writing meme

It’s a writing meme! The idea is that writers answer ten questions about the book they are currently working on, then tag five writing friends to do likewise. Jon was kind enough to tag me, so I’ll answer the questions here.

1. What is the working title of your next book?

It doesn’t really have one. Although ‘next’ book kind of suggests that there’s a book for it to be next from. Which there isn’t. I have written a few short stories though, and have started a couple of non-Monty stories.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Monty isinspired in no small part by the adventures of one James Bolivar ‘Slippery Jim’ di Griz, aka The Stainless Steel Rat, with a dash of Thomas Crown (the Brosnan version), soupçon of Danny Ocean. Basically a bunch of heist books/flicks with a smart-talking main character.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

See #2. Heist/Con with added funny. Wisecracking one-liners a speciality.

4. What actors would you choose to play the characters in a movie rendition?

Monty: For a long time at the start he was going to be played by Ewan McGregor, though currently I’ve cast Tim Roth (albeit a slightly younger version) after seeing him in Lie To Me.
tim roth

Molly: This is the one I have the most trouble with. Kelly Macdonald?

600full-kelly-macdonald
Jenny (the cute barista): not sure. Had been thinking Carey Mulligan perhaps. Maybe.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Monty, ace gentleman thief, gets himself into trouble, again. Dangerous amounts of coffee are consumed. Hijinks ensue.

6. Is your book represented by an agency?

Good lord no. Using the word ‘book’ is scary enough.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Again, this sort of implies that I’ve finished a first draft. Which is not entirely true.

8. What other books would you compare this to within your genre?

See #2. Possibly with a bit of Donald E. Westlake thrown into the mix.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Lawks. I can’t quite remember. I do recall doing a character sketch for Monty many many years ago, which turned into a Chapter One, which was pulled apart (in the nicest possible sense) by my friend Pete. So I rewrote it from scratch. It’s better now. However, I’ve done lots of Chapter Ones, but not many Chapter Twos.

10. What else about this book might pique the reader’s interest?

FREE CHOCOLATE WITH EVERY COPY[1]

I’m not tagging any other writers though. If you want to be tagged, consider yourself tagged.

If you want to read some of my Monty stuff, it’s collected here

[1] the chocolate may be a lie.

To write, or not to write

On "Aspiring" Writers...
On “Aspiring” Writers… by curious_spider on Flickr, aka Chuck Wendig

Sage words (as ever) from Chuck. If you’re even remotely interested in writing, get yourself over to his blog, sign up for his emails and buy his books.

I’ll wait.

Right. I’m done waiting. Onwards.

I’ve got ‘writer’ down in my bio on most places around the internet but I usually feel slightly fraudulent in putting it there.

Then again, I *do* write. I write this, for example. I also do a mean line in email.

I’ve written a couple of short stories which have been published[1] and well over thirty thousand words featuring Monty, arch gentleman thief. Some of which ends up on here. I’ve ‘won’ NaNoWriMo, though the sheer effort of churning out 50 thousand words in 30 days left my writing mojo quivering in a dessicated heap, sobbing quietly to itself.

I learned some lessons in the process, but I’m not sure I’ve entirely recovered from the experience.

It’s just that it never feels like *proper* writing. My friend Rachel over at Courtyard Lullaby summed up it up in a recent blog post:

Whenever I read a great novel like Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman or A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin, the sheer gravitas to these books makes me want to shrink away and hide like the amateur I am.

Which captures exactly how I feel about my writing.

I’ve read a ton of brilliant books this year – Nick Harkaway‘s stunningly brilliant Angelmaker is just one example. I marvelled at the sheer scale and inventiveness of the ideas, and the beauty of the prose. There were sentences and paragraphs in there which I stopped and read and re-read several times just so I could savour them.

Then I looked back at the stuff I’ve written, and it’s just a pale shadow, wilting in comparison.

OK, I know it’s probably an unfair comparison, and I strongly suspect (nay, hope) that Angelmaker didn’t leap fully-formed from Nick’s head onto the page. His first draft probably sucked.

Then I saw Chuck’s post this morning and was struck by the statement.  Yoda summed it up neatly too.

Do, or do not.

I write, therefore I am.

Look out world.

Writer on the loose.

[1] though I suspect that I’m one of the few people with actual physical copies of the publications in question. One was a very trendy artsy heavy-on-the-style magazine, full of beautiful people doing beautiful things, mostly wearing sunglasses indoors. One of *those* types of magazine.

Sketchbook

Watching someone write out the alphabet (draw the alphabet?) is oddly soothing. Hat tip to Chip for the link.

