While living and working in Edinburgh in 2008 I set out to write one million words in 366 days... but only managed 800,737.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A.W.O.L. Competitions

I don’t enter many writing competitions. Only the free ones. And I almost never write a bespoke piece to enter a given competition. But back in January, when writing 2,700+ words a day was both fresh and daunting, I came across details for The Scotsman and National Library of Scotland Short Story Competition.

I’d never written a pure crime fiction short story, though I did have a crime fiction element in the pastiche that was my second attempt at a novel (a.k.a. MA thesis, a.k.a. The City We Forgot To Name).

Anyway, I thought having a stab at this competition would a) net me some words for the final accounting, b) take me somewhere new, and c) give me a chance to win some kudos and whisky.

The story I submitted was called, ‘The Bartender’s Glass’. It was okay, I think. It’s been a while since I read it. I sent it off well before the Jan 25 deadline…

The competition stated that all short listed authors would get a Crime Fiction Masterclass with Mr Tartan Noir himself, Ian Rankin. The entry form stated this Masterclass would take place in March.

Tomorrow it will be May, and I have not heard anything about this competition. Not that I expected to be short-listed, but if the competition has been judged and announced, I expect to either be informed (I supplied my email and mailing address), or in the very least, to be able to find who the winner was on the internet.


Last week I emailed the National Library of Scotland (using an alias… somehow everything I wrote came out sounding like a desperate writer with nothing else to think about).

No reply.

I haven’t read the Scotsman (one of Edinburgh’s two evening papers) every day since the first of March, so I can’t be sure I haven’t missed something there, but still…

I hate it when competitions disappear.

What I think might have happened: allowing only six weeks to read and judge the entries, inform the short listed authors and have a Masterclass was overly optimistic. The process may have been further extended when Ian Rankin went off the rails at an awards ceremony earlier this month.

Awards ceremony? Could it… No, it was in London. But still. I can’t help feeling I could have been the 26-year-old writer who spent the night with him…

If only I were a bit older…

And had different bits…

[I love how the story of Rankin’s indiscretion was buried on the Scotsman’s site (and probably never made the paper proper); it really is the Rankin Times.]

If this mythical Masterclass ever eventuates, and I happen to be invited, I’ll be watching the interaction between Master and Pupil closely… the young, female pupils especially. That is, if any young, attractive females write crime fiction.

If anyone out there knows what happened to this competition, I’d love to hear. Until then, I’ll assume I suck at crime fiction and stick to what I know best:

“A young male walks into a bar…”


Edit: Found the results today (13 May 08), though it looks like it was all resolved a month earlier. I just was googling the wrong things (like the actual name of the competition...). Only read the winning story so far. Um...

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Crying of Lot 49

On Friday I finished reading The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon…

Oedipa Maas is named co-executor of her ex-boyfriend’s estate. The ex was a multi-millionaire developer with a finger in every pie in San Narciso (fictional So-Cal town), so unpicking the estate promises to be onerous, but she is quickly swept away by another quest: uncovering the meaning of Trystero, which is mentioned in the (fictional) Jacobean revenge play by the (fictional) Richard Wharfinger, The Courier’s Tragedy.

So much of The Crying of Lot 49 is made up (towns, playwrights, warring postal services), and the characters’ names and actions are so outlandish, that a reader should be left in no doubt that what one is reading is fiction. Should be. But one cannot be certain because there is a whole other side to this book which could be based on fact.

With Pynchon, there is no certainty. I even struggle to classify what sort of book it was I just read.

From his introduction to Slow Learner, it’s clear that Pynchon considered The Crying of Lot 49 a novella (or perhaps just a long story), but ever since its first publication it has been marketed as a novel. It reads like a novel, packed with characters and tangents, and it took me more than two weeks of reading it in my lunch break to finish its 128 pages (in the Vintage edition I read). But, ultimately, it behaves like a short story (more on this later).

