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

Monday, September 29, 2008

This Is Where It All Happens, II

Something I didn’t mention in my Status Reports was my writing situation physically. Moving, then taking off for Greece and returning to a full working week isn’t exactly the time to be mildly inspired to write extended prose narratives. The problem was exacerbated by the fact there was no obvious place for me to write in our new one room apartment.
I’d figured that anything would be better than our last flat, where we essentially did everything except cook and go to the bathroom in our bedroom. Sure, there was a huge desk for me with a mini-bar (pros and cons), but behind me there was a large LCD TV and a girlfriend… two pretty mean distractions.
Now we have everything to ourselves (woo-hoo!) but it’s not exactly spacious. Until this weekend, there were also boxes and suitcases lying around, making it feel even more like we had signed up to live in a hallway closet.
I did most of my writing at the kitchen table this week because it was the only desk-like surface available. I could wheel my chair underneath, spread out my notebooks, waggle my mouse. It was great, except, as you can see, the distractions were no longer behind me but in my line of sight.
I couldn't face the other way because that would block access to the kitchen and then how would cups of tea magically appear on my desk?
I tried other places too. On the bed (not stable enough, less comfortable than it sounds), in the unfilled bath (cold, uncomfortable, ridiculous), and even in the toilet (actually the most comfortable spot of the lot, quiet too).
Kooky caption competition: If it’s good enough for Vladimir Nabokov, it’s good enough for me.
We measured the bedroom and figured out we could fit a desk the length of my arm beside the bed. Do they make desks the length of my arm? I wondered. The answer is: depends on your definition of desk. We are lucky that there’s a Salvation Army Furniture and Electrical store just down the road from us and we spent a good half hour there yesterday measuring all many of wooden items to determine their suitability as writing desks. In the end, we settled on a semi-circular deal which is exactly the length of my arm. I think it was originally intended to be placed in a hallway and have the telephone sit on top of it. There’s a wee draw for a notepad, or perhaps a spare pair of keys. I’ve turned it round so the flat side faces me, and stashed an assortment of USB devises and cords which the modern writer uses from time to time in the drawer.
The posi I now inhabit will take a bit of getting used to, I think. The fact I stare at a 45 degree wall messes with my eyes right now, and may be contributing to the kink in my neck. Still, it’s less distracting that the huge mirror I stared into for the last nine months. It’s almost a delight to see myself in the medicine cabinet mirror now. Almost.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Status Report: Week Thirty-Nine

I should start by touching on two points on my last status report. Firstly, my prediction for Week Thirty-Eight (Seven Days of Zero Words) was incorrect. On the nine hour ferry ride from Santorini to Athens I tried to write. Due to the circumstances “writing” meant longhand in a 99 euro-cent notebook I’d bought especially in Fira (I was getting withdrawal). By my count I wrote 1,907 words. Not a very good return for nine hours, but it wasn’t the most conducive environment. And I know it says in my own rules that only words typed into a computer should count towards my tally, but I went through the effort of counting them and I don’t see the difference between my abortive efforts then and my abortive efforts in Microsoft word today… so I’m counting them.

I was tried rewriting the opening pages of Novel A while I was on the ferry. In my last status report it was still up in the air which novel (the imaginatively named A and B) I would throw myself into upon my return. I thought I’d cracked it as I lay in bed my last night in Santorini. I had the voice for the narrator of Novel A, the unique way to open the novel. I planned out the first page in my head, crafting the sentences, reordering them. When I came to put them down on paper on the ferry, I remembered it all, but it wasn’t actually a page, it was half a page. When I tried to fill the rest of the page, it began to unravel. I tried another angle. And another.

Somewhere in the Aegean Sea I decided to jettison Novel A (for now) and finish Novel B. For those of you playing Count The Flip-Flops, this brings the 2008 tally to 298.

Anyway. Novel B is going great. Slow but great. I think my self confidence hit 11 on Tuesday. Everything in the most recent file before I abandoned Novel B last (early May) was well written and I could see where it all fit in. There were gaps where I could start writing straight away, and the voice came right back to me.

On Wednesday I went back and looked at some earlier drafts from Jan-Feb 08, just to check I hadn’t jettisoned a scene or even a phrase that needed resurrecting in the definitive version I was now working on. But these older drafts were awful. I mean, unreadable awful. It was like I had written these drafts five years ago. Like I didn’t care about sentences. Didn’t care about characters. Didn’t get around to having a plot.

