Progress Report - Word count 67,084 (wp) 84,000 (pr)

Sunday, May 27, 2007, 9:21 PM

Just a mini post to say things are progressing well. I hadn't written anything since Wednesday, what with getting stuck in lifts and whatnot, plus I spent yesterday working on my website, which I hope to have online by the end of the week. So, this evening I sat down and churned out almost 2500 words. It's a bank holiday tomorrow, so I'll have time to work some more tomorrow between the novel and the website.

On a different note, I'm currenly reading Story by Robert McKee. So far, a very interesting book. I'll post more about that when I have the time.

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What a day...

Friday, May 25, 2007, 1:44 PM

The following post has absolutely nothing to do with writing whatsoever. I'm just posting it because ... well, just because.

Yesterday I had to travel to Nottingham for a meeting. This in itself is fine. I like putting on a suit, travelling somewhere, and meeting people. Plus, this particular client and his company are always a pleasure to deal with. So, I had to get up at an unreasonably early hour, drive the fifty minutes or so to the airport, fly to Nottingham and get picked up by my client.

Part 1: The Lift

We then went to a local business park where we were to meet with someone from another company who my client wants me to work with. Now, it's a big company with very impressive buildings (four of them) on a massive site. They are at pretty much the opposite end ofthe business spectrum from me in terms of company size. So, the rep was telling us all about his company and all their whiz-bang technology. He walked us across their modern, open plan, glass and concrete reception area to the lift (or elevator, for my American friends) and hit the button for the top floor. We watched the floor number display thing count upwards with that odd, displaced feeling of being in a moving lift. And then ... nothing.

It's hard to describe. There's a strange kind of sensory deprivation in a lift, especially a shiny new one. The world outside this little box ceases to exist when the doors close, you feel a change in your weight, sense some sort of movement, then the doors slide open to reveal a whole new world that wasn't there before. All of that happened, except for the last part. The doors did not slide open, the world outside was not reborn.

For the first time in my life, I was stuck in a lift. A very small lift, on a hot day, with two other grown men. Our host spent a minute or two smiling at us while hitting various buttons, presumably in the hope of reminding the lift of its basic function. Eventually, he did the needful thing and pressed the emergency button. Now, never having been in this situation before, I wasn't sure what to expect. A bell, maybe, or a siren, or just about anything that would say: Somebody Somewhere is Doing Something.

Oh, no. None of that.

We heard a ring tone. It went on for a while, and was then replaced by the sound of a receiver being picked up and replaced, cutting the line. We looked at each other. We laughed. Whoever was at the other end had something more important to do. We laughed again.

Our host cleared his throat and pressed the emergency button again. He smiled at us with thin lips. He too was sweating. I felt dampness trickle down my own back. We heard the ring tone again, but this time it was answered by a crackling female voice.


Our host leaned in to the little panel. "Hello. We're ... er ... stuck."

"You what, duck?"

"We're stuck in the lift."

"Oh, right. Well, um, hang on. I'll let someone know."

We looked at each other. We laughed. We sweated. I pointed out the notice posted above the control panel. It said when the lift was last inspected and by who. I suggested to our host he may want a word with the signatory. We laughed again. We sweated some more.

After a period of time, which could have been minutes or hours, there came a mechanical grinding. The lift dropped what felt like a few inches. We laughed. There was more grinding. The lift rose a few inches. We heard voices, men issuing each other instructions. Our host called out, asking what was happening. The men didn't answer. He called out again, but still, no answer.

We looked at each other. We laughed. We sweated.

The lights went out. We did not laugh.

I learned something, yesterday. I learned when you're stuck in a lift, lights on is better. Much, much better. Yep, when given the choice between stuck with lights on or stuck with lights off, I have to say I'd go for lights on every time.

After a minute or so of listening to my companions breathing, the lights came back on. And, yes, we laughed. By this stage, however, the laughter had taken on a kind of harsh jangle. A strange idea crossed my mind. I wondered what it feels like if a lift just plummets. Do you become weightless? Are you glued to the ceiling? How long does it take? We were only a couple of floors up, so it wouldn't have been that catastrophic, I suppose. But I bet it would still hurt.

