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Wednesday, 14 January 2015

WHEN BIC WON'T DO THE TRICK

Hello, hello, hello, and welcome back my lovelies! The hiatus is over. I hope everyone had a happy Christmas and Merry New Year, whatever your version of those things would ideally be. I mostly tried to relax and not stress out over all the things that TV and films and adverts try to tell you that you ought to stress out about, and I mostly succeeded, so: win.

Before I launch into today's post - which has nothing to do with the noble line of budget ballpoint pens, I promise! - I have a couple of bits of business. Firstly, I highly recommend this post by the wise and venerable Terri Windling about perfectionism and how it's not nearly as good a thing as people would have you believe. She says:
"...we're responsible for being the artist we are...not the one that someone else (or our own Inner Critic) thinks we ought to be instead."
Which happened to be just exactly what I needed to be reminded in that moment. So thank you, Terri!

The other bit of business is a lovely announcement - I'm going to be doing a panel event at the London Book Fair this year. It'll be my first ever appearance at the LBF and it's set to be FABULOUS because not only is delightful chum Liz de Jager, author of The Blackheart Legacy going to be on the panel with me, but the panel itself is coolness x3. It's title is The Dark Arts: Writing Fantasy and Horror for Young Adults, and the other panelists will be Josh Winning, and Sally Green! The panel will be on Tuesday the 14th of April at 16:00. I can hardly believe I'll get to be a part of it, and although I know that the LBF is a bit different than the YALC event at the WFCC last year, if any Dear Readers would like to come along, I'll be delighted to see you.

Now onto today's topic: when BIC just won't do the trick.

When I say BIC, I am of course referring to that well known axiom for writers: Butt In Chair. It's the idea that no matter what happens - whether you feel a bit stuffy-headed or generally uninspired or you'd really rather read the new Cassandra Clare book or spend the day arguing with that one infuriating Makorra shipper on Tumblr - when your chosen writing time comes around, you sit your rear end down and pick up the pen or open the laptop and do the thing.

Even if you sit there for the entire hour or the entire day typing the same paragraph over and over again, the theory goes, you still keep your butt sat in that chair. Because a) if you make sitting down in readiness to write a habit, your brain will soon get the idea and train you to be receptive and productive during this time, since it will realise that you're not going to give up do something more interesting no matter how it tries to distract you and b) true, elusive inspiration is far more likely to visit the writer who is already scribbling their brains out than the one who is trying to beat their high score on Candy Crush.

All of this is true, and I myself have many times advised people to adhere to BIC if they're having trouble feeling inspired. One of the first lessons that published writers learn, when the reality of deadlines sinks in, is that you can still produce decent, perhaps even excellent work, when you actually don't much feel like writing at all. And that quite often, if you force yourself through your first feelings of tiredness or sadness or just-can't-be-bothered-ness, you find yourself cheerfully plugging away without much difficulty after all.

BIC is an antidote to the much abused idea of writer's block, which is often interpreted by the less experienced writers among us to mean that if you don't feel fired up with the effervescent joy of inspiration it's totally fine to marathon Breaking Bad on Netflix until you DO. Which, no. Books don't get written that way. However, I'm not in the camp who believes that writer's block is a mythical invention of pretentious layabouts who just want an excuse to make themselves interesting without actually doing any work. I've written a defense of writer's block - or what I call writing roadblocks - here, but I make it clear that the main way to fix it is to keep writing anyway.

However, last week I had a slightly different experience, which I'd like to talk about now.

I'd been pootling away happily on BaBBook since the end of Christmas and had just written a scene which I thought was pretty darn good. I finished work for the day, counted up my words - word count for the day AND the week exceeded, hurray! - and saved everything to my flashdrive with a sense of satisfaction and no inkling that anything was rotten in the state of Denmark at all.

And then the next day I sat down to write the next scene, which immediately followed on from the one I'd completed the day before... and I choked.

(Not literally)

Despite BIC, despite picking up my pen and opening my notebook and telling myself 'Just scribble for half an hour and see what comes out', despite knowing exactly what I wanted to write, and even having been excited and enthusiastic about writing it, a tiny voice in the back of my head was basically chanting Shan't won't nope you can't make me NYER.