I how could I have been so off the mark in February, and so sharp in April? How could I have abandoned the novel in May? Some of the answers are probably embedded in this blog. One day I might read over this and see if I can isolate certain behaviours (reading certain authors, blogging too much or too little, thinking too much about publication) which mess with my quan.

Then again. I’m happy to write off all of my earlier rubbish as ‘Getting Into The Voice’ and just power on with what I hope will still be a happening project a month from now.

Week Thirty-Nine – The Stats

Weekly Wordcount: 17,700 words
Average: 2,529 words per day (compared to target of 3,001)
Most productive day: Tuesday 23 September, 3,892 words
Least productive day: Saturday 27 September, 882 words
Year-to-date: 617,777 words (125,392 words behind target)

So the deficit is now looking like the population of a Caribbean island. In peak season. It's official. I chose the wrong year to shoot for one million words. Too much travel. Look at this graph:
Only 46 sleeps till Estonia and Latvia!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

White Music

The question I set out to answer nearly a month ago was, essentially, “Why would listening to 'Hazard' by Richard Marx now be a pleasurable experience?” After two posts I hadn’t quite reached the answer, so I began drafting up my next installment, but things went a bit haywire.

You might be able to guess why when reading my unfinished playlist and my parenthetical comments:

Six “Old” Songs I Remember Hearing When I Didn’t Like Old Music

* ‘Good Vibrations – Beach Boys (my dad and his brother made a dubbed cassette of the Beach Boys… at one point I could hear them arguing between tracks).

* ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?’ – The Beatles (my dad’s most prized album, as I remember it, was a copy of The White Album he acquired whilst working for E.M.I. on his O.E. in London1; it was a very special occasion when he placed one of these hallowed LPs on the turntable—all the more shocking when Paul McCartney starts singing about copulating on a highway)

* ‘White Room’ – Cream (I remember a lot of rock trivia my father told me, most of them seemed to involve Eric Clapton. Nickname: Slowhand. Stole George Harrison’s wife. Was in a band with Jimmy Page… Dad: Jimi Hendrix was the best left handed guitar player ever. Me: who was the best right handed? Dad: Eric Clapton. My dad had an Eric Carmen jacket; for a long time I thought the printer had just misspelled Eric Clapton)

* ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ – Procol Harum (I still get the Moody Blues and Procul Harem mixed up, I think because of 'Knights in White Satin'. When I was 15 and 16 I used to spend an hour most weekend flicking through the bargain CD shelves of my local Warehouse; one of my last memories of my father is him asking me if I saw a Best Of collection for Procol Harem that I should get it for him; a copy of Procol Harem’s Greatest Hits surfaced at the Warehouse two months too late)

* ‘…

Clearly, my dad had a big role in my musical tastes, though these tastes didn’t show through until he was no longer there to influence me.

But someone does not need to be physically present to be a presence in your life. In fact, it feels as if things are only free to influence you when they’ve been put to bed. When the film is over, the book returned to the shelf (inevitably the shelf of a library in my case), the teacher left with younger students…

Which means that things aren’t really influencing you, but your memory of things.

I wonder, sometimes, if I would share as much of my father’s musical taste if he was still around…

Something like this happened the last time I tried to write this post. It seems unwilling or unable to remain in the concrete world. Who cares if it’s the memory or the actual thing that’s influencing you? What does it matter?

I would like to tie this back to writing, to how the idea of books, both before and after reading them, is what comes through most in your own writing. I think this would make an interesting post, one which people might leave comments on, perhaps even link to. But I don’t have it in me.

I don’t really want anyone to read this post. I’m coming down with a cold.

My friend, Abby, told me about this site. Go there. Leave me to my lemon and honey drink, I have a novel to write.

1 Puts my boring bank job to shame… but then I don’t think he wrote 6,000,000 words (and counting) in a year.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Home of Modern Thought

I’m back from Greece with photos and observations:

The most important word in any language is Thank You. (I know it’s two words in English… Let’s not ruin my epigram with semantics).

Ugly buildings look a lot better in black and white.

In Greece, it is not unusual to be halfway through your starter and receive your main course, and all this only five minutes after entering the restaurant. It is also common to sit with empty plates and glasses for hours without being bothered until you actually lasso someone in order to get the bill.

