The Graham Greene Affair: Week 2

The Grahame Green Affair
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The Graham Greene Affair: Week 2

The Graham Greene Affair continues to work well for me. Despite feeling like I have a head full of cotton wool, I’m somehow managing to keep pace, and am actually finding it more and more difficult to stop at 500 words. Last night I found myself awake at 1 am, Googling the name meaning of a new character, debating what superpower I would give them, and how it would affect the story if I did. Then I drifted off in a haze of, “I should definitely move that scene”, “Something else needs to go in between that and that”, “Maybe I should cut that in half and whack something in the middle.” Yes, this challenge is keeping me up at night, but honestly I’ve never been more pleased by a bout of insomnia. It’s the kind of sleeplessness you have as a kid the night before Christmas, or your birthday. It’s exciting.

Part of what has triggered this excitement is talking about Rimjhim in a pseudo-academic style again. I spent the better part of yesterday swapping notes with my friend Jo, who is joining me on this epic quest to finish a novel. I’ve got to say, I greatly appreciated the input, and it was good to hear that my writing was having the desired effect. As always, there were things that I loved that she didn’t, and there were things that I hated that she loved. In particular, there was a scene in which my protagonist, Alec, and his best friend sit down to catch-up. Personally it drives me crazy. I think it drags on, and I don’t like the way the Alec dithers over what to say. But Jo liked it, and thought it worked well. Obviously, I will probably still edit the scene to a point where I’m satisfied with it, but I don’t feel the need to hack half the scene away, as I was planning to do.

I would highly recommend finding a writing buddy if you’re thinking about trying this challenge, or even if you just want to get serious about your writing in general. While I’m a fairly solitary writer, I find that having a second set of eyes for redrafting is crucial, and it never hurts to have a sounding board to bounce ideas off. Yesterday, 90% of the questions we asked each other were about plot. Mine were mostly about the age of the characters, and whether I needed to age them up or down to fix the storyline. Jo’s were about character arcs, personality changes and possible relationships. I think we both came out of there with a better idea of where we were going.

Of course the best thing about having a writing buddy, is that, unlike your other friends (or family members), who are likely to tell you that your writing is amazing and they love it and that they can’t wait to read more, your writing buddy will know when to get a bit ruthless. They know the importance of brutal honesty, and what to look for. Jo pointed out that in one scene I had given Alec a phone with a battery life of over a month, and I had crammed about three major plot developments into another. The first was a mistake that I had completely missed, the second, a reoccurring issue (I get over excited sometimes, okay?) that I have picked up on in some places but not in others.

Discussing work like this can be difficult at first – believe me, if you’d asked me 4 years ago if I wanted someone to thoroughly critique my writing, I would have told you where to go – but the fact is, a novel is never just yours, not if you actually want it read. At some point you are going to receive negative criticism, and the sooner you learn to separate the constructive from the pure opinion, the better. You learn to take what’s useful, and disregard the rest, and so you improve. Honestly, I don’t know where I’d be without you, Jo!

Love,

Mort.

P.S. If anyone else would like to join us, you are still more than welcome. I’m sure I will be editing and discussing long after I’ve finished my first draft, so seriously, come on, my friend! Let’s do this!

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Personal Post: Thoughts on the Paper Towns Movie

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Thoughts on the Paper Towns Movie

I should preface this by making it clear that I love John Green. I think he’s an amazing Youtuber, and no-one has done more for the nerd community that him and his brother, Hank. The VlogBrothers played a big part in how comfortable I’ve become with my intelligence, and my passion, and for that I’ll always love them.

But I don’t like John Green’s writing. Particularly, Paper Towns.

For me, John’s voice is just too strong. When I’m reading his books, I can hear his voice; the fast pace, stopping only to take a breath; the emphasis on multi-syllabic words; the jovial tone. For example:

Your twenties are not destiny, your thirties are not destiny. Destiny is not something that happens all at once, it’s something that happens only in retrospect.

Compared to:

I’m starting to realize that people lack good mirrors. It’s so hard for anyone to show us how we look, and so hard for us to show anyone how we feel.

Can you tell which is John, and which is Quentin? (The protagonist of Paper Towns.) I couldn’t. Of course, to a certain degree this is expected. A writer without a voice of their own, is a sales assistant. But there’s a limit to how much a writer’s own voice, should affect that of the character. I got particularly irritated by the fact that Quentin – who struggles to interpret the meaning of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, and who worries that he might fail an English test – can somehow quote obscure T.S. Eliot lines like pop lyrics;

Light, the visible reminder of Invisible Light.

