While living and working in Edinburgh in 2008 I set out to write one million words in 366 days... but only managed 800,737.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

One Penny Blues

I don't really talk about my day job here because I don't find it that interesting and there's no way any of you would.


Today someone issued a cheque for £0.01. Uh huh, one whole penny. This is stupid in itself, but the only reason I saw it was the person who issued the cheque did the banking incorrectly. (It falls on me to tell people when they've screwed up and explain how they can fix things.)

This particular penny was to settle a customer complaint. I can only guess there was a one penny discrepancy on a payment -- just who complains about this is something for a different rant. What troubles me is that someone at my multinational industry-leading financial services institution saw no problem sending out a cheque for this amount and that two senior staff signed it. What were they thinking?

Who's going to cash a £0.01 cheque? Even if the bank doesn't charge you anything to deposit a cheque, there's the good old "shoe leather costs" (yes, I still remember my Economics 101). What will happen is the cheque will go unpresented. After six months it will go stale and will need to be moved into an out of date account. After six years the penny can be returned to the company.

You may be thinking this is a devious plan on the part of my multinational blah blah blah company to "pay" compensation without actually having to part with a single penny, literally.

Devious would not be the word for it.

The cost of sending out this cheque in terms of labour (writing check, senior staff signing it, posting it, doing banking, suggesting corrective banking [my five minutes of fame], doing corrective banking, doing out of date banking, doing banking to return the penny to our account) runs to £8.20 in my very cautious estimate. When you add the cost of printing the cheque and posting it, and the cost of investigating the initial complaint, the company is down around £30.00. That's 2999% more than if we'd just paid out the correct amount in the first place.

Maybe those years in the public sector background heightened my Ridiculous Radar (anything that can end up as a newspaper headline is to be avoided). But in the private sector, and banking in particular, it seems they’re willing to trade pennys for pounds.

That’s the problem with institutions, I think. Virtually every task is immaterial when the bottom line is in the billions.

Hardly an original thought, I know. But that’s kind of the point. I am a temp. Work is not setting my world on fire. It’s hard to switch gears at night and be creative. It’s hard when a one penny cheque will make more ripples than a 1,600 word story. Sometimes it’s just easier to blog about that cheque and get an early night.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Infitity Hours From Tulsa

While I was walking to the post office today I found myself humming 'Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa'.

It's probably not cool to know the words to this song (and even less cool to harbour desires of one day getting the chance to show off my Gene Pitney impersonation), but I find myself strangely compelled by it.

History: The song was written by Burt Bacharach (music) and Hal David (lyrics), and while many have covered it since (perhaps most famously: Dusty Springfield) Gene Pitney's version was the first to be released in 1963.

The sound of the song is not too far from Jimmy Webb's compositions from later in the sixties (see: Glen Campbell's 'Wichita Lineman': a thing of beauty; Richard Harris' 'MacArthur Park': too zany not to love). It's the rich, layered ornamentation, I think. Those almost-Mexican horns (Tulsa is only 725 miles from Mexico).

But the lyrics are a long drive from the figurative melt of ‘MacArthur Park’ (or even ‘Up, Up and Away’). Hal David's lyrics read so flat on the page, it's almost childish:

Dearest darlin' I had to write to say that I won't be home anymore
'cause something happened to me while I was drivin' home
And I'm not the same anymore

That’s not rhyming. That’s just saying the same words (home, anymore) twice. The fact is Bacharach’s melody, the instrumentation and Gene Pitney’s voice push the song through till the chorus hits:

Oh, I was only twenty four hours from Tulsa
Ah, only one day away from your arms

That’s the hook that got me humming today on Leith Walk.

For a long time, all I really retained from this song was there was this guy, 24 hours from his girlfriend in Tulsa. Perhaps the ordinariness of the verses explains how the fact he hooked up with a waitress and was no longer returning to Tulsa slipped under the radar for so long.