There is inefficiency in both the U.K. and Greece, but they are very different kinds of inefficiency; just as in English the same letters can have several different pronunciations, while in Greek several letters have the same pronunciation.

Greek Orthodox priests are just as interested in the stamps in their passport as your and me.

They also read novels and listen to iPods… at the same time.

(There were two priests on the same flights as us from Athens to Amsterdam, and Amsterdam to Edinburgh. I really wanted to know their final destination, but if I asked, I was worried it might invite a religious answer).

The sun sets everywhere, everyday, but not all sunsets are equal. I don’t think I’ll go as a far as calling the sunset over Santorini the second best natural phenomena to the Northern Lights (as I overheard one Brit proclaim), but I did use the sunset setting on my TZ3 an awful lot.

It was a glorious day in Edinburgh today. I'm not being sarcastic, even though it was 14 degrees. I like autumn. The squirrels are active. Bad weather isn't as disappointing; good weather is treated as a blessing. The walk home this evening in the weak but unobstructed sun in just a shirt, watching the world wind down for winter, has returned a glow to this city I temporarily call home.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Status Report: Week Thirty-Seven (and Thirty-Eight, sort of)

We leave for eight days in Greece tomorrow, so I’m doing my status report early this week. Obviously, taking Sunday (on average my most productive day in 2008) and the it’s less productive sibling Saturday out of the mix, my word count is far from impressive.

But even if I wasn’t setting out for the Cyclades, I suspect I would have found many other things to do beside write.

First, there was the move on Thursday after work. Still unpacking boxes and sorting and accustoming ourselves to our new flat. In fact, I still haven’t decided where I’ll be doing my writing. It’s a one bedroom flat, and a compact one at that, with no desk to speak of. At the moment I’m typing this on the half dining room table, despite the fact there is no dining room, just a patch of carpet between the couch and kitchen. Once I’ve sorted my posi out, I’ll post some photos so you all can compare and contrast with the old set up.

Second, the monkey is off my back. My short story collection is in the post.

Funny thing is, I suddenly have four or five new stories I want to write. And a new idea for a novel. I no longer suspect it, I believe: The Muses can be tricked. Next time I’m at a loss for something to write, I’ll open every ‘work in progress’ file on my computer with the intention of finishing some of them (ha!) and wham, new ideas.

Hopefully the Muses aren’t reading this…

Who’s for some numbers?

Week Thirty-Seven – The Stats

Weekly Wordcount: 10,031 words (compared to 15,934words last week)
Average: 1,433 words per day based on a 7 day week;2,006 words per day based on a 5 day week
Most productive day: Wednesday 10 September, 3,372 words
Least productive day: Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 September, zero words
Year-to-date: 597,470 words (107,448 words behind target)

And while I’m at it, here’s what Week Thirty-Eight will look like:

Weekly Wordcount: 0 words (compared to 10,031 words last week)
Average: 0 words per day
Most productive day: N/A
Least productive day: Mon-Sun
Year-to-date: 597,470 words (126,574 words behind target)

I was in a good mood when I started this post.

I’m sure I’ll be in a good mood when I start my next post.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Great (?) Moments in iPod Shuffle #5

Isle of Q – Bag of Tricks
Isle of Q – Little Scene

I only have two songs by Isle of Q on my iPod. Out of a possible 6,300 songs, these 2 appeared back to back.

The thing about iPods is they accelerate the pace at which you become like your parents. That is: your taste is frozen in a particular era. Isle of Q’s two singles came out in 2000, and most people will have heard one or the other, but few would ever think of the band when asked, ‘Name a band beginning with I’.

(When I just asked myself to name a band beginning with ‘I’, my answer was Icehouse… who also have 2 songs on my iPod, though ‘Great Southern Land’ and ‘Electric Blue’ leave Isle of Q for dead. I think this also supports my tastes frozen in the past theory).

iPods are distorting the Darwinian nature of the music industry. A song like ‘Bag of Tricks’ should be forgotten by now. If not forgotten, at least not listened to 11 times in the last 3 years (it must be a favourite of my iPod as this is how many times it has been thrown up on shuffle).

The fact is, shuffle isn’t perfect. It has its favourites. If only you could give your iPod to someone with better taste than you and get them to weight the chance a song will be played on shuffle based on how often you need to hear this song. Then again, who has better taste in music than me?

Don’t answer that.

