Archive for the ‘The T Party’ Tag

The Ten Commandments of Writing #6: Thou Shalt Heed Thy Critiquers

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

It has been some time since I posted one of The Ten Commandments of Writing. I am returning to this series today with the Sixth Commandment – Thou Shalt Heed Thy Critiquers.

I’ve been running The T Party Writers’ Group for over 20 years now. Various people have come and gone over the years. Some people have stayed for a little while and then moved on; others have been with us so long it’s hard to imagine a time before they joined.

Then there are others who came once, for a critique of their masterpiece, who  threw a tantrum when one or two members dared to suggest that perhaps this piece needs some improvement, instead of heaping effusive praise on it, and then they flounced off, never to be seen again. Just a tip – don’t be this writer.

The other end of the scale is the writer whose work receives a ritualistic flaying during a critique session, and they get so depressed they shove the work in a drawer and never finish it. I admit that this latter category has applied to me once or twice.

Sending your work out to a critique group takes courage. You have spent months or possibly years on your novel, sweated blood for it, gone through the usual rollercoaster of feeling alternatively like you’re an undiscovered genius or a blatant fraud, and now you have to sit there while a group of people take it in turns to tell you how ugly your baby is.

However, it is something that every writer has to learn to deal with. A common mistake that many self-published writers make is that they don’t get their work sufficiently edited. There is only so much a writer can do with their own work – you get too close to it to see the full picture. You need someone who’s not involved in it to give an honest critique.

That’s why it’s important to have beta readers and critiquers. People who will tell you honestly, and frankly, what needs improving. The problem we have in our group, though, is that for everyone who says ‘I didn’t like your character – she’s bossy and annoying’ there’ll be someone else who says, ‘I love the way this character argues with everyone and stands up for herself”.

There is a balance between listening to all the criticism and not listening to any of it. If you belong to a regular critique group you’ll get to know after a while which writers are on your wavelength, and which ones are genuinely interested in the genre that you write in. If you write cosy crime, for instance, you’ll probably find that the critique from the person who reads a lot of cosy crime is more relevant than that from the person who only reads hard SF.

On the other hand, if there are six people looking at your work and five of them make exactly the same point, it’s worth heeding it.

So this is today’s lesson. Find critiquers. If there is no ‘realspace’ writing group in your area, join an online critique group. Or start a group of your own (well, it worked for me). Once you have found them, submit your work to them and be prepared to listen when they take the time to read and comment on it. And be prepared to get your heart broken, because it’s never easy to accept criticism of your work.

But the only way to grow as a writer is to understand where you need to improve. No writer is beyond editing.


New Year Reflections

The start of the year is a time to reflect on what’s past, on where you find yourself at the present, and where you want to be going in the future.

We are now a couple of weeks into 2016 and I find myself, on the whole, to be in a pretty good place. I have several publications under my belt including three novels and another coming soon (SUFFER THE CHILDREN, my first novel, due for re-release from MuseItUp Publishing later this year). I’ve got two more novels in progress, and ideas for a few more. The day job is going well, and I’ve seen significant improvements in my health since taking the decision to drop twenty pounds in 2015.

However, my life is also pretty packed. The day job pays well but works me hard, and I spend not only eight hours a day five days a week there, but three hours a day commuting to and from London. I have my bass guitar lesson once a week and am doing regular open mic gigs with Hubby. I am trying to develop a regular exercise routine, we play Dungeons and Dragons twice a month, I run the T Party writers’ group which meets once a month, and this is before we start talking about fitting in the writing, the promotion, the conventions, and holidays.

Don’t get me wrong – this is not a whine. I am where I am in my life because I chose to be there, and I do not regret anything. However, there is always room for improvement, and the start of the year seems to be a good time to look at what I  can do better.

First of all, this blog has been neglected for the last couple of years, and I am going to endeavour to change that this year. Monday will still be the guest blog feature Monday’s Friends, as it has been for some years now. Wednesdays will be a writing-related post, cross-posted on the WriteClub blog. I hope to pick up the Ten Commandments of Writing feature, which rather tailed off halfway through last year. Friday Fears will feature with more regularity, and I would welcome contributions of two-sentence horror stories from anyone who feels inclined to send me one – credited, of course.