But the story is redeeming feature of Hal David’s lyrics. This isn’t another sappy separated-love song… it’s actually the cruellest break up song in the history of popular music. Those first three lines I quoted above say he won’t be coming home, but don’t say why. He could be detained with work or had a terrible road accident… It’s not until the waitress appears at the end of the second verse that his hitherto girlfriend (the “you” of the song) realises the obstacle is romantic. *knife-in-heart moment*

And he doesn’t just say, “I found someone else,” - - she gets a blow by blow of the hook up:

as we were dancin'
Closely, all of a sudden I lost control as I held her charms
And I caressed her, kissed her, told her I'd die
Before I would let her out of my arms

*twisting-knife-in-heart moment*

Reading over these lyrics again today, I noticed the similarities between the Bacharach/David song and Jimmy Webb’s ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ (1967). Like ‘Wichita Lineman’, Glen Campbell made the song famous, but you should click here to listen to Jimmy Webb sing it himself (YouTube won’t allow me to embed this particular video).

In Jimmy Webb’s South Western U.S. town-quoting, break-up song, the distance between dumper and dumpee is increasing:

By the time I get to Phoenix she'll be rising…
By the time I make Albuquerque she'll be working…
By the time I make Oklahoma she'll be sleepin'…

Apart from the improbable speeds required to make the journey fit the story, the physical distance increasing makes sense in a break up song, physical distance standing in for emotional distance yadda yadda yadda. But ‘Twenty Four Hours…’ goes the other way. Gene Pitney (et. al.) has driven for at least a full day (the trouble starts when he needs to stop to rest for the night) and is only one sleep away from returning. It still sounds like he loves the “you” he address, calling her darlin’, imagining being in her arms. But no, he’s not the same anymore.


It’s as if everything about the song is engineered to generate maximum pain for the girl he’s breaking up with.

Does this make it a genius song, or just a troubling one?

I’ll stick with my first adjective: compelling.


In searching for YouTube links for the songs mentioned above, I found Karl Pilkington’s explanation of this song, which says similar things. I’m not sure thinking like Karl Pilkington is a good thing -- though he is a published author!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Status Report: The Big Three-Zero

Week Thirty – The Stats

Weekly Wordcount: 11,594 words (compared to 17,598 words last week)
Average: 1,656 words per day (compared to target of 3,001/day)
Most productive day: Tuesday 22 July, 2,966 words
Least productive day: Sunday 27 July, 595 words (excuses: went to North Berwick, climbed the Law; Law-climbing is not a successful writing lubricant, it turns out).
Year-to-date: 489,590 words (81,484 words behind target)

Goals for this week:
1. Write 500,000th word on (or before) 31 July.
2. Sort my shit out.

So yeah, a whole month behind and not as many finished products as I’d like for thirty weeks of toil. But I’m not packing it in. I might repackage it a few more times (see title change a few weeks ago) to soften the humiliation of flogging a dead Shetland pony, but this “Quest” still has it’s uses.

Even if it’s just putting something specious on the internet for people to trip up on when they Google:

rupert degas girlfriend
hidden pornos
(no link coz even the Google search is dodgy)
childrens gumboot poems
i am behind the eight ball meaning

These are real searches that led people to this site. And like the above, 75% of the searchers must be disappointed (Google is not infallible!). Though I am proud to have been a walking, talking definition of “behind the eight ball” since March.

If you’re reading this after Googling Shetland pony trip, here’s a picture:

Really, I value these passersby. In the last 24 hours I’ve had visitors from Chennai, Winnipeg, Trinidad and Tobago, Vienna, Sevilla, Seoul, Bilbao, and Copenhagen. That’s pretty cool. [Mostly my visitors are from the UK (26%), US (25%) and NZ (25%).]

If you’re from Bilbao, is it worth visiting? Monster Magnet are playing there at the end of November. I can’t decide if I go there, Toulouse, or a three city Eastern Europe trek through Tallinn, Riga and Warsaw. The latter appeals the most at this stage. Especially as it looks like I’ll be off to the Greek Islands in September. I’m all of the mashed up Euro experience right now.

And then there’s the fact I can say I saw a heavy metal (slash “stoner rock” slash “boogie rock”) concert in Estonia.

Surely a story or three will come out of a trip like that!