The time it took to finish TCL49 is nothing compared to what it took me to finish Gravity’s Rainbow, which I checked out of libraries in three cities (and two countries) for probably a total of four months before I finally finished it. This is not to say I did not enjoy Gravity’s Rainbow. But it is a slog. One which is not conducive to three or four week loan periods.

[If I am ever going to finish reading V (I think I read the first 150 pages) or read Mason and Dixon or Against the Day, I will have to own a copy.]

Quests and paranoia are at the heart of both TCL49 and Gravity’s Rainbow. The latter has the space (and scope) to include more, which is one of the reasons it is a difficult book to finish: though there is a plot, you always feel like you have drifted away from it, and aren’t sure when you will drift back.

Even at 128 pages, The Crying of Lot 49 is not what you would call a focussed book. I only really got a sense of what may be happening around page fifty (after the eight page summary of the The Courier’s Tragedy).

This is not to say that the book was not enjoyable before this quest for Trystero began. There are several runs of characterisation, like Mucho Maas’ failure as car salesman due to overthinking and his budding failure as radio disc jockey for the same reason, which are sharp and funny. But I found my page rate increased once the conspiracy theory plot arose and we followed Oedipa’s ragged quest.

While paranoia pervades Gravity’s Rainbow—at times unfounded, on others justified, with many more with question marks either way—The Crying of Lot 49 is able to end in a completely ambivalent state. That, I think, is the success of the book—and why I view it as a story or a novella rather than a novel. The Crying of Lot 49 is an exercise in ambivalence. It thumbs its nose at readers in search of resolution (or a clear indication of plot from the outset).

Instead of a resolution of plot, the reader gets a consolation prize on the final page when the meaning of the title is explained. When it falls into place, it hits like a punch line, but only a mediocre one. It is, after all, just a title—just another piece of the fiction—when we are all looking for solid ground.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Status Report: Week Seventeen

Week Seventeen – The Stats

Weekly word count: 20,034 words

Average: 2,862 words per day (compared to 2,088 last week)

Most productive day: Thursday 24 April, 3,667 words

Least productive day: Monday 21 April, 1,587 words

Year-to-date: 311,819 words (10,585 words behind target)

A few milestones this week. Wrote my 300,000th word on Thursday (day 114). Managed to cut into the deficit rather than add to it for the first time in three weeks. And I got a proper office chair. Sitting here now, I can’t a) believe I typed 300,000 words sitting on an armchair and three cushions and b) it took me this long to get a new chair.

The slice of pie called “Mystery Project” might become a short story, or a novel, or just remain ten pages of formless rambling. I just started going through my notebooks and abandoned projects and thought, “I could turn this into something.” I think it had something to do with reading The Crying of Lot 49, which I’ll talk about tomorrow.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Word I didn’t know existed until I moved to Scotland, and I think should not exist, but exists nonetheless...

...and I’m probably playing a small part in prolonging its existence by even mentioning it.

Timeously adv.
1. (Scotland) In a timely manner.

I’ve yet to hear it in conversation, but I’ve seen it in emails twice this week. At first I thought the writer had overstretched for a word… but no, several sources consider timeous/timeously worthy of an entry.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Status Report: Week Sixteen

Better late than never...

Week Sixteen – The Stats

Weekly word count: 14,618 words

Average: 2,088 words per day (compared to 2,698 last week)

Most productive day: Monday 14 April, 3,762 words

Least productive day: Saturday 19 April, 0 words (I was driving around the highlands)

Year-to-date: 291,875 words (11,494 words behind target)

Okay, so my deficit is now into five figures, or almost than four days’ worth... and it'll only get worse with a long weekend in Paris in a fortnight’s time. And then in Turkey in June. And then...

That's the stupid thing about this project of mine: it takes overwhelmingly positive experiences – the big red circles on my calendar – and gives them a negative tinge. The days and weeks building up to a trip away are not spent reading up on what to see and do, but trying to squeeze another few hundred words in my non-working, non-sleeping window.

