a dreadful person says…

God knows I’m no paragon of virtue. I’ve been wrong and done wrong plenty of times. I’m not even that nice, generally speaking, personality-wise. People who like me tend to be those people deemed to be unsavoury, beyond-the-pale types, or those who have a certain reckless joy de vivre (erm… I think these people might actually be dogs). So I’m not standing on a pedestal (or a horse) when I say, I’m pretty sure some things are just wrong. Aren’t they?

Like, I think if you try to defend the practice of threatening to rape a woman to death for saying something some people didn’t like even though they have no idea what she said and are making up outright lies in order to justify rape and death threats and kill-your-children threats and put-your-abuser-on-the-front-page-of-a-national-newspaper threats, then there is probably something a bit wonky about your moral compass. Can compasses be recalibrated? Because that’s what I’d recommend.

But then, I suppose, I could be wrong about that. Maybe it’s okay to send a deluge, a plague, a tsunami of rape-to-death threats, kill-your-family threats, hope-you-get-cancer threats to people you don’t like? I doubt this point of view would ever have occurred to me, were it not for the fact that it is the point of view espoused by so many people I happen to know. To be fair, most of these people exist mainly on twitter, which as we know, is the place where independent thought goes to die, usually in the throes of some histrionic demonstration of pure, mad outrage. Desperate for those likes and retweets. Pure desperate.

I watched The Social Dilemma the other evening and thought, jesus god, this explains so much. I’d already ditched my social media months ago (one day I’ll get through a whole blog post without congratulating myself for this) so I was able to enjoy this horror story whilst clutching to the thin comfort of my own smugness. But thin comfort it was, indeed. It will take a lot more than a few of us deleting our social media to derail the crazy train. Social media is a giant mind control experiment, and there are a lot of minds being controlled. How else to explain people defending and justifying rape-death-cancer threats? How else to explain the furious urge to cancel and silence all dissent, even that which is simply the expression of basic moral principle?

The idea that other people aren’t subject to the mind-control that you’ve succumbed to must be utterly enraging. And the deeper you sink into the giant mind, the more likes you get, the more retweets, the more addicted you become, the more this jealous bewildered fury consumes you and the more you lash out in rage at all you cannot control. Dear god, you are being eaten alive!

big fat book of doom

running away from a scary tunnel which i would actually rather run through than write my book

Have spent every spare minute over the past few weeks thinking and sketching out a plot for a big, complicated novel I’ve been desperate to write. It covers two worlds and three timelines, and it combines all the things I love about ghost stories and haunted houses with everything weird in science fiction, and a dollop of domestic realism on top of that. Basically, imagine putting Shirley Jackson, Jeff Noon, Simon Ings, Christopher Priest, Angela Carter, Tanith Lee, Lewis Carroll and Siri Hustvedt in a blender and pouring the bloody mess into a broken jug… or something like that. Suffice to say it is big, and it is complicated, and messy and full of blood and broken bones.

I’ve got a rough plot, character notes, setting notes and so on. Today I finally solved the structural problems. I sorted the big logic issues and figured out how the timelines would run together. It works! At least, it potentially could work. It makes sense, at least to me.

But you know what? Now I’ve done all that, and there’s nothing left to do but start writing, I find myself staring glumly at the wall and wondering if it was all a terrible mistake. Maybe I should write some short stories instead. Or a different novel altogether, one I haven’t even got an idea for yet. Literally anything else.

I suspect, or perhaps I just hope, that this is THE FEAR sinking its gloomy, doomy claws into me. If not, then I guess I burn it all and start again.

how to write a novel in no easy steps

1: Start writing. An idea is not necessary at this stage.

2: Keep writing. Pay no attention to mundane matters such as plot, character, setting, structure, or story. Just keep writing words until you have around half a million of them.

3: Now take those half a million words and throw. them. away.

4: Stare into the void. Woah. Stare into your computer instead. Rescue an idea you find limping around in the aftermath of the word-apocalypse.  (This idea has survived purely by virtue of its fiendish ambition. Its most impressive quality is its refusal to die, despite having seemingly nothing to live for.)

5: Write until you figure out some kind of structure that can cage this ugly, tenacious bastard of an idea. Fail horribly, shamefully, and repeatedly. The writing will be enriched and nourished by your desperate tears.

6: Completely lose perspective. Employ diversionary tactics.

7: Keep writing the bits you’ve already written. It is important not to give up on the dream of writing something that makes actual sense.

8: Give up. Any ending will do. Who cares.

9: Finish it out of sheer bloody-mindedness.

10: Send it to whichever person in your life you consider to be the most psychologically stable.