Speaking of tours, the Tragically Hip are halfway through recording their new album, which may be released as early as September. This means another tour is imminent. I just hope they come to Europe while I’m still here or do a massive Canadian odyssey which takes in all the spots I want to see. Nothing like seeing the sights/sites (both words work) by day and hearing ‘At The Hundredth Meridian’ of an evening.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Worksheet #1

Yesterday we climbed into the back of a white van to be driven to look at a flat. When the doors were closed on us, Marisa said, "This is just like being kidnapped." I think most people who are kidnapped probably have the same thought.

Our could be kidnapper was only our landlord (we're looking to move somewhere cheaper and he owns several flats). He's got a heart of gold, but I'm sure his head has a pinball machine inside it. Whatever thought the ball hits, he says it. When we first met him last year, when he showed us the room we would eventually take, he showed us a photo of his wife on his cellphone, rapped his knuckles against every painted surface and piece of joinery and said, "I did this", made a racist remark about Africans, told us all about his MS and various relapses, asked if he could smoke in the room we were about to take as our own, and ask where we came from three times. That evening, when we got back to our hostel in a converted church, I wrote a story about a couple who view a flat called 'The Landlord.' I still can't finish it because I don't know the ending.

It has been the best weather of the summer this week. They are constructing the marquees on Charlotte Square at the moment (the Edinburgh International Book Festival starts in two weeks http://www.edbookfest.co.uk). It will probably rain for the next 40 days and nights.
The seating outside the Castle has all been erected, although the Military Tattoo is still a few weeks off. I thought they were terribly prepared. Today I learnt Atomic Kitten (or is is Girls Aloud?) is playing a concert there this weekend.

All the permanent staff in my team had a meeting this morning from 8:30 to 9:30. They got bacon rolls. The rest of the morning, the office smelt like fat and tomato sauce.
On the list of things I will introduce to my bubble of NZ upon my return from Scotland, Bacon Rolls are at the top. Also on the list, vegetarian haggis (if there's any way to source them within NZ); pear cider (not especially Scottish, but I'm big on the stuff lately); saying "the now" where just "now" would do - - "I'm busy the now," "I can't come to the phone the now" - - (a better gloss would be "at the moment")...

The things I have adopted as my own after living in Australia for three years: their beers (on the rare occasion I stumble into a Walkabout Pub, a Tooheys Extra Dry wins the taste and whistful reminisce battles against any NZ beer on offer); the expression "of a ______", eg "I enjoy going for a walk of a lunchtime", "I'm so tired of a night-time recently"; double-pluggers; the Socceroos; the currency (I'm glad I kept my house deposit/emergency travel funds in Australian Dollars rather than moving it to NZD before leaving last year).

The things I miss most about NZ: feijoas, friends and family. In that order.

This post steals it's title from Geoff Cochrane's Worksheet poems.

I have been extremely tired of late. I have been short with people who are only being nice / doing their job / taking an interest. I have not been able to listen to my iPod on shuffle because all music thrown up is inappropriate and / or overplayed. I have made little oaths with myself that a rational person should not keep ("I will never read another book by an Indian author", "I will buy the next pair of jeans I try on, regardless of price, style or fit.") I have become too interested in my weight (somehow I lost 5 kgs without doing anything, now when ever I do "something" I must weigh myself). I have turned emails from my mum into poems:

I have been instructed to avoid
yawning, sneezing and chewing,
which means soft food like soup,
mashed veggies, porridge, yoghurt--

Talking is fine so long as I don’t
overstretch my right
temporomandibular joint.


Jerry's Final Thought: I wonder if kidnappers think, "I could totally kidnap this person right now," before becoming kidnappers.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Status Report: Week Twenty-Nine

Week Twenty-Nine – The Stats

Weekly Wordcount: 17,598 words (more than I wrote in the previous two weeks combined)

Average: 2,514 words per day (compared to target of 3,001/day)

Most productive day: Saturday 19 July, 3,609 words

Least productive day: Tuesday 15 July, 948 words

Year-to-date: 477,996 words (73,916 words behind target)

Expect Status Reports to appear on Mondays from here on out.

I used to draft up the blog entry last thing on a Sunday evening, tally the words (as they counted towards the week I was reporting on), then finalise all the stats and graphs... but I've finally tired of the jiggery-pokery. I'm all for streamlining these days.

Perhaps poetry is to blame...

I went to the Scottish Poetry Library for the second time on Saturday. My first visit coincided with some uni students being given a tour -- I felt like and interloper, and ended up loping out without borrowing a single book.