It's stupid to feel guilty about these non-writing days. A writer must do other things – have other experiences – than just live inside their own head and type. The goings on inside the writer's head and the product of their typing are usually enriched by new and significant experiences. Travel is a good example of a new and significant experience. Travel is part of my continuing apprenticeship in life.

No one is really arguing with the importance of doing things other than writing. In another year, I would be stoked by the constant and sizeable progress my fiction makes on a weekly basis. But this is not another year. This is the year of a million words. A year in which I must compile numbers and graphs on a weekly basis, and work towards a target which looks increasingly intimidating.

The power of these numbers and graphs is to make me write more on those days where new and significant experiences are hard to come by. The weeknights where I could just watch Britain’s Got Talent and then Britain’s Got More Talent, then spend three hours on YouTube looking up Peru’s Got Talent and Finland’s Got Talent... The weekends where, besides getting groceries and checking emails, I have no commitments.

With all the travelling on my plate in 2008, it looks like a silly year to try to write a million words. But there are definite pros. Working as a temp means I can leave my work at work and have energy in reserve for fiction as the sun sets. My visa means I may just have a month in the second half of the year when I don't work (this could mean more travel though). Living away from family and friends means there's less invites going around, and less obligations and interruptions.

If I wasn’t writing, these would all be negatives: boring job with no future, dodgy pay, little social life etc etc. But it means my free time is freer this year than ever before. The million words target takes the symptoms of home sickness and turns them into positives. Well, maybe not positives in themselves, but they certainly lead to something productive.

These spiels before or after my status reports are probably tiresome to read on a weekly basis. But I don't know what's going to happen next. Imagine if I went out and wrote a 80,000 word novel from woe-to-go in the next fortnight. Or I stopped writing completely and went to live in a tree hut near Fort Augustus for the rest of the year. Then these status reports might be illuminating.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Is Fiction A Cop Out?

At work the other day I saw a Slippery When Wet sign on the way to the bathroom and had a light bulb moment:

Why doesn’t someone invent lino that changes colour when wet, so you can see exactly where to avoid and do away with those yellow signs?

Maybe this would be prohibitively expensive to manufacture, or there is simply no demand for Smart Lino™ -- but I didn’t go down this path at the time I had this thought. I am not an inventor or an entrepreneur. I am (trying to be) a writer. My next thoughts were: Perhaps one of [Main Character in Novel B]’s colleagues could invent this lino and exit the 9 to 5. Often you do not learn colleagues’ passions until they disappear or breakdown…

Perhaps I have just given away a million dollar idea. Nah. If I believed in Smart Lino™, I would have added this to my folder for un-posted posts. But it might work in fiction, so long as there is enough in the story to make it believable.

This partly explains one of my core attachments to fiction. I write, in part, because I can use my ideas, which I would not have the time, resources or inclination to bring into reality.

But, on a case by case basis, placing an idea into a story is a cop out.

It’s easier to write about a man following his dream of being a kindergarten teacher and not caring that perceptions are stacked against him than it is to actually be that man.

It easier to write about an invention which allows buildings to hover just above the ground—and with the help of an elegant algorithm, remain on the same spot in relation to the sun at all times, letting the planet rotate underneath it, effectively creating 24hr sunlight for the building—than it is to actually achieve this in real life.

I should probably come to the defence of fiction (in particular: people who write copious amounts, ahem), so here’s my BUT.

But a story is not made of one original idea. A story is made of a hundred of tiny cop outs—things you didn’t actually say in real life but wish you could have; places you’d rather be; people you would ignore in real life; opinions you’d keep to yourself when the subject came up.

There is a name for a writer who writes only about things they actually did: memoirists. (Though James Frey et. al. have stretched this term…)

The last time I read a memoir was… um…

I read Ray Davies’ (he of The Kinks) ‘autobiographical’ X-Ray in 2006. There are quotation marks around autobiographical because it was narrated by a fictional character who talks to an elderly, misanthrope called Ray Davies… so maybe I need to go further back to find a memoir/autobiography.