In addition, I’d like to feature other posts on the blog, about more general subjects. I can’t promise this will be weekly – it’s more likely to be once or twice a month. But when I started the blog, I was talking about commuting and London and weather and travelling and all the things that I deal with in my everyday life. And because I don’t want to be the kind of writer that only comes online to say ‘buy my book’, I’d like to get back to this again.

So, that’s one resolution: more regular blog posts. A second, more personal one, relates to the aforementioned weight loss. This was something that I didn’t really discuss on the blog, but those who follow me on Twitter will be aware of it, since I was Tweeting about my weekly weigh-ins.

This was something that came about when I went on a short holiday to France in June and couldn’t get the zip of my favourite summer dress done up. Coming at a time when I’d lost several family members and friends to cancer within a fairly short period, I was more mindful of needing to look after my health and decided the time had come to get a bit healthier. The weight loss was all about trying to shed bad habits, as well as a few pounds. I hate the gym, I hate vegetables and I love all things sweet and sugary. But sometimes you have to do things that are good for you, whether you want to or not. I aimed to get back to ten and a half stone (that’s 147 lbs for the Americans amongst you), which is what I was when I last lost weight, in 2009. The intervening years had apparently seen a gain of over twenty pounds, which I wanted to lose again. I managed to hit my goal just before Christmas, but then came all the eating and drinking and not moving from the couch for two weeks that accompanied the holiday season, and I’m now a few pounds above that goal again.

However, I resolved at the beginning of this year to try and go back to the good habits I’d adopted at the end of last year: regular exercise, more fruit & veg, fewer sugary treats, fewer takeaways, less red meat. I’ve ridden this whole weight-loss roundabout before. The weight comes off, I go back to eating what I like to eat, it comes back on again. This year, I want to try and keep the weight off – especially since Hubby bought me several new dresses in my new smaller size for Christmas, and I want to be able to keep on wearing them.

It can be quite difficult as a writer to stay fit, since writing generally involves sitting on a chair for hours at a time, moving only to get more tea and another couple of biscuits (favourite food of The Muse, apparently). And I am inherently quite lazy. I have no trouble getting up early to write, especially when my early morning writing sessions involve a yummy breakfast muffin at the coffee shop I set up in, but I am much less inclined to get up early to go for an early-morning swim.

There, then, is Resolution Number 2. And then there are the writing resolutions, which I discussed in the December round-up post. I have two novels to finish. I have to crack on with them.

There’s an additional resolution that comes in to help me with all the others, and that’s to be more organised. I’ve got a rather anally retentive personality anyway, and I love lists. Lists are the key to staying organised. I have to do lists for every week, involving both writing and non-writing related goals, and they get dutifully ticked off as I complete the tasks. Finding time to write, or to exercise, equally involves noting appointments in my diary and making sure I turn up when I say I will – even if not doing so lets down no one else but myself.

It’s always dangerous to declare one’s intentions in a public forum, since you have a lot of people to answer to if you fail to fulfil them. But it also provides a good motivation to sticking to your resolutions.

Hence, I start the year full of good intentions. I guess we need to come back here at the end of the year and see how well – or otherwise – I’ve managed to do!

Whatever you wish for this year, I hope 2016 delivers.

What Am I Doing at Geekfest?

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

It’s nearly time for the Nineworlds Geekfest con! Last year was the first time this London-based convention – celebrating all things geeky – ran, and it was a fabulous event. This year sees it a bit more streamlined, but with just as packed a schedule, and I have no doubt it will be just as much fun.

Saturday I and other members of the T Party writers’ group will be running an ideas-generating workshop entitled ‘How to Beat Writers’ Block’. This will be a series of exercises designed to trigger story ideas. Don’t really want to say much about it at this stage (spoilers!) but we hope it will inspire people to go away and start writing something. In order for this to work we’ve limited it to 30 people so if you are attending the Con and fancy it, turn up early – it’s on at 3:15 pm in the County A room.

After that I hope I get a chance to catch some panels before I am appearing on one myself – the intriguingly-entitled ‘Noir – the Dirty Streets of Fiction’ panel at 6:15 pm in County C&D. The only description we’ve been given of this is a quote from Raymond Chandler: “it seemed like a nice neighbourhood to have bad habits in”. I’ve been thinking about this since I was asked to do the panel and I’m really looking forward to it. With noir finding its way into so many other genres, I think I can find a lot to say on this subject – assuming I don’t get tongue-tied from the impressive line-up of Serious Writers on this panel (which include John Connolly, Will Hill, Daniel Polansky and Francis Knight).