But on my second visit I had the place pretty much to myself.

And what a wonderful place! (Though I will say it does have a terribly squeaky floor for a building less than a decade old...)

It is run by an ex-pat Kiwi, and thanks to a deal struck with Creative New Zealand (and the donations of a few visiting Kiwi poets) the Scottish Poetry Library has a wonderful collection of contemporary New Zealand poetry. I mean, they have eight books by Geoff Cochrane (he's quickly becoming my favourite NZ poet). Having been out of Aotearoa since 2006, it was the first chance I've had to read so many of these books. [Admission: I hadn't read most of those released before 2006 either, so...].

I spent a couple of hours sitting at a table and reading through books by Jenny Bornholdt, James Brown, Glenn Colquhoun, and Mr. Cochrane... and still had to limit myself to borrowing four books of NZ poetry, as I needed to use my final two loans for something more Scottish.

I have the books for a month, but I suspect I'll be revisiting the SPL (not to be confused with the Scottish Premier League) sooner than that.

It's no coincidence that my sudden passion for poetry corresponds to a larger chunk of last weeks pie being expended in pursuit of the p-word. And for all the 5,614 words, I did manage to wind up with seven poems I’m happy with. How many I’ll be happy with when I read them again in two or three months time, well, that’s the real test.

I don't see this as a conversion to poetry. I've always dabbled. And I'm not writing any less prose / thinking any less about narratives. It’s just I’m getting quicker at spotting the sorts of things that can only work as a poem, rather than trying to force them into prose.

As I've pushed myself give every idea a fair chance at making it to the page, I've realised that ideas are a renewable resource. If you chop down ten, another ten will grow. And if you don't harvest them, you're unlikely to get much new growth from year to year.

Maybe a better (worse) metaphor is shaving your legs. Once you start to shave (so I'm told), the hairs grown back thicker and more plentiful, which makes not shaving worse than if you had never started shaving in the first place. So too with writing. If you start to use your ideas, new, thicker, hardier ideas will take their place. If you stop using the ideas, they won't settle back down, but throb away in your skull. Once you start to blacken the white page, you never go back. Or something like that.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie vs The Wasp Factory

The planets aligned such that I finished two books on Friday. My lunch time reading for the week was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark - - its 128 pages fit perfectly into five thirty-minute sessions (I read a bit slower while eating, not possessing the multi-tasking gene and all). And my walking to and fro audiobook was The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks.

It was not a coincidence, exactly, that both books were by Scottish authors - - each was a token Scottish borrowing from separate trips to the Edinburgh Central Library - - though I didn’t realise I had Scot against Scot until well into the week.

When I finished both books on the same day it sealed their fates: comparisons must be drawn (and even when the analysis evaporates, they will remain yoked in my memory).

The few references to Inverness in The Wasp Factory (it is the nearest city to the island Frank Cauldhame and his father inhabit) were enough for a spark of recognition, a flash of appropriate terrain (though I’m pretty sure the island is fictional) from one of my road trips north.

If the setting of The Wasp Factory provided a spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie set off fireworks. The story is set in Edinburgh, primarily 1930-36, though it stretches beyond in terms of time and place (more on this later). I live in Edinburgh in 2008. Here, seventy years is nothing.

The passage in chapter two which begins, “It is time now to speak of the long walk through the old parts of Edinburgh…” takes everyone who’s important (Miss Brodie, her set of six girls, and the reader) across the Meadows, to the Grassmarket and onto the High Street. Though you are more likely to encounter American tourists (why are they all compelled to buy woollen sweaters and wear them the next day?) than a crowd of unemployed (“The Idle” as Eunice calls them), even the modern tourists can pick up the grimy vibe that the Old Town will never shake.

Then there’s Mr Lowther’s grand old house in Cramond, the clouds on the Pentland Hills, the warning that one of the girls might end up a Girl Guide leader in Corstorphine… Even the school-girl rhyme Edinburgh, Leith / Portobello, Musselburgh / And Dalkeith was its own Catherine Wheel of recognition. I’m not making a point about the worth of the book (yet), just that reading is so often enriched by what you can bring to the text.

