I’d get a Bic 4-colour pen, but have no idea what I’d use the other two colours for. Friday, Feb 23 2007 

I’ve added a new weapon to my book-writing arsenal — a green pen. I was going through chapter one with a red pen again and I realised it would look a lot more optimistic if all the red markings were balanced by green markings representing ‘stuff I’m happy with’.

I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever actually finish the whole book, or if I’ll just be toying with chapter one for the rest of my life. I’d say it was almost finished, but then, I said that last time, and the time before too. At least now I can watch the green pen slowly overtaking the red pen — it gives the illusion of progress.

Rule #1: You don’t talk about the rules. Tuesday, Feb 20 2007 

I found this page while searching for someone who agrees with my opinion on prologues. I agree with most the points he makes, though I hate the way he calls them ‘rules’ rather than ‘considerations’. Although I guess it makes sense because there can be exceptions to rules but not considerations.

I’m glad #3 confirms my opinion on the usage of the word ‘said’. Someone once told me I used the word ‘said’ too much, and she’d taken some kind of writing course, so she should know. But me and Elmore Leonard know better than writing courses. He also shares my opinion on the word ‘suddenly’, which I always thought was a pet hate unique to me.

I can’t really find anything to disagree with in any of his rules, other than the use of the word ‘never’ where I’m quite sure he means ‘rarely’ or ‘only with good reason’. #7 occured to me a couple of days ago when I had to read this sort of dialogue in the chapter sampler:

“I don’t have a lot to do with ‘im. You probably see more of ‘im than I do. I make sure ‘is door’s bolted and that he gets ‘is victuals, an’ that’s as much as I ‘as to do with it. An’ that suits me just fine.”

Of course, the fact that I agree with Mr. Leonard doesn’t in any way imply that I’d like his stories

Let’s make the writers wear red shirts and the readers wear yellow. Sunday, Feb 18 2007 

Casually browsing through blogs, I saw a ‘writer’ refer to ‘readers’ as if they were some kind of ‘other’. Until then I hadn’t even considered the possibility that some writers don’t think of themselves as readers, as if they belong on another plane.

But it gives me another pet hate. Apart from the arrogance, isn’t the ideal writer also the ideal reader? Or am I talking nonsense? Shouldn’t writers distance themselves from writers rather than readers?

I quite like the cover of “Pirate Space”, too. Sunday, Feb 18 2007 

I’ve been trying to think of book covers I’ve liked, but I don’t think I have ever liked any book covers. There are bad book covers, and then there are acceptable ones, but never any good ones.

I wonder if the necessity of having the book title and author printed on the cover makes it impossible to design a book that actually looks good. Isn’t it impossible for something to be art if it’s functional as well?

Maybe most book covers look too jumbled because they have text and picture, and since the text can’t go, the picture has to. The book covers I do almost like tend to have black and white patterns, or small details. For example.

I also wonder if book covers would look better if they were square. I have no idea what this wondering is based on, though.

Nitpickery. Saturday, Feb 17 2007 

Every month a new ‘Prime Reads Chapter Sampler’ comes out at work with the first four pages of four books, and every time I read it I want to rip it apart and set it on fire. I can’t possibly understand why these books are published at all, let alone honoured as ‘Prime Reads’. Here’s some bits I picked out of the latest one:

…a solid wooden door…
What do they mean by ‘solid’? Do they mean that it’s neither a gas nor a liquid? Do they mean that it’s made of nothing but wood? Do they mean that it doesn’t have gaps in it? Can’t it just be ‘a wooden door’ and all these things would be implied? In any case a moment later they mention that the door does have gaps in it, so all claims of solidity are for naught.

…silhouetted in the blazing wind…
???

They made it to the gates, and stopped the car…
When someone uses the term ‘made it’, this implies to me that some kind of struggle was involved, or a challenge, or something. “I was running from the man with the knife and made it to the bathroom.” However, in this instance they’re using it when all they mean to say is “they reached the gates”. There was no suggestion of them not ‘making it’ to the gates.

…driving them inwards to land with a crash…
In other words, ‘to crash’.

“You could do with a glass of water to drink…”
Of course. Not to wash your hair with.

…sudden, distant roar of the wind.
The roar of the wind has been going on for the last three pages. It is not in any way ‘sudden’. (I understand that if I referred to a ‘sudden’ roar of wind the way this writer did I’d probably mean it as an abstract synonym for ‘urgent’, but the reader isn’t necessarily going to see it that way, which reminds me that I need to be careful with that sort of thing)

Pinkas Synagogue, Prague, Czech Republic
2nd January — 10.04 a.m.

Nice use of the em-dash, but why give the precise minute at which the book starts? Because you’ve read other books that start by giving the precise minute? Haven’t you ever asked yourself if they need to do that?