The thing is, I read a lot of fiction. When I want facts, I read non-fiction which covers more than one person’s experience. I hear about a lot of people reading less fiction as they get older, so perhaps I’m still just a young’en regarding my taste in books… So?

Fiction does things fact can not. Science fiction deals almost exclusively in things that can not be the subject of a memoir, and few would be willing to write serious non-fiction about. And while I have read as many books of pure Sci-Fi as I have memoirs lately, I’m finding quite a few Sci-Fi-y aspects popping up in my own short fiction over the last few weeks.

[Massive aside: I have been listening to Pavement’s Wowee Zowee as I type this post. I never really got that into Pavement, as the 2 and 3 star ratings of Wowee Zowee’s songs on my iPod attest… but I am enjoying the album right now. Like, next time I sit down to write, I will queue up another Pavement album—that kind of enjoyment.]

An example of a Sci-Fi element in a story on the go is: extinct animals start reappearing all over the world.

Am I the next Kilgore Trout? No. But, having thought through the above, I think I appreciate Sci-Fi aspects because they are the antithesis of memoir. And perhaps, the acme of fiction. Perhaps.

But most science fiction falls down because it doesn’t do other important things like character, dialogue and humour very well.

So it is not enough to have a handful of great ideas (a.k.a. cop outs), you must also be able to get inside other (fake) people’s heads, render speech in interesting and believable ways, and not take yourself too seriously. Sheesh.

Or put another way: the task of the fiction writer is to a) have good ideas, b) put the right ideas together in the right order in the one story, c) link it all together with words and punctuation that the reader does not notice.

This is why writing fiction is not a cop out, even though you are sitting in a room typing away at what might never get read by anyone except rejecting editors and agents. Because it’s hard. Because when it works, it’s transcendent.

But finally, a word of caution.

If you weren’t swayed by my talk of transcendence, and do consider it a cop out to use ideas in fiction rather than in the real world, you should think twice before acting out your next idea: the one idea I’ve had that I considered attributing to a character but carried out myself was this blog. This Million Words In One Year trip. Who knows the kind of hole you could dig for yourself?

Administrative matter: I’ll be driving around Scotland over the weekend so the status report for this week (what number are we up to? I think I’m on the toes on my second foot) might be delayed until Monday. If you can’t wait for your weekly fix of graphs, click here.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Great Moment in iPod Shuffle (of a sort).

Because I’ve finished listening to Disgrace but haven’t transferred my next audiobook (A Wild Sheep Chase) onto my iPod yet, I was listening to my iPod on shuffle this morning as I walked to work. After some forgettable Audioslave song (only on my iPod because of Chris Cornell brand loyalty) and the Doobie Brothers’ 'Long Train Runnin' (who snuck that on there?), The Sneaker Pimps' '6 Underground' came on and I thought, "Hang on, this song was in my dream last night."

I'm not suggesting my dream foretold my iPod would shuffle to this song. I'm noting this here because I had never really noticed that my dreams contained real music soundtracks. Perhaps every dream I have is backed by music, but because I don't hear the particular song shortly after waking, there's no way I could be conscious of this?

Hearing '6 Underground' also helped remind me of what was going on in this particular dream. I think I must have been nearly awake, because it was quite logical. Marisa was pregnant, and about to go into labour, and we realised we had not discussed baby names. I say this dream was logical because the names I put forward were ones I have considered in waking hours (Chobe D'licious, Caleb...). To which Marisa said, "What if it's a girl?" Both in my dream and in real life I have never thought of what I would name a daughter.

[I should just say that no one is pregnant here. And in my defence (though no defence is needed): I reckon I think about baby names more than your average red-blooded male in a pregnancy free relationship because I have to come up with so many names for characters.]

If I was only half asleep, this might explain how a real song could play in the background— especially because I listen to music while writing everyday, especially in the last four hours before hitting the hay. Maybe my default ambient noise is now popular music?

