Mea Culpa. Wednesday, Apr 8 2009 

Okay, so I hadn’t been paying attention. Apparently the demonstration wasn’t to prove that Bain Senior couldn’t reach the trigger… it was to prove that he could, but only with some difficulty. Like, yeah… he couldn’t have done it because it would have been slightly inconvenient for him to bother.

I was reading about this in the paper today. Apparently Bain Senior was also wearing a hat and hadn’t been to the bathroom. In other words, nothing was said that proves anything one way or the other. Or in fact says anything about anything.

I don’t see how anyone could possibly have strong feelings one way or the other about this case. Nothing seems to prove anything either way. I guess if it were a clear-cut case, it would be too boring for the papers to put on their front pages.

Le sigh. Monday, Jun 23 2008 

Four months ago I set myself a deadline that I’d have another draft written by the end of june. It’s now about one week until the end of june and I have approximately 600 words to show for it. Hmm…

The only progress I’ve made is of the mental persuasion. I’ll start writing something, then I’ll stop writing after 300 words because of some gut feeling that what I’m writing is wrong. Then I’ll examine that gut feeling and come to a conclusion about what I should actually be writing instead.

I like to think I’m slowly improving my writing this way, but unfortunately this entire process takes about three months.

The only thing I’ve written that I haven’t deleted was something I was inspired to write while I was half asleep. And probably the only reason I haven’t had a bad gut feeling about it is that I have no idea what it’s supposed to mean.

I should probably just follow my guts.

The last time I updated the software on my computer they seem to have amended Quicktime so that when I watch videos downloaded from YouTube, I no longer have sound. Grr…

Somewhat encouraging. Thursday, Nov 15 2007 

“Dear David

Thanks for your submission to Friday Pitch.

Though your writing style is very strong, I wasn’t quite captivated enough by the material you sent to proceed any further.”

I assumed this was going to be one of those instances where my submission vanished into some kind of void. I certainly wasn’t expecting feedback. My writing style is very strong? I like that. I’m happy with that. It’s much better than the ‘void’ option. In fact, I’m going to let the use of the word ‘very’ go to my head.

I was just debating whether or not to bother with a second novel or if I should start my internet serial thing. At least the internet serial would rely on word-of-mouth, so if I worked hard enough I’d be able to get people’s attention that way… novels on the internet (if I chose to just throw it out there in that form) never have the same word-of-mouth thing, which is why I rely on a publisher. But no one earns a living from an internet serial. But novels have a much smaller chance of at least getting noticed. What to do, what to do?

Write another novel with a more ‘captivating’ opening? I’ll get right on it, Captain Publisher. And I can still send Pirate Space to the 12-week-wait English publisher, to see if they have lower expectations for how ‘captivating’ a first chapter should be. Anyway, they read the whole thing, so maybe they’ll have forgotten about the opening by the end.

Robots in Disguise. Monday, Nov 5 2007 

Talking about Robots in Disguise with a bunch of people on the internet, someone made this comment:

“I quite like it if it’s rather amateurish and a mess. Just so long as it’s a fun mess.”

It made me realise that the risk I’m taking is that there enough people with this attitude in the world to make my literary career viable. The comment I made was, “People like this are flying through life where the rest of us can barely lift one foot off the ground at the time because we’re too busy worrying about what people will think if we name our band after the Transformers tagline.”

(Apparently the Transformers tagline-name is one of the main reasons people are initially put off by the band. To me this means the band is cleverly pruning the weeds from their audience. Or weeding the prunes. Too shallow to look past the band name? Piss of, mate.)

I think I’ve been worrying too much about the mistakes I made in Pirate Space. I started writing another book on Saturday, Untitled Folder, just wrote a brief sketch of what I think the first chapter might be, “Untitled Document 1”. In my mind it comes across as very… plaid. I mean staid. By killing anything that I might do wrong, I’m also utterly incinerating any of the fun stuff that I think I do right. Like accidentally writing ‘plaid’ instead of ‘staid’ there, but not deleting the mistake. In Pirate Space I deliberately left some mistakes like that in because I thought it made up the character. That’s the sort of thing I shouldn’t prevent myself from doing in the next book.

I’m going to try rewriting that first chapter, but ditch the plot and run with the motif. Presumably another plot will come to the surface.

Pratchett down one place, Rankin up. Sunday, Oct 28 2007 

I’ve been reading Terry Pratchett’s latest book, mostly because I can’t read a series of books without finishing it and unfortunately Terry Pratchett never stops. There are a lot of things I like about the Discworld novels, but there’s also this slightly arrogant, patronising undercurrent that puts me off. I just get the impression that Pratchett uses his books to look down on the world.

Take the qualities of eccentricity and irrationality, for example. Douglas Adams and Robert Rankin embrace those qualities and write from the perspective of people who are, just like their characers, flawed. David Tennant as Doctor Who spends a lot of his time infatuated with human foibles. He doesn’t look down on them, he admires them.