I was confused and upset. I hadn't slammed into a mental block like that for a long time. Normally these days 'writer's block' for me is either about a failure in planning or knowledge (fixed by a quick list of my priorities for the next section scribbled on a Post It, or a flip through my notes, reference books or, occasionally, the internet) or about some external thing, like being tired or not feeling well. In either case, now that I'm not being poisoned by my boiler I can push through it because, underneath all that, I really do WANT to write. I want to get on with things and see how the story and the characters will develop next. But not that day. That day I felt like my fingers were physically refusing to move and it was a bit frightening, honestly.

After staring at my lovely blank page for about an hour and giving myself a slight headache, I took a break. The break ended up consuming my whole day as I procrastinated like an actual, literal, professional procrastinator. I mean, it's not that I haven't previously reached Olympic levels of procrastination. It's just that this time I couldn't understand WHY. Normally I can at least diagnose myself enough to know it's because the next scene is going to be traumatic or really tricky, or just because my depression is telling me I'm rubbish and I'm afraid to prove it. But it didn't seem to be any of that. When a second day passed in much the same way and I started to get a sinking feeling of dread.

What on earth was going on?

And then, during a chat with a member of my writing group, I had a thought. The thought related to the line edit of Frail Mortal Heart which I had completed and returned to my editor shortly after New Year. Normally by the line edit stage I've read and revised the manuscript so many times that I'm convinced the whole thing is unrepentant dreck, but because of the long period in the middle of this year when I couldn't look at my computer or do much work at all (due to CO poisoning, as we now know) I was coming to this one with much fresher eyes, and I found to my surprise and delight that I really rather enjoyed reading it again.

The best part was about three quarters of the way through when two very important threads of the story suddenly melded and produced an emotional BOOM in a way that I hadn't planned out at all. I had no idea I was even aiming at that effect. I didn't know it was coming and it really hit home. The perpetrator was my subconscious - the place where true inspiration lurks, and which can sometimes make that sudden instinctive leap, transforming great craft into actual art - working away behind the scenes, nudging me to tweak and edit, take a word out here, add a line there, and eventually create a scene which brought tears to my eyes.

So I thought about my block on BaBBook and I thought: hey, maybe my subconscious is at it again, nudging me - a bit more forcefully this time - and trying to tell me something. But what? Could it really be as simple as, Just Don't Write That Next Scene? But if it was, why? And what *was* I supposed to write next?

Almost immediately, the frustrated, constipated, Shan't Won't Nope You Can't Make Me NYER feeling dissipated. My cunning back brain, satisfied that I wasn't trying to bludgeon it to silence with BIC, suddenly began to cooperate, opening up doors to some floaty little scraps of ideas that I hadn't even noticed before because I thought I knew what I was supposed to be doing.

I pondered this while I cooked an elaborate pasta dish with homemade cheese sauce (the secret is to add Worcestor Sauce, mustard, and a dash of nutmeg by the way) took the dog for a long, slow walk, and eventually popped into my writing group to discuss it while listening to calming folk music.
What if... what if rather than writing the next chronological scene right now, I saved it for later in the book? Yes, showing it NOW, in its technically correct place in the story, would be thrilling and exciting, a great piece of action before a more quiet section. But that was all it would be. The reader would certainly know that the heroine wasn't going to die at this point so there'd be tension but not real fear. In fact, this scene, which had previously seemed inevitable and almost unavoidable, would be more like... well, predictable. Maybe even a little... unnecessary?

But if I held it back, maybe teased the reader with fragments and fleeting flashes of what had happened, and jumped the narrative and the heroine forward in time... then I could keep that whole piece of action for later in the story. Then it would no longer seem predictable. Then it would not only offer the reader thrilling action but also truly great emotional impact. It would serve as something much greater than a set piece - it would be a characterisation bombshell, turning the status quo of the story on its head. It would be *beautiful*.

And what's more, if I worked it that way, many other tiny issues which I hadn't quite figured out how to tackle yet would suddenly click into place, functioning together like a well oiled watch to add to rising tension and the reader's investment. I wouldn't even have to DO anything. It just... worked that way.