I studied Eliot with enthusiasm at university, but I never got round to reading ‘Choruses from the Rock’. How Quentin – a boy who apparently struggles with basic English Lit analysis – is supposed to know this line is beyond me.

My qualms with Green’s writing style aside, I thought perhaps the story would translate better on screen. After all, who doesn’t like a good teen romcom? Then I made the mistake of watching the trailer, and ruined it for myself.

The trailer is ridiculously spoiler heavy. It covers almost the entire plot, from Margo and Quentin’s night of revenge, through to Quentin getting out of the van at the end of the road trip he takes with his friends. The only thing that’s missing is the story wrap up, which (unless they’ve changed it) is incredibly disappointing. For a book that supposedly subverts the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, it sure turns Margo into a complete ass.

As for the casting, well, Cara Delevingne was a bit out of nowhere, and I can live with it. But seriously;

  1. They could have left her tattoos uncovered – Margo is supposed to be a bit of a rebel, and they had already picked a girl that looks nothing like the original description. Why not let her have her own flair? Go big, or go home.
  2. That poster (see above) – Whoever chose the photo needs their head checked. Having her hair in front of her face does not make her look “mysterious”. If anything, it sort of makes her look like Zack Efron in drag (see below). I mean no offense to Cara – she’s a beautiful woman – but that photo is just bad, bad, bad, and the marketing team should know better.

thoughts on the paper towns movieUltimately, I know it will do well. Fans of the book, and those who just like a good romantic comedy, will be all over it. Hell, I might even give it a try when it inevitably ends up on Netflix.

I suppose my conclusion is this; for the love of God, Green, get a decent marketing team. One that is not going to give away the entire plot of the movie in a two minute trailer.

If you haven’t seen it, the trailer is below. However, if you intend on watching the movie when it comes out in July, I’d recommend skipping it. Otherwise you’ll just be spending £8 to watch the end, and the end is not worth £8.

The Graham Greene Affair: A 140 Day Challenge

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The Graham Greene Affair: A 140 Day Challenge.

In the summer of 2013, (oh god, it’s 2 years ago, I’m so old) I began working on my dissertation; a 6000 word novel opening, accompanied by a 4000 word essay. I dubbed my novel Rimjhim, a title which I still have trouble spelling, but that I ultimately love more everyday. It is the Hindi word for the sound that rain makes, and acts as the perfect image to open this particular story. Alec, the story’s narrator, has had his memory erased and rewritten so many times, that it is hard for him to tell fact from fiction. Rimjhim is his memoir, his attempt to reassemble the fragments of his life. It was a story that I was passionate about, that I loved, right up until I started trying to finish the damn thing. Suddenly, I find myself looking for any excuse not to sit down and write.

So I’ve come up with a plan.

In The End of the Affair (1951) – my favourite book and a HUGE influence – Graham Greene describes his own writing method:

Over twenty years I have probably averaged five hundred words a day for five days a week. I can produce a novel in a year, and that allows time for revision and the correction of the typescript. I have always been very methodical, and when my quota of work is done I break off, even in the middle of a scene.

He was meticulous and disciplined; traits that, as a writer, I would love to train into myself. In fact, one of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2015 is to get into a regular writing pattern. So, over the next 140 days, I will be setting aside time each day to write 500 words. They may not be as pristine Greene’s, who wrote “without crossing out anything” (Michael Korda, 1996), but they’ll be something.

140 days of 500 words makes 70,000; the average length of a first novel. The aim of The Grahame Greene Affair is to have a complete novel by March 2016. That’s 6 months to write, and 6 months to edit. And I invite you to come along for the ride. If you’re up for the challenge, I’m more than happy to beta read, and discuss ideas. Just drop me a line!

Yes, it’s certainly going to be an interesting few months, but damn it! I will get to the end of this affair!!! (Oh whoops, I made a punny. That bodes well.)

Best,

Mort.

Review: Every Day

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Every Day by David Levithan

WARNING SPOILERS

Every Day left me in two minds. It definitely has it’s good qualities; as a commentary on sexuality and gender, it’s an outstanding piece of young adult literature. However, as an example of science fiction, it made me want to weep, and not for joy.

