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Thursday, 27 November 2014

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2014: Hit 50,000

Funny, isn't it? I crossed the 50,000 word mark just before midnight last night and, just like last year, I could barely bring myself to care. Didn't even smile. Last year I hoped the euphoria would hit when I completed the draft but it didn't so I don't expect much of a fanfare in the coming days either. Not quite sure what's wrong with me - or, rather, what on the roulette wheel is wrong with me right now - but I'd have appreciated a little celebration somewhere along the line.

So...I've got one and a half chapters planned and I think there are about three more after that to bring the novel to some resolution so, probably, the draft will come in around 60,000. It's unlikely it'll be finished by Sunday but you never know.

Write a story about someone with your problems, she said. Give them a happy ending, she said. I think my logic was fundamentally flawed...again. Here, have a little Ella...

Monday, 24 November 2014

Classic Film Review: I Married a Witch (1942)

I Married a Witch tells the story of a politician whose family is plagued by a curse from a sorcerer and his daughter they burned at the stake centuries earlier. Wallace Wooley (Fredric March) is the latest member of the family to suffer by the curse but with an added twist - thanks to a lightning strike, the tree where the ashes of the sorcerer and the witch were housed has been shattered, setting them free. Daniel (Cecil Kellaway) and Jennifer (Veronica Lake) aim to make Wallace suffer further on the eve of both his wedding to Estelle Masterson (Susan Hayward) and the election for state governor. They create a love potion but, when it backfires, Daniel and Jennifer find themselves on opposite sides of the argument.

I loved this whimsical fantasy. It doesn't take itself too seriously and includes some laugh out loud moments along with brilliant performances from the cast (even if - or perhaps especially because - March and Lake didn't exactly get on). This was my first experience of Lake and, I have to say, I was impressed. Her sultry performance is stunning and she fits the part perfectly, even in the scenes where just her voice is heard. I'm struggling to think of an actress who could've played this part quite so well. March, too, is well-cast but it's definitely Lake's film. The smaller parts are taken by accomplished actors, including the ever-reliable Robert Benchley as Dr Dudley White and the equally-excellent Robert Warwick as Mr Masterson. Watch out too for Helen St. Rayner in a brief, comedic appearance as a wedding singer. It was her only credited role so IMDB tells me and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

At 77 minutes it's fairly short but that means it doesn't have too much slack to become boring. The fire scenes near the beginning are amusing but I much preferred the quiet interplay between March/Lake and Lake/Kellaway. The special effects, too, are good enough for 1942, especially the taxi ride and the broom activity. I thought the resolution was pretty neat and the little epilogue was cute, if only to see Veronica Lake as a matronly housewife for a few short moments.

This is a lovely little comedy that deserves a little more attention. I'll definitely be delving into more of Veronica Lake's filmography.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2014: Getting a Wriggle On

I seem to be in a hurry. Last night, when I should've been chugging along around the 35,000 mark, I actually crossed the 40,000 barrier then promptly collapsed in a heap. I do believe this is the best position I've been in on day twenty and, with ten days to go, barring catastrophe I'm not only going to win but actually finish the first draft within the month which is excellent.

The last week's been interesting to say the least. Battling with severe toothache, apathy towards life and some finicky bits of my thesis that refused easy solution, I'm pleased that I managed to stay on track. We'll put that down to my stubbornness, especially since last night I literally couldn't see straight at one point.

And how's the novel shaping up? Well, as with all first drafts it needs a lot of work. I think my protagonists have stepped out of their boxes a little in recent chapters in the name of furthering the plot but it's fine, I'll fix that later. The trouble is, they could've got so bogged down in the rut they were in, I might've spent 200,000 words trying to get them to talk properly to each other. The alteration needs work but an alteration there needed to be.