I am also quite impressed with the Con’s online schedule app, which not only allows each Con-goer to highlight individual sessions to create their own personal programme, but allows participants to see all of their activities all at once (here’s mine).

There’s also going to be a table for independent authors and small presses in the dealer room, so I shall take along a pile of SOUL SCREAMS to (hopefully) sell.

If you’re at Geekfest do come and say hello – it’s going to be a Con to remember.


Farewell to Dot Lumley

I was saddened this week to learn that literary agent Dot Lumley had lost her battle with cancer.  I met Dot on several occasions over the years, and she was a lovely lady, who always had time for writers, be they new or more established ones.

Dot handled many genres of fiction incuding both crime and horror.  I submitted both SUFFER THE CHILDREN and DEATH SCENE to her.  She rejected both, but with personal letters and encouraging words that convinced me she had taken the time to read them through, instead of going down the form rejection route.

Our paths crossed at a variety of conventions – since she dealt with all genres she attended both the crime and the horror/SF/fantasy Cons.  At the St Hilda’s Crime Conference in August 2009, I found myself sitting next to her at dinner on the Saturday night.  The contract for SUFFER THE CHILDREN from Lyrical Press had come to me days before, and I was still trying to decide whether or not to accept it.  I knew that Lyrical Press was an e-book only publisher, and by accepting the contract I was likely to forfeit the opportunity to ever see SUFFER THE CHILDREN in print.  I took the opportunity to ask Dot for her advice.  She told me that if this was a manuscript that was doing the rounds for a while (it had been), and if the e-book contract was for a finite length of time (it was), then I had nothing to lose and I should go for it.  When I returned home at the end of the weekend, I took Dot’s advice and sent an email accepting the contract.

Me and Dot Lumley, January 2011

Me and Dot Lumley, January 2011

The last time I saw Dot was in January 2011.  The T Party Writers’ Group hold a Winter Social in the early months of the year, where we get together for food, drink and chat.  In the last few years we have taken to inviting guests – authors, agents and editors who have come to speak to the group or got involved with us in some other way.  Or sometimes just because we like them.  Dot was attending our social event as a guest that year, and I spent a good part of the evening chatting to her.  In fact, at one point it was just her and me sitting in a corner on our own.  Then my husband started chatting to one of our other guests, Mike Carey – it turns out they have a shared interest in building model kits – and a few minutes later I realised that the rest of the group were pulling chairs up to join us at the table, and we had been hogging the special guests.

This picture was taken on that evening.  Much wine had flowed by that point.

When I heard about Dot’s death I felt compelled to pay homage to her in a blog post.  I had to look back at previous posts to avoid repeating myself, as I was sure I had told at least one of these stories on this blog before, but it turns out that I hadn’t.  Sometimes I think about posting things and then don’t, for whatever reason.  I think in this case I wrote a post about our social event and the famous guests I had been schmoozing with, and was worried it would come across as nothing more than blatant name-dropping so I deleted it.  I also had a reluctance to share this photo, which I considered somewhat unflattering at the time.

But now Dot is gone, and this is the only picture I have of the two of us together – a record of the last conversation I will ever have with her.  Once again I am reminded of how brief and fragile life is.  Now I want to share this photo with the world, and it no longer seems unflattering, because in it we are both alive and well, and smiling.

Dot was an exceptional lady and the publishing world is all the poorer now she has left it.  Jo Fletcher has written a very touching blog post paying tribute to Dot’s courage, and I encourage you to go read it. It’s far more eloquent than what I have written here.

Many literary figures have left us of late – James Herbert, Iain Banks and Ann Crispin are names that immediately spring to mind.  Dot Lumley was not as famous as these other names, but she touched many lives in the publishing world, including mine.  Her absence will be noticed.

Goodbye, Dot.  I shall miss running into you at conventions, but I hope you have found peace.

Geekfest 2013 – The Lowdown

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

This past weekend saw the first ever Nineworld Geekfest Con, held in London.

The Con was billed as a celebration of all things geeky, and an excuse to have a really big party, and it was held in two hotels at London Heathrow airport – the Renaissance and the Radisson.  I was impressed by the fact that a Con without a track record was able to secure not one but two major airport hotels.