The narrator of the novel, A, is an entity who jumps from body to body, regardless of gender. As such A is not gender neutral, or gender fluid, but just a person, who doesn’t really understand what the fuss is all about;

“I had yet to learn that when it came to gender, I was both and neither.”every day

“In my experience, desire is desire, love is love. I have never fallen in love for a gender. I have fallen for individuals. I know this is hard for people to do, but I don’t understand why it’s so hard, when it’s so obvious.”

For me, this was so incredibly relatable. While I’m fully aware of being a female of the human species, I have never really understood phrases like “You think like a man” or “That’s not lady like.” I have often felt that you could pick my consciousness out of my body, park me in another, and I would still remain the same person. Seeing Levithan approach this subject, in a way that makes it accessible to readers who cannot identify in this way, was amazing.

However, by the end of the novel, that sense of awe had worn off. I found myself infuriated by the poor use of the science every dayfiction elements in this story, particularly in regards to character utilization.

From the beginning, Every Day sets itself up as a romance novel. You know the novel’s plot will rotate largely around A and Rhiannon, but alongside is the sci-fi sub-plot: who is A? Is A one of a kind? Is there a way for A to stay in one body? And through Nathan, A discovers answers to these questions. Vague, vague answers, that A decides to run away from. Just ups and leaves Rhiannon, this girl he loves. Don’t even get me started on the I-have-to-go-but-this-guy-who’s-currently-hosting-my-consciousness-will-make-a-great-boyfriend scene. To Patrick Ness, who calls Every Day, ” a wholly original premise racing along with a generous heart towards a perfect ending,” I say, “You, sir, are a heinous liar.”

As A runs away from the priest, Levithan seems to launch himself in the opposite direction to any kinevery dayd of satisfactory ending. He abandon’s the priest character, not even deigning to let us read the e-mails that A and the priest exchange. Here I am, thinking perhaps he could learn from the priest how to stay in the body of a comatose kid, thereby gaining a family and a happy life with Rhiannon, but no, no.

The ending was so insanely frustrating, that if I hadn’t been reading a friend’s copy, I would have actually thrown the thing across the room.

In conclusion, do I love the concept and characterisation? Yes, absolutely. Do I think it’s worth a read? Certainly. Do I recommend finishing the book when you’re along, purely to protect those you love from flying objects? Oh definitely. Definitely, yes.

Review: The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

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The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

I was introduced to the character of Dirk Gently as a fresher with a serious Sherlock hangover, and only BBC iPlayer to keep me company. I fell in love with the BBC’s adaptation, partly because of my not-so-secret crush on Stephen Managhan, but also due to Gently’s infectious attitude towards life. Over the summer, I managed to read the first novel in this short series, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. I was so taken with Adams’s bizarre writing style, that most of my creative writing projects for the next athe long dark tea-time of the soulcademic year were dedicated to replicating that sound; the unequivocal, deadpan satirist, with a unequalled sense of humour. In particular, it sparked the creation of a certain giraffe scene that became semi-infamous amongst my course-mates.

Over a year later, I finally found time to read The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and I am pleased to announce, it was well worth the wait.

While the book is technically a sequel, reading the original is not at all necessary. All you need to know is that Dirk Gently is a man who takes the interconnectedness of all things deadly seriously, to the point where he has given up conventionalthe long dark tea-time of the soul methods of navigation, and instead follows cars and people that look like they know where they’re going. No, I’m not joking. The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul sees Gently investigating the death of a client, leading him down the back streets of London, past an old people’s home and straight into the great hall of Valhalla. Oh, did I forget to mention Thor, Odin, and a fella named “Toe Rag” all have a major role to play in the novel’s events? Woops.

This is definitely a novel for those of you who love the Marvel movies, or just have a passion for Norse mythology. While Toe the long dark tea-time of the soulRag lacks the sex appeal of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, he makes up for it in his hilarious attempts at tormenting Thor. Thor himself is rather adorably unable to think and talk at the same time, and is prone to outbursts, which have a habit of transforming lamps into kittens and so forth. For the fanfiction writer’s amongst you, it will certainly provide some headcanon fodder.

In the middle of all this absurdity, it one of the best written female characters I’ve read in a while; Kate Schechtor. Unlike the usual floosies of your common noir, Kate is a curious, level-headed, the long dark tea-time of the souldriven woman, who has as much trouble comprehending bath salts, oils and bombs as I do. She is not your common dame, she is brave enough and smart enough to make her own path through the story, and is all about the practicalities, “Kate sighed. “Will I need a coat in Asgard?“. For a detective novel from the 1980’s, she’s a real treat, and you’ve got to love Adams for that.