Which reminds me, I really should buy my tickets to Monster Magnet in Estonia in November. I want tickets to the show in Riga too, but I can’t buy them online the now (that’s not a typo, just my idiomatic Scottish coming through).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Failure Will Not Be Tolerated: Why Writers Shouldn't Be Given Any Free Passes

Yesterday I argued that novelists should be allowed to warm up in the public eye; that by publishing their promising but ultimately flawed books, it might increase the chances they will write a Mr Pip or a White Noise, and give fanbods something to search for in secondhand bookstores.


I can just as easily argue the contrary: that only the crème de la crème (to borrow a phrase from Miss Brodie) of novels should be published. In fact, there are three pretty good lines I could, and will, run.

One: Financial

Why should publishers subsidise writers who haven’t yet mastered their craft? What guarantee is there that a mid-list writer will ever break out? I would be wary of any publishing house (or agent) that accepts work that they do not believe in. The novel emerged as a commercial form pretty much from its inception - - and a popular form to boot. The worst thing we could do to the novel is remove it from the marketplace completely.

And, now that I’m well into my devil’s advocate role, what’s the role of all those writing workshops if it isn’t to get all of those amateurish, imperfect, unsellable books out of the way before a writer thinks about publishing?!?

Two: Market dilution

There are already too many books being published. Far too many to read. And some of these books, I’m sure, are responsible for turning people off reading. It’s commonly bandied around that reading a book beats immersion in any other media, but it’s not easy to write something -- to use words and words alone -- and create a believable world. One word out of place or out of character can be as damaging as the projector chewing film in the cinema.

As Douglas Coupland said:

We live in an era of genuinely diminished attention spans. I'm competing with reality TV and with shows written by 24 to 30 professionals per episode. If I have something to say, it had better be something fucking important, and it had better be said in some new and unexpected way.

[Aside: the novel he was spruiking when he said this, jPod, isn’t exactly the best example of writing, or storytelling, but I still agree with what he said.]

Three: The Writer’s Responsibility

It might have happened, somewhere, perhaps in a small town, one where tractors are still a common sight on the main street: the townsfolk ask the resident genius, “Please become a writer.” He politely declines. They pull out their pitchforks. He changes his postion.

But for everyone else: No one is forcing you to be a writer. You chose this path, knowing full well it was a difficult one. If you can’t toil away without payment or praise until your book-length manuscripts are good enough to receive payment and praise, then maybe you don’t deserve it?? Maybe this is Literature’s form of hazing new-comers? Maybe it’s the constant kicks to the abdomen that build the killer six pack, which, years down the line, will make the fanbods swoon?

The thing that I’ve noticed while trotting out my arguments for and against writing apprenticeships in the public eye is that it’s difficult, either way, not to romanticise the act of writing and the result. Perhaps this is because I’m a wannabe, currently in the kicks-to-the-abdomen-phase, who, in his weaker moments, lets his thoughts drift to the swooning fanbods stage.

[I imagine becoming a novelist is difficult for those who are immune to romanticism.]

So, to keep this on a personal level for a moment longer, what do I really think? I have submitted two novel manuscripts to publishers (NZ and Aus) and agents (UK and US). I have written portions of two more novels this year, one of which I will complete in 2008, Scouts honour. Would I like to have had one or both of my unpublished novels published at the time?

Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, there are pros and cons. As Rachel King mentioned in a comment to yesterday’s post, if your first published book bombs, no matter where you publish it, the hill is that much harder to climb the next time. But if you aren’t given the option to publish, the hill is still a daunting thing to stand before. What if I spend all this time on a new book and nothing comes of it? What if I really am just fooling myself? Very real fears, my friends. (I would worry about any writer who does not have these moments, because it would suggest they don’t care enough about readers and/or that they are a robot, and based on current technological constraints I’m sad to say robot’s do not make good writers).

Being a writer is about conquering the fear and writing. The best writing is fearless. These statements are difficult to mesh. It is a complicated game. Sometimes you don’t know you’ve won until after you’re dead (let’s not get into the metaphysical debate my poor phrasing just threw up).

With regards to me, personally, this is all moot. When I send something off to publishers and agents, I want it to be published / believe it should be published. When I stop sending it out (as happened with both "complete" manuscripts) I don’t want it to be published anymore. There’s no great theorising going on about apprenticeships and capital-L literature. When I finish something, I either believe it’s the best thing in the world and submit, or I don’t believe and know that it’s not really finished.