My subconscious was a bloody genius.

Despite the several days delay while I worked all this out, I'm now back on target with my wordcount and, more importantly, having whizzbang fun writing the current section of the story with a twist that I had never envisaged at the planning stage. And what does all this come down to? That sometimes when you get blocked, it's for a reason. It could be for the reasons I mentioned before - gaps in planning or knowledge or because of external factors - but sometimes it's just that you need a couple of days to work out a different way, an unexpected way, a better way, for the story to play out.

Yes, I could probably, with great effort, have BICed my way through this crisis. I could have forced myself to put words down on the page. But those words wouldn't have been the right words. They'd have been perfectly fine words, no doubt, and it's not like the entire story would have failed if I hadn't come up with this nifty alternate way of working this section. But it would have been less than it could have been. Less interesting, less fun, just less good.

So although you do need to give yourself permission to suck sometimes, and you do need to remember that you can't fix a blank page, and first drafts aren't meant to be perfect... there are times when you also need to listen to the little voice blowing raspberries in your back brain and admit that your first, unthinking ideas on how to execute something might not be the only or the best way. And then let your subconscious have its say. Something to think about.

And now... SURPRISE MUSIC RECOMMENDATIONS NO-JUTSU!


Tuesday, 23 December 2014

THINGS I'LL NEVER SAY

Hello, and Happy Holiday Season, my honeybunches! I hope everyone's fully prepared to either celebtrate or else hunker down and comfortably ignore all the winter festivities, whichever is your preference. Today's the last blog post you'll be getting from me for the next couple of weeks, as I'm taking a little bit of time off for Christmas and the New Year, so I thought I would share some new cover art.

This is for the anthology I've mentioned a few times before; produced by Candlewick Press and due out in hardcover in the US in March 2015, it's entitled THINGS I'LL NEVER SAY and is full of short stories on the theme of secrets and secret selves. I was told that my UK publisher Walker Books would be releasing this anthology here in Britain at some point, too, but I don't know any details about that yet, sadly. I'll update you when I do! In the meantime, I'll probably look at getting hold of some copies of this so I can do a giveaway for British and European Dear Readers in March.

My story - my first ever published short story, in fact - is called 'Storm Clouds Fleeing From the Wind' and is set in the universe of Shadows on the Moon, casting light on the young Akira's famous (and scandalous) dance at the Shadow Ball that changed her life forever. I'm really proud of this piece of work. I hope that others will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Now, without any further delay, here's the cover:


I don't technically have permission to post this here, but it's already up on Goodreads and Amazon, so... whatevs. What do you think of it? Let me know in the comments :) Read you later, lovelies!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT

Hello, hello, hello, my muffins! Happy Wednesday to all. Today I've got a link to my post on the Authors Allsorts in which I dish the juicy details about my stationery habit. But before I get there, I need to tell a story, talk about something I found out last week, and do a little Public Service Announcement.

So, I've mentioned in previous posts that I've had a lot of health problems this year. In April I began to get terrible headaches that made my eyes feel as if they were liquifying in my head. I could barely look at a computer screen without the light from the screen causing me agony, I felt tired all the time no matter how much sleep I got, my asthma started to act up, I often found it very difficult to concentrate, and I also suffered a lot with feeling randomly nauseous.

Now, the thing is that I've had headaches and migraines all my life, and I also have IBS, which can make you feel sick fairly often. And people's asthma can get worse or better over the years. So these things seemed, to me, like a simple (if unwelcome) worsening of problems I already had. My main concern was that feeling this way was having a huge impact on my work and I focussed on that because if I lost my ability to write, I knew I really would be up a creek without a paddle.

Concerned friends and family offered theories. The tiredness might be a new manifestation of my depression, after everything I'd been through in 2013. The change in frequency and intensity of my headaches might be a natural effect of getting older. I should probably go and get an asthma check to see if I needed a different kind of spray. If I felt sick all the time, perhaps I should try keeping a food diary again, like I had for several months when I first learned I had IBS. I didn't know if any or all of this was true, or would help, but after feeling awful for months I did know that I needed to seek assistance because it wasn't getting better on its own.

