Friday, 29 April 2016

Sightseeing

                We’re back from our break in Dorset. The trip we were going to take last September, before our flat became infested with fleas, and we had to stay and tackle them. But the delay made the trip all the sweeter. The weather was changeable, but the views were stunning, the food was good (especially at By The Bay in Lyme Regis) and the people were friendly. We went to quirky local museums, where I unearthed all manner of arcane nuggets.
                I also went on a Ghost Walk. It was held in the town where we were staying, seven o’clock on Thursday nights. I was in two minds about going. Would the guide be a nutcase? The rest of the walkers? Supposing only I turned up- would I have to spend two hours alone with some bloke shouting at me?
                The trip was meant to start on the porch of a pub. I sat across the road, waiting to see if anybody else turned up. Four people plus a Westland Terrier congregated, so I went over and joined them. The guide walked up in a black hat and cloak, wielding a stick with a silver head. We put our money in the hat, and we were off.
                I’m glad I took the trip now. As the sun set, the town took on a more sinister atmosphere, as he pointed out the site of a gallows here, a pond where someone drowned there. Sightings of spectral monks, grey ladies- all the usual suspects except Anne Boleyn. Finally, he led us to a deserted churchyard and recited a suitably gothic poem, before we sauntered away again, somewhat pale and nervous.
                                                                                *
                I didn’t write for the whole trip. I was with my wife nearly the whole time, and I could not get away by myself to jot anything down. So I’m still trying to catch up. But I feel like I’ve recharged my batteries. I’ve got my horror stage play on the go, one or two ideas have come to me. Sometimes you have to lie fallow.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Horror Story

I'm sorry that I haven't posted here for a while. There wasn't much to report, writing-wise. I was straining for an idea which wouldn't seem to come. This stupid horror-film-for-live-theatre thing that I was desperate to start. I did get ideas, but none of them seemed right. Yet I couldn't bring myself to put it aside and start a different project, either. Nothing else would content me, only this.
 Lately, I've been working on an idea. It's an old idea, and I can't say I was all that wild about it, but I was stuck. As I've mentioned before here, I've been trying to write a horror stage play. The newer, better Woman In Black, as I've thought of it in my more grandiose moments. The stage play which M.R. James might have written. But there are reasons why there are so few horror stage plays. It's that bit more difficult to avoid melodrama (even though I would admit that the whole project is a melodrama), to make the characters convincing.
 I have been trying to get this thing off the ground for at least a year, now, maybe two. But I'm sure I can do it. The natural home for this story idea is probably the printed page or the cinema screen rather than the stage; but I think I can make it stage worthy by the skin of my teeth. So here goes. My first job is probably to create my protagonist. I'm determined this time (although I've said this a million times before, as well) to write his/her biography. That means perhaps writing the biographies of the protagonist's parents first, even though they probably won't appear in the play. Hemingway said that a story should be like an iceberg, with only its tip showing. I'm going to take my time and make a good job of it.
 It's a relief to have an idea. To finally settle on one. And even though this idea didn't seem all that promising to begin with, it's grown on me. I can see possibilities in it. It has the virtue of being simple, which means I can let the characters breathe, and build up the atmosphere slowly

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Cold Sick


                I haven’t posted here for a while now. For one reason or another, I didn’t know what to say. They tell you to have a few ‘emergency’ posts ready in advance, but this is a diary kind of blog.
                Monday was the last day of term for my writing class, and it was my turn to take something of mine in to read and have critiqued. It crossed my mind, at the beginning of term, to ask not to bring anything in, because I didn’t have anything. I felt short of ideas. I’ve been struggling, for a while now, to write a non-genre story. I’d got on a treadmill of churning out horror stories and, while I still love reading them, and watching them and listening to them, I felt that my own stuff was becoming stale. But I could not seem to come up with anything else.
                Still, I persevered. On Monday, I took in a synopsis for a proposed novel- a contemporary, straightforward story, not in any genre. It was an idea I’d had kicking around for a while, had even begun writing once. I thought that, even if I never write the actual novel (and I didn’t feel inclined to), at least the class would see the sort of thing which I wanted to do.
                The synopsis was only about a thousand words. As a make-weight, I also took in a newly minute horror flash fiction, also around a thousand words.
                Well the synopsis went down like cold sick; but the class seemed to like the horror story better than anything I’ve ever shown them. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
                I suppose the horror story was more fun. I try, when I write horror (well, when I write anything) not to let my characters seem cardboard. With horror, I start off with a plot idea- I don’t know any other way of doing it. But it’s so easy, then, for the characters to seem like chess pieces. I try to keep the plot mechanics to a bare minimum, and to let the protagonist become involved in the story through a personal failing, such as his greed or her blatant disregard for what other people are saying. I also like to sketch in the protagonist’s everyday life. M.R. James does this brilliantly.
                I thought I might at least be applauded for trying something different. Anyway, I haven’t given up thinking of a straightforward story.