These arguments are for novels. Although creating a book of short stories is a difficult task, it’s a very different proposition. The key to a good short story collection is good stories. Overarching themes and interconnections between stories help sell books, so I’m told, but you can link and overarch all you want: if you’re stories suck, your book sucks. As with any form, you learn to write good short stories by writing and reading a lot of them. But the investment is not normally as big as with a novel. It’s easier to write off a short story as flawed and move on than it is with a novel. It’s easier to draft and redraft and redraft and redraft a short story than it is a novel. You can submit short stories to competitions and litmags and websites and get published, do your apprenticeship in public, so to speak, before thinking about anything as daunting as a book-length collection.

The novel and the short story are different forms; thinking of short stories as baby novels is like calling a dog a baby elephant (though they both walk on for legs, the wee one will never grow into the big one). But still, to continue my dodgy simile, if you are good at training dogs, some of the skills will be useful if you find yourself coaching an elephant football team.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

(Not So) Brilliant Failures: Why Every Novelist Deserves A Loss Leader or Two

I would encourage anyone with even the slightest interest in New Zealand literature to read Gregory O’Brien’s 2008 Janet Frame Memorial Lecture (care of NZ Books Abroad) which he delivered last week.

Some highlights:

Brilliant failures are more desirable than sedate successes. Far better that writers aim for largeness of vision, dynamism and risk, and then fall short, rather than adhering to some prevailing, complacent notion of excellence. Baxter’s late poetry is a great example of a writer pulling back from achieved and recognised excellence, pushing poetry into rough, uncharted territory. His greatest poems are, you could argue, his least excellent ones…

[To which I would say: ‘Ah, but at some point you must come close enough to success to get noticed!’]

Literature is not a track event. Everyone is not running in the same direction—nor should they be. If literature is a race then it is one where, when the starting gun is fired, the participants run off each in their own direction. It is only arts funders and prize-givers who line writers up on some invented racetrack, facing the same ribbon…

And the list of works/authors mentioned would make an impressive To Be Read pile.

Next, I would point you to Maggie Rainey-Smith’s post on Leaf Salon, which compare’s Greg’s plea for the laboratory of literature with the much more market-driven view of literature from Australian literary agent Sophie Hamley.

I’d agree that the middle ground is often over-looked in these sort of State of The Nation Addresses, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a desirable place to dwell. Until Mr. Pip, Lloyd Jones was probably in the middle-ground (he wrote books about rugby and Albania, got reviewed, but was far from a celebrity). Now he’s just won the $60,000 Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction and it seems like he’s always been the ne plus ultra of NZ Letters. Not so.

There’s something to be said for apprenticeships. These days it’s virtually impossible to have a book-length apprenticeship in the US and UK, and to a lesser extent in Australia, but the possibility still exists in New Zealand. I think.

I started reading Don DeLillo’s The Names (1982) yesterday. The main reason was it’s set in Greece. A secondary reason was: this was the book he wrote before White Noise (1985) which is one of my favourite books. But it got me thinking about how DeLillo published eight novels before White Noise. I haven’t read them all, but if there’re anything like Great Jones Street, I’m not missing much. Once White Noise came out and DeLillo won the National Book Award, I’ll bet people started looking at him in a different, ‘Our Lloyd’ kind of way.

Things must have clicked after that, as he then knocked out Libra, Mao II and the behemoth that is Underworld. I wonder if DeLillo could have “knocked out” these four books (all ‘brilliant failures’ in their own way) if he hadn’t paid his dues as a mid-list author dispensing shiny-but-not-exactly-brilliant failures for 14 years??

It’s one thing to expect authors to cut their teeth on short fiction for little or no reward. But it’s another to expect them to knock out novel after novel in the pursuit of perfection without publishing one or two of those learning experiences. Book length publication means feedback from people who haven’t said no. It means the author is forced to push ahead into new waters, or if they must regurgitate, they better have a bloody good reason. It means non-writers will give them a break for about six months. It means they get money, even if it’s only enough to cover all the printing and postage costs that got them to the point of publication. It means that, when it finally clicks for them, and their books find readers and praise and prominent positions in bookstores without the slightest effort by the author, these readers and praisers will have something to go back to. These first failures mightn’t be brilliant by themselves, but I guarantee you, if the writer is worth a damn, the whole story will be better for having these hiccups than for not.