I went to the doctor and was given medication to help with the headaches, as well as a new asthma regimen. I went to the optician and got new glasses. I developed new coping strategies, such as overloading on caffeine in the mornings, wearing dark-tinted sunglasses whenever I worked on my computer, and resigning myself to getting to bed quite early and getting up much later than before (even though previously I'd never needed much sleep, and had always been the kind of person who had to get up early to feel well) so that I got nine hours or more sleep a night. I faithfully took my asthma sprays twice a day.

Honestly, even after all this I still didn't feel that much better, but I was able to get back to writing as I adjusted to feeling, basically, below par all the time, and to working around the constant pain in my head and eyes and the weird nauseated dizziness. I resigned myself.

I had no way of knowing what was really going on.

Last week I woke up to discover that a) the house was freezing cold because my boiler had broken down and b) that I didn't have a headache for the first time in... weeks. The boiler wasn't a surprise, really; it's broken down pretty much annually every year since it was installed. But I was a bit shocked to wake up feeling rested and not in pain. Anyway, I called up the repair people and they came out.

Happily for me, the person who came was a very experienced head engineer. Rather than doing a reset or a quick fix the way that the last several repairmen had, he took the boiler apart and noticed not one, not two, not three, but SIX problems (two small cracks/leaks and two blockages caused by these leaks, plus a load of water in the bottom of the boiler and a load of corrosion). Basically, my boiler had been teetering on the edge of breaking down for a long, long time and needed to be almost completely rebuilt.

It took the engineer FIVE DAYS - Tuesday to Friday, with another full day on Monday and the help of another engineer - to get the boiler rebuilt and my central heating and water working the way they should. Despite only having heat and hot water intermittently, and despite the large man making scary banging noises in the loft, I was surprised to find that I felt better last week than I had in months and months. I wondered if maybe it was the cold, and if perhaps I should try keeping the thermostat turned off from now on. Wearing leggings under my trousers, fingerless gloves, a hat and a fluffy shawl over my cardigan would be a small price to pay.

It wasn't until Friday that the engineer said something that really caught my attention. He told me that my boiler had likely been pumping out dangerous - in fact, fatal - levels of carbon monoxide, and that it was a very good thing the machine wasn't located in the kitchen, as boilers often are. Because the machine is located in the loft, the dangerous gases would mostly have been vented through the roof. However, my loft is incredibly drafty, and even quite a mild wind would probably blow some of those gases back into the house. With a bit of concern, he asked me: 'You don't go up there often, do you?'

The answer to that is no. But. But. In my bedroom there is an airing cupboard. The cupboard used to be hooked up to the old water heater tank and as a result, it has no ceiling - it opens directly up into the loft space. The engineer had a look, and then he spotted the fact that my bedroom window was open, even though my heating was off. He asked why. I explained to him that I always sleep with it open these days because I'd found that if I closed it, I ended up with an even worse headache than normal; I'd assumed because the room got too stuffy at night.

The engineer told me, very gently, that he didn't think it was because the room was getting too stuffy at night.

He reeled off a list of symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headaches, dizziness, breathlessness, nausea, fatigue, and inability to concentrate. Everything I had been suffering with since spring this year. He told me that I need to make a doctor's appointment, like... now.

Most likely version of events: small amounts of carbon monoxide were venting into my room through the airing cupboard, particularly at night because I generally have my bath or shower in the evening, meaning that's when the boiler is most heavily used. The amounts of the gas would vary depending on how much I was using the boiler generally - more if the weather was cold and the radiators automatically came on - and in which direction and how strongly the wind was blowing on the roof.

The fact that I kept my window open at night... well, it might not have actually saved my life, but it probably prevented me from getting a lot sicker than I already had been. And the fact that all the faults with the boiler that caused the carbon monoxide to reach such dangerous levels had also caused it to break down before we hit really cold weather, and I turned the heat up and began leaving it on during the night? That probably DID save my life.

