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Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Peril of Naming a Walk-On Character

I've written a bit recently about attacking the fourth draft of my WIP 'Max' (by recently, I mean Friday!). Funny how just when you think you're on track with a project it decides to surprise you all over again. You see, this one follows a mother and a daughter (from the perspective of the daughter and the mother's lover) and I'd pretty much accepted the fact that the interactions that needed fixing in this draft were the ones involving the lover. Apparently not.

I was in my writing haunt yesterday afternoon warming through with caffeine and clutching my editing rock for inspiration (don't ask) while I was reading the detailed notes for the rewrite of chapter eight. The location needed to have greater significance so I began wondering why my character chose that cafe out of all the others and a waiter trots into the scene. Fine, I thought, let's give him a name. Big mistake.

As soon as I named him and he started talking to my viewpoint character, I liked him. Disaster. The love interest for this character is a little bit square and boring and, ultimately, they don't end up together. But this guy... Well, he comes from a completely different background, he's cheeky and he has connections with her past that the other lad doesn't understand. In short, he's perfect for her and, what's more, it fits the overall narrative of the parallel plot of the mother.

Now, I may be stuffing a new character into my novel for no reason. I may have to extract him from the fifth draft with tweezers. However, I think it's definitely worth a shot. It's going to mean some exceedingly careful consideration of the rest of the novel. To be fair, though, that was already necessary anyway. The extensive notes I marked up for the fourth draft aren't obsolete as much as complementary to the notes I'm keeping in my head about new directions and backgrounds. What I really need is to get this written down. And, in the meantime, Ed's here to stay. As is my editing rock.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Television Review: River

It's been a long time since I published a television review on the blog. In fact, checking back through the list, the last one was Happy Valley in June last year. I suppose it's only right that my review this time should be the outstanding hit of 2015, while Happy Valley was undoubtedly the 2014 equivalent.

River begins as a typical crime drama. There are two officers in a car, vastly different in personality but very at ease with each other. It turns into a chase with a suspect that results in the young man jumping from a balcony. Then, ten minutes in, the twist emerges and you realise this isn't your typical crime drama with a love story thrown in for good measure: it's so much better than that.

The twist is that DI River (Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd) is talking to a manifestation of his dead partner DS 'Stevie' Stevenson (Nicola Walker) as he attempts to find the person who brutally gunned her down in the middle of the street. From childhood, River has struggled with these manifestations, a recurrent one being the nineteenth-century poisoner Thomas Cream (Eddie Marsan). River is quick to point out to his therapist Rosa Fallows (Georgina Rich) that these aren't ghosts he sees and this is evident in the narrative - Stevie never gives River fresh information that aids the case but we see her reacting to the secrets he uncovers about her life in a way that says more about him than her. It's exquisitely clever and, from the pen of Abi Morgan who also wrote The Hour, I expected nothing less. 

At the heart of River is an eccentric man trying desperately to solve the murder of one of the few people in the world who he ever allowed himself to be close to (though not close enough). It's a love story about closing the chapter with Stevie but it's also about him opening up to other people in his life such as Rosa, DCI Chrissie Read (Lesley Manville) and DS Ira King (Adeel Akhtar). While the twists and turns of the actual murder investigation held my interest, the focus on River himself was far more riveting and the entire cast is phenomenal.

Ultimately, while River startled and unsettled me at times, it also made me smile. The final minutes of the first and last episodes are stunning and I'm not ashamed to say I ended this one in tears. It was one heck of a rollercoaster ride over six weeks and I loved it. 

Friday, 20 November 2015

Interlocking Projects

Since I decided to knock NaNo on the head, I've felt a little more in control. Keeping up with an arbitrary word count wasn't for me at the moment and anybody who seeks to rub their 'success' in my face can honestly save their time. At the end of the day, it's better for me to be editing a project that's captured my heart instead of fighting an imaginary battle. I'm just not in the mood for it.

The truth is, there are three things at the moment that are feeding into one another. It's created something of a fire storm in my head - I'm always thinking of one or other of these things and, fortunately for me, they're proving productive.  