But the question still remains: Why the Sneaker Pimps? Thanks to iTunes I can pin-point the last time I heard this song on its entirety, which was over a year ago. The possibility exists that song was used in a TV program I saw (it was originally used in film The Saint), probably a CSI-type program based on the lyrics...

BUT I don't watch those shows.

All I watched last night was The Masters (golf). Did they use '6 Underground' on their coverage? Unlikely. Which suggests I didn't hear this song recently, so it must have had some significance in the dream…

I'm not going to go any further into this (I know how tiresome dream description and analysis can be), but I just thought I'd note this down in case someone else has had a similar experience.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Status Report: Week Fifteen

Week Fifteen – The Stats

Weekly word count: 18,889

Average: 2,698 words per day (compared to 2,797 last week)

Most productive day: Thursday 10 April, 3,931 words

Least productive day: Tuesday 8 April, 1,969 words

Year-to-date: 277,167 words (6,986 words behind target)

Revised daily word rate required: 2,759 words per day

Just a smidgeon below target this week, but as you can see, the revised target continues to grow. As soon as I hit 2,800 words required per day, it’s officially panic stations. Especially if there’s 200+ days to go. Like a limited overs run chase, the key is to keep in touch, as anything can happen in the last ten. That's what I'm telling myself, anyway.

If anyone ever decides to pull out the calculator and scrutinise these status reports, the first thing they might notice is that the word count attributed to "This Blog" normally exceeds the number of words that are actually published here on a given week. I'm not cooking the books (if I was, would I even bring it up?) - but I do write an average of one blog entry a week which I don't post. Sometimes it's because the post is incomplete (I have a folder of ones to come back to one day) or I don't think anyone should have to read what I began with the best intentions.

Should these abortive efforts still count towards my million words?

Yes, I think so.

For one, I wrote them, didn't I? Just because a short story fails to get published (as no doubt some of this year's crop will), doesn't mean the words were (completely) wasted. There's always something to be learnt.

So too an "unpublished" blog entry.

One failed blog entry actually became the meat of a story I'm working on. So there.

Okay, I've got that off my chest.

Oh, and I almost forgot… after hearing about Janet Frame’s habit of keeping three columns in her notebook for daily word counts—target, actual, and excuse—I noted down my excuses for those days this week that dipped below 2,732 words:

Tuesday (1,969): “Composition is a slow process. Plus: day job, shopping for step-sister’s 21st present, looking for a flat, eating, sleeping… They all take time.”

Wednesday (2,455): “Dentist, post office, long walk, day job etc etc.”

Friday (2,018): “Watched a movie, relaxed.”

Sunday (2,177): “Um.”

I had aimed to write 4,000+ words today. I don’t know what happened.

Temporary moment of sanity, perhaps.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

In Search of Another Edinburgh

I have been living in Edinburgh for six months now. Six months is long enough to know there is more to this city than Old Town vs New Town. Long enough to get a bit spoilt by the oldness of everything. To forget to lean out the window and spy the castle on a sunny day. To pull the curtains, without blinking, on “the best example of Neo-classical Georgian architecture in Edinburgh” (I’m quoting a guidebook I read in Matalan the other day while waiting for Marisa to finish browsing), aka West Register House.

I still believe I will never arrive in another city and think, "This is more amazing than the time I walked up the steps from the Waverley Train Station for the first time." But sometimes I like to see things that won’t be mentioned in guidebooks, grace postcards, or appear on your bog standard travel blog.

There is another Edinburgh out there, smushed between the castles and kirkyards, you just have to go looking.

So that’s what Marisa and I set out to do today.

But first we had to drop some books off at the library, which meant walking through the daffodil-overloaded Princes Street Gardens and up the Mound to the George IV bridge. It’s hard to think of a more iconic twenty minute walk in Edinburgh. Anywho, we then struck out for new ground, and found a mosque and a decaying office building on the edges of the university.

This is more like it, I thought.

We powered on past St. Leonards (Rebus’ Police Station… ur… ) and into Newington. We passed the Scottish Widows offices, which Marisa said reminded her of Christchurch. I agreed and took a photo.