So this is my Zolah-Land public service announcement. If you are having these symptoms and they persist, as mine did, for weeks or months at a time, and you find that you feel strangely better when you are away from home but that you get worse again when you return? For heaven's sake, get your heater or boiler or whatever checked. Please.

And get a carbon monoxide alarm and put it NEAR WHERE THE BOILER IS (I had one, but it was shoved on a shelf on my landing, in completely the wrong place to be useful). Although I obviously wasn't lucky to have a dangerously malfunctioning boiler that was pumping out high levels of poisonous gas, I was lucky that it was in the loft, that I mostly already slept with my window open, and that the boiler went wrong during summer months when I barely used my heating. You may not be that lucky. So just be careful.

And with that, we move onto happier things: STATIONERY. Check out my collection and weep, losers!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

STEP OUT OF THE PRIVILEGE BUBBLE

Hello my lovelies! No new post on this blog today, but here's a link to my guest post on the CBC Diversity Blog - Step Out of the Privilege Bubble. It's a shortened, updated version of this post, which in turn was a follow-up to this post, so you can refresh your memory about those, too, if you wanted. 

I'm delighted with the recent explosion in awareness on this topic - at The Zoë-Trope we (and by 'we' I mean me and my Dear Readers) have been talking about diversity and it's importance pretty much since the beginning (back in 2010, eek). Now we're part of a much bigger discussion that is finally taking place throughout the children's and YA book community and I feel very proud to be a part of that. I hope you do, too!

Have a lovely weekend, my duckies (it's almost here!) and read you next week.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

A QUESTION OF JEDI MINDTRICKS

Hello, my lovelies! Happy Wednesday! Today's post is in answer to a reader question, but before I get started, I bring tidings of great joy! THE NAME OF THE BLADE has been nominated for the Teenreads.com Teen Choice Book of the Year 2014! Voting for the winner will run between now and the beginning of February next year, so if you've enjoyed the book and would like to see it get a little more attention head over here to the poll and voice your opinion (you can vote for up to five books, not just mine).

Also, any reviews for the US version of the book there on Amazon.com would be greatly, greatly appreciated. I know that's a pain for US Dear Readers who've already reviewed the UK version of the book, since those reviews *should* have been transferred across. But I emailed Amazon.com about it and their response was basically 'Meh'. So... it's down to us to do something about the lonely, four-review status of the book. I appreciate the readers who've already done so more than I can say. But I love you all anyway. Mwah!

Now onto today's question, which was left in the comments by Anon:
I had a quick question in which I'd like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your thoughts prior to writing. I have had a tough time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out. I truly do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or tips? Many thanks!
Anon, this is a problem I'm sure most writers and creative people have. I know that the fantastic YA writer Melinda Lo, for instance, needs to meditate for a short while each day before beginning work in order to centre herself. It's a little strange, because if you're anything like me you spend a lot of time doing regular day to day tasks - shopping, cleaning, walking the dog - with your brain just buzzing with your character's voices and bits of descriptions and actions you can't wait to write. But as soon as you actually sit down to do so? Suddenly your head is filled with the regular day to day tasks instead! Frustrating.

I've got an advantage because I have my Writing Cave, a teeny-tiny box room which is filled with books and a computer and pretty much nothing else. When I go in there my brain *knows* that we're about to get down to business and so I find it easier to clear my head and start work (sometimes I swear, as soon as I walk in I can feel my synapses give out a little sigh of relief). But on days when I'm stressed or tired or just not feeling all that creative, it can still be really tough to stop other thoughts from getting in the way of the words. So I do have a few strategies that I use to shove all that annoying real stuff out of the front of my head to make room for my story.

MUSIC: I'm a little more music obsessed than the average bear (although not as obsessed as the famous Maggie Stiefvater, whose eye-wateringly extensive playlists can be found all over her blog and Tumblr) and make multiple playlists for each book, and sometimes specific ones for each character or for important relationships or events. But you don't have to be a tunes-nerd to utilise the benefits of music to help you focus and get your head into a creative space! You don't even need to be one of those writers who listens to music as they work - I know plenty of people who can't stand it, but don't worry about that. That's not what we're doing here.