More grinding, more voices, more up and down shunts, more stilted laughter. At long last, the voices began discussing matters of inches, and the shunts became less dramatic. Then the prying started. So here's another preconception banished. There is no magic button, no emergency release, to mechanism to make lift doors swish open and let the captives out (and neither were there any hatches for us to climb out of, Die Hard style). We heard much puffing and grunting from outside, much grinding and groaning, and caught occasional glimpses of daylight as the doors were forced back an inch or two, only to spring shut again. And all this time, despite our host calling to our rescuers for progress updates, they never said a word to us.

Until, that is, they finally got us out. After a lifetime (okay, maybe more like twenty minutes) of confinement, we emerged blinking into the light, the delightfully cool air chilling our sweat soaked shirts. One of the workers, stout and bald with a fluorescent yellow jacket, looked us up and down.

"Was it warm in there?" he asked.

Part 2: Nottingham

When my client dropped me back at the airport, I still had a few hours to kill before my flight, so I decided to catch the bus into the city and have a look around. I have to say, I like Nottingham. It has a proper bustling city feel about it, but isn't so big that you feel lost. Lots of pretty, winding streets, and a beautiful market square. They also have a couple of good guitar shops. It must be said, though, Nottingham's bus drivers are as rude as the bus drivers in any other city I've ever visited; in other words, they're very rude.

But here's a negative. I hope no-one from Nottingham reads this, but I've got to be blunt. Nottingham women are rough as biscuits. There were a few lookers (they all seemed to work on information desks) but looks weren't really the issue.

I'll give you an example. On the bus ride back to the airport, a young woman sat across the aisle from me. She wasn't going to the airport, but got off just before, thank God. All the time she was on the bus, she was locked in conversation with someone on her mobile phone. She spoke very loudly with no concern for who else could hear. Now, I'm no prude, and I have a pretty good line in cussing (check any of my writing), but she made me blush. But that wasn't the issue. It was more the actual content of her discussion. From her drug habit, to how much she'd drank the night before (and its affect on her digestive processes and other bodily functions) to the good friend of hers who deserves to be beaten by her boyfriend, because after all, she does sometimes act like "a proper twat."

Good God.

Part 3: East Midlands Airport

The air hub for Nottingham and the East Midlands is the worst airport I've ever had the misfortune to have flown out of. Coming in was fine, but going out again was a bloody nightmare. Why? The queue for departures. They simply can't cope with the flow of passengers combined with extra security checks. I don't mind having to take my shoes off and take my laptop apart and all that stuff, because, you know, it's better than getting blown up by some deranged martyr. But I do object to having to stand in a queue like this...

And that pic was taken after I'd already been standing in line for half an hour. To summarise, what a day...


About Word Counts - Word count 64,646 (wp) 80,000 (pr)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007, 2:06 AM

It's very, very late here. I finally broke my short spell of writer's block and sussed out a few issues with my closing scenes. They only occurred to me after I got some encouraging comments on the previous post, so thanks, folks.

Anyway, it's 2:00am and I've just knocked out about 2500 words in roughly four hours. I asked this question a couple of times way back when I first started this blog, but I didn't have the devoted readership I have now (all two or three of you), so I wanted to ask it again...

How do you calculate word count?

My word counts on the blog show the actual word processor count and the 'printer's rule' count. Generally, the WP count is 20% less than the PR count. As I understand it, when an editor or agent describes a novel as being 80,000 words they usually use printer's rule. But I keep reading different ideas of what printer's rule actually is.

Some use the blanket 12 point Courier, double spaced, which can give you a maximum of 250 words for page. So, a 400 page manuscript would be 100,000 words. If I use that measure, my current word count is more like 86,000. However, I've been using another method which involves taking a fairly dense group of lined from any page and using those to form an average word count per page. With that method, I come up with 235 words per page. Multiply that by 343 (my current page) and you get the above mentioned 80,000.

So, what measure do you folks use? Or am I being too pedantic?