Instinctively, he glanced up…
In this instance, not instinctive at all. Conscious, deliberate.

…two feet across and a foot wide…
In other words, two feet wide and a foot wide. Simultaneously.

And so on. These things might be perfectly sensible to the author but on the page they look wrong to me. While I was reading them a guy came in to deliver his CV, which of course was exaggerated so that having done a minor favour for his mates sounds like the equivalent ten years worth of work experience (It taught him the value of time-management, for example). This juxtaposition gave me the idea that CV writers are similar to novel writers in that they expect their audience to be stupid and not see through them, and yet to be honest would be to jeopardise the likelihood of success.

I just remembered another pet hate: books with ‘prologue’ where they mean ‘chapter one’. The two are not synonymous.

E***********t. Tuesday, Feb 6 2007 

I sometimes wonder why ‘entertainment’ is such a dirty word. There are a plenty of writers who don’t commit any of my pet hate crimes, but for some reason they all decide not to write anything that’s actually fun to read. Is there a stigma attached to writing ‘fun’? Is writing ‘fun’ going to damage a writer’s mojo?

I’ve been browsing the ‘fiction issue’ of Vice and one thing that strikes me is that all the authors have the same expressionless eyes, but that might just be the style of the caricature artist, which it probably is given the lack of humanity of Vice. The other thing is that none of them seem to have any spark of humour or brightness in their soul. Reading their work is like sitting at an empty bus shelter at night watching a hobo urinate against a wall across the road. In fact this is probably the theme of some of the stories.

On the other hand, I guess when people are writing ‘fun’ they know that they’ve already perpretrated an unforgivable crime against decency, so it doesn’t really matter if they write ‘crap’.

I have a theory that genius is the capacity to reconcile apparently irreconcilable ideas. Not just seeing shades of grey where other people see black and white, which is a sort of compromise, but instead seeing black/white.

I truncheon them. Tuesday, Feb 6 2007 

I dislike ‘as ifs’ when they’re used in a way that isn’t a simile. For example, “Shannon put some escargot in her mouth as if to eat it”. It’s like saying “this tree looks like a tree” — it’s not a simile but an equation with both things on either side of the equation side being exactly the same. A = A. I just read a book where a kid pulled his jacket tighter ‘as if’ to keep the storm out. I’ve read a lot of this sort of thing but didn’t bother remembering examples. They’re all like “Shannon pulled her hand away from the hot stove element ‘as if’ in pain” or whatever. Why is ‘as if’ necessary here? It reduces the immediacy of the event, making it kind of distant.

It’s another case of ‘people writing what other people write’, where people assume it’s okay because other people have written it without considering what they’re actually writing or whether it’s appropriate. Blindfolded people standing in a row with their hands on the shoulders of the people in front of them.

I forgot to give this entry a title. I dub it ‘Sir Entry’. Sunday, Feb 4 2007 

I avoid ‘teen’ fiction or ‘young adult’ fiction as much as possible. It’s in a limbo where it’s too old to be ‘silly and childish’ but too young to risk being ‘complicated and challenging’. Basically it’s airport fiction with 17-year-old protagonists. I guess it matches the self-absorbed brooding one-dimensional stereotype of a teenager.

But four out of the five books I’ve borrowed from the ‘staff reading copies’ at work have been children’s book; the other one was non-fiction. I love the simplicity of them — they’re not dressing themselves up to be taken too seriously. They’re not pretentious and self-important. If I read past the first page of them I usually find them hard to put down again. They’re the bouncy 80s pop of literature — slightly naff, but easy to enjoy.

A woman in my book I’m writing has a moustache for no reason. It’s only referred to twice throughout the entire book. This is the reason I can’t write childrens books — no woman would so casually have a moustache in one of them. It’s far too unusual from the sort of thing that kids are normally subjected to. In fact it never happens in adult books either without it being a big deal.

(Although I have thought of writing some really basic nonsensical short children’s books about transvestites and lesbians and selling photocopies in the middle of Cuba Mall for parents who would go for that sort of thing. I think that would be really fun.)

Anyway, I think my favourite authors had something of the child about them. Just a resistance to conforming to the kind of self-importance that’s expected of adults, or something like that.

The half-arsed becomes the full-arsed. Saturday, Feb 3 2007 

Slowly, slowly writing my novel. At the rate I’ve been working, it’ll take almost five months to complete. And that’s working two or three hours a night.

I’ve never worked so hard on anything, ever. And that’s a scary thought — previous projects I’d been able to dismiss because I “hadn’t worked as hard on them as I possibly could”, which is a neat little defense mechanism. I was never happy with the last big writing project I completed, so what did it matter what anyone else thought of it?

Whereas with this project I’m doing something that I’ve always been terrified of, which is showing my very, very best. And what if that isn’t good enough?