Archive for the ‘train’ Tag

The End In Sight

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I got the early train into London this morning for an early-morning Starbucks writing session – something I have not done in a while, it must be said.  In fact looking at my writing log made me realise the last writing session was dated 16 April – over a month ago.  I will say at this point I am rather anal about logging my writing sessions, noting word count and date of every one.  It helps me keep track of my monthly word count, and also how long it takes me to finish each draft.  But it also makes me aware of how long it’s been since the last session.

Why the gap?  The end of April and beginning of May was manically busy in the day job, and I was also working on edits for both DEATH SCENE and DEAD COOL, which made it hard for me to get my head around working on the WIP as well.  And then I was away for two weeks.  I did actually take the Netbook away with me, with the idea that if it was raining I might get some time to sit in the hotel room and write, but well…the weather was glorious and the writing didn’t happen.

Anyway.  Now I am back home again and trying to get back into my usual routine, including the early-morning writing sessions.  The current work in progress is the 1960s crime thriller, and this morning was a good session.  I’ve been wrestling with the climax of this one, but now I feel that the end is in sight.  The novel still needs a great deal of work – I am not deluding myself about that.  But I am nearing the end of the first draft.  And I’ve always seen the first draft as putting the scaffolding in place.  Once you’ve got that, you can start the real building work.

The main issue with this novel will be research.  It’s set in 1967, and spans San Francisco, London and Vietnam.  This is not an era I was alive to witness, but there are plenty of people around who were, and they’ll notice if I get it wrong.  The parts of the novel set in Vietnam – which is effectively the final section of the story – is proving particularly tricky.  This was a very emotive point in history.  In particular I want to know what Long Binh looked like in 1967.

Research has never been my strong point, and I’ve never let a mere thing like getting the facts right stop me from getting stuck into the first draft.  Of course, this generally means a great deal of changes between the first draft and future drafts.  Fortunately, the Internet has made doing research a great deal easier than it used to be.  A quick search has revealed that there are a lot of personal accounts and photos from soldiers who lived through the Vietnam war are out there in the public domain, and careful research will help me ensure I get it right.

For me, the most important thing is to get to the end of draft 1.  I’m not there yet with this WIP.  But I can just glimpse the light at the end of the long tunnel.

After that, the real work starts.  Doing the research, getting the facts right, sorting out the plot holes, working out what’s not working and what’s not in the novel that should be.  But all that will come later.  For now, I’m focusing on getting to the end.  And I feel like I’m almost there.

BristolCon 2013 – Roundup

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I usually follow up a Con with a write-up, and so here is my take on BristolCon, which took place on Saturday 26 October.

Hubby and I travelled down from London by train on Friday afternoon, as soon as I was able to get away from the day job.  It was actually quite a pleasant journey, taking just about two hours on a train we could pre-book seats on.  The hotel, we were pleased to find, was a five-minute walk from Bristol Temple Meads Station, and was modern and comfortable.  It was also conveniently located for the Town Centre and close to bars and restaurants, for those who want to take a break from the Con.

The Con officially began at 10 am on Saturday morning, running two concurrent threads.  I was on one of the opening panels – the panel on Innovative Deaths, moderated by Anne Lyle.  We discussed ways of killing people for over 45 minutes.  Fortunately we didn’t seem to scare the audience too much – or at least that was how I interpreted it, as nobody ran out screaming.

After that I caught some of the ‘My World is Not Your Sandpit’ panel, about fan fiction, in which a rather energetic debate took place.  I have to say I missed the beginning of this panel, but what I saw clearly defined the two sides of the argument.  One side was that if the fan fiction writer is not making any profit from their writing, and the original creator of the world is done writing books about that world, should they not be flattered by enthusiastic fans wanting to play in their sandpit?  The opposing viewpoint was that anyone other than the creator is not going to get the world right because so much of a created world never makes it into the book, and a writer is never really done with their world.  It was an interesting discussion and I must confess I can see the point of the writers who say they don’t want anybody else playing in their sandpit, because it’s theirs.  Though the chance to be adored enough for someone to want to play in my sandpit would be a fine thing.  It was also pointed out in this panel that fan fiction is an evolutionary stage of the young writer, and this spoke to me as well.  Fortunately my Star Wars fan fiction was written in the days before the Internet and will never be aired in public.

After that I stuck around for the panel on the Evolution of Genre, where among other things the influence of ‘real-world’ problem on genre was discussed.  Apparently zombies do well during periods of high unemployment and financial restraints.  Vampires apparently do well during periods of affluence.  What this says about us I don’t know.