Sketchbook, February 2013 from Seb Lester on Vimeo.

BlackLetter was used throughout Europe from about 1150 until the end of the 17th century. One of my current preoccupations is developing a set of modern BlackLetter capitals that are highly legible, in BlackLetter terms, and yet retain the richness and beauty inherent in this ancient category of letterform. From time to time I will film clips like this to record my progress. Prints and originals available from http://www.seblester.co.uk. Music by Carlos Márquez, https://soundcloud.com/cmdigital

Notebooks

I love notebooks. I may have already mentioned this. I wasn’t entirely telling the whole story though.

Moleskine bookmark

It’s true, I do love a nice Moleskine notebook. And I *do* have a stash of them, and there *is* one in my bag.

Truth is though, my beloved notebooks are all too often left unblemished by pen or ink. I suspect I’m not alone in this – a fresh, pristine notebook is all too immaculate to actually spoil by writing in it. Moleskines feel like they should contain Great Thoughts of Great Importance, not random scribbles like ‘2 pints of milk, some cheese and a loaf of bread’. They should contain beautiful handwriting, delicate sketches of Venetian architecture…

Oh, of course they shouldn’t. They’re a notebook, just like any other. So why is it that I find it so hard to actually *use* one?

A friend, many years ago, got Wreck This Journal, “an illustrated book featuring a subversive collection of suggestions, asking readers to muster up their best mistake – and mess-making abilities to fill the pages of the book (and destroy them).”

I need to do that, to exorcise my notebook demons. So I’m going to take one of my unused Moleskines and whilst not *wreck* it per se, certainly *use* it. I’ll make notes, try my hand at sketching and maybe write a bit of my own as-yet-unwritten novel.

How about you, dear reader? Do you use notebooks? Do you suffer from the same problem when it comes to starting a new one?

Things I learned from #NaNoWriMo

Things I have learned from doing #NaNoWriMo last year.

1. 50,000 words is a lot
Really a Lot. With a capital L. On day 1, it’s a huge snow-covered mountain of Lot, and you’re standing at the foot of the Trail of Lot wearing shorts, a t-shirt and entirely inappropriate shoes. You’re giddy with excitement and the promise of a story to be told. Along the way you’ll get cold and wet and experience the highs and lows, but when you reach the summit, the view is incredible.
Oh, alright. You probably won’t get cold or wet (unless you’re typing in the rain, which is pretty foolish) but trust me on the views.

2. When you get to 10,000 words, 40k still seems like a lot
It is, obviously. But you’re well on the way. Characters are turning up and doing Stuff, Plot is starting to happen. Giddy early days.

3. 25,000 words is a weird place
You’ve achieved a massive amount. Characters are now doing Stuff to each other in new and interesting ways, Plot is everywhere, Subtext might get a look in if it’s lucky, and Sub-plots bounce around like excited puppies. You’re halfway. Well done, writer!

4. When you get to 40,000 words, 10k seems like hardly anything
Weird, huh? True though. Perspective is a wonderful thing. That moment when you realise you’ve got four thousand words to go and you think ‘ah, I can do that tonight’ – brilliant.

5. Taking a day off writing isn’t the end of the world
So long as you remember to share the missing wordcount over the time remaining and don’t sweat trying to catch up. Unless you’re on day 29, in which case get your butt in the chair and WRITE. Don’t take too many days off though. I did miss a couple near the start and spent ages playing catch-up. Then missed two days near the end which left me 10k to do and four days in which to do it.

6. NaNoWriMo stories don’t come out finished
Or fully polished. Or even slightly polished. There might be the essence of a story in there somewhere, but it will need work. The first draft is suppose to suck, or so I’m told.
Boy, does mine suck.

7. Writing lots of characters is hard
I had entirely too many characters in my NaNo last year, to the point where I remembered late in the day that the two characters I introduced on Day One had entirely failed to make a reappearance. I also found another three characters wandering around from Chapter Two, lost and confused. They all came in quite handy when I needed some people for my psychotic homicidal teenage-angst-wridden AI to bump off in entirely creatively gory ways though.

8. Introducing lots of characters at once is also hard
Yeah. Mine turned up in groups of two and three. Finding an interesting way of introducing three menacing mercenary terrorist pirates in one go is bloody tricky. Go on, you try it.

9. Dialogue is my thing
Seriously, get me two characters in a room or on the other end of a phone/radio, and I’m happy as a pig in muck. I like my characters to talk. A lot. To themselves, if no-one else is around.