Though I was looking forward to the Con, with it being new I was expecting a few hiccups.  I have to say I was impressed with the level of organisation.  And the amount of choice.  There were so many tracks running, we were all spoilt for choice.  There was a creative writing track, a Tolkien track, a Dr Who track, a Geek Feminism track, a video games track, an LRP track, a board games track – to name just a few.  it was impossible to do everything.

There were some comments about the cost.  I think possibly this is relative – I’m used to London prices, where everything is more expensive anyway.  Although the Con itself wasn’t that expensive – depending on when you booked, £75 could get you a weekend ticket to just about everything, which I thought was reasonable.  The hotel cost no more than I paid for my hotel room at the Brighton Cons I have attended the last few years.  The room was decent, the air conditioning worked, the bed was comfortable.  Yes we had to pay for parking, but £10 for 24 hours didn’t seem overly expensive considering we pay £6 or more to park the car in Croydon for an afternoon of shopping.  Yes, the hotel bar was expensive.  But £5 for a glass of wine is not uncommon in a London hotel bar.  Sometimes bars are subsidised at Con hotels.  Genre Con-goers seem to have the ability to imbibe a lot more alcohol and yet still remain well behaved and less aggressive than your average non-geek after a few pints.  If the hotel manages to figure this out, maybe a deal will be struck for next year.

The T Party Writers’ Group had arranged to do a critiquing workshop on manuscripts that had been submitted in advance, and this was scheduled for 1:30 on Saturday afternoon.  Since we drove up to the Con on Saturday and hit traffic, we didn’t have much time to do anything else before this was on.  So hubby went off to the “In Conversation with Chris Barrie” programme item and I sought out the workshop.

We’d had seven submitted manuscripts split into two crit groups – one group dealing with historical and other-world fantasy and the other group (my group) critting the stories with more contemporary settings.  The crit session went quite well and no one ran off screaming after their crit, which is always a relief.

We finished earlier than expected and I was hoping to catch the second half of the panel on women in the Whedon universe.  But sadly this panel was so full they were letting no one else in, so I went off to take a look around the dealer room instead.  I caught up with Hubby here, who spent a happy half an hour spending money on the stall with all the old D&D modules.  I was distracted by many geeky t-shirts and jewellery, in the end deciding to spend my money on a pretty dragon pendant from the Pagan jewellery dealer I see at pretty much every Con I go to these days.

We left around noon on Sunday, and I left wishing I could have caught a few more panels.  But with so much going on, I think everyone came away wishing they could have seen more.

Buffy singalong. Picture credit: Nineworlds Geekfest

Buffy singalong. Picture credit: Nineworlds Geekfest

The highlight of my Con experience was the Buffy sing-along in the Saturday night, where we all gathered round a chap playing piano and went through every song featured in “Once More With Feeling”.  And because we finished faster than expected, when he got to the end of the music book, he started again from the beginning.  You can see me singing away in this picture – I’m there near the front in the pink t-shirt.  The t-shirt actually says ‘horror writer’ on it and has an image of a cartoon grim reaper on it, but sadly you can’t see it in the photo.  I let down my Buffy fangirl credentials by having to refer to the lyrics at some point for most of the songs.  There were some die-hard fans that knew every word.

There was a lot of Cosplay at this Con, and even if you don’t participate in this yourself, it’s fascinating to see the array of costumes, and see if you can correctly guess the geek reference.  Some of them were obvious to me – Dr Who characters; Marvel characters; the Alien.  Others I suspected were Manga characters, and these I am not as familiar with.

GeekFest made a point of making this Con accessible to everyone – regardless of gender, creed, orientation, physical ability, or anything else.  Children were welcome – there were many families at the Con.  Any item that was deemed to be for adults only was clearly labelled as such in the programme.  It was a Con where you could be who you wanted to be, not necessarily who you were born as.  The name labels were blank so you could fill in whatever name you wanted to be that particular weekend.  Many people stayed in costume – and in character – all weekend.  There was an LGBT track running all weekend.  There were even gender neutral toilets.  I have a lot of respect for the organisers for this.  This was a Con where everyone was welcome.  You could wear whatever you wanted, be  whoever you chose to be, and be accepted and welcomed, without the labels of ‘geek’, ‘freak’, ‘weirdo’ that so many of us have to deal with for being in some way different from what society perceives as ‘normal’.