Set aside an afternoon to browse on Spotify or YouTube and find a song that really speaks to you - you know the kind I'm talking about, one that makes you stop whatever you're doing for a moment as soon as you hear the opening notes, that gives you a little shiver down your spine when it opens up. If it's a tune that relates in some way to your current book, that's great, but it doesn't have to be. It just needs to be a piece of music that speaks to you.

Download said piece of music and the next time you come to write, after your document or your notebook is open and you're ready to begin, stop - and play the song. Listen to it with your whole heart, feel it, let it move you. When it's finished, hopefully the buzzing thoughts will have calmed down a bit and you'll feel the stillness and inner quiet you need to start putting words down. 

PLANNING: Sometimes your head is full of anxiety and stress because you know the upcoming scene is really important and you're not sure you have the skills to pull it off. This worry can block the brain like nothing else, and before you know it your thoughts have gone off on a merry, procrastinating joy-ride, fixating on the cracks in the ceiling, the not-very-interesting thing you saw on TV last night, or your plans for great-aunt Miriam's birthday present next May: in short, ANYTHING but the thing you actually need to concentrate on.

At this point, whether you're an outliner or a pantser, a little bit of planning can really help. Not too much! Don't panic! Get a Post-It or the back of an envelope and a pencil and make yourself a little bullet-pointed list of three or five or ten things you need to accomplish in this scene. John and Beth argue/Beth storms out/John watches Beth from window and has revelation about feelings/John sees fireball fly over castle wall and immolate Beth/John screams in primal rage, turns into purple gorilla and smashes way out of window to destroy everyone. There!

You don't have to stick to this list of things - but by having defined what you're here to accomplish, you've sneakily slid your brain sideways into focus on the story in a no pressure sort of way. When  the list is finished, generally you feel calmer and better able to begin. 

TAKING THE PRESSURE OFF: Sometimes all the stars align right, the writing gods smile on you, you roll out of bed bright and early and find that you have a whole day or half day (or whatever) with nothing to do but write. No distractions, no worries, nothing else to accomplish. It's going to be amazing! You sit down. And you stare at the blank computer screen/page. And stare. And stare some more. AND NOTHING COMES OUT.

Why? Too much pressure! The idea of dedicating a whole day or several long hours in a row to nothing but writing feels exciting, but in practice it can often make your brain freeze up. So come at it a different way. Set your phone or your alarm to beep in half an hour or forty minutes and tell yourself that you need to write as many words as possible in that time. When you're done, you're done. The rest of the day is free. GO!

This might sound like the opposite of 'taking the pressure off' but it works really well. Now you have a short-term goal which is much less scary than 'spend the entire day creating deathless prose' and you don't have any time to hang around. It jumpstarts you creatively and you may find that you write a surprising amount for such a short period of time. You may also find that at the end of your thirty of forty minutes you're desperate to continue - which is fine - or that you're exhausted and happy to stop - also fine! Either way, you'll have accomplished much more than you would have if you'd spent two hours staring at your blank page before finally bursting into tears, fleeing to your favourite blankie, and curling into the fetal position. 

JUST RESIGN YOURSELF: Even with all these Jedi mindtricks, there are still times when your brain simply will not shut up and you cannot seem to get into the proper writing mood. You know that anything you write for at least the first twenty minutes is going to be rubbish.

So? Resign yourself to that and write anyway.

Just because the first few paragraphs or pages will need a lot of rewriting, that doesn't mean the rest of your work for the day won't be excellent and well-worth committing to the page. It doesn't mean you should waste hours fruitlessly trying to inspire yourself in increasingly bizarre ways, or give up completely, either. This is one of the first lessons that full-time writers learn: sometimes you just have to push through and write, even when you don't feel like it.

In almost every case, after half an hour or so, the effort to put words down loosens up my cramped creative brain and I start to feel happy and inspired after all. So what if it takes a page of dross to get me there? It's worth it!