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That Difficult Phase - Word Count 61,646 (wp) 76,500 (pr)

Thursday, May 17, 2007, 8:55 PM

For the third time in my life, I have reached that difficult phase in writing a novel - approaching the climax. The first time I was here was about four years ago during my first serious attempt at writing a novel. I got that story to about 60,000 word processor words, just at the brink of the big finish, but it never got to the end. There are various reasons for this (including moving house in the middle of it), but the main one was I didn't have an ending. I kind of thought it would wrap itself up when I got there. It didn't.

Big lesson learned, there. I don't know how it works for other people, but for me, I need an opening and an ending, and my job is then to join the two. I made another fundamental mistake, but I'll come back to that in a moment.

With my last novel, my first completed one, I struggled at the same stage. I did a lot of procrastinating (and anyone who writes knows what that's like), and even though I had an ending, I had to fight really hard to get it written. At the time I realised why, and posted about it. It was because my life had been dominated by this story for ten weeks and I didn't want to let it go. I've experienced that before with other long-term projects I've been involved in, such as my limited amount of film and theatre work. Although you desperately want to see the project through, part of you also hates to see it done with.

I'm at that stage with the new novel. All the pieces have fallen into place. I have an ending all worked out (and it's pretty explosive, with an emotionally charged denouement). It just seems so hard to actually start writing that last sequence of scenes. 'Cos then it'll be over.

There's one thing I'm happy about, though, which involves the lesson I mentioned earlier. I consider my work in progress to be my third novel, even though the first wasn't completed. It was so close to finished it might as well have been, and I learned a lot from it. One lesson I didn't learn in time for the second novel, though, was this:

Don't lose sight of what it's about.

In both my previous efforts, I lost track of what the story was supposed to be about in the first place. I took too many detours as I fell in love with other characters and sub plots, so much so, the main plot lost its direction. There was a good setup for both stories, and interesting situations with complex protagonists and antagonists. But somewhere along the way, it all kind of got away from me. I knew this with the first novel at the time, but it came as a surprise with Conduit, my first complete novel. It wasn't until I sat down to write a hook I realised I was in trouble. When I tried to put my finger on what the story was about (not who it was about, or where it was about, but what it was about) I just couldn't do it.

That was a hard lesson learned. At some point after the first draft of the WIP is done I'll go back to Conduit and see if I can find its backbone again and reshape the novel around that.

But, here's the good news. The new novel doesn't suffer this malady. It has remained focused all the way through, and will remain so right until the closing words (and unlike the previous two efforts, I know exactly what they'll be). The result is, I think, a lean, forward moving plot with various layers and subplots, but a solid backbone that joins the first word to the last.

Now I just need to finish the bloody thing.


Life gets in the way

Sunday, May 13, 2007, 8:48 PM

I haven't written a single word of my novel since I last posted about it, and I'm very pissed off. And tired. A work deadline is looming and I spent my Saturday night (up until 11:30, anyway) hunched over a computer writing code for a client project, and spent most of today doing the same. In between that, I've been doing errands for family members and generally running around like a blue-arsed fly. Aaaargh!

As soon as I click 'Publish' it's back to more work. Expressions of sympathy will be gratefully accepted.



My Ugly Mug

Saturday, May 12, 2007, 12:31 PM

With a teeth-grinding cringe, I present - me. With the publication of my story in Electric Spec, I've taken a bit of time away from writing and started putting together my website. I've been putting it off for a while, largely because of embarrassment. See, I don't talk to people about writing. Only a couple of very close friends know I write, and none of my family, business associates, clients or wider circle of acquaintances do. So I've kept things pretty anonymous up until now. As a kind of baby step to outing myself, I've posted a photo to this blog. I was wearing a suit for a meeting yesterday, so when I got home I held my mobile phone at arm's length and did that (eyes to the top right).

And this brings me to a wider issue of letting it be known you're an aspiring writer. I find it really, really embarrassing. I've read in a couple of agent and editor blogs that having a decent website is becoming pretty much a requirement for those of us trying to get over the transom into publishing. I have a leg up, there, in that it's what I do for a living, so no problem. My website, still in development, looks slick and professional and will take no time to finish (thanks to our super-duper templating and content management systems). But putting a website out there with my ugly mug on it, proclaiming myself to be a writer (amongst other things) just seems so ... vain.