So, struggling writers and penny-pinching publishers, hear the cry of the long-tailed, far-sighted spectre of Literature: You cannot read smoke.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Status Report: Week Thirty-Six

Week Thirty-Six – The Stats

Weekly Wordcount: 15,934 words (compared to 22,753 words last week)
Average: 2,276 words per day (compared to target of 3,001/day)
Most productive day: Tuesday 2 September, 3,072 words
Least productive day: Thursday 4 September, 1,089 words
Year-to-date: 587,439 words (98,353 words behind target)

Not as bounteous a week as last week. It's hard to write much when you're main task is proof reading. I discovered one story, 'Mark II', which I worked on solidly last week, was still not good enough. It's place in the collection has been taken by a much older story (it was part of my writing sample when I applied for the MA programme back in Nov 2005, though it has changed titles three times since then).

In the process of cleaning up my desk in preparation for our move on Tuesday I found a print out of an earlier version of 'Mark II', back when it was called something else (problem titles usually associate with problem stories). Written at the top of the print out was the following: "Consign to the dustbin of shit stories". I could have saved myself a few hours last week if I'd taken this advice, but I hate to see all that work go down the drain.

[Despite having a commerce degree and several years of work experience in the financial sector, I still can't transfer the whole sunk cost thing into real life, and especially not writing].

This coming week will be carnage. The move on Tuesday, re-packing for Greece, final edits on stories then posting off a doorstop of double-spaced A4 to a semi-unsuspecting publishing house.

The project on return from Greece will be... *drumroll*


The last couple of weeks of action / progress / positivity have convinced me I need to work towards one single, achievable goal at a time. I will be able to write in a room without a television, and will have a relatively settled three months before we pick up sticks and resume our roles as full-time vagabonds, so I am keen to finish a novel by early December.

I feel this is achievable with Novel A or Novel B. This might sound cocky, or unrealistic, or off-hand, but a quick look at my all-knowing spreadsheet tells me I have devoted 24,763 words to Novel A so far in 2008 (in addition to writing a 80,000 word version in 2006) and 61,828 words on Novel B.

I would like to finish both, eventually. But I must choose one.

Until last week, Novel A was the obvious candidate. If I were a betting man, I'd still say it was 9/14 that this will be my project.

But I re-read some of Novel B the other day and, well, it's not too shabby.

Here's hoping it’s good decision-making weather in the Cyclades!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Wisdom In An Atom

[Soundtrack: Big Bang Baby]

Dear Civilisation X

First of all, congratulations for making it this far. I know it took my civilisation -- the one that's about to end, along with the universe as we know it, on Wednesday -- a long time to get to the point where we could read our own languages (let alone decipher the gibberish of the ancients). From reading it has only been a blink of the eye in cosmic terms until the End As We Know It. I guess you'll be playing around with protons and Large Hadron Colliders soon enough, too.

I'm not going to offer any warnings, you're free to make your own mistakes. I fought it for a while, but now I’ve decided this is just the universe's way of blowing out the cobwebs: creating creatures that will eventually become smart enough to find the restart button hidden inside every atom. What a laugh, eh?

So feel free to experiment. But, sitting as I do, on the verge of Lights Out 2008, I see no harm in offering some advice.

One: Love thy neighbour. I borrow this line from one of the most hallowed, most printed, most read, and most pondered books human kind produced. It was called the Bible. Some of its wording left a bit to be desired, but I think The Good Book nailed it on the head with this one. If only more of the people who hallowed, printed, read and pondered this book actually loved thine neighbours... well, for one it might have taken a lot longer for us to find the restart switch -- we'd have been too busy drinking homemade lemonade under apple trees with the rest of the neighbourhood.

Two: Play golf. Since you have advanced far enough to discover this message I have hidden in every atom (the restart switch is nearby. Just where? Not telling) I'm sure you've already invented golf for yourselves. But if you haven't, the rules are simple: hit a ball into a hole in as few shots as possible. In time, you will figure out how to make it fun. Eventually, you will not even need a hole, just a club, a bucket of balls and a designated area in which to hit them in order to achieve bliss.

Three: When wearing trousers, always wear a belt. There is nothing more disturbing than seeing empty belt loops and, horror of horrors, the dome at the top of a man's fly. Perhaps you don't wear trousers in your civilisation. Perhaps you don't even have legs. In this case, my advice is useless. But I have found that most interesting questions are apparently useless. Why is the sky blue? How big is the universe? Why do my neighbours (whom I love despite the fact they refuse to drink my homemade lemonade) persist in leaving unwanted white goods on the curb-side when neither the recycling nor rubbish collectors take them?

