Tag Archives: Writing

WiP Sneak Peek

The marvellous Ms Simmone Howell has tagged me in a meme challenge. Henceforth I must throw caution to the wind and permit a sneak peek at my work-in-progress – specifically seven lines from page seven or page seventy-seven.

I’ll confess to clicking ‘compile’ in my writing software to stitch a manuscript together. And to reading the copy on pages seven and 77. And not being entirely comfortable.

So I returned to those chapters and, after some huffing, puffing and hand wringing, I edited and rewrote.

I don’t know if that’s in the spirit of the meme, particularly given the inadvertent destruction of dwellings fashioned from straw and sticks. Karma came back to haunt me anyway. When I recompiled the manuscript, the page numbers had changed. What used to be on pages 7 and 77 wasn’t any more. This effectively meant that editing until I was happy could take an eternity. I had to draw a line somewhere, sometime.

So here you go, brave readers. Please find below what was a seven line snippet from page seven of my WIP:

 

Michiko lingers at the showroom door downstairs. “Hey, thanks for all your help,” I murmur. “It made it easier, knowing you were nearby, ready to stab me with a sharp implement.” She giggles and that’s it, that’s enough for me. One moment of levity punctures the heaviness in the room, my chest, my mind. Lets fresh air trickle back in.
I put an arm around her, acting more boldly than I feel. “So, when do you fly?”

 

As for tagging others, I hereby toss the gauntlet at Ms Leanne HallMr Michael Pryor, Sandy Fussell and  Mr Scot Gardner. No pressure, guys.

UPDATE: You can check out Sandy’s post, here.

As big as my imagination

I’ve been reading George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series for what feels like an eternity. They’re big books but it didn’t help that I cut costs and bought an e-book edition that combines four titles into one massive anthology, a collection so huge that contemplating the page numbers is like gazing up at the Himalayas. To give you a sense of scale, I recently reduced the font size and happily discovered I only had 1000 pages to go. It felt like the end was in sight. At least until the next book is published.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m thoroughly enjoying the GRRM universe. It is epic in scale and sumptuously detailed. It’s an astonishing feat of imagination. I also admire the unsentimental way the author terminates key characters and introduces new voices whenever he feels like it. The reader can take nothing for granted.

In an interview with Fairfax, Mr Martin said: “When the writing is going really well, I do get lost in it. I almost live in it. It occupies the back of my head. I’m thinking about it constantly. I go to sleep thinking about it. I wake up thinking about it. I cross the street thinking about it – my office is across the street from my house.

“On good days, I vanish into Westeros and the real world goes away and I spend the day dealing with my characters… There are bad days, too, when there are a lot of distractions. The real world is always a threat to the imaginary world.

“I still love the world. I still love the characters. I still want to go back and spend time with them.

“To my mind (character) is one of the most crucial things, but the writing, the prose, how you evoke a scene, is something you spend a lot of time on. How to bring it alive and put your reader there and evoke all the right sounds, smells and sights, so that they don’t feel they are just reading it, they are living it. That is always the goal, the struggle.”

I’m encouraged by these comments. I have writing days when the distractions dive bomb me like mosquitos and very few words get written. On the good days, I’m living with my characters and barely notice time passing.

I’m unlikely to ever write anything as lengthy as A Song of Ice and Fire but am currently deep into the longest story I’ve ever tackled. It’s speculative fiction, set in the near future. It has been percolating in my head for several years but only now are characters emerging from the mist. The scope of the story might even demand a series of novels but time will tell.

My experiences with writing this year have reminded me of another quote I stumbled across from Mr Martin. He had been working in television where he was continually told to scale down his ideas due to budget limitations. Frustrated, he left television to work on a book, “as big as my imagination”. A Game of Thrones was published two years later. More than 27 million books have been sold in the Ice and Fire series and the TV series has been a smash hit.

Comparing sales figures with other authors is a speedway to insanity so let’s not go there. I mainly wanted to show that writing brings inevitable challenges, no matter who you are. We all have to quell the real world to let the imaginary shine through.

My big, ocasionally rampant, imagination can be a blessing and a curse. But I’d rather live with it than without it.

Door featuring Tyrion from A Song of Ice and Fire.
Door featuring Tyrion from A Song of Ice and Fire.

What’s in a name?