My only complaint was the lack of MacDuff, the previous book’s secondary protagonist, and Gently’s onscreen sidekick. This is purely because, MacDuff acts as a Watson the long dark tea-time of the soulfigure, giving background information on Gently’s character from their university days together. For this reason, I personally recommend reading the first book, simply to get a fuller sense of Gently’s character, although the order in which you read them is up to you.

The Dirk Gently novels are certainly some of my favourites. As a student, they were a breath of fresh air in a pile of dense literature. As a graduate, they provide a wonderfully warm gulp of humour to fill the hours I spend in coffee shops. But most importantly, as a writer, I recognise that they are something entirely different, and that is what makes Adams one of my literary heroes.

the long dark tea-time of the soul

Finally, for those of you who find yourself hooked, there are further chapters available in The Salmon of Doubt, the third, but rather unfortunately incomplete, novel in the series. RIP Adams, you beautiful man, you.

Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy

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The Hunger Games Trilogy

WARNING: SPOILERS, AHOY!

You’re going to have to bare with me on this one. I mahoosively underestimated how much I wanted to write, and I’ve actually lent my copies to someone, so I’m working from memory and quotes of the internet.

Let’s start with the basics; I have never seen a better use of present tense narration, which I think comes partly from Collins’s wonderful grip on characterisation, but also the sheer necessity for it. How uninteresting these books would have been if we the hunger games trilogyknew whether or not Katniss had survived the Games from her use of past tense. Then of course we’ve got this wonderful concept of a teenager, dealing with such an adult world. She is sexualised, objectified, and then thrown into a pit of snakes, over and over, until she becomes catatonic. The contrast is heart-wrenching. Impeccable.

I swallowed the first book whole. I began at 10.30 one Sunday morning, and put it down, completed at 1 am, Monday. Panem is masterfully built, with love seeping in unnoticed; memories of history lessons and previous Hunger Games, songs, and bizarre the hunger games trilogycreatures crafted for purpose. The Capitol, the fashion, the food, were described with precision detail. In fact my mouth still waters at the mental image of that beef stew. And that narration kept my mind right there, with Katniss, as she felt every loss and every win. Of course, the novel’s not perfect. I was smacked in the face by a error two pages in, when puts on her boots before her jeans. And I did wonder why, in a survival situation, no-one mentions having to go to the bathroom. Not even a line saying that the Capitol slipped them something to stop them from having to go (because no-one wants to watch that on TV, blah, blah, blah). This is just me being picky though. Let’s face it, I was mesmirised for 14 and a half hours. Even when I got up to shower, or eat, I was still thinking about it.

This captivation continued into the second novel, in which I promptly fell for Finnick (who here wasn’t?/won’t be?). Just the image of him rising from the water with a trident in his hand (fans self with copies of Heat Wave, Pillow Talk and P.S. I Love You.) the hunger games trilogyThe second novel in a trilogy often fall flat, but while Catching Fire starts slow, it reveals itself to be the most surprising of the three books in terms of plot. Not only this but Collins manages to give a soul to each and every character who enters the Quarter Quell Games, something she mercifully skipped in the first book. It has the effect of making every inevitable death twice as painful.

For me, it was Mockingjay that struggled to hold my attention. This was possibly due to the uneasy, claustrophobic feel of District 13, the distinct lack of Peeta, or even the unsatisfactory climax (I was irritated by the result, considering the incredible death toll. But then, when has the climax of a dystopian novel ever had a satisfactory feel?) It was the resolution that made the final book for me, in particular the epilogue, which I have to give a round of applause for. Stylistically speaking,the hunger games trilogy Collins does something remarkable in only a couple of pages. She ages Katniss’s voice, to the point where it took me a moment to realise it was still her talking; “They play in the meadow. The dancing girl with the dark hair, and blue eyes. The boy with blond curls and grey eyes, struggling to keep up with her on his chubby toddler legs.” For the first time in three books, Katniss is not thinking about herself at the start of a chapter, and she continues like this. She no longer puts her own welfare before the welfare of others. Yet it’s still her voice; matter-of-fact, with just a touch of tenderness.

It is rare that I manage to motivate myself through an entire series of novels, but Collins has created something truly stunning. Sure it has its faults, but then so does Harry Potter (which I didn’t finish by the way). The Hunger Games Trilogy is something truly special, and I’m so glad I didn’t ruin it for myself by watching the films first. Now I’m off to bathe myself in Jennifer Lawrence. Go forth, and READ.

Also Happy St. David’s Day!!!!