Similarly, the reference to Miss Brodie’s ancestor Willie Brodie would have gone over my head before I arrived in Edinburgh. Sure, there’s enough in the text to understand how this points to another case of duality, but for anyone who has had a pint in Deacon Brodie’s the message is writ in neon.

These recognition fireworks go some way to explaining why I enjoyed The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie so much, though they are no basis upon which to make claims about the quality of the book.

But it is a quality book. Its structure, zipping forward and back in time, is discomforting but, at the same time, exhilarating. In proleptic fits were are told Miss Brodie will be betrayed, whom she will be betrayed by, and ultimately the minutiae of the betrayal, all before their proper time. That is, ‘proper’ if this was to be a more traditional narrative where suspense is built by keeping cards face down until all the money is on the table.

This is how The Wasp Factory works. We are presented with mysteries and questions ranging from the prosaic (What is the wasp factory? What’s in the study) to the significant (Why did Eric go crazy? Why does Frank act the way he does?) and we are given answers when the story is good and ready. One of the signs that The Wasp Factory is a good book is that the seemingly prosaic questions, the things that keep your reading from page-to-page (rather than make you pick up the book once you have put it down), are intrinsically linked to the significant questions. But once we know why Eric is crazy (the Incident of the Smiling Child is perhaps the most memorable part of the novel, though it is also the most conspicuous answer to a question posed by the structure) we do not return to the question.

Okay, fair enough.

But is this how we function in real life? Once we know that the gulf stream is primarily responsible for Scotland being more temperate than should be expected of its longitude, we still may ponder the phenomena. By saving up the best revelations for the end, a book can’t really do this pondering thing. This: Walking Round The Building To See If There’s Another Entrance/Exit.

[Aside / Great Moment in iPod Shuffle: ‘Cage Around the Sun’ by Monster Magnet just played on iTunes. It strikes me as the perfect soundtrack to The Wasp Factory, both book and song being rooted in adolescence; many confluences between the lyrics and the story (the construction of elaborate devices, cruelty to animals, “Queen Bee F***ing Cyclops” vs Wasp Torturing Eunuch…).]

The final twist of the The Wasp Factory was okay (*damning with faint praise alert*), but it is followed by the most tedious part of the novel: Frank muses about what we’ve just learnt in the dénouement and how it made him what he is. The problem is that the action of the novel has ended, there are no other doors we are waiting to see behind, so that all we have is words. The big themes that are drawn up by the narrator sound like “big themes”, which means they sound ham-fisted.

But in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, we know Miss Brodie will be betrayed by one of her set for most of the book, and (I won’t spoil it for you) which girl it is for at least half of the journey. The question of Who shifts to Why, and this is always a much trickier question.

As we dance around the thirties, weaving in and out of the Brodie Set’s adolescence, we are not solely reading for answers, we are reading for the pleasure of the book’s company. It is a tremendously funny book. I didn’t realise this until a third of the way through, then, with every page, its funniness increased. I think if I were to re-read it now, I’d find the beginning hilarious…

[Five minutes later…]

Okay, I just re-read the first few pages and I was right. “All of the Brodie set, save one, counted on its fingers, as had Miss Brodie, with accurate results more or less.” On a first read through, one assumes the humour resides solely in the counting on fingers, which might be enough for a mental grin But, on a second read through, the “more or less” is so telling it becomes the punch line (inaccuracy will consign Brodie and others to fates unbecoming the crème de la crème). And then there’s the “save one”, who we learn further down the page must be Monica Douglas, who is “famous mostly for mathematics.” But on a second reading, one knows this already, and it is therefore adds another delight to the already brimming sentence.

This is not the first novel by Muriel Spark I have read (it’s the third), though it is the first that struck me as masterly. It can’t all be down to the favourable comparisons with The Wasp Factory and the fact it’s set in the city I’ve lived in for the last ten months. It is certainly her most famous, there must be good, universal reasons for that. And I remember someone urging me to read it a couple of years ago. Though then, of course, I wouldn’t have known where Cramond was.