After taking a break from watching panels I joined the other authors for the ‘mass signing’, for which we’d all been encouraged to bring books to sell at the committee table.  A member of the writing group who’d bought a copy of SOUL SCREAMS a while ago came to get it signed, but unfortunately I sold none of the copies I’d brought with me.  Which was a bit crushing, frankly.  Obviously I need to step up my promotional efforts.

My final programme item was to moderate the small press panel at 4pm.   I had done some homework on this, and I already knew I had a fantastic panel.  Cheryl Morgan, who runs Wizards Tower press.  Chrissey Harrison, independent film maker and small press publisher.  Jonathan Wright, journalist and editor.  David R Rodger, self published science fiction writer.  I think we gave the topic a good airing, all my panel members engaged in the conversation and we had a reasonable number of people in the audience.  And to be honest, I quite enjoyed moderating.  I think I’d like to do it again some time.

With my commitments over with I sat back to enjoy a couple more panels, venturing into the larger programme room for the ‘Beyond Arthur’ panel, moderated by Gaie Sebold, and then the panel saying farewell to Iain Banks, moderated by Cheryl Morgan.

And then it was back to the bar, to see out the day with more chat, more food and more wine, and to relax before our train home Sunday morning.

BristolCon is a small local Con, running for a day to be deliberately attractive to people in South West England who can attend without having to book hotel accommodation.  Although small I found it a very well run and friendly Con, especially welcoming to small press and self published writers.

Next year’s Con has been set for 18 October 2014 in the same great location.  I am intending to come back next year.

If you can get to Bristol I thoroughly recommend this Con.  It’s a fantastic experience.

Con Conundrums

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

It has come about that my last two Cons of 2013 fall on consecutive weekends.  This weekend I’m at BristolCon, and next weekend is World Fantasy Con in Brighton.  At BristolCon I am a participant – two panels and a book signing – and at World Fantasy Con I am merely a delegate.

The usual Con conundrums apply.  The first is – what to pack?  For Bristol this is more crucial, since I will be performing the role of ‘author’, instead of just watching other people do it.  So what outfit says ‘serious writer’ without saying ‘I’m mad as a box of frogs and you don’t want to come anywhere near me.’  Sometimes the Con involves a formal dinner that obviously involves having to pack an outfit for it.  Sometimes I worry I try too hard with this issue of Con clothing.  Jeans and a t-shirt is probably an acceptable Con outfit for a writer.  It might be appropriate for my ‘horror writer’ t-shirt to get another airing this weekend.

Mode of transportation is also relevant to the first question.  If I’m driving to a Con, I can take more stuff.  But this generally only happens if I can take the day I am travelling off work.  On neither forthcoming Con I have been able to do that – which means it’s easier to take the train from London than travel home, pick up the car, load it up and set off again.  But taking the train directly after work means I have to take all my luggage into London, which is another factor to consider.  Whatever I take has to be transported on a packed commuter train, and sit in the office until I leave.

On Friday I have to be at work for a meeting, so I will be leaving as soon as possible after that’s finished.  It does mean that the smart ‘work clothes’ that will be required for that will have to be my travelling clothes to Bristol.  Unless I take a change of clothing.

When travelling to a Con, the issue of having space for books also must be considered.  It is impossible to leave a Con without having acquired books. Many of them give out freebies in the delegate bags, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll buy some, too.  For BristolCon, I am also taking some copies of SOUL SCREAMS for the author signing session.  But I am really hoping that I will sell at least a couple of them, otherwise I have to cart them all back home with me.

I am looking forward to both Cons, and they will both be very different experiences.  Hopefully they will both give me something to blog about for the next two weeks, too.

And once I’ve had a chance to catch my breath, it will be time to plan 2014’s Con schedule…

Chapters

(Cross-posted on WriteClub blog)

I am a big fan of chapter breaks. Every story I’ve ever written, bar those less than 10,000 words, has had chapter breaks.

When I am reading a book, I like chapters. I particularly like short chapters. I hate stopping my reading session in the middle of a chapter, because when I come back to the book I have to hunt around the page to work out where I got to last. A chapter break makes it so much easier to find your place. Most of my reading is done on the train, going to and from work. Short chapters make it much easier to work out where to stop. When my train is ten minutes away from its final London destination, I will check and see how long the next chapter is. If it’s short, I can get one more in before it’s time to stop reading and get off the train.