Four: Regardless of your employment situation, you are always your own boss. I have had to remind myself this recently, as Monsieur Parquet, the head of the Muon Spectrometer team of which I am a key member, has been getting on my nerves. Not the least because he does not wear a belt. He also has the kind of moustache I had only ever seen in cartoons until I met Monsieur Parquet. I remind myself that Monsieur Parquet is only the head of the Muon Spectrometer team because he is an employee of CERN (that he is of Swiss-French extraction helps, too), whereas I am still, legally if not practically, an employee of The University of Bristol. 'I am here because I chose to be here,' I repeat to myself whenever Parquet's pessimism or parsimony get me down. 'I am my own boss.' It helps that I have had this little project of mine – this message in a bottle - on the go.

Five: Always check there is toilet paper before you go.

Six: But sometimes there's no avoiding a shit storm. Point and case: my inability in 2006-07 to dissuade CERN from searching for the Higgs Boson, a.k.a. the God Particle. "There's only a one in fifty thousand chance anything untoward will happen," they said. "I disagree with your calculation," I said, "but for now let's agree there's a one in fifty thousand chance something untoward will happen. Listen to what you are saying. What were the chances of life coming in to existence? What chance that a single celled organism could evolve into something with a brain the size of a rockmelon? What chance that the son of a Rotterdam prostitute and her unseemly uncle," I made a
hear me out gesture with my hands, "could rise to be the most eminent physicist of his generation?" The most eminent physicist of our generation did not know how to look. But as I say, I could not dissuade them. The shit storm is coming. Mercifully, I believe it will be very brief, though utterly conclusive.

Seven: No creature was meant to spend extended periods of time under three hundred feet of earth. Six feet would be bad enough.

Eight: Everything is better in a list.

Nine: Stop before you get predictable. What better epitaph for this civilisation?

Yours subatomically

Prof. Craig E. Circle
European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN)
Somewhere beneath the Franco-Swiss Border
5 September, 2008

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

And the Festival Leaves Town

[For the soundtrack to this post, open this in another tab...]

Monday, September 1, 2008

Status Report: Week Thirty-Five

Week Thirty-Five – The Stats

Weekly Wordcount: 22,753 words (compared to 18,199 words last week)
Average: 3,250 words per day (compared to target of 3,001/day)
Most productive day: Wednesday 27 August, 4,771 words
Least productive day: Friday 29 August, 1,054 words
Year-to-date: 571,505 words (95,162 words behind target)

Don’t tear up your tickets just yet. Week thirty five’s average output of 3,250 words per day was the highest since, wait for it, Week One. And that was only a six day week as 2008 began on a Tuesday. And back in 2008 I wasn’t working full-time. Heck, I wasn’t even working part-time.

What was I doing?

Actually, the question I should be asking is what have I been doing since Week One? And how come I can knock out nearly 23,000 words while working full-time this last week?

The answer, my friend, ain’t blowing in the wind. It’s glaringly obvious. But still. Here it is, the earth-shattering revelation: having a specific goal helps you write more. Patent Pending.

But seriously, you get yourself into something as meaningless and difficult as writing 1,000,000 words in a year, and after six months, you can trot out 2,000 words a day on autopilot. And in a way this is great. Any other year I would have completed season after season as the Dolphins on Madden or watched every season of 24 on DVD, but instead I wrote whatever I could be bothered writing. The net result (from June to mid-August) is only two or three promising stories and a 10-15 (a surprising amount) of poems I’m happy with, which, in the great wash up, is a whole lot better than playing playstation or watching tele… if you want to be taken seriously as a writer.

That wee proviso is actually quite important. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with consuming culture—after all, without consumers of books, where would writers be?*—but I do believe dedication to the craft is important and involves sacrifices.

I sound like a tosser right now, so I’ll change the subject, slightly.

My goal, as mentioned alluded to last week, is to ‘finish’ my short story collection before we go to Greece.

And by jove, I’m almost there. I sound like a tosser right now, so I’ll stop talking like a WWI fighter pilot (Sopwith Camel, of course).

Here are the graphs. Excuse me while I revel in their beauty.


*answer: facilitating creative writing workshops.**

**This joke may come back to bite me.