Thursday, 27 November 2014


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!


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! 


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.


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.


Thursday, 20 November 2014


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.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014


Hello, oh lovely readers, and welcome back! As our blog title for the day suggests, this year I'm attempting to participate in NaNo. Sort of.

Due to all the personal and health issues I had this year I never got around to running or even attempting to do my own International Creative Writing Month (sorry, anyone who was looking forward to it!). In May and July, when I'd normally have set that up, I was just about managing twenty minutes or maybe half an hour of computer activity per day before a headache set in, and that was while wearing sunglasses. It just wasn't going to work. But I still feel bummed about it. So when I sent my edits for Frail Mortal Heart back a few days shy of the end of October, I thought - why not try NaNo this year?

I should... probably have known better than to do that, really?

Well anyway, I knew that I couldn't actually sign up to take part as an official NaNo-er because the book that I'm working on in November is the Beauty and the Beast retelling I talked about here, usually referred to on twitter as #BaBBook. I've already written a chunk of the book and that means it's not eligible to be a NaNo novel. But I did intend to stick to the rules otherwise and commit to writing a certain amount each day in order to get to a certain word total by the end of the month. My goal was to produce ten handwritten pages of notes six days a week, for a grand total of 240 pages by the end of the month (I didn't count the first Sunday of the month because I was spending that day with my nieces). That would significantly progress BaBBook and give me a shot at getting a first draft finished early next year. All good.

As usual, Fate, the Muses, and the Writing Gods laughed at this plan of mine. As soon as I opened my draft document to look at the chapters I'd already written (I'd planned to skim-read them to get myself back into the correct voice and mood) I began to get a sinking feeling. I hadn't looked at this piece of writing for a month, since I'd been focusing on the aforementioned edits for TNotB #3, and it seemed that the distance had thrown some serious problems with the opening of the novel into sharp relief. I'd been feeling pretty good about those chapters and now I definitely was not. They just weren't up to scratch at all.

Fine. OK. Don't panic. The first day was just going to have to be re-writing so that I could fix this and move on feeling confident. And I know that goes completely against the NaNoWriMo principle of pushing on regardless, but I just *couldn't* OK? I had to get my ducks in a row first because otherwise the very important section I needed to write next was going to be weakened by the feebleness of what came before.

So I put in what felt like a fruitful day's work revising those chapters and getting them up to a standard that felt solid enough for me to move on, and was feeling OK about things until I got to the end of the document and realised there were pages missing there. Pages I knew I had written. Nearly a full chapter. What was going on? Had I failed to save at the end of my last writing session a month ago or something or... or... Oh. My. GOD.

I had been working on the wrong version of the manuscript.

I have two computers now - a slim laptop that travels with me, and a heavy old PC replacement that lives in my Writing Cave. I also have a flashdrive which I ferry back and forth between them, updating whatever computer I'm using with the most recent version of #BaBBook. And obviously at the end of last month, I hadn't updated the file on the Writing Cave computer with the newer version from the flashdrive. No wonder those chapters hadn't seemed good enough. They were from the middle, not the end, of September.


The urge to trash the room, rock 'n' roll style, was definitely rising, but after a few moments of deep breathing and staring at the calming picture on my wall, I was able to get it together. There was nothing to be done but print out the pages that I had revised, update my computer using the flashdrive and then hastily leave the room in order to watch classic anime until the urge to sacrifice myself on the alter of an elder god and then rise again as a eldritch tentacled monster of vengeance had passed.

Today, then, has been spent looking closely at the correct version of #BaBBook and inputting quite a lot of the changes that I'd made to the older version of the book's opening onto that, since many of them are still good. Two days of NaNo (during which I should have written twenty new pages, remember) down and not much to show for them, except a slightly more polished version of the first few chapters. And also a strong feeling that the last chapter, which I wrote at the end of September, needs to go in the bin and be completely rethought because it just feels rushed and wrong. Dammit.

So. Hopefully I'll get on that tomorrow and manage to construct a lead-in to the next part of the book that feels right and works. And then Thursday, I will actually start NaNo. Right?



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