Short chapters are also good when I’m reading in bed. It’s getting late, and I’m tired, but if I’m enjoying the book and the next chapter is only five pages long, I’ll probably read that one before stopping. And maybe the one after that. If I’m looking at 20 more pages until the next chapter break, I’ll probably stop there and turn out the light, no matter how much I’m enjoying the book.

No chapter breaks in a book really bugs me. For all the aforementioned reasons, this is one of my pet peeves. Much as I enjoy Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ series, none of the books contain chapter breaks and it drives me crazy. Lindsey Davis, on the other hand, knows how to write a chapter. Her books about Roman informer Marcus Didius Falco have short, snappy chapters. In fact, she has been known to finish a chapter after one paragraph.

It was pointed out to me recently that my novels always have short chapters. I don’t think this was intended as a compliment, but I saw it that way. Yes, I love short chapters, for all the reasons above, and there are even more reasons to love short chapters when I’m writing them. As I hate putting down a book in the middle of a chapter, I also hate finishing a writing session in the middle of a chapter. Sometimes it’s unavoidable – like if I’ve started a chapter but I don’t know what happens next, so I have to stop and come back to it later. But on the whole, if I come to my WIP with my chapter plan, I know what’s supposed to happen in the chapter when I sit down to write it. My chapters are, on average, 1500 words long – often less. If I’m on a roll, it is possible for me to get that many words written in my hour-long early morning writing session in Starbucks.

Some writers like their 20,000+ word chapters. Some claim to hate chapters completely, preferring to let the narrative flow in unending waves. But I am much more likely to finish reading your book if it has frequent chapter breaks. If I get to page 50 and there’s been no chapter break, there’s a good chance I might abandon it right there. So of course I write short chapters – my writing reflects my reading preferences.

So what about you? Whether you’re a writer, or a reader, what’s your take on chapters?

New Routines

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

There are many stressful things about moving house, not least of which is the complete disruption to your daily routines. Everything’s in a different place, you don’t know where to find things for a long time, you have to get used to doing everything slightly differently.

Even my writing routines got disrupted. I did no writing at all for about a month after moving – I felt I really couldn’t get back to normal life while there were still boxes to unpack. But now the boxes are mostly unpacked, most things that we use every day have a place, and I have got back into writing.

My journey to work is longer now. The train route I’m on is a slower trek into London, and I have a longer walk to the station. This has put a bit of dent in my early morning writing routine. From the old place, I would leave the house at 6:30 am, to get into the West End for 7:30, and I would sit in Starbucks for an hour writing before going to work. Now, in order to get to the West End for 7:30, I have to leave the house at 6:00 am. That means a 5:30 start if I skip the shower and other morning customs – generally I prefer to have an hour.

However, in the new house I have a bigger writing space – in fact I have a study, a whole room to myself to write in – in the other house I only had a writing corner. This morning I decided to try out a new routine – getting up early to write at home before work.

So I set the alarm for 5:30 am. I spent an hour writing, in my pyjamas (with cup of tea, of course). I then had an hour to get ready for work, and although I had to catch a later train than usual, I was still at my desk for the day job by 9:00 am. By the time I got there, I’d been awake for three and a half hours and felt that I’d already done something productive with my day.

I think I’m going to stick with this routine. It means I will spend a bit more time in our new house, I’ll save a bit of money by not buying quite so many Starbucks breakfasts, and it means I get the writing time in before I even leave home in the morning. It did take me a while to get going this morning, and I’d had two cups of tea before I even left the house. but it’s just a matter of getting used to a new routine. It’s good for me to get out of the rut sometimes.

I’m not planning on giving up the Starbucks mornings completely. This is just a way of cutting back, without cutting back on the writing. After all, once upon a time I thought I could never write away from my little writing corner, and my Starbucks mornings proved that one wrong.

And there is something gloriously decadent about writing in one’s pyjamas.

Early Mornings

(Cross-posted from the WriteClub blog).

Those who have been following my blog a while will be aware that in order to be disciplined about getting some writing in before work, I get up early a couple of mornings a week. This time of year it’s still dark, and cold, at 6:30 when I leave the house. As I glance at the darkened windows of the homes I pass on the way to the station, I feel slightly envious that everyone else is still in bed. The train is quite busy, though, so clearly I’m not the only person awake at that time of day.

My destination is Starbucks on Regent Street, and I usually get there just after 7:30am. When it’s cold out, my destination is all the more welcoming. It’s warm and bright. The staff are friendly, and they know me there now. They know what I usually order. They know I’m working on a book – they sometimes ask how it’s going.