                Happy Easter.

Friday, 19 February 2016

In Dreams


                I’ve been steadily filling up my Writing Practice notebook with rubbish of all sorts. I’ve been trying to keep a dream journal, as suggested by JennyAlexander in Writing In The House Of Dreams, and an earlier book which Jenny Alexander suggested, PatriciaGarfield’s Creative Dreaming. You’re supposed to be able to get insights about your life from your dreams, and you’re also meant to be able to ‘induce dreams’- that is, decide what you want to dream about, in order to get your unconscious mind to solve problems for you and give you ideas.
                I keep a pocket notebook and pen in my jacket in the hallway. When I wake up, I scribble down whatever it is I can remember of the dream I’ve just had. If I can get even a few details down, I find I can remember more when I come to write about the dream for writing practice. I usually wake up once in the night, to go to the toilet, so even my bladder is helping my creativity. If I don’t write down anything, though, I find that I forget everything, even dreams which I’m certain sure I’ll remember. An odd side effect is that I’m beginning to remember dreams which I had one or two years ago, before I even decided to keep a dream journal.
                Eventually, you have to work out what all these dream symbols mean to you (that is, to you personally, not what Freud, Jung, etc; tell you they’re supposed to mean). I haven’t done that yet. I’ve been James Bond in a few of my dreams, and I wonder if there’s anything in that other than the obvious.

                This week, I induced (I think) my first dream. In said to myself, as I shut my eyes, that I would dream up a romcom, and that night I had a dream in which MartinFreeman (playing his Tim character from TheOffice) was looking after the flat of the girl he was is in love with. There was weird stuff in it, such as a rain of fish, and the girl turned him down three times, but it kind of fulfilled my requirements. The next night, though, when I asked for a romcom with a happy ending, I couldn’t repeat the feat.

Friday, 12 February 2016

All That Jazz


                 I’ve been listening to some jazz albums. I don’t know what made me try them, except a vague wish to try something different, and a vague wish to find out What It’s All About. I was raised on three minute pop songs, and I’ve always thought of jazz as either a lot of musicians trying to impose their tunes on each other, or else as the sort of easy listening that your parents would like. But I put Jazz For Beginners as a search term in Google, got a list of suggestions from various websites, and ordered half a dozen of them from my local library.
                The one which has really captured my imagination is Time Out by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Seven instrumental tracks featuring sinuous saxophone solos and soaring piano breaks. The track Take Five sounds familiar, perhaps from a car advert. I’d always thought that the instrument was a clarinet rather than saxophone, so clearly I’ve got cloth ears. This is smooth and melodic, but it isn’t bland. Oh, and the opening track, Blue Rondo A La Turk, is nothing to do with that group from the 1980s.
                Head Hunters by Herbie Hancock also blew me away. Four instrumentals which seem to belong to the Funk genre as much as anything else, but I guess you can’t fully compartmentalize art. Ladies, these tracks have tunes, you can dance to them. I remembered Herbie Hancock from that hip-hop/scratch instrumental Rockit in the 1980s, so I was surprised to find that he’s been a legendary jazz stalwart as well. You learn something every day.
                                                                *

                At my writing class the other day, the course tutor put us into pairs for an exercise. We had to make up a story between us. My mind went blank. I absolutely could not contribute anything, and the poor woman who’d been saddled with me had to do all the work.
                I can’t, any more, seem to make up stories as I go along. I need to think some way along. And I’ve realized since, too, that I need to know the characters. Which is why, for my next project, I am determined not to write a word of it until I’ve written at least a biography of my protagonist.
                Although I’ve said that before…