But then we found ourselves so close to Salisbury Crags and Holyrood Park, and decided, since we hadn’t walked around Queens Drive this way, we might as well. Who knows what sort of Edinburgh we’d find.

It was a lovely walk (I sound like a nana when I say that, don’t I?), passing Duddingston Loch and the village (a village, ooh!) of, ah, Duddington, and then we found ourselves half a mile from Craigmillar Castle. We decided to have a nosy, see what the admission price was, etc. When we got to the carpark, there was a Scottish Heritage person telling everyone it was free to look around the castle today (usually it’s £4.20 or something).

So we set out looking for the un-Edinburgh, and ended up at a castle! This says a lot about Edinburgh, but also that, whatever we tell ourselves, we’re still tourists after six months.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Translation - April Experiment #1

As I alluded to in my wrap up of my March Experiment, I was thinking of doing something with translation next.

What brought this on was a short story I wrote with a Spanish main character. I showed it to some writer friends and a few questioned the language. They wanted the English of the 3rd person narrator simplified, so there was less of a gulf between narrator and main character. I didn’t really agree with their reasoning, but figured it was worth trying the story with a Beginner’s English narration.

To do this, I tried the expedient of translation the first paragraph into Spanish using an online translator, then translating the Spanish back to English. The result was clunky, as expected. Lots of extra bits—the, of, he, in, at—appeared, but surprisingly, the internet could manage “stalk” (cazar al acecho) and “so-and-so” (fulano).

Anyway, I gave up on the idea of translating my whole story into Spanish and back, since it would mostly add a lot of articles and prepositions, and I’d end up going back to my original word choices. But I could see some utility in this technique.

The key, I think, is to start with someone else’s words.

Today I heard Jorge Calderón’s version of Keep Me In Your Heart (written by Warren Zevon and Jorge Calderón; originally performed by Zevon on The Wind) as I walked home from work. This was the final track on Zevon’s final album. You can press play and listen while you read the rest of this post if you'd like to:

This line really got to me:

Sometimes when you're doing simple things around the house
Maybe you'll think of me and smile

When I got home (after checking my email, reading some blogs, and setting my fantasy basketball lineups), I read over the lyrics, and cut and paste the lines above, and two more couplets into my online translator. These other lines were:

If I leave you it doesn't mean I love you any less
Keep me in your heart for awhile

There's a train leaving nightly called when all is said and done
Keep me in your heart for awhile

I then translated these six lines into Spanish then back to English then into French then into English then into German then into English then into Italian then into English then into Dutch then into English then into Portuguese then into English then into Russian then into English. I would have gone further if my online translator had more languages.

The final version was a bit of a garble:

When I it negligence, that I they, that want, do not wish to tell for end outside, that me tratterrebbe in their one heart

From time during the correct moment then they simple things where also probably it has made houses, tornou-se-me and its smile hung up

It leads to a train which it has told good-bye rather nocha which I have, I am appointed, when all have told and become - directly in its heart small me deteve

It was a bit strange that some words could be translated into Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, but not back into English, but that's machines for you.

The tone was really set by the first translation (French), so I tried starting with Russian and it went somewhere slightly different...

After a few more iterations, I had a stockpile of 1,200 words of translations of the three original couplets. The clunkiness of the translator cursed any couplet from being completely comprehensible, but also blessed me with some interesting phrases which seemed in the spirit of the original text (and song), but unique in their own right. I then copied and pasted every interesting phrase into a new document, culled and crimped, until I ended up with a poem.

A poem? I don’t know what I thought I was doing this whole time, but I didn’t begin with the intention of writing a 44 word poem (small mercy: this swollen blog entry counts towards my word count).

But that’s what happened.

Here it is:

After Warren Zevon

when all I said becomes a small
I am named


the simple things within the house
that you make of me:

the dependable action in this heart


I am appointed

when all have told and become
is hung to a smile

What do you think? I like it. But then I tend to like poems tinged with death (see Tuesday’s post). Good thing I’m not a full-time poet—there might be some slit wrists in the cheap seats.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Best NZ Poems 2007

I’ve been reading two or three poems a day from the best NZ poems 2007, which was released online at the end of last month.