Really, the very idea of it is making my toes curl.

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I am to be published!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007, 10:09 PM

I mentioned it subtly yesterday, but I have learned that my short story 'Me and the Devil Blues' is to be included in the next issue of Electric Spec. I know this is a small publication, but the quality of work carried there makes me feel very priviliged, and given the discerning nature of the editors, I feel I can claim this as a very respectable publishing credit.

And a legitimate pub cred is a big, big help come query time.

I also feel pretty chuffed considering this was the first short story I'd written since I was at school, which wasn't yesterday or the day before. All in all, I'm happy and excited about this development. It has boosted my confidence no end.

Now I just need to get my website up and running before the end of the month. Seeing as that's what I do for a living, you'd think it'd be a cinch...


Eight Things

I got tagged by Okay, here goes...

1) I'm a partner in a mulitmedia design and print business.
2) I've taught guitar since I was sixteen years old.
3) I've scored one (very low budget) feature film, several shorts, documentaries and radio jingles.
4) I've been a hand double for Ardal O'Hanlon, the comedian, in a movie where he had to play guitar.
5) My steak cooked in brown ale with rosemary roast potatoes is world famous (at least in my house).
6) I was almost married once, but had a lucky escape.
7) Ten years ago, I was close to getting a job as staff writer for Guitarist Magazine, but in the final interview I got so nervous I literally lost the power of speech.
8) Even though I've never ridden a horse, I know how to calculate scores for all the phases of three day eventing, including dressage, to FEI regulations.

So there you go. I'm not going to tag anyone else as I haven't quite built up the network of friends in Blogsville yet, and those I have, have probably already been done.

I just know I'm going to think of at least eight things I'd rather have said instead...


A Risky Strategy - Word Count 57,406 (wp) 71,000 (pr)

I took a bit of a chance with my work in progress. So far, the entire novel has been told from two points of view, and as described in my last post, both those characters have been to the extremes and we've finally seen their true nature. A couple of events have occured which prettly clearly signalled the end of Act 2 and I wanted to start Act 3 with a distinct shift.

So, 300 pages into the manuscript, I introduced a new POV character.

Hmmm. He gets a whole chapter to himself, in his own world, away from the rest of the plot (up until its last few paragraphs, that is). Now, he's not an unknown character. Other characters have spoken of him, mostly in fearful tones. He's kind of become a bogey man and he was always going to be introduced into the action at this stage, but it was only really when I sat down to write this chapter that I decided to put him front and centre.

I hope it works in the overall arc of the plot. I hope it gives things a kick in the arse just when the reader thought they'd been to the limit. The chapter starts in a pretty gruesome way, and it would almost work as a stand alone short story. I really like it. I just hope it works.

In other news ...

News indeed. It was a big day here in Norn Iron. To quote Vince Vaughn in Swingers, "Baby's all growed up." Yep, our overpaid leeches finally got their arses in gear and formed a government. This is good news, so long as it sticks. It also adds greater weight to some of the themes in my work in progress. When this draft is done, I'll be going back to make some tweaks that reflect our interesting times.

And I got some other good news, but I'm not sure if I'm allowed to mention it...

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Challenge met! - Word Count 54,568 (wp) 67,500 (pr)

Monday, May 07, 2007, 3:27 PM

I have met my challenge, and exceeded it by 180 words. I'll probably get more done today, as I'm really enjoying writing at the minute and find myself itching to get back to it when I'm away from the computer. I've got to take my nephew to see Spider-Man 3 this evening, and as much as I'm looking forward to that, I know I'll be sitting there wishing I was at my keyboard.