I hope this helps, Anon! Read you next week, everyone :)

Thursday, 27 November 2014

JIGSAW PUZZLES

Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! Today is one of those days when I kind of wish I blogged on Tumblr, because they don't have to come up with blog titles; they can just post. There are no literal jigsaw puzzles involved in today's blog - sorry for the disappointment - but it seemed better than calling this post 'Random bits and pieces of stuff that's currently interesting or inspiring me maybe it will do the same for you kthnxbai'. So! A jigsaw puzzle of stuff for your delectation!

SOME FILMS I HAVE WATCHED:

I bought an armful of DVDs the other week. These included THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (sorry cynics, but I really loved it and cried buckets - recommended); CHEF (funny and entertaining although it didn't quite reach outstanding for me - something failed to gel); MALEFICENT (adored it - brilliant performances and a Feminist take on the fairytale, though the CGI was a bit distracting in places); EARTH TO ECHO (Charming, funny and affecting - will be sharing it with my nieces next time they visit); and BEGIN AGAIN (Probably not for younger Dear Readers, what with all the swearing, but fantastic nonetheless - a story about broken-hearted people healing themselves through friendship and art, and probably the film that CHEF was trying to be but didn't quite manage).

I also went to see MOCKINGJAY Part One and was, not surprisingly for anyone who knows how I feel about these books and films, blown away. It's certainly the darkest film so far - not a surprise, since the book takes grimness factor up to over 9000 - in terms of the characters and their arcs, and also visually, since we only see the neon-coloured Capitol in glimpses and most of the action takes place in an underground concrete bunker.

I've seen reviewers complaining about this, and longing for more fabulous Capitol scenes, but to me that misses the point somewhat. Or a lot, actually.

The whole point of the Capitol is that it's glittering beauty and excess distract the people from the horrors happening right under their noses. The people of the Capitol - mothers and father themselves - wholeheartedly embrace a form of entertainment where innocent children are made to fight each other to the death, and worship and adore the public face of the 'victors' while turning a blind eye to how these same children, having survived the games, are exploited, tortured and sold into sexual slavery for the amusement of President Snow. The future America depicted in this story is called Panem. This literally means 'bread' and comes from the saying 'Panem et Circences' - a phrase coined by a Roman Emperor which basically states that so long as the Roman people are given bread to eat and circuses to distract them, they will never rebel against the Empire. AND IT'S TRUE.

The Capitol have turned war - a calculatedly horrific kind of war, in which children murder each other while their families are forced to watch, helpless - into a GAME. They have turned it into a theatrical show so beautiful and spectacular and eye-catching that no one even realises it is a war at all. Not even US - you and me! - watching from our comfy theatre seats in the real world. How well I remember the cheer that went up from the other film-goers when, in THE HUNGER GAMES, first Clove and then Cato were killed. YAY! Underage kids who've been indoctrinated into believing their only choice in life is to fight to the death with other kids have been horribly killed! There's a real crowd-pleaser! 

Seriously?

To me, the point of this film was to strip away the carefully constructed veneer, the gorgeous costumes and sparkling lights and moving music, and show us the truth, that the 'Games' President Snow presides over *are* warfare, and always have been. But the grim darkness of this film was also marked by moments of piercing beauty which were all the more meaningful and lovely for their rarity - and their realness. Katniss and Gale stalking the deer through District 13's undisturbed woods and letting it live, the film crew sitting by the river in District 12 in the sunlight while the mockingjays called around them, Katniss's low, heartfelt voice singing 'The Hanging Tree' blending seamlessly into the voices of District 5 workers marching to war - to certain death - in order to destroy the dam that supplies the Capitol with power. Each one felt like a punch to the gut.

Go see it, but take tissues, and expect to leave feeling emotionally destroyed as only the best pieces of art can destroy you.

A PIECE OF WRITING SOFTWARE I HAVE RECENTLY DISCOVERED:

It's called Pacemaker, and I love it. We know about my disastrous history with NaNo, but this programme offers the chance to create a similar sort of schedule on a really individual basis, even down to marking certain specific dates off or deciding that you want to work with gradually increasing intensity. Check it out.

SOME SONGS I HAVE RECENTLY ENJOYED:

Thursday, 20 November 2014

A PEEK INSIDE THE NOTEBOOK...