In summary, this is a Con I thoroughly recommend for anyone who has any remotely geeky tendencies.  Next year’s Con has already been confirmed at the same venue, 8-10 August 2014.  Tickets are available, so book up now before the price goes up.

Fellow geeks, I shall see you there…

Not Enough Words?

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I have finished my new horror novel!  This is a cause for celebration, and time to start submitting it.

The novel is about a group of LRP-ers who unwittingly unleash an undead magic user onto the world whilst performing a ritual during a game, which proceeds to wreak death and destruction on those involved in the game.  The finished draft has come out at 69,000 words.  I’m aware that this is a very short novel.  In fact, to some it’s only half of a novel.  The majority of people in the T Party Writers’ Group are fantasy writers.  Most of their first drafts start off with over 150,000 words.

I’ve never really ‘got’ how you can stuff so much into one novel to make it so long.  I am the opposite.  I end up with 50,000 word first drafts and then I have to pad them.  Only that’s what it looks like – padding.  I used a fair amount of padding in the version of DEATH SCENE that got submitted to Lyrical Press.  My editor promptly stripped out all the padding, saying – quite correctly – it was superfluous to the plot.

I remember that lesson when I write novels now.  Is this scene moving the plot forward in some way?  Is it revealing something about a character, or a plot point that becomes important later on?  If the answer to all of these is ‘no’, the scene has no place in the book.  So this is a very short novel.  But it doesn’t have much padding, and I think I’m going to keep it that way.

I am a voracious reader, as anyone who follows this blog will know.  I read quickly, and I like strong plots, but I read so many books I don’t retain plots of books I’ve read for very long.  I like clear beginnings, middles, and ends.  I don’t like subtle hints, I don’t like ambiguity (my attitude to this is if the author couldn’t be arsed to work out what was really going on, why should I?), and I like satisfactory endings.  If it’s a horror novel, the horror should be resolved.  I don’t mind if all the main characters die – that’s acceptable in horror.  But if it’s a crime novel the killer must be caught.  If he or she gets away with it, that’s an unsatisfactory ending.

I do most of my reading on the train, going in and out of London to the day job.  I have about 40 minutes at each stretch.  On my journey home I want to be able to pick the story up again from where I left off that morning.  I don’t want the plot to be so complex that I have to re-read the last 10 pages to remember what’s going on.  I don’t want to be re-introduced to a character who had a brief appearance 100 pages ago and I’m supposed to remember that, because I won’t.  And I like chapters to be short.  When I get to the end of a chapter at Clapham Junction I will be checking to see how long the next chapter is, and if I have time to read it in the few minutes I’ve got left until the train gets in to Victoria station.  If it’s only five pages, I will keep reading.  If it’s 20, or worse,  I will put the book away at that point and put some music on instead – because I hate finishing a reading session mid-chapter.

I am aware that my writing style reflects my reading preferences.  I write plot-driven stories, I focus on a few main characters and the peripheral ones are never really fleshed out, I don’t complicate the story with lots of sub-plots, and I write very short chapters.  The vast majority of them are between 1,000 and 2,000 words, and I have been known to chapters less than 1,000 words long.

Consequently I tend to write very short novels.  But you know what?  Maybe that’s just the way it is.  I’m never going to win any literary prizes for fiction, and maybe I’ll never write the kind of doorstopper that hits the best sellers list.

But that’s OK.  I write what I write.  It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, and I get that.  But I know there’s a few people out there that like what I write, and the way I write it.

And so this new novel is for you.  It’s short, but it’s finished, and it’s about to go out into the big wide world to find a publisher.

Another Rung of the Ladder

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

The illustrious Mike Carey, in a talk to the T Party writers’ group, once told us that success in his writing career did not come from one big break – instead it was a series of fortuitous small breaks. Success comes gradually, with each new milestone worth marking off. There are a lot of significant milestones over the years that I decided were worth celebrating as I forge the road of my writing career. The first professionally published story (1989). The first novel contract (2009, for SUFFER THE CHILDREN). Seeing the first novel cover. Seeing the finished book for the first time was exciting, even though it arrived as an email file and not a print copy. Holding the first print book (2012, SOUL SCREAMS) for the first time was equally exciting. My first ‘proper’ signing session, at the BFS open night, for the paperback version of SOUL SCREAMS was a thrill.