I set up at a table downstairs – the same table every time, partly because I’m a creature of habit and partly because there’s a power point there I can plug my NetBook into. It’s quiet at that time of day, and the place is empty. I take off my coat, boot up the NetBook, and get started on the WIP over my soya latte and ginger muffin. There’s free wifi too, so often, while I’m trying to get my brain into gear I’ll check emails or take a peek at Facebook.

When I leave the coffee shop to go to work, about an hour later, I have to bundle up once more to face the winter air. But it’s daylight by that time, there’s a long queue at the counter and the streets are packed with commuters.

As I greet the day, I feel a sense of accomplishment. My working day is just beginning, but I’ve already got my daily word count in. Those early starts are worth the effort.

The “Eureka” Moment

(Cross-posted from the WriteClub blog)

All writers have that moment. I call it the “Eureka” moment. Stephen King describes it as the moment “the muse shat on my head”.

It’s that moment when you’re minding your own business, not thinking about writing, when suddenly, out of the blue, you know how to fix that plot problem. It’s like being hit by a thunderbolt. And it’s why all writers carry around a notebook and writing instrument, because when that thunderbolt hits, you want to make notes before it leaves your head as quickly as it arrived.

My latest “Eureka” moment happened the other day as I was heading home from work. I was being jostled at the top of the steps of Oxford Circus station, which is a bit of a nightmare at the moment. All entrances bar one are closed because of escalator works, so between 5pm and 6pm you have about 300 people a minute trying to get down one set of steps.

I’d been mulling over the problem of how my amateur sleuth was going to acquire a relevant mobile phone number, which was hidden away somewhere on a dead man’s mobile phone. Even if she managed to illegally acquire the phone, there was still the problem of how to get round the password – particularly since the owner of the phone is dead, and it’s unlikely a paranoid and egotistical rock star would not have his phone passworded.

I wasn’t thinking about my plot at that particular moment. I was thinking about getting home after a crap day at work, and would I get to Victoria Station in time for the 5:30pm train? But suddenly, as I was being swept along with the crowd, the solution suddenly hit me, right out of the blue.

The main problem then was, being surrounded by hundreds of people as I was, I couldn’t immediately stop and pull out my notebook. Nor could I do so on the underground, as it was nose-to-elbow full as usual.

So I had to hold onto that thunderbolt until I got onto my train on Victoria Station, where I was able to find a seat. Happily, I happened to have the NetBook with me – it was a Writing Morning Day – and able to transcribe that “Eureka!” moment straight into the notes of the WIP where it belongs. And therefore the story ends happily. Plot problem solved, my amateur sleuth is able to continue with her snooping.

My experience of “Eureka!” moments is they never hit you when you’re sitting at your computer staring at your manuscript, but at some inconvenient moment when you’re thinking about something else entirely.

Where do you get yours??

…Off To Work I Go

It’s back to the day job after ten glorious days of lie-ins. And though the alarm clock going off at 6am today was a shock to the system, it’s probably just as well I get back into the habit of getting up early.

During my Christmas break, I get used to staying in bed until 10am. This time of year, it’s dark by 3:30pm. You don’t need to be a maths genius to figure out that isn’t too many hours of daylight. And then I wonder why I start every year feeling depressed. I wonder how night shift workers cope with so many hours of prolonged darkness.

So it’s not all bad to be back in the usual routine. I have no more excuses to slob around the house in my old sweat pants, eating chocolate and watching crap TV. It’s time to start moving again. It’s time to start thinking again. It’s probably even time to cut back on the cakes and biscuits and go back to the exercise classes, but I haven’t dared get on the scales yet to find out just how many of those mince pies are still with me.

How long will this new sense of optimism last? Probably until the snow returns. But at the moment, we’re still several degrees above freezing here in London and – at least for this week – the trains are relatively quiet, because not everyone’s back at work yet.

Next week might be different, but I’m trying to focus on the moment. By then, I might even be back into the habit of getting up early!

By ‘Eck It’s Parky…

…as my Lancashire grandmother might have said.

Once more London is struggling to cope with heavy snowfall. And this year it’s even earlier than usual – we’ve not had snow before Christmas here in over 30 years.

My friends and relatives in Canada are laughing a bit at the way London struggles when it snows. They cope fine with the snow, whereas here everything seems to shut down at the first sign of snow. However, most of Canada is buried under snow for nearly six months of the year. They cope because they have to, and they’re used to it. They have snow ploughs and snow boots and chains on the tyres of their cars to grip the ice. Shovelling one’s driveway is on the chores list of every Canadian household.