Friday, 29 January 2016

Water

            Last Sunday evening, after we’d been out for the day visiting, we came back home and, in the hallway, my wife noticed that her slippers were damp. They were directly underneath my winter coat, the hood of which was sodden. I struggled to remember: had it been raining yesterday? Had I hung that coat up there without letting it dry? And then I looked up at the ceiling, in time to see a water drop fall through.
            I struggled to take it in. Was that anything to do with our plumbing? But no, it could only come from the flat above us. A leak. And then I started panicking.
            I shot out, went around to the central door. That flat didn’t have a doorbell. The flat opposite theirs did, and I rang that- perhaps the occupant their could walk across the joint hallway and knock? But nobody answered. I hammered at the letterbox, and called out. No answer.
            There were lights on in both flats, but supposing nobody answered them? I had visions of being flooded out, of electricity fusing- perhaps even the ceiling collapsing under gallons.
            Finally, someone opened the window above us and leaned out. My wife, in stark contrast to me, had stayed level headed. She calmly asked him to came down, which he did, accompanied by his girlfriend. They were a friendly young couple, and when we showed them they leak, they were horrified. They’d recently installed a new washing machine, and the boyfriend went back to his flat to check it.
            So that is how we met our neighbours. That’s how you do it in London, anyway. We knew that new people were upstairs, but neither set of occupants introduced itself to the other until now, when there was an emergency. Up until then, we’d been hoping that they would be alright- sane, honest, friendly, reasonably intelligent- but we’d dreading the possibility that they wouldn’t be any of those things. I’d heard from a man whose upstairs neighbour liked turning all the taps on because of the colour the water made. And we’d already had to deal with a drug dealer, a criminal, and a man who liked throwing pizzas out of the window.
I keep telling myself, as Susan Jeffers suggests in Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway, that, whatever happens, I’ll handle it. And I will; because you do, one way or the other. But here, I thought I might have to handle an underwater home, with chunks of floorboard floating about in it. This didn’t happen, though; and, as my wife pointed out to me that night, we were luckier than those poor people up in Yorkshire and Scotland lately.
                                                *
For this week, I’ve gone back to an old idea I’ve had for a contemporary novel. That’s every work day, Monday to Friday. I feel ridiculously proud of myself for doing it, and ridiculously optimistic. And, alright, some days it might have been writing one or two sentences, but the crucial thing is, I kept going back to it, each new day. I didn’t give in.
I might easily roll it all up into a ball and toss it into the wastepaper basket, of course. I don’t want to jinx it. What I’m trying to do is write the synopsis, only the synopsis of the novel, to read out to my writing group when it’s my evening (about a month away). Fingers crossed…


Friday, 22 January 2016

Good Start


It’s been a goodish start to the year. I can’t remember a January when I still felt positive this long after January 1st. Even Blue Monday, the 18th January, didn’t dampen my spirits. I’m writing dates in my Filofax- I’m sure you do that all the time, but up until now I kept forgetting- and as a result, I’m remembering birthdays, anniversaries, doctors’ appointments, etc. I’ve been getting into work on time. Not every day, but I’m better than I was.
Actually, my improved punctuality has come about because, for Christmas, my wife bought me a Kindle Fire 7”, and I’ve been trying to download all the books I had on my original Kindle. For this, you need wifi, and since I don’t have that at home it means I have to use cafes and pubs. So I’ve been leaving the house as soon as I’ve washed and dressed, and trying a different cafĂ© every morning, trying to connect with Amazon. The wifi on London Underground is no good for this, nor is Starbucks, nor any place whose server is The Cloud. Public libraries are hopeless. The only places whose wifi has helped me have been independent cafes and pubs, the wifi which asks you for a password.
Now that I’ve learnt a bit more about the Kindle Fire, it seems very exciting. Not only can I read e-books on it, I can download talking books, music and films as well. I can send and receive emails, and connect to the internet. I don’t play computer games, but apparently it’s good for that too. When we move, which will probably be out of London, which in turns means I will be virtually living in train compartments, I will have a few options to keep myself sane.
My writers’ group has started up again, and I’m beginning to get murmurings of story ideas. I was like this when I was at school- all through the holidays, when I had loads of time for writing, I dried up. As soon as the new term started, the juices started flowing again. I’ve started cutting stories out of newspapers (cutting, pasting and printing out stories from online newspapers isn’t quite so inspirational), and I’m managing to get out and walk around the block in my lunch hours, as recommended by Julia Cameron in her brilliant The Artist’s Way.
I’m writing regularly in my Writing Practice notebook. At the moment, I’m describing last night’s dreams, when I can remember them, something I’ve been doing since I bought Jenny Alexander’s Writing In The House OfDreams. Perhaps it’s only a coincidence (Jenny Alexander might call it synchronicity), but since I’ve been doing this, I’ve felt a lot more positive, and I’ve been getting story ideas, too.

Finally, to crown it all, I’ve written the first draft of a short story. Only about 1,000 words. Horror again- I would have sent it to Microhorror when that was still running. Now I might send it to Burialday.