat the resolves away deus ex machina style.  I have to judge myself by the same measure I judge others.