I have now read them all.

One person’s list of 25 poems (2007’s editor was Paula Green) will vary wildly from another person’s list, and anyone sitting down with the express purpose of writing one of 2008’s “best poems” is bound for disappointment. (Although… we know that James Brown will be 2008’s editor, and we can read his list of his ten favourite NZ poetry books here and… no, don’t even go there.)

What I wanted to say was poetry—and writing in general—is very subjective, and anything with “best” in the title needs quotation marks (and footnotes, and apologetic noises in the foreword…), but bringing work together like this provides a great taster of a year in NZ poetry. Sure, some names appear every other year (are they Bedrock or Deadwood? that’s your call), but to an international audience (as the internet permits the anthology to reach) the names are secondary to the poems. Where else these days but the internet can you expect to discover a favourite author/actor/musician/designer through their work first, then backtrack to the biographical (soundbite-worthy) stuff?

I don’t profess to have read every poem published by a NZer in 2007, but my two favourites from Paula Green’s list (in reverse order) were:

‘Sandwiches’ by Elizabeth Smither

When my father died we ate sandwiches…” the poem begins -- a “You had me at hello” moment, though for me, it was toast. And that final image of the skirt striding ahead, “bolder than my feet,” is a cracker.

‘Chemotherapy’ by Geoff Cochrane

On a first reading I knew this poem would stay with me for a long time. The image of the dying man blowing out an unlit candle. The economy words (the title does a lot of work), and their textures. “The wind-minced sea”, which is a strangely violent phrase to begin with, appears bruised when it reappears in the last line… ah!

You could probably extrapolate a few things about my taste in poetry from the above selections. 1) I prefer shorter poems to longer ones. 2) I am drawn to poems about death.

Um, guilty on both counts, I think.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Status Report: Week Fourteen

Week Fourteen – The Stats

Weekly word count: 19,581

Average: 2,797 words per day (compared to 1,806 last fortnight)

Most productive day: Tuesday 25 March, 3,576 words

Least productive day: Sat 22 and Sun 23 March, 8 words (noted in my journal for 8x31 story… to be completed tomorrow)

Year-to-date: 258,278

For the first time since week Week Eight, my average word count for the week has exceeded the magical 2,732 words per day. Five sub par weeks is precisely why I have a two day deficit to make up somewhere. It’s hard enough keeping pace (I blew out this weekend after nutting out some good numbers during the week), so not that optimistic at the mo.

On the plus side, during the week I got two pieces accepted for publication, one in print, one online. It’s always feast of famine with these things. Nothing for two months, then two in two days. The print publication was the story I mentioned a few weeks ago that I submitted in July 2007 and had given up on. Any news like that bouys the spirits (and the requirement to write bio notes helps the word count).

I’m still waiting for the results of two competitions I entered, one of which was supposed to be announced in March (I’ve Googled my darndest, but I doesn’t look like an announcement has been made).


Status report for Week Fourteen: still going. That’s all I really needed to say.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Great White Page vs Dark Room

Earlier in the year of a million words (ahem) I wrote this poem:

The Great White Page

Were it another colour
Were it another shape
Maybe words would come

Those 16 words weren’t the biggest help for my word count, but they do capture the feeling I get when I look to the west, I mean, when I open a new word document at the end of an evening, still needing three hundred or eight hundred words to keep apace with my targets.

The fear of the Great White Page (almost as scary as being forced to read another book by Steven Hall, shudder…) has lead to this:

It’s called Dark Room. Free to download.

Simply by changing the colours and removing all the toolbars from sight, this wee program has tricked me several times this week into forgetting about everything but what I’m working on.

It reminds me of my youth, too. Of DOS and those IBM clones that schools could suddenly afford in 1990, and were finally junked in 1996 (me and five others were given the job of disposing of an entire classroom full of these cream-coloured wonders in third form… good times… perhaps there’s a story in this?).