All of these things have been significant milestones, to me, in the journey from Writer to Author. They mark the way to writing as a career, instead of just a hobby.

Another First Milestone has recently come my way. This year’s EasterCon (officially titled EightSquaredCon) has published their list of ‘Attending Authors‘. And I am on it. That’s very exciting – I’m normally in the regular delegates list.

I’ve also been asked to participate in a panel at EasterCon. This is my first panel, and a big moment. Since the schedule’s not published yet I’m not going to say too much about this, but needless to say it marks another ‘First’.

From being very young, the only thing I ever wanted to be was a writer. As each milestone is achieved and I check it off my List of Dreams, I move the goalposts a bit and set it ever higher. The Ultimate Dream is being able to make enough money from the writing to quit the day job. That might never happen, but setting the smaller goals in the meantime means that with every little goal I check off, every step of the ladder I take, I’m just that little bit closer.

Anatomy of Grief

I went to a funeral yesterday. The service was to say goodbye to Denni Schnapp, who committed suicide on 17 January, after years of struggling with depression. She was 48. She had been a member of the T Party writers’ group for many years, and that’s how I knew her.

There were maybe a dozen people representing the writing group at the funeral. Funeral services are, of course, always sombre affairs. Denni was an atheist. Her funeral service was humanist – celebrating her life, and giving everyone permission to mourn her death. Accepting the person she was, and the way she chose to die, without judgement.

Following the service there was a wake, held at the pub that had been Denni’s local. There I met others who had shared Denni’s life, and it became clear that there were so many facets to her that I had never known about. We knew Denni the writer. Others there had known Denni the scientist, Denni the scholar, Denni the traveller. It seemed she compartmentalised these facets of her life, presenting the face that was most appropriate. There were very few people indeed who knew every side of her.

The tragic news about Denni reached us two weeks ago. I can’t communicate the story behind this quite as eloquently as a fellow T Party member has already expressed on her blog, so go read it now. Come back when you’re done, and I’ll finish my story.

For two weeks after Denni’s death I felt like I was wading through treacle. Getting out of bed every morning was a struggle. I dragged myself through the business of the day, finding it hard not to fall asleep at my desk, and yet when night came I lay awake, unable to sleep. I attributed this to the weather. It was dark and cold in the mornings. There was snow on the ground, and January is a notoriously depressing month. I had some variation of Seasonally Affected Disorder, maybe.

I realise now that I was in a state of grief. This revelation came as a surprise. Denni was not a close friend. The death of my grandparents did not hit me as hard as her death appeared to. But in retrospect, I suppose one expects to outlive one’s grandparents. I reached the age of 26 with four living grandparents – I’d had many years to prepare myself emotionally for the inevitability of their passing, and when it came (and they all died with a span of three years), I was sad, but I could accept it. The death of someone who was of my generation, someone with whom I shared the common interest of writing, has affected me in ways I could not have anticipated.

Denni was someone I knew socially, and I realise now I did not know her well. But I’ve chatted to her. I’ve drank with her, most notoriously at Heather Graham’s infamous pierside party at HorrorCon 2010 in Brighton, where there was a free bar. I’ve critiqued her work and had her critique mine. She had a towering intellect, to the point that the rest of humanity seemed way down the evolutionary scale. She wrote hard SF stories that often featured groups of humans adapting to life on an alien world. The research was meticulous, with every detail of the ecosystem considered and accounted for. She was fascinated by humanity, but often seemed unable to connect with it – in the way that a scientist might study a beetle under a microscope.

The way she chose to die should not have surprised anyone who knew her – she had broadcast her intentions often enough in the public domain – but her death still came as a shock. Mental illness is a tragedy. I often say I get depressed, but my kind of depression is pretty lightweight from a clinical perspective. I have days when a black cloud hangs over my head for no apparent reason. When getting out of bed is a struggle, and I go through the motions of life feeling no joy. But I have never – not for a second – considered ending it all. When it comes down to the bare bones, I want to live. That most basic of human instincts – survival – will always kick in. And intellectually I know the black cloud will move on, as suddenly as it appeared, in a few days. Because it always does. Those who suffer real depression, clinical depression, have some chemical imbalance in the brain that seems to over-ride that survival instinct, and sometimes it leads to them feeling the only release is death. Because Denni was an atheist, she did not even believe that she was going to a better place. I find it incredibly heartbreaking that for her, complete oblivion was preferable to the pain of living.