I should probably make a confession.

If I don’t like you – and by that I mean you have somehow earned sufficient demerit points to enter the Zone reserved for the utterly loathsome and grudge-worthy – then there’s a (slim) possibility I might name a character after you.

It will probably be a villain. Or a victim. You know the type. The kind of character that gets one bitchy line in a horror movie and then gets slashed in the next scene. That type of character. Expendable.

Indeed, I find it amusing when authors offer readers the chance to be a character in their next book as a ‘prize’ in a competition. What responsibilities rest with that offer? Is the winner guaranteed a character that is healthy, wealthy, wise and lives in a tropical paradise? Is the author ethically bound not to mess with the character’s fortunes?

It’s not an offer I’m likely to make because I don’t always know how my characters will fare during the course of a story I’m writing. I’d hate to inform you that you’re a winner only to write a chapter where I discover your character contracts a terrible disease or crosses paths with a serial killer. It wouldn’t seem fair. Unless you’re a resident in the aforementioned Zone…

So, back to naming conventions. I’m regularly asked where my characters’ names come from. Sometimes the answer is as simple as, “I like the name”, “It sounds right,” or, “It’s easy to type”. Other names can involve actual work.

I check baby name books and websites for the meaning of monikers, mainly because I want things to gel. Unless I’m deliberately trying for humour, I wouldn’t want a scrawny, pacifist character to have a name that means ‘bloodthirsty, musclebound, axe-wielding warrior’, for instance. These things matter. Wherever possible, I strive for names that mean something in relation to the character’s personality or the plot.

In the manuscript I’m currently working on I was considering calling a Japanese character, ‘Asami’. I looked up the meaning and found it defined as ‘beautiful linen’, which didn’t match my plot at all. Then I met an Asami and politely asked why her parents would choose a name with that particular meaning. After she finished laughing, she said the name also meant ‘strength and quality’ … and that the Kanji character used to write her name could also mean ‘marijuana’.

Handy to know, right? As a result of that conversation, the character I have in mind is now called ‘Michiko’, which means ‘beautiful, wise child’.

Being of tabloid journalism origins, I am attracted to pun names, too. ‘Dan’, from my novel Five Parts Dead, was originally named Stu – in part because he’s a worrier. He stews a lot, geddit? Sigh. My publisher didn’t like it either and quite rightly suggested I seek a name with a more contemporary feel. I opted for Dan not so much for the biblical meaning (God is my judge) but for the story of Daniel in the lions’ den.

I also keep an ear out for accidentally memorable names – like Reverend Blood, Doctor Death and my all-time favourite, Cardinal Singh (pronounced Sin). I’ve read of a Collingwood supporter’s daughter being christened Victoria Park and been told of a Vietnamese-Australian family naming their first-born Donald Duc. I don’t know that I’d ever deliberately use a real name (although my subconscious chose one once and I almost dug myself a very deep hole) but it’s good to reserve the right to go with an outrageous option once in a while.

As for those special folk in the Zone, well, I wouldn’t use your names outright, either. There are laws against that sort of thing. I might take a syllable from a name and merge it with part of another odious acquaintance’s name. The end result would be a hybrid and very fictitious name – matched to some truly despicable character traits. Authors need some semblance of power, after all.

No one would know the origins but me. And I think that’s for the best. Luckily for all of us, I very rarely hold a grudge.

A leap of faith

I’ve done it. Quit my job. Listened to all my responsible eldest child instincts and entreaties … and ignored them. So far, that decision feels good.

For several reasons, the timing of this rash, sorry, bold decision felt right. I have a couple of projects on the drawing board. I have ideas clamouring to be heard and friends raising the possibilities of future collaborations, if only I had more time available.

Well, here I come. My plan is to work in my wife’s business two days a week, make myself available for more public speaking, cycle more and actually have a red hot go at being an author. That means writing more words, more frequently, something I’ve only ever threatened to do.

While I might have agonised over the pros and cons of cutting myself off from a regular income, there was one sign it was the right thing to do. The day I made the decision, I felt lighter. Relief like a cool change after a heatwave. I sat down and wrote 2000 words as if the Muse had shattered her shackles.

Let’s hope that’s a sign I’ve made the right choice.

“A dream deferred is a dream denied.” – Langston Hughes