Hello, my well-iced cupcakes! Sorry for my blogging absence last week. I'm afraid I caught two bugs one on top of the other and I pretty much lost the full seven days. I'm still recovering, but at least I feel mostly human now. That was my NaNo efforts out of the window, though. I think I've learned my lesson now that it's happened three times: the universe does not want me NaNoing. I can take a hint!

Today's post is one that I promised on Twitter to the delightful Dear Readers Jenni (@JuniperJungle) and Lucy (@ChooseYA) aaages ago, after I posted a screencap of part of the original page of notes I made back in 2010 when I first came up with most of my ideas for THE NAME OF THE BLADE. So here is me finally getting to it, half a month later.

I've mentioned on the blog before that I use a programme called OneNote - a sort of virtual notebook which lets you open up new pages and tabs and jam random notes all over the place in no particular order - to keep track of my messy, developing ideas as all the elements of a story start coalescing in my brain. It's not really the same as brainstorming. It's just jotting things down, actually, but it's better for me than a normal notebook (le gasp! No, I still love normal notebooks and my stationery fetish is intact, I'm not a pod person, honest!) because after writing the notes you can move them around, add things, take things away, change the size or colour, add hyperlinks or paste in reference pictures, and generally make a mess of the virtual page without *literally* making a mess of the page, as you would if you did this on paper.

For this reason, while showing you any of the actual notebooks I used to write the trilogy (nine of them!) wouldn't be very interesting because most of the pages are barely legible and all of them are a mess, showing you screencaps of my OneNote pages is not only possible but feasible. And since Lucy and Jenni assured me it would be fascinating... here we are.

 

This is a continuous screencap of my very first page of notes for THE NAME OF THE BLADE, written over the course of about four or five days of furious inspiration in 2010 - and then added to over the following year. As you will be able to see immediately if you've read any of the books, my original ideas were all over the place and many of them evolved or changed completely between starting to scribble down ideas and the book actually being written and then ending up on shelves.

For instance, if you look at that first double column of notes, you can see that in the beginning I was working on the assumption that this would be one book. So all the events that ended up being spread out over the course of TNI and DH are jammed together. And initially Rachel and Jack weren't sisters. Rachel was going to be a babysitter/au pair who got killed early on to underline the terrible threat of the Nekomata. But when Rachel appeared in the story - with her mild OCD, bossiness and common sense - she was far too good to be squandered that way. So she ended up getting her own viewpoint and storyline! Good going, Rach. There was also a bit of confusion about everyone's names that I'm a little puzzled by now...

However, some things - like the haiku which gave the series its individual book titles and guiding theme (that the powerful, passionate love mortals are able to feel within their finite lifetimes is terrifying and awe-inspiring even to such ancient forces as the ones surrounding them in this story) stayed exactly the same. I actually wrote the haiku within minutes of the idea of a warrior trapped in a sword appearing in my head - and as my ideas kept getting bigger and bigger, realising that there were three book titles in there was part of how I knew it was going to be a trilogy.

The blurred section, by the way, is a bunch of mythology stuff that's going to be revealed in the final book. And since no one but my editor and agent have read that yet, it didn't seem fair to splash it around and ruin things for everyone else. If any other notes up there seem like massive spoilers, they're probably things that I actually changed later on, so I've left them because they won't do any damage to your reading pleasure.

You can see down the right hand side that I have other pages for each individual book - which is where things get really detailed and spoilery. There's also one called THE NAME OF THE BLADE which was my series bible, so to speak, keeping track of who knew what when and all the little niggly details that I needed to remember. And finally there's one called The Name of Love, which is a short story in the universe that I've been working on intermittently.

Every book that I've worked on over the last few years has a notebook like this in OneNote. Since most of my books are standalone most of them have less tabs - but not all. For instance, #BaBBook has just as many tabs because I've been doing in depth research into Japanese flora and fauna and food and house construction and a host of other things, and I've got a mini-encyclopaedia filled with reference notes, pictures, and links.

I hope this was interesting to someone, anyway! Thanks for pushing me to post it, Jenni and Lucy! Read you later, my lovelies.
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