All of these feelings have been churning away in my brain for the last two weeks, but I was not able to differentiate and define them. Only when I was on my way home yesterday after leaving the wake, did the cloud suddenly lift and I was able to identify it at last. It was grief. Grief for someone who passed through my life and left an indelible impression.

I now feel I understand grief in a way I never have before. Death is painful, but inevitable. Grief is a part of the process. Grief affects people in different ways. It can’t be predicted, and it can’t be denied. The only way to be able to move on from death is to embrace the grief, and let it take its course. The lady who led Denni’s funeral service began with words that pretty much reflected this sentiment. I now understand what she meant.

Goodbye, Denni. I feel privileged to have known you. I am sorry that you could not find peace in life. Those of us whose lives crossed with yours are all the richer for it.

On Being Weird

When I was a child, I was very girlie – into dolls and dresses and such things. I didn’t climb trees, and I didn’t like getting dirty (this is still true, and one reason why I never got into gardening). I never really thought I was ‘different’. Then when I was 10 I was displaced from my home and moved to Canada, and suddenly everything was different. My new classmates talked differently, dressed differently, watched different TV shows, had different cultural references. When I moved back to England eight years later I was still the odd one out, because things had moved on in that time and I had become, to a certain extent, ‘Canadianised’.

I’ve been the odd one out ever since. It took me a while to accept it, but I’m OK with that now. My colleagues have always thought I was weird. I don’t like football, I don’t like curry (going out for curry is a Great British Pastime), and I don’t watch the same TV shows they do. The other week I joined my colleagues at the pub for someone’s birthday lunch, and they were talking about some reality show – which I don’t watch. The conversation went on for 20 minutes without me being able to contribute a word, because I had no clue who any of the people they were talking about were.

My social circle consists of people who I have met through common interests – writing; love of horror and crime books; amateur dramatics; D&D and live action role playing. But even amongst my friends I often feel I am still the ‘odd one out’. Most of my writing group are fans of fantasy and science fiction. They all read the same novels growing up. I didn’t. If you’ve been following the ‘My Life in Books’ posts, you may have noticed that THE LORD OF THE RINGS has not been mentioned. That’s because I’ve never read it. My tastes in books were fairly mainstream until I discovered Stephen King, age 14, and then discovered VI Warshawski at age 19 which triggered my love of crime featuring kick-ass women. I like fantasy and science fiction films, but I don’t really read books in these genres. I dabbled in SF for a while in my teenage years, but I never got into fantasy.

Whenever I meet with fellow members of the British Fantasy Society and we talk about TV shows such as Warehouse 13, The Walking Dead, and Grimm, and they all know what I’m on about. The BFS social nights are always fabulous evenings, and I meet an array of interesting people. I will emphasise that when the BFS was started in the 70s, ‘fantasy’ was a term that embraced anything containing supernatural or other wordly beings. It still promotes British horror, fantasy and SF writers and film makers, even though ‘fantasy’ is no longer a generic term to cover all these genres. I joined initially because of its support for horror writers.

Friday night was the BFS Christmas social gathering. As ever, when you put a bunch of writers into a room with a bar they drink a lot. It was fairly late in the evening and the booze had been flowing, I was sitting with a couple of fellow T Party writers when a lady asked to sit in the vacant chair at our table. She looked vaguely familar, and I assumed I’d seen her before at previous BFS events – you often see the same faces there. She joined us, introduced herself as Pat, and started the conversation by asking if we were all writers. We said we were. She was an actress, she told us. When we asked her what she’d done, she said that her most well known film was “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. Then I suddenly realised why I recognised her. She was Patricia Quinn, who played Magenta.

I’ve never ‘got’ his particular film. I’ve started watching it on numerous occasions. I even tried watching it late one night whilst drunk, having come back from a party. It didn’t help. Every time, I get about half an hour in, decide it’s just too weird, and switch off. I just don’t get it. It’s not scary, and I wouldn’t classify it as horror. I don’t find it particularly funny, so it’s not a comedy. It’s just weird.

I did vocalise these thoughts (perhaps unwisely, but I’ve never been one to hold back), and Pat looked a bit taken aback. At gatherings of SF/fantasy/horror fans, she probably doesn’t meet too many people who don’t like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. A conversation ensued about why geeks love this film, and I started to understand its appeal. Those who grow up feeling like the odd ones out, go to see the Rocky Horror show and suddenly find an audience full of like-minded weirdos. And they realise they’ve found their tribe. They belong.