Things pick up from here on in. They're no longer going to be fighting themselves and each other but something beyond their control. I suppose this is the part where my novel becomes really therapeutic. If the first half was about slaying some of my own demons, the second half is slaying someone else entirely. That should sustain me for the final 10,000 words and beyond.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Things I'm Looking Forward To Post-PhD

Since trying to make any 'proper' goals at the moment isn't happening on account of me reverting to being an anxiety-ridden reckless wreck of a human being, I decided to focus on the more immediate repercussions of finally submitting my thesis in the not-so-distant future. What can't I wait to do?
  • Rip the colour-coded rubbish from every page of my sensation fiction and criticism collection, primarily from my poor copy of No Name that looks like it bickered with a rainbow. I wrote about it here a year ago and it's still that colourful, as are my copies of The Woman in White, Man and Wife and The Law and the Lady amongst others. 
  • Put all my books back on shelves. There is a tottering pile of sensation fiction novels on my office floor that I repeatedly shelved then got out again until I just thought 'sod it' and left them on my desk. Then I moved my desk (part of me trying to fix myself) and put them on the floor and... Yep, that was two months ago. 
  • Have the top of my document tray devoted to something other than illegible notes on Edmund Yates and Wilkie Collins. I could put soft toys in there, have company at my desk. 
  • Sleep more. 
Anything I've missed? 

Friday, 14 November 2014

Classic Film Review: The Glenn Miller Story (1954)

The Glenn Miller Story is, unsurprisingly, a biopic of the legendary band leader starring James Stewart in the title role. It documents both his professional quest to find the perfect 'sound' and his relationship with his wife, Helen (June Allyson), and includes cameos from stars such as Louis Armstrong and Frances Langford.

This film gets off to a slow start, as many biopics are forced to do, and it's a bit of a stretch to believe Stewart as a young Miller but this becomes less important as time passes on. The first half documents Miller's struggles with his music while focusing a lot on the love story between Miller and Helen. Stewart and Allyson are pretty brilliant together, with an easy rapport that makes their relationship feel natural. In addition, Allyson has some excellent scenes without Stewart which give her the chance to flex her sarcastic muscles a little more.

The second half of the film is essentially what happens to Miller after he finds that perfect 'sound' and the success both before and during the war. Naturally, this part of the film is full of Miller's most famous numbers and it becomes toe-tappingly good very quickly. The performance of 'Moonlight Serenade' where everything finally goes right sent shivers up my spine.

Of course, everybody knows the end to the Glenn Miller story and, yes, I'll freely admit to shedding a few tears at the end. That this film was made only ten years after his disappearance probably accounts for the sentimentality of it but, nevertheless, it's a film that lovingly depicts one of the great musicians of the twentieth century. My favourite scene is probably the anniversary where Miller and Helen both surprise each other. In that scene the strands of Miller's story are intertwined completely and it's beautiful.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2014: Hello Halfway Point

I say this every year I think. In 2011 I wrote the perfect mid-point post which involved Dumbo - you can read it here.

Now, to say something new... Well, I'm running a couple of days ahead of schedule, which is very good considering I'm still aiming to finish the whole draft of this novel, however long it turns out to be, before December. My average is just over 2,000 a day and, really, I'm keeping up the pace by late night sprints. It's lucky my characters have finally started talking to me. Last night, for instance, my chapter plan involved one of my protagonists walking into chaos at the residential home and the words just sprang from my fingers - over 2300 words in an hour and a bit. Given the pressures I'm putting myself under every day, I'm proud of keeping ahead here.

So what next? Well, I have another four and a bit chapters planned out then, beyond that, another pivotal problem has to occur. The hurdles for my protagonists up to this point have primarily been internal but an external force is going to cause merry hell for them - and I'm looking forward to it. I don't have a sense of how many chapters this whole thing's going to take but I'm currently on chapter eight and have planned up to chapter twelve. It's all very exciting. And, by 'exciting' I mean draining.

I tell you what'd be good though - if life would stop chucking rocks at me for the duration of NaNo. I'm struggling to keep my head above water and the short, sharp shocks aren't helping much. On that note, I need to go to Sheffield for a supervisor meeting...

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Book Review: Shirley by Charlotte Bronte

Shirley tells the story of the titular heroine and her community during the Napoleonic Wars. Shirley Keeldar is a woman of independent means while her new friend Caroline Helstone is not. Caroline loves her cousin, Robert Moore, but he's aware that he needs money to keep his mill going during the problems caused by the Luddites and the war so his attention becomes fixed on marrying Shirley. For her part, Shirley has a secret love of her own which may upset Robert's plans. Surrounding them are vicars, curates and disgruntled mill employees, all struggling with their own problems as the country remains in turmoil.