The first of these is the novel fourth draft I'm working on - 'Max'. It's amusing in some respects. When I wrote the first draft I remarked that, 'The least said about this one, the better! I didn't want to write it in the first place but I was...compelled.' Thinking about the second draft, I wrote, 'I know how I want the rewrite of this to pan out but the thought of writing it makes me feel queasy.' I finally got round to writing the second draft late last year, adding a second viewpoint and making the 'antagonist' a little more well-rounded. My goal, as I explained, was to delve into the characters: 'The first draft was an exercise in cleansing my mind; now I know more of the characters and I'm ready to create something a little better.' So the second draft twisted things a little and I ended up with a happy ending. The third draft earlier this year removed some secondary characters and replaced them with others who complemented the overall plot. And, once again, my antagonist got a bit nicer. In this fourth draft, she's not quite wearing a halo but it's not far off. I understand her. I understand why she makes some terrible decisions and why she comes across as completely selfish and the work I've done on my protagonist to explain why she reacts the way she does has helped. All in all, I think I'm really getting somewhere with this one. 

My epic fan fic venture is another thing keeping me occupied. Now, I know people have varied opinions about fan fiction but I've always found it keeps my mind focused on writing and I can tell stories I want to for my own personal amusement. If it also helps me unwind then that's no bad thing. This story I'm telling at the moment, though, is one that I've needed to write for a decade and it's consuming me a little - I haven't done a complete word count lately but I suspect we're over the 400,000 word mark. So much for a hobby! However, I'm enjoying writing it and I'm enjoying reading back over it. For me, that's the most important thing. 

The third thing that's feeding into my mental state at the moment is Once Upon a Time. I won't go into details but, for those of you who haven't watched the show, it's a retelling of certain fairytales that has a pretty important 'friendship' going on between two female characters. I'm drowning in fan fic and gifs - again, a hobby, but one that's aiding my productivity on the novel draft and the fan fic.

You see, there's a good reason these three things are coexisting in my life at the moment. All of them have family at their root. I learned during the second draft of 'Max' that it was the integral theme of the novel and that's only strengthened as time's gone by. In the fan fic, it's emerged as the defining theme and, well, Once Upon a Time is meant to be about family, even if it's not always clear that the writers know what they're doing. The novel draft, the fan fic and Once Upon a Time all have two parents (one not blood-related) and a complex familial relationship at the heart of them. And, perhaps, that's why everything's working so well at the moment.

There's no doubt in my mind that writing this fan fic and getting overly involved in Once Upon a Time is helping my novel draft. Call it a waste of valuable time if you want but I don't believe that - you can't write before you've learned the value and cost of a particular story or theme. Slowly, I'm figuring that out. 

Friday, 13 November 2015

Classic Film Review: Angel Face (1952)

Angel Face stars Robert Mitchum as ambulance driver Frank Jessup who becomes embroiled in the schemes of Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons) after being called out to a report of gas in her stepmother's room. Mrs Tremayne (Barbara O'Neil) is wealthy and supports her stepdaughter and novelist husband Charles (Herbert Marshall) but when Frank's employed as Tremayne family chauffeur, he really doesn't know what he's getting involved in. The cast also includes Mona Freeman and Leon Ames.

From the beginning, this is an atmospheric film and I enjoyed it much more than I expected to. My attitude towards Robert Mitchum swings between love and hate (as other film reviews on this blog attest) but in roles where his usual moody and impassive demeanour work with the plot he excels. Angel Face is one of those films. You never quite know what Frank's thinking and that adds an extra layer to the film. Similarly, Jean Simmons plays the inscrutable Diane to perfection. The shock of the plot comes not from her intentions towards her stepmother but the unexpected consequences.

This one didn't progress as I thought it would, clipping along faster than I'd expected and throwing up a couple of surprises along the way. It was difficult to care about Frank and Diane but that was rather the point and, unlike most films of this ilk, that fed into my enjoyment.

There are some memorable moments, which I won't ruin for you, but I ultimately enjoyed this film a fair bit. Although there isn't exceptional chemistry between the leads, there's a good deal of manipulative chemistry and that's more useful in a film like this. As for the ending... Well, I wouldn't have wanted anything else.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2015: The Time for Doubts

Well, I started brightly enough.

Day one and two, I hit the word count goal. It helped that chapters one and two perfectly fit the target so it didn't feel like I was stretching myself too much. Day three, I only did a little and slipped behind but I made that up on day four and got a bit ahead. However, my goal of hitting 10,000 on day five took a battering when my writing time was interrupted by a friend's dad. We had coffee together at my writing haunt and my mojo seemed to disintegrate. I ended the day with five chapters written and a couple of hundred words under 10,000. On day six, though, I felt the need to hibernate and wrote nothing. On day seven, I was out for the day - which proved a traumatic experience in itself - and didn't manage to get any writing done. And then I started thinking.