Footnote: Last week Iain Banks wrote an interesting piece for the Guardian on the writing of The Wasp Factory (it was his first book to be published, though the sixth he wrote). I'm linking to it here because a) it's interesting b) shares some similarities with my own position as manque novelist and c) I feel a bit bad for using The Wasp Factory as the contrast to a book I clearly preferred.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Status Report: Weeks Twenty-Seven and Twenty-Eight

The Stats

Fortnightly Wordcount: 14,069 words

Average: 1,005 words per day (only 2,000 words per day short...)

Most productive day: Sunday 13 July, 4,382 words

Least productive day: Take your pick (Excuse: visitors from afar / driving visitors from afar around Scotland)

Year-to-date: 460,398 words (72,389 words behind target)

I missed last night's regular status report slot as I discovered it was Bhutan night on BBC4. I watched way past my bedtime, furiously taking notes -- it's a country that fascinates me and will shortly feature in my fiction. Ideally, I'd spend two months researching there on the way home (sometime in 2009), but it's too darn expensive. Luckily I believe in the power of the imagination to fill the holes left by life experience.

Anyway. You can see from the graphs above that my slide continues. Slide may be too gentle a word for it. Plummet perhaps?

The simple act of tweaking the name of this blog (though sadly it's too much hassle to change the web address) has lessened the guilt I feel about my word counts. Thinking like a Tibetan Buddhist also helps: Desire leads to suffering. My desire to right 1,000,000 words in 366 days leads to suffering when I fall short (not to mention when I write a lot but neglect other duties nice, Karma-positive beings undertake, like helping with the washing up and socialising with workmates).

But there are silly, arbitrary desires like writing 1,000,000 words or wanting to spend the night with Megan Fox, and then there are the sorts of desires that lead to books being written or single span suspension bridges being built.

I guess my love of books and bridges will keep me spinning in the wheel of existence for at least one more incarnation.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Garlanded With Promises...

Apropos of nothing I started humming my high school's motto song this morning at work. Then I started thinking about the lyrics.

Motto Song

Cloistered in youth we grasp the veil of beauty
Garlanded with promises of happy days to be
There are the doors of fame and wealth and duty
Here at our hands the master key
Work at school, work at play
Uphill runs the stony path to glory
Not for tomorrow the task we have today
Nihil bone sine labore

[This is all from memory as I couldn't find the lyrics anywhere else online, but it's not the sort of song you can easily forget.]

It was strange experience singing this song two or three times a year (prize-giving and related practices) for five years. It was the only time most of us heard the words "cloistered" and "garlanded" in that time. And who talks about duty these days?

But now I feel some affection for this song, and even for the person/persons who composed these eight lines - - despite knowing nothing beyond the song itself. Perhaps it was the work of a frustrated poet, languishing in the high school English department of rural 1920s New Zealand - - and, for all the doggerel he churned out, this is all that persists? Or perhaps it was the stern headmaster and his music teacher love interest (the scandal surrounding the relationship would die down when they married the following year); her plonking out upbeat marches on the piano and him declaiming received wisdom about duty and hard work from his days in the Territorials.

This is how I imagine a lot of writer's work. It's certainly how I work. Something is stumbled across - - a remembered song, a concrete object, an eavesdropped conversation - - and so many questions are thrown up that the imagination just can't help filling in the holes.

Speaking of filling holes (a painful pun if ever there was): when I was at the dentist yesterday, I quickly slipped into my writing headspace to lessen the terror. What if you were afraid of the sound of drills (and why not?), but your father was a dentist who operated out of a clinic below your room. What would you do to drown out the sound? And off I went...

A writing headspace is a handy thing, I tell you.

It even makes research fun. At least the initial stage of research where you have an idea and you're reading around the subject, watching films and steering conversations in particular directions. This sort of research throws up hole after hole for your imagination to fill and claim the territory for your story. (The kind of research that comes after you've written your first draft and certain holes left in your story can't be filled by the imagination - - when you really need to know what sort of gun a newspaper reporter would use, or double checking how much weight you can gain in nine months - - isn't so much fun.)

The best thing I've read about this phenomenon - of filling holes with the imagination and the requisite withdrawal from life to compose false lives - is Ghosts by Paul Auster (the second novella in his New York Trilogy). A young private eye named Blue is hired by a man named White to keep surveillance on a man named Black. Black spends most of his time at his desk, reading and writing, but from his vantage across Orange Street, Blue can't see what Black is writing. Only his imagination can fill the holes in the story of Black and White. And when the imagination does not suffice (the surveillance lasts more than a year; Blue is a P.I. not a writer) he begins to interfere with Black in order to find answers...