I'm certainly not alone in saying that I found Shirley difficult. It's very episodic and starts at a dinner of curates, who we hear very little about for the remainder of the novel. Bronte jumps around from person to person, spending a tantalisingly short amount of time with some of them before leaping onto the next. It added up to a very tricky novel to follow but, on the other hand, it meant I could put it down and not be too confused when I got back to it. That's perhaps why it took me over a month to read it - the impetus to continue was sadly lacking.

What I'm left with after reading Shirley are fragments, flashes of events, which may well be what Bronte was aiming for. Certainly, there are some memorable moments within the novel that have lingered with me. The attack on Moore's mill, skilfully told from the point of view of the women and not the attackers or defenders, is one such moment, as is the amusing scene where one of the curates finds himself on the wrong side of Shirley's faithful dog. Some of the early conversations between Shirley and Caroline are fascinating, though I became frustrated by their lack of contact in later chapters. Equally, while there is one conversation between Shirley and Louis Moore that I thoroughly enjoyed, some of their other interactions are far too lengthy. There's a sense within this novel that Bronte is examining political and social debates through the mouths of her characters. While this, of course, common, it certainly feels more prominent in Shirley - the sheer amount of information and opinion Bronte seeks to impart is overwhelming, prolonging the novel far beyond the length its story would take it to.

Ultimately, Shirley is a complex work which could easily alienate readers in the first few pages. I'm glad I persevered and the introduction in my Penguin edition by Lucasta Miller was most helpful. I enjoyed, also, joining up various opinions in my mind with those of Bronte's family, especially her father. I'm still gradually wading through The Brontes by Juliet Barker and it's nice to make those connections.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2014: Of Word Counts and Secondary Characters

Despite my slow start, over the weekend I managed to pull ahead and my current word count, with nothing yet written for today, is 18,021. For reference, that's practically where I need to be tomorrow so I'm building up a dinky little cushion.

Much of my weekend spurt can be put down to attending a write-in with the Leeds NaNoers on Saturday. I fought my usual shyness and won, spending three hours there and getting 3,000 written. And I had lemon cheesecake - always a plus. Hopefully I'll get there again before the end of NaNo. It was a nice environment to work in and I chatted with some good people.

So how's the novel going? Well, I think I'm about a third of the way through which suggests this first draft will be longer than my usual ones (they usually come in at around 55k, so NaNo plus a bit). However, my determination that the whole draft will be finished in November essentially gives me a little more work to do. I want this novel 'out of the way' so I can focus on rewriting another during December so I'm going to have to get on with it. Coupled with PhD stresses which I could really do without, NaNo is making November my most stressful month since...well, September. Overall, this has not been a good year and ending it with a work rush like this is asking for trouble. Nevertheless, we are where we are. My new mantra for when I make stupid decisions.

When I started writing the mother of one of my protagonists took on a bit of a life of her own. She isn't based on someone as such but I have met a woman who does the job she does and I've transplanted a personality onto her. So far, she's one of my favourites to write. I mean, one of my protagonists is snotty and work-orientated and the other one's completely absorbed by her anxiety issues so this woman is a delightful diversion. I am having trouble keeping track of all the residents of the care home though. Perils of having a large cast but it'll be necessary in the end.

My 'reward' films over the weekend were Summer Stock and South Pacific. I can't really be classified as a 'cockeyed optimist' in anything but my writing you are anyway.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2014: And I'm On My Way

Well, I got started last night, only a day behind schedule but, because I hadn't planned on starting till today anyway, I didn't push myself into achieving anything substantial. So I start day three with only 600 words and a few concerns. 

I'm hoping that my current problem is that my protagonists haven't yet been thrown together. That'll happen in the next scene after some preamble and I'm hoping that, once they're in the same room, things will kick off and the story will run away from me. It probably doesn't help that I'm coming off the back of writing in first person for two months and the first character I've introduced is in third person. I've got my fingers crossed that'll I'll get going properly once I finish my full novel plan but there is one ground rule:

  • No actual NaNo writing can be done before six pm on weekdays (unless I'm at a write in). PhD still takes priority and I've got plenty of little finicky bits of that to deal with. 

I must stick to that which'll make my evenings more interesting. Not Calamity Jane type interesting but interesting nonetheless.