11: MOVE ON.

here i am

So the last few weeks have been crazy busy but yesterday I finally handed in three assignments, cleaned my flat (sort of), made dinner for some people, drank a lot of red wine and laughed a lot and rolled my eyes a lot at the silly things everyone was saying. And later I said goodbye to a friend who is leaving for America and never coming back. She gave me a load of stuff she didn’t want to take back with her, like curling tongs and a blanket and the biggest pack of q-tips I have ever seen. I said goodbye to her on my doorstep, and I wanted to say something big and important that she could hold on to, but I didn’t know what that might be and life isn’t really like that.

This morning I had a dream about being at a party with my best friend. We were about to go home, when another friend turned up and told us – you can’t go, I’ve got you some drugs. And the drugs were all completely legal, smart drugs. They were in the shape of big lozenges and they had words embossed on them, like Friends and Just Friends and Sweet. I had a ‘Friends’ and it made me feel really happy.

Then I woke up and I lay in bed the whole morning, reading a book. Because for the first time in weeks and weeks I didn’t have to get up and do things or worry about not having done the things. My course isn’t over yet, but it nearly is. Assuming I pass my assignments (not a given,) the worst of it is over. No more classes, none to speak of, anyway. I mean, I have to write a novel, but I would be doing that anyway. And I have two jobs now, so it’s not completely easy. But it feels like a big, horrible thing is finally done with, and now I can start to get over it.

So, here I am again.

how it is

Oh how I neglect you, my poor little blog. Truth be told, I haven’t had a huge amount of fun things to write about yet this year, what with a freezing apartment, money worries, school assignments left til the last minute (of course!), work problems, health problems, family problems, crazy/neurotic/unpleasant/violent people being in/fucking up my life problems – all the problems really. But! It is a new year, and though completely arbitrary, it does feel like a time to change stuff, make plans, and renew commitments.

So, with that in mind, I’m seeing 2013 as a year of massive opportunity for me. This is the year that I write and sell my first novel. This is the year I get an agent. This year, I’m going to sell a minimum of twenty stories (two sold so far!) and get placed in at least one major competition.

This may also be the year of other things, maybe some not so nice things, but I’ll deal with those as and when necessary. If there’s one thing that 2012 has taught me it’s that I’m really fucking tough. Negative people just need to stand back now and let me do my thing.

 

well jel

Lots of folks lately writing about professional jealousy. I don’t suffer from it and I’m not just saying that. Jealousy happens when you are not living up to your own expectations and having fun with your own writing. Then you start to look at other people and wonder what they’ve got that you haven’t. If you stay focused on your own writing, you don’t have this problem. Easy as that!

Of course, it’s never really quite as easy as that. Writing is such a complicated and fragile thing. Given the choice, the last thing we would do is commercialise and monetise something so fundamental to our wellbeing. It’s a skewiff, wonky old world, and if you get  wound up from time to time it’s hardly surprising. In fact, it would be bizarre if you didn’t. A lot of writers are a bit bonkers in the noo noo and that’s to be expected.

But. There are things worth getting worked up about, and then there are other things. How well or badly another writer is doing falls firmly into the category of ‘other things’. It’s a waste of time and energy and creativity we could be directing towards our work.

Writers don’t always like one another, for a variety of reasons, but we at least ought to aim for mutual support and appreciation wherever possible. Indulging in jealousy, rivalry, and competition is negative and counter-productive. Far better to make friends with people who may be able to help you out someday, than to be a git to someone who could one day be in a position to crush you underfoot. And there’s simply no point in wasting time fuming about another writer’s success when you could be sitting down and getting on with your own work. Innit.

bliss

The internet is depressing. I know so much stuff right now that I really wish I didn’t. Every morning I wake up to stories of economic disaster, poverty, death, systemic violence against females, war, injustice… It’s not that I don’t want to know what’s going on in the world, more that I don’t want to be immersed in the worst of it from morning til night. A part of me actually feels guilty for not spending 100% of my time staring this stuff in the face, as if that would change any part of it, or help me, or anyone. It just makes me bloody miserable, that’s all.

The other depressing thing about the internet is the fact that it provides an infinitely deep pool of mindless distractions, perhaps to counterbalance the constant stream of bad news and misery. So you read the news and blogs about what terrible things are happening, and it’s so awful you have to go and stare at pictures of cute kittens for half an hour, just to give you the energy to face the rest of the day.

Before I had broadband internet access, I never once went to the library to look at pictures of cats. If you had told me then that I would one day spend literal hours of my life reading articles about films I had no intention of ever seeing, or that I’d seek out and watch a video about how pencils are made, I would have laughed in your face. Actually, that pencil video is pretty interesting. But the point remains.

A while ago, I paid money for a program (Freedom) which enables me to turn off my internet and stops me from turning it back on until I’ve finished my work. That is a great program, but seriously? What kind of weak-minded person has to be physically restrained from checking facebook? When she’s supposed to be doing her life’s work? There is clearly something wrong with me.