The story's at an interesting point. It's not quite at the big showdown, but it's heading that way. The scene I finished this morning took me by surprise by revealing something about one of my main characters. What started out as a kind of functional scene to get from one place to another turned out to be pretty pivotal. In essence, my two POV characters have opposite development arcs. They can both be viewed as protagonist or antagonist for much of the novel as this story has a lot of grey in it, but when you're in their head, they're the good guy from their perspective. BUT, as the story progresses, amid all the darkness, one man gains his humanity, while the other loses his. The scene I finished this morning was quite disturbing (something is threatened, rather than done), and left me feeling a little unsettled, and it makes this particular character who, up until now, could have been seen as a good guy of sorts and plants him firmly into the bad guy shoes. He has stepped from the grey areas into the black, and he knows it.

In other news...

I have not shaved for five days and I feel suitably rugged and stubbly. So much so, that I may embark on another journey to Beardsville. I have been there before, once for a year or so, and once for only a few weeks. On both occasions I stayed in the Goatee neighbourhood, but this time I feel I may venture into the Full Grizzly area. It may get to be an annoyance, with the itching and the food issues, but I'll give it a go for now. It could come off any time though, tomorrow even, we'll just have to wait and see.

Challenge: a 5000 word weekend - Word Count 49,388 (wp) 61,000 (pr)

Thursday, May 03, 2007, 1:07 AM

I started this blog last November when my previous novel was at about 38,000 words (word processor count). By the end of that month I was at 66,000 words. That's fast writing, and my current novel isn't progressing at anything like that pace. During the last novel, when I was at 44,000 words, I set myself a challenge in honour of NaNoWriMo: to write 5000 words in a weekend. It was hard, but I did it. In fact, I managed to write 6000 words.

So, because this weekend will be a long one with the May bank holiday, I'm going to attempt this challenge again. If the current splendid weather continues, I may not be able to avoid some gardening (ugh), but other than that, this weekend will be all about writing. I'm looking forward to it, because a major action sequence is coming up, and after that, it's Act Three - in other words, the shit will hit the fan.

I'm making my announcement a little early 'cos tomorrow night I've got a gig in Belfast, so won't be able to post then. Talking of gigs and music, one of these days I will post something of my other creative pursuit - a piece of music. I'll have to think about which one...

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A little snippet - 48,224 (wp) 59,500 (pr)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007, 1:09 AM

A pivotal scene just sneaked up on me. The action and plot are at a kind of hiatus at the moment. You know, one of those points where the entire story takes a breath before the next big push. An interlude, if you will. This chapter was a little difficult in that it bridges two big action sequences and plot points, and its low-key nature seemed kind of odd in the midst of all the bloodshed. But, the benefit of just sitting down and writing the damn thing showed itself yet again and the sequence finally made sense of itself. And in a good way, too, I think.

So, I decided to share the last paragrpaghs of the chapter, just cos I like them. To set the scene, Fegan and his new friend (Romantic interest? Possibly ...) have fled Belfast and holed up in a remote fishing village. They have been taken pity on by a friendly couple (based on dear friends of mine) who share a cottage overlooking the sea...

Marie insisted that Fegan and she do the dishes while Mrs Bell put her feet up. They were alone at the sink, passing soapy plates back and forth.

"I've been thinking about it," said Marie. "I'm going to trust you because I've no choice. You're the only person I know who's prepared to stand up to McGinty."

"I won't let him hurt you," said Fegan.

"So you keep telling me. But what does that mean? When will it be safe to go home? How long do we stay in Cushendun? These people are so kind, but we can't impose on them forever."

Fegan added a plate to the dried stack on the worktop. "I'll go to Belfast today. I'll sort it out."

"How?" Marie turned to face him. There were no more dishes, only questions. "How are you going to sort it out?"

"There's people I have to see," said Fegan. "By tomorrow, you won't have to worry."

Her eyes would not leave him. "What are you going to do?"

"I'll sort it out," he said.

"No. I need to know what you're going to do. Tell me."

Fegan dried his hands and threw the towel on the drainer. He gripped Marie's shoulders with his wiry hands. "I'm going to do whatever it takes to make sure you and Ellen are safe. That's all."

Her eyes danced with his. "All right. Whatever it takes, and that's all. Nothing more."

Fegan nodded, and lifted the towel from the drainer. He felt her hand on his forearm.

"And nothing less," she said.

He turned to her hard eyes. "I'll need your car."