I imagine it’s similar to how people of a (slightly) older generation feel about typewriters, or pen and paper.

Me, I can’t imagine writing fiction on anything that required you to type out everything again when you made any changes. I guess you’d chose your words more wisely in the first place. Labour over them. Not that I don’t labour over mine (the fiction words more than these bloggy words). Just that the labour comes in waves: birth, first examination, alteration, second examination, death, rebirth…

Anyway, just wanted to share my Dark Room discovery.


In looking for a good version of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ for the link above, I found this. Classic.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Punctuation Station

Interesting piece from The Guardian on the death of the semi-colon, or point-virgule if you're French:

Upmarket it may be; it will be hard work to save it. As the great grammarian Jacques Drillon concedes in his seminal Traité de la ponctuation française, it is almost certainly "the fear of using it incorrectly" that is contributing most to the point-virgule's demise. Not even a bold assertion from Alain Rey, perhaps France's most famous language expert and editor of the Robert dictionary, that good punctuation "transcends the political divide" and is "the symbol of a republic that reasons properly" may, in the end, protect the point-virgule from the inexorable march of Anglo-Saxon inelegance.

I fall into the Against category on this one, with, surprise surprise, Kurt Vonnegut:

"If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts. But do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college."

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Disgraceful Non Sequitur

After my problems listening to J.G. Ballard’s Millennium People, I’m now listening to J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (I must have been in an acronym-y mood at the library). I studied Foe at university and I remember seeing Disgrace on the shelves with the other "textbooks", which I think is why it’s taken me until now to dive into one of the favourites to take the Booker of Bookers when it is announced later this year.

I haven’t finished the book yet, so I’m not going to comment on its worthiness, but I will say I found the number of qualifiers in title Disgrace already holds: The Greatest Novel Of The Last 25 Years Written In English Outside The United States*** (according to The Observer).

This is all a lead in to another entry in my Words I Did Not Quite Understand Until Today. Except this isn’t quite the case with non sequitur, because I didn’t need to look it up when I heard it as I walked to work this morning. I had to think a bit, but I got the meaning (a reply that has no relevance to what preceded it) spot on. The thing is, I’ve been through this before with non sequitur. A better heading for the list in which non sequitur belongs is: Words Whose Meanings Never Seem To Sink In But Can Be Deduced From The Context.

As with Words I Did Not Quite Understand…, I can’t come up with any more examples off the top of my head, but I know they’re out there. Words (or phrases) which are familiar to the eyes and/or ears, but not the mind. Imagine if every second word was like non sequitur or bespoke—I think you just imagined being dyslexic.

I’m not dyslexic, though based on the number of transposition errors I’ve made at work this past week, my superiors could be forgiven for wondering. Clumsy fingers, that’s the culprit in my case.

All this talk of audiobooks lately is giving a skewed impression of my reading habits. I'm not going to list everything I've read (actually read) in the year of a million words -- partly because I don't want to sound like I'm name-checking, partly because I don't want to admit I didn't read Kafka's Metamorphisis until after I bought the t-shirt in Prague... But I will say Marisa and I have both been devouring the written work of Kurt Vonnegut Jr, and there may just be an appreciation appearing on this blog in the coming weeks...

***Coincidentally, #2 on this list was Martin Amis’ Money, which I listened to before Millennium People. What did I think of it? Well, there’s a reason I never reviewed it, let’s just say that. *coughs*

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Not For General Consumption

What's wrong with British Television?

It just wants to give me nightmares!

Last night it was an hour devoted to a guy whose face was a mass of bulbous purple growths.

And tonight it's Cooking with Placenta!

The sight of twenty friends and relatives tucking in to afterbirth pâté is now on the top of my sub-conscious' Freak Him The Fuck Out pile.

This is what I get for turning my head towards the television for five minutes a night.

(Maybe I should question Marisa's viewing tastes?)