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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Dear Future Me:

Dear Me
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Dear Future Me:

(Age 27)

I have an apology to make. Today, I opened your mail. I found a letter that 17-year-old me wrote to you, and well, I couldn’t help myself. I hope you can forgive me. Well, I know you can. Anyway, to make it up to you, I figured I’d write you another letter, from me, 22-year-old you. These pronouns are gonna get dear me, dear future mehella confusing, so I’m gonna stick to I unless I’m talking to you.

Unsurprisingly, I am in Startbucks, drinking a decaf venti iced mocha, with whip. Surprisingly, I haven’t spilled it yet. Oh, tell a lie. I forgot I managed to squirt some on the page earlier, when I was mucking about with the straw. I guess we never do learn to be graceful, unless you have something you want to tell me?

Life at the moment is just getting interesting. I’ve taken up a new motto, “I’ll make it work”, and things are going well. It looks like I’ll have a full time job soon, and I’m currently negotiating some freelance work too. After months of fretting, two at once, just like dear me, dear future mebuses. Things are looking promising. And of course, I’m writing again. For a week now I’ve managed to scribble out 500 words a day, and it feels amazing. I’m finally doing what I’ve always wanted to do. I wonder did you ever get Rimjhim published? Are you working on the next novel? Or even a third? Given that writing has been a craving of ours for 15 years now, I highly doubt it’s gone from your life altogether.

At present, I have just got back in touch with an old friend. I decided that it is impossible to be angry at a person who no longer exists. The conversation has only just started, but I’m excited about the possibility of having them back in our life. If it all goes to crap though, if  you end up having to walk awaydear me, dear future me again, know that you did the right thing. There are only so many chances you can give a person, but my fingers are crossed that it will all work out.

Love, love, what can I say about love? I’m talking to people, I’m mingling. I’m finally out of that weird teenage mindset where “will you go out with me?” means “we’re a couple now.” I still believe I can tell where a relationship’s going to go in the first five minutes of a conversation, but that’s because I’m a cynic. And I recon that’s okay.

Everything’s okay; my lack of grace, rogueish female charm, and immense knowledge of giraffe sex. It’s all okay. In the five years dear me, dear future mebetween 17 and 22, I’ve somehow figured out the tricky concept of being myself. As it turns out, it had nothing to do with my head or my heart. It was all about my gut, and my guts. I’ve started living bravely and instinctively, and it has done me more good than any of our other body parts ever did. It lead me to a great uni, the right course, and the best friends.

And now, I guess this is the point in the letter where I write some requests, or some hopes. I know that reading 17-year-old me’s letter made me smile, and gave me a shove, so:

  • I hope that if you’re stuck in a rough patch, this letter will give you a boot in the arse.
  • I hope you’re not mucking about; not writing a novel because it’s too hard, or too scary, or too much of a commitment.
  • I hope you managed to do a Masters and a PhD, because Dr Mort is a life goal, champ.
  • Don’t you dare settle for someone just for the sake of companionship.
  • Remember your mood is like the weather; storm clouds will always dry up eventually.
  • Don’t give up fiddling about with cameras. This is something we’ve only just started tinkering with, but it’s a lot of fun so far, and it’s getting you excited about the cosplay community again.
  • In general, live passionately. You are much happier when you’re busy, and the bigger the variety of things you are doing, the better.
  • Find a job that let’s you be you.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others; just because they look like they have everything figured out, doesn’t mean they do.
  • Travel to at least one country every year, or I’ll be miffed.

Now I’m going to go home to the flatmate and his missus, curl up under the coffee table, and do some writing. I break dear me, dear future me16,000 words this evening. It’s taken a long time, but it’ll get there. After all, something has to come out of losing your comb inside the printer, twice. (Has that count gone up yet?) Oh, there’s one more thing actually. An add on to something 17-year-old us said:

  • Remember, happily ever afters do exist. BUT they require work, and love, and commitment. Make yours a life worth reading about.

There, now, do you want a pretzel on the way home?

Best,

Mort.

The Graham Greene Affair: Week 1

The Grahame Green Affair
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The Graham Greene Affair: Week 1

I am genuinely surprised by how well this is going. Even last night, when my face was on fire after an unpleasant trip to the dentist, I managed to crack out 500 words. I’ve discovered that 500 words really isn’t much for me, and I’ve actually overshot it a few times. I can usually crack it out in and hour or an hour and a half, and that’s when I’m mucking about on thinkbabynames.com, and researching penalties for Class A drugs. So what are the Pros and Cons I’ve found at the end of Week 1?

Pros

1. Making consistent progress – At the begining of this week, my novel was 11,000 words. It had taken me almost a year to write 5000 words. Rimjhim is now over 15000 words and counting. It feels so good to be making progress again.

2. Getting enthusiastic – By stopping in the middle of a scene, I cause myself to keep thinking about what comes next. I learn new things about my characters, and find myself acting out bits and pieces in my head, as I used to. I was so worried this story had gone stale, feeling that spark of enthusiasm again was a big relief.

3. Get’s you thinking – In order to knock out 500 words, you need to have some idea of where you’d like to go when you sit down to write. For me this is particularly difficult because I’m working on four time frames congruently, switching back and forth between time frames. While I was thinking out what I was going to write next, I realised that each of these time frames needs to tell it’s own story that lead to the same resolution. This solved so many pacing problems, you wouldn’t believe.