It really is a solid piece of thinking wrapped up in a solid piece of writing. (For more of Auster's thoughts about writing and reading fiction, his 2006 acceptance speech for the Prince Asturias Prize is a good start).

The "solid thinking" stage of the writing process is the one writers (myself included) most often omit. Or they start from solid thinking and go about finding the rest of the story. For me, "solid thinking" should enter the equation after the "stumbling across X and letting your imagination run wild" stage. Not everything your imagination inserts into a given hole is a perfect fit. You need to stop and think: how does making Mr Y afraid of drills affect the rest of his character? Is there room for the character this creates on the stage with the guy gaining massive amounts of weight and the girl obsessed with another rock'n'roll suicide?

Then there's the swathe of solid thinking required upon revision. For me and the retooled Novel A, this stage is still a ways off. It's time to dive into a completely new draft. Perhaps that was why I was singing the Motto Song this morning: I was psyching myself up.

Nihil Bone Sine Labore : Nothing good comes without hard work.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pick, Approach, Plant, Toss

Okay, so it's been a while. Nine days to be exact. I've been up North with the heavyweights...
...and highland coos.

Summer in Scotland is about looking on the bright side. Windy? At least it keeps the midgies at bay. Raining? Ditto. Sunny? Makes a change from the wind / rain (and a few midgies never killed anyone... did they?).

But now it's back to work - mild mannered Reconciliations Analyst by day; mild mannered writer by night.

The returning visitors among you may have noticed the slight change in wording at the top of this page. "The Year of a Million Words" was a bit presumptive, wasn't it?

You'll all have to wait till Sunday's status report to see just how far I'm falling short.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Status Report — Half-way

In this time of looking back, it’s hard not to feel a bit deflated. I have written 447,840 words in the last six months, but I have not written one War and Peace. I have not even written one John Grisham novel. I have thrown words around like Brewster threw his millions: to get rid off them rather than using them. This is me overstating things after a long, tiring day at work, but only slightly.

I would love to write 552,160 words in the next six months (3,001 words per day), but I would like to finish a novel more.

But the two are not mutually exclusive.

I am going to move the target line up to 3,001 words (from 2,732) on my weekly graphs to reflect the harder hill I have to climb in the second act. But I’m not going to pull my hair out every day I dip below this line. I still believe in the Shangri-La that is a string of 5,000-word days — once I’ve finished working full-time but haven’t yet started the long tiki tour home / when I’m working on Novel A and it all falls into place. When I picture this writer’s Shangri-La, I even have specific passages in the novel in mind: most of them involve Bhutan, which — coincidentally — is also known as The Last Shangri-La.

But enough looking forwards. I’ve decided to this as a list, if only because I’ve had this line from my second favourite Canadian band stuck in my head all day:

Memory will rust and erode into lists, of all that you gave me…

How I Spent My 447,840 Words

Short Fiction

13 short stories started and completed such that I might consider submitting for publication — 1 published (though I haven’t submitting many, that’s top of my To Do list at the moment)

9 short stories already drafted before 1 Jan have received serious attention in 2008 — 4 published

12 short stories begun but a) abandoned before completion of first draft or b) incomplete as at 30 June 2008

(164,367 words)


2 novels worked on in earnest — 0 completed

2 other novels dreamed up and preliminary research under take — 2 placed on back-burner / promptly forgotten

(86,310 words)


37 poems — 1 published

8 Word files full of words expended in the pursuit of poetry

(17,738 words)


104 posts on The Year of a Million Words

6 posts on my travel blog

1 guest blog entry

(101,825 words)


100-150 emails of a personal nature which at the time I deemed might be of interest to my poor biographer in sixty years — 5-10 emails probably fit the bill in hindsight (36,897 words)

19 reviews of stories on Zoetrope and approximately 10 reviews of work from my writing group (23,517 words)

3 extended biographical prose pieces written with no clear use in mind (11,886 words)

1 web-based project which never came to fruition but none the less deserved 5,300 words