This hasn’t happened to me. The geeks and weirdos find me a bit too mainstream to fit in with this particular tribe. But the mainstream crowd think I’m a weirdo.

What do I conclude from this? Maybe I don’t have a ‘tribe’. Even the people I have things in common with find me a bit of an oddball. Perhaps I’m just a lone wolf. A unique brand of weirdo.

And that’s OK. I am me. I am comfortable with who I am. If it means I am forever destined to walk out of step with absolutely everyone else, I’m OK with that, too.

And incidentally I had a fabulous night at the BFS open night, Patricia Quinn was lovely, and we all had a very interesting chat. I do hope she wasn’t too offended by my not liking the film that made her famous. Tact has never been my strong point…

WIP Woes

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

When I first started writing, I used to scribble in the back of school exercise books, in pencil. Towards the end of the 1980s I got my first computer – an Amstrad PCW. It was one of the machines with green fonts on a black background. It didn’t have a hard drive, so files had to be saved on floppy disks.

I tell this story because the influence that machine had on my writing is still with me today. Because the floppy disks didn’t have much memory, files had to be small. I used to save each chapter as a separate file, because it would take several disks to hold an entire novel. I still use this system of saving each chapter as a separate document. Only when the manuscript is nearing completion do I compile it all into a single document – and only then do I really know how many pages I’ve got.

Currently, I’m working on draft 2 of the horror WIP. Up to now this has largely been minor amendments to each of the early chapters, though as I go through it I start thinking about any major changes that might need to be made.  Things were going quite well until I got to chapter 12. And then I realised chapter 12 was missing from my ‘Draft 1’ folder.

An extensive search failed to unearth the missing chapter, but because I keep meticulous logs of when I write each chapter, I have worked out what has happened. The early chapters of the first draft of this WIP were written from October to December last year. At that point, I was still on my clunky old laptop, and my old NetBook. My writing routine has always been fairly rigid. If I was writing the chapters in Starbucks during my early-morning writing session, they were written on my NetBook. When I got home I would boot up both machines and copy the files from one machine to the other, so that there was a back-up. If I was writing at home, then I would transfer them the other way.

However, the old laptop was very slow, and sometimes waiting for it to boot up to transfer files was a frustrating process. What clearly happened is that when I was copying over my new chapters from the NetBook to the laptop, I somehow overlooked chapter 12 and didn’t copy it.

I got my new laptop for Christmas, and copied the files from my old laptop to the new one. Then the hard drive on my NetBook died – suddenly, and without warning. All files were lost. That was OK, I thought, I had everything backed up. Or mostly everything. Only now have I realised I had failed to back up chapter 12, and the only copy of that chapter is now lost forever on the dead hard drive.

What I am left with is a log of how many words were in that chapter (1,330) and a summary of what it contained. But the file is gone. I have to rewrite it. And that realisation was a depressing thought.

So the next day, I got up early for a writing session, took the NetBook into London and sat in Starbucks staring at chapters 11 and 13 or quite a long time. I did not get hit with any inspiration to re-write chapter 12.  What did occur to me, though, is that there are a lot of problems with this section of the novel, and there’s a lot of rewriting that needs to be done. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t write chapter 12 again. There are a lot of ‘talking heads’ – people talking about things instead of doing things. Too much ‘telling’, not enough ‘showing’, as the T Party writing group would probably say.

What I am attempting to demonstrate in this section of the novel is the changing personality of a character who is being possessed by a demonic creature, in the way he interacts with his friends, and how he’s becoming more violent to his girlfriend. At present, the girlfriend tearfully relays to her friends how her boyfriend raped her. I haven’t actually got a scene showing the rape. But I think I’m going to have to write it. The action will have a lot more impact than the telling.

I haven’t been able to face writing this scene in this week’s writing sessions. It’s going to be a very difficult and harrowing scene, and writing such scenes can be emotionally draining. But it needs to be done. Sometimes your WIP takes you to places you really don’t want to go to. But you have to go there anyway, in order to grow as a writer.

The ironic thing is, if chapter 12 had not disappeared, I would not have scrutinised that section of the novel quite so hard. Some times these things happen for a reason…