4. Dat regular writing pattern though – Writing frequently, will tell you a boat load about how you work best. And this is exactly what I needed. I’ve learnt that I work best with the deadline of  sleep looming over me. But my friend, who is joining me on this epic journey fits her 500 words in whenever, and wherever she can.

Cons

1. It’s time consuming – Of course it was always going to be, but I forgot to factor in editing time. I am one of those writers that likes to pick things apart as I’m going along, so while writing doesn’t take that long, I have already deleted 400 words.

2. Self-awareness overload – Earlier this week, I became hyper aware of how much dialogue I write, to the point where I was actually adding in unnecessary description. It took a long look through The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton (my favourite Sherlock Holmes story) to remind myself that when you have two characters with good chemistry, all you have to do is set up the scene, and then roll with it.

All in all, it’s been an interesting first week, and I’m impressed with my stamina. Writing everyday has caused some issues, but it’s reignited my love for Rimjhim. I’ve become one of those over-eager parents, desperate to see how my baby’s going to work out. Fingers crossed, I’ll be this happy next week.

Ciao,

Mort.

The Graham Greene Affair: A 140 Day Challenge

The Grahame Green Affair
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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.

Story Time: Moving Day

Moving Day, E.M. Harding
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Moving Day

Franco was a perfect male specimen. He was tall, but not too tall, had broad powerful shoulders, and sported a surprisingly elegant neck for a gent. Despite this, he didn’t make his sexual debut until the age of 8. His mother informed him that, back in the homeland, most men his age already had children. Franco just scoffed. It wasn’t his fault. The other chaps were always getting in the way, and he wasn’t very good at necking. Then Kanna arrived. She was sweet, and nice enough to slip behind the acacias, where no-one could see them. He wasn’t going to waste such an opportunity. The lady made his heart feel three-feet big.

“A creature of habit.” That’s what the help called him. But so what? So what if he enjoyed the little things in life; taking long walks, freshly prepared meals, and his newly scheduled romps before bath time? Franco was living the good life, and he knew it. Some of the others hated living behind fences, and being herded into their little wooden huts at night. His mother – who remembered the homeland well – strongly advocated the benefits of sleeping under the stars, but Franco liked the warmth of his hut and the soft floor. The bathroom facilities did leave something to be desired; he often had to spend a night with a room full of his own “offerings”, but they were always gone by the next evening. The help were very good that way. Honestly though, he could find no real reason to complain to the manager. He had warmth, he had food, and he had Kanna. What more could a man ask for?

Franco had 11 years of complete serenity, before the evening when everything changed. It began in the most bizarre of ways. A short, sharp pain in his bottom, that’s all. It wasn’t too bad. The pain dulled quite quickly, and for a while he felt fine. He continued to munch his supper. Gradually, however, everything started to get a bit blurry. Everything felt heavy too, even the air. Franco felt like his lungs were heaving in mud. It was rather disquieting, and he did in fact feel like he should be panicking. He just couldn’t. He wondered whether there was something wrong with the central heating, and went to call the manager. It was then he found that he had too many legs. There were too many legs, far too many. What kind of animal had four whole legs? Franco took a tumble and narrowly avoided bashing his skull against the wall. He tried to pick himself up off the floor, but found it was useless, and for some peculiar reason he didn’t really care. He let out a sigh of utter contentment and slipped into unconsciousness.

Waking up was not quite so fun. After all, he didn’t remember being blind before. And he was sure he used to be able to feel things. Didn’t he remember the pain of falling, of his knees buckling one after the other? For a moment he pondered whether or not he might be dead, then quickly came to his senses because you didn’t wake up dead, and he definitely remembered falling asleep. Besides, Kanna wanted to try behind the juicy looking sycamore next, and there was no way he was dying before he’d done that. He decided to try moving his legs about a bit. He heard something go bang, so it must have worked, but then why couldn’t he feel or see? Just breath, he told himself. Don’t panic!

He lay there for what felt like a month, but he couldn’t be sure. If he had been able to see a clock, he would have known it was only 30 minutes. The numbness began to wear off. A heavy weight eased away from his torso and Franco thrashed his legs around further. He could sense a presence in the room with him, several even, and it wasn’t very nice. Polite people announced themselves, introduced themselves. Even the help had names. No-one spoke to him now, and no-one tried to help him up.

There was something wrapped up in his legs too, some strange vine that burnt his skin when he wriggled. He tripped up onto his feet and his head nearly hit the floor with the effort. A vine around his neck choked him as it forced him up straight, and then all of the vines began to pull and tug and pinch, forcing him to move. There was yelling. Shouts of help speak, “This way!” “Watch yourself!” “Mind his head!” None of it was directed at him. They seemed to be shoving him into what he was sure should have been the wall of his home, but instead of slamming into wood, he stumbled up onto a cold echoing floor and something icy brushed against his side. He shuddered and his leg twitched out. Someone screeched. “Did he hit you?!” “No, I’m fine!” “Don’t scare me like that!” There was one final heave on the vines and Franco lurched forward. He jumped at the loud metallic bang that came from behind him.

It was all very odd, and very strange, but Franco still felt drowsy. He wanted to take another nap, but a sudden surge of motion put all thoughts of sleep out of his mind. He was standing still, but he could feel the wind rushing past his ears.

“Okay, what in the Savannah’s name is going on?” he coughed.

But no-one answered, because no-one spoke giraffe.

Moving Day, EM Harding