I like the idea. It's got the potential to be a good novel and I like what I've written so far. The characters are pretty distinctive and, as far as early portions of first drafts go, it scrubs up favourably alongside my previous NaNo drafts. However, I'm not feeling the get-up-and-write motivation I need to do this.

For the last couple of months I've been trying to work on the fourth draft of 'Max'. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that it could be a good novel if I can pull it together. I marked up all the edits and started implementing them before realising I'd need to break off for NaNo. The trouble is, I'm missing it. I feel as though I need to be doing that work now because I've got too many first drafts and not enough of my ideas have progressed further than that. A lesser point is that I've also been writing something for fun to switch off in the evenings. It's one thing to spend some time editing during the day and then to unwind with 'fun' writing at night. It's quite another to dash off a load of NaNo words during the day and expect to do the same with the 'fun' stuff later. For me, at least, my brain can only create so many words in a day with the state I'm in. So why not forget the 'fun' stuff? Well, no. That is keeping me going and, trust me, I need that right now.

It seems like I've completely made up my mind to pack in NaNo for this year, doesn't it? However, week two is a good time to have doubts. I'm going to take a few days off and focus again on my editing, see whether I feel better.

Exactly five years ago today I wrote a post signalling my defeat in that year's NaNo. That time it was planning failure I blamed but I think this year it's more down to me being me. Which, alas, seems to be an explanation for far too many screw-ups in my life.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Some Sad News

I recently learned the sad news that my friend and political mentor Rodney Willett had died. He'd been ill for quite some time but, of course, that doesn't make it any better.

It's no exaggeration to say that, without Rodney, I wouldn't have become so politically interested and motivated. We encountered each other online several years ago and teamed up on a political website along with several other contributors. The difficulty was making it more than a few people shouting in the wind and Rodney's ill-health, along with several other factors, prevented our dreams becoming a reality. However, I'm deeply indebted to Rodney for helping shape my ideas and allowing me a platform to speak long before I had anything useful to say.

In April, having seen his bad news, I emailed to say that I'd passed my viva and to thank him for his influence as I prepared to stand for Yorkshire First in the local elections. When he responded I was deeply, deeply touched by his words. In fact, as I recall, that email made me cry.

He did offer to exchange emails and ideas with me but, whether it was right or not, I didn't want to take him up on that. I felt he had far more important things to do with his remaining time so I left him alone, and I do hope he interpreted that the right way. His friendship and his advice meant a lot to me over the years and I never felt the age gap between us or the physical distance. It's very rare you find people who are truly on your wavelength and I feel privileged that I got to witter on about politics with him quite as often as I did.

In his email he told me that he was devoting time to creating an online companion to his wife's novels (Marcia Willett) and I'd take it as a personal kindness if some of you glanced over that blog. You do get a flavour of Rodney's personality from his prose and he was a very engaging and generous man. I owe him a lot.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2015: I'm Late, I'm Late

You can tell exactly how frazzled I am by the fact that I'm writing my first NaNo post less than two hours before kick-off. Last year I started my plans mid-October and the idea had been percolating much longer than that. This year I've been behind on everything and NaNo is no exception.

I came up with an inciting incident a while ago: a woman is accosted at knife point in her car. Beyond that, I was a little lost but now I've got a working premise. It's not a car, it's a camper-van. My protagonist's called Jess and she's taking her niece away for the summer while she does a few gardening jobs. And the woman who holds a knife to her throat? That's Naomi. And there's a very good reason why she's been driven to desperate ends. The thing is, Jess and Naomi have never met before.

I've managed to do some character work and I've got a few launching points. Beyond that...I'm winging it. I certainly think that's going to make for an interesting November.

The thing, writing 50,000 words in a month isn't a challenge for me these days. Provided the idea's good then I can run with it and get the first draft written. Perhaps that's what aiming to be a professional writer does for you. Someone pointed out to me last week that I'd managed to complete NaNo four times while doing a PhD at the same time. That should make this year a piece of cake.

I'm exuding arrogance. That probably means I'm riding for a fall but we'll see. Let's NaNo.