So I’ve decided to take drastic measures, and ditch broadband. I’m moving cities soon, and whatever kind of new place I find myself living in, it’s not going to have constant internet access. I reckon that if I have to buy a cup of coffee every time I want to check my emails, my internet use is going to become a lot more focused and efficient. Either that, or I will become a caffeine-crazed, broke, non-writing writer, who spends all her time in cafes looking at lolcats and having palpitations. I’m willing to take my chances.

 

dead girls don’t cry

I will say upfront that I’m not really a huge fan of ‘urban fantasy’ – that genre which mainly consists of sparky young heroines with tattoos going about their everyday business only to discover that their local cupcake parlour is run by a whimsical faery. Or something. Okay, I may be slightly prejudiced by a particularly awful example of the genre that it was my misfortune to read last year. But even so, fairies and cupcakes and elves and family prophecies and late-blooming magical powers? Not really my thing.

So it may be that I am entirely the wrong person to take on this subject, and perhaps in ‘urban fantasy world’, all of what I am about to say would be considered ridiculous nitpicking about nothing at all.

But.

If someone is dead – I mean, dead – If a character in a story dies and is dead, and the author kind of bangs on about how weird it is to be dead because you don’t have to / don’t want to / actually can’t:

a) sleep

b) eat

c) urinate

d) crave a crafty fag

If this is the basis on which a character is dead, then how the hell can said character have their breath knocked out of them? How can they cut themselves and BLEED? What the whatty-what, people?

I can just about suspend my disbelief to accept that a dead person could still have a body that is a projection of their spirit or a handy visual aid/symbol of their former life. It would be awkward to be dead, yet still be conscious, and unable to walk around and do novelly stuff. I guess I can accept (even if for no other reason than I’m a willing reader and literary convention demands it) that desire and fear and other basic, bodily emotions can survive in a person who no longer has a body with which to feel these things. It’s a bit rubbish, but if an author writes about someone’s spirit continuing and being able to feel emotions and think and stuff, I can go along with it for the sake of the story.

But don’t tell me, Charles de Lint, don’t tell me that a person has no need to eat, drink or do any of the other things that sustain a physical body, and yet that person can still somehow bleed. How is she bleeding? How is her body making fresh red blood, when she no longer eats or drinks? How is she breathless, when she no longer breathes? How does her body heal from the cut? How come she can feel pain, but not hunger? How does she make tears?

And this bleeding thing. It’s not like it was just some throwaway line I could ignore. It was the engine that powered the resolution of the entire plot.

‘The Mystery of Grace’ was certainly not the worst book I’ve ever read. In places it reminded me a bit of Jonathan Carroll’s writing. I kind of liked the sparky heroine with tattoos. And I’ll even admit that there was one hell of a good idea buried in there. But this dead people bleeding thing is just STUPID.

Am I wrong? Obviously not. But feel free to disagree if you can.

 

everyone: shut up

On the bus this morning, I sat next to a woman who was reading one of those women’s magazines that say things like ‘HAVE SEX!!!!!!’ in giant orange letters across the front cover, alongside a picture of a minor celebrity wearing an outfit made of dishcloths.

She (the woman on the bus, not the dishcloth lady) had the magazine open at a double page spread, which I could not help noticing because of the frankly ridiculous title: ‘We ask 40 men one question: WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE BANNED FROM SAYING?’

You think I’m joking, don’t you? I hope you think I’m joking. I’m not joking.

I have got pretty damn good reading-over-the-shoulder skills, but the answers from said forty men were so depressingly awful that I gave up after only a few. Save yourself the brain-rinse, I thought. Sadly, however, I did manage to read that women should be banned from talking about: their friends, their ex-boyfriends, their hair, clothes, beauty in general, celebrities, and sports. Oh and also,  we shouldn’t make ‘a big deal’ out of things.

“I hate it when they make a mountain out a molehill,” one fellow said.  “Stop moaning and get on with making my dinner. I’ll tell you whether something’s important or not,” he did not actually add, but I’m almost certain that’s what he was thinking. I could tell by the misogynist glint in his piggy little eye.

Having not read the whole double-page extravaganza of patronising, women-are-so-annoying chat, I can’t say for certain, but I imagine that other topics that may offend masculine sensibilities could be: work, politics, television, food, housework, and of course women’s rights. Better to stick to the safe side, and when males are lurking, limit your conversation to how freaking great men are! Better still, just be quiet.

There have been several studies which suggest that women’s IQ and self-esteem are significantly lower after having read a women’s magazine. No wonder, if they are all full of this sort of crap. I don’t read these mags myself – I’d rather read a book, or a short story. Actually, scratch that. I’d rather disembowel myself with a teaspoon than read any more of that rubbish.

Who’s with me?