10. Planning helps…
I set my NaNo on two spaceships, with action bouncing around and between each. I realised late on that I had characters running around between different locations, but had no idea how those locations hung together. Whilst it was quite nice to be able to have them get from Engineering to the Bridge quickly, it probably contradicted tons of earlier stuff.

11. … but is not essential
It’s quite nice to wing it. Characters had a bit more freedom to do Stuff, and I can go back and re-plan my locations based on what I know now. At the end I threw in an entirely new pair of characters and let them experience the results of what had been happening for the previous 45,000 words. It was fun to see it through a fresh pair of eyes. And finished off the last 5k quite nicely, though opened a whole new set of questions. I reckon that the story needs at least another 25k to finish it off.

12. I need a new keyboard
My super-cheap Microsoft value keyboard is fine for puttering around on the internet and firing off status updates to twitter and G+, but for serious keyboard time, it sucks. Note to self: remember to buy new keyboard.

13. Sleep is for wimps
I find that my best writing time is from about 10pm until about 1am. I’ve done my day, I’ve settled down with a nice cup of really hot tea and I can just go at it. My brain has had the day to work out the kinks from the previous writing session and come up with some new things I wanted to try.

14. Music rocks
Finding the right tunes to write to can be a challenge, but is fun. If you’re writing sci-fi, I can recommend the Portal 2 soundtracks, ‘Music to Test By’. Bonus points as they’re FREE.
Whereas writing exciting action scenes to Kate Bush? Doesn’t really work. Although her new album is utterly glorious and beautiful.
Over the month I also compiled a ‘stuff I really like’ playlist on Spotify which I would put on shuffle and just write to.

15. I need to get a good thesaurus
Lots of what my characters ended up doing was going through airlocks, doorways, corridors, hatchways and interacting with computers, consoles, control panels and so on. Finding new and interesting ways of describing the same thing over and over is a challenge. I suspect in the second draft, a lot of that will find itself on the cutting room floor.

So, fellow writer. What have you learned from NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo ideas

I think this year’s NaNoWriMo[1] might have to be a homage to Bond, James Bond. It is his 50th anniversary, after all. And I’m a HUGE Bond fan.

I need a good villain name – I’m thinking female, as very few Bond stories feature a really good female villain, with the exception of Rosa Klebb[2] and possibly Elektra King[3].

I need a good name. And possibly a Dastardly Plot – I’m considering having her attempt to wipe out the world’s coffee supply…

Suggestions onna postcard, to the usual address.

[1] oh god, am I really considering doing it again??
[2] though if memory serves, in the films[4] she was part of SMERSH, and therefore technically part of Blofeld’s gang
[3] not the best of Bond villains, though, was she?
[4] in the book though, she was working solo iirc

NaNoWriMo approaches

It’s that time of the year again when thoughts start to turn to NaNoWriMo.
For those new to NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month (see what they did there?), and takes place in November of each year. The premise is startlingly simple:
You start on November 1st and finish at midnight on November 30th. In those 30 days, you write 50,000 words.

Fifty thousand?” I hear you cry. “Isn’t that like totally a lot?”

Yes. Yes it is. And stop shouting, please..

That’s kind of the whole point. You’ve got thirty days. You need to be averaging 1,666-and-a-bit words per day, so you don’t have time to edit (well, assuming you’ve got other things to do other than write). It’s all about getting that first draft out of your head. Write first, edit later.

(First drafts, by the way, are supposed to suck. That’s the law. You can check if you like.)

Anyway, I did NaNoWriMo last year, and for the first time ever (I’ve tried it several times before), I went over that magic 50,000 word mark.
Not only that, I finished a day early. *polishes winner’s medal*


There were points in the process of writing it where I was literally laughing at how bad it was. The grand plot and character that I’d started on day one sort of fizzled out by day three as I moved over to see some action over *there*. I realised on day… fifteen? sixteen? that the character I’d based the whole story plan around hadn’t been seen for two weeks. I wrote her back in, decided that I didn’t really like her much, and wrote her back out again. These other guys? Doing all the cool stuff over *here*? Far more interesting.
So, it was an experience. It completely drained all of the writing mojo I had though, and I’ve not really written anything much since. I picked up last year’s NaNo recently and started re-reading it. I was surprised that bits of it didn’t actually suck quite as badly as I’d remembered, and bits of it actually sounded like I knew what I was doing. Other bits sounded like someone else had written them.

These were clearly the post-midnight caffeine-fuelled sections. You tend to get a lot of them.

I’ve not decided if I’m doing NaNo again this year. I quite fancy the challenge, but also fancy doing something a bit different.
Watch this space.