We don’t have such things in London. I can actually see the argument that if we get snow once every twenty years, is it really worth a council spending a huge amount of money – money that could go towards more urgent things – on a snow plough?

Living in Canada, though, taught me how to dress in the snow. This week I’ve been trudging to work in long johns, hiking pants, thermal socks and hiking boots, to get me through the ice and the slush and the snow. All these things come off when I get to work – I keep indoor shoes and a pair of work trousers in my desk drawer. My colleagues laugh at me, but I feel prepared. I seem to feel the cold more than most people do. With all these layers, at least I am staying warm.

I’ve also been leaving the house really early, expecting train delays but so far this week – and I am reluctant to declare this, in case I’m tempting providence – my journey has been relatively delay-free. Not so for my colleagues, though. It seems those who come from the North of London are having the most problems.

But it’s been this way for the last three winters. So is this the sign of winters to come and London should invest in snow ploughs? Not according to Phillip Eden of the Royal Meteorological Society in this article here from the BBC website. He says we’re just following an established pattern, and we can expect a run of mild winters from next year.

Here’s hoping he’s right. In the meantime, I’ve got another three early mornings of struggling in to work in the snow, and then I have ten days of lie-ins over the holiday period.

I don’t really mind if the snow sticks around after Christmas. Hanging around the house, with hubby and the cats, working on my WIP and blasting zombies on the Nintendo Wii, sounds like a pretty good way of spending the holidays to me.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

I am currently in Singapore and not expecting to be blogging for a little while. But the journey here was an adventure in itself, and I thought I would share it.

Our plane was scheduled to leave Heathrow at 10pm on Tuesday evening. We’d booked a cab for 5pm that afternoon – figuring, even with the predicted bad weather, that should still leave us plenty of time to get there.

The snow began to fall in London on Monday evening, and showed no signs of stopping as Tuesday progressed. I began to get a bit worried, but checks on the airport website showed that there were no significant problems with the flights. One of the reasons I hate snow in the UK (as opposed to Canada, where it’s so common everyone knows how to deal with it) is that the country grinds to a halt at the first snow fall of winter.

Then around noon the cab company phoned. They had no drivers available to take us to Heathrow. They had tried ringing other cab companies, but found no one available. They were really sorry.

After a moment of panic, we thought perhaps public transport might be an option. More internet research revealed that the trains and underground were, apparently, still running. The snow was still falling. Fortunately we were done with most of the packing – we finished hastily, bundled up with gloves and scarves and thermal socks, and left the house three hours earlier than planned.

It’s a five minute walk to our local train station, but we had to drag our suitcases through the snow, so it took rather longer. The cases have wheels, fortunately, although if we’d have known before we started packing there would be walking involved, we might have gone for the back-packer option instead. Dragging cases through snow is not recommended. And although I had been cursing the cab company, figuring that when they said they had no drivers available, that could be interpreted to mean they had no drivers prepared to drive in snow, during the walk to the station I began to understand what the problem was. The roads were gridlocked. Even struggling with our suitcases, we were still moving faster on foot than most of the traffic.

Still, we got to the station, and got on the next train to come along, which took us to Victoria Station. After that, it was a trek on the underground, which fortunately had no delays, and the fact that we were travelling mid-afternoon instead of rush hour helped immensely.

We made our way to Paddington Station (the home of the famous bear) and decided to catch the Heathrow Express. This is a very fast and convenient train, but very expensive. However, given that we were anxious to get to the airport, we decided it was the best option. And indeed it was – we found ourselves, after all the hassle, at the aiport six hours before the flight was due to take off. But we were just relieved to be at the airport. We checked in, we wandered round the shops, we had coffee. We find a place to have a leisurely dinner. I got through a complete Janet Evanovich book on my e-reader while we were waiting.

And the plane, though delayed by over an hour, took off. Safely in the air I breathed a sigh of relief. It had crossed my mind many times over the last few hours that we weren’t going to get to that stage.

After a twelve hour flight we landed in Singapore. Rolling our suitcases across the concourse and out of the airport, into 28c heat, we were hit by Singapore’s oppressive humidity. With my thermals stuffed into my hand luggage, both the jacket and fleece I was wearing to stave off the chill in London slung over my arm, I thought about how strange it was that our suitcases had started their journey, many hours before, covered in snow.

I hear on the news now that Gatwick Airport is closed. I think we were very fortunate that we managed to get on our plane, though getting there was a journey in itself. In the meantime I am going to enjoy this heat, and hope that by the time we get back to London, the snow will have gone.