Terry Pratchett, on the other hand, seems to write from the perspective of someone who is entirely flawless himself, who sits smugly in a throne overlooking the absurdity of mankind, and who from this position is qualified to cast judgements. I’ve always found it hard to explain this impression I get, mostly because I think a lot of people can read exactly what I read and not see the same thing. It’s in the way the major characters are always superior to the minor characters who quite often seem to be entirely unaware of their faults.

On page 144 of Making Money, as a prime example, Moist doesn’t ‘understand’ the behaviour of the masses. They attend an event, and then want to read about it in the paper… why do they need to read about it in the paper if they were there? Moist is apparently so far above normal human mentality that he can no longer comprehend it. Am I the only one who sees the arrogance of the writer in this sort of ‘blindness’ of the protagonist? Especially since the ability to ‘not understand’ human behaviour always seems like an annoying affectation. I don’t see the point in watching sport, but if I pretended not to ‘understand’ the sport-watching mentality then I’d be fatally disingenuous.

I don’t know I’m the only one who sees this, though. Either way, I’ve promoted Robert Rankin to the status of my favourite living writer. He can write some dire unreadable crap and I haven’t dared to read any of his latest books, but I’m very fond of some of the older ones. Terry Pratchett never writes unreadable crap, but I can’t stand the patronising, superior attitude that comes across. ‘Unreliable quality of writing’ wins.

Apparently some writers try avoiding the comma altogether. Saturday, Jul 14 2007 

At work they sometimes play this song that has an extremely deliberate and ponderous nature to it – I could easily imagine a bunch of Westies swaying back and forth while listening to it, but no one could ever actually dance to it. It’s frustrating to listen to because the rhythm seems to interfere with my flow of thinking.

I feel the same way about commas. I first noticed how annoying they can be when a couple of extremely long books by the same writer featured this rhythm in a high proportion of the sentences. It would have a first half broken by a comma, and then there would be the second half. Then it would say something else, and then it would say something else. Then it would say something else, but then it would say something else.

It creates the same kind of ponderous rhythm that the Westie song has and it almost made the books too unbearable for me to read. Sentences are very versatile thing; they can dance this way – and skip back again, all beautifully choreographed. There is not need, for ponderous commas. In this same, repetitive format. It dulls the mind, and kills the music of reading. Unless they’re trying, to make you fall asleep. Break it up please, with semi-colons. Or hypens, or sentences with no comma at all. You don’t blink every two seconds, so why use a comma that often?

The hyperactivity results in a deficit of attention. Wednesday, Jun 13 2007 

By accident I found a couple of light-hearted comedies at work among the heavy-hearted tragic contemporary novels and the light-minded airport thrillers and romantic fictions.

The universal problem with these light-hearted comedies is that they read as if the writer was in a hurry to get all their information down and finish writing. This is the same problem I find with internet fiction — they’re so fixated on the destination that they forget that the journey is part of the experience as well. It comes across as very ADHD.

Why does comedy get so little respect that even people who are writing it can’t be bothered to take it seriously? Not every line has to be a joke. People who are reading comedy won’t stop reading if there are a few descriptive phrases here and give the fictional universe some substance. And the descriptive phrases don’t have to be comedic. They can be poetic. It gives the comedy something to work against.

I think they’re just taking the easy path, which is a tragic thing about writers. Writers need to go off the beaten path, take risks and do more work than they need to. Oscar Wilde may have said “life is too important to be taken seriously”, but part of that quotation is still “life is too important”.

It’s always so difficult to write the most basic things, apparently. Sunday, May 27 2007 

Of the qualities that writers often seems to be lacking, the most common and most surprising is alway basic reading comprehension. I understand why a simple sentence like “Her daughters ignored Stephanie” might seem to require creative imbellishment, but a significant proportion of writers, in their imbellishing, manage to alter the actual meaning of what they’re trying to say without apparently noticing it or bothering to correct it.

The sentence “Her daughters ignored Stephanie”, appeared in a book I was reading as “Her daughters tried their best to ignore Stephanie”. What’s wrong with this? Well, everything. In isolation like this, it looks like Stephanie has some quality that makes her hard to ignore. In the book, she doesn’t. So that’s wrong. It also implies that the daughters weren’t quite succeeding — if I wrote “I tried my best to plug the leaking tap with tissue paper”, it goes without saying that I didn’t succeed completely, and some of the leak managed to get through. So the daughters are trying and failing to ignore Stephanie, which is wrong, because there is no reason they couldn’t just ignore Stephanie entirely. The daughters aren’t trying their best to ignore Stephanie, they’re just doing it.

Writer of book, you have failed as a writer of book. You don’t actually have a bloody clue what you’re writing. Good day.

The cause of effect. Wednesday, May 16 2007 

I have failed to replace my LiveJournal with this WordPress. (Not sure about the capitalisation there). But since the comments here are supposed to be timeless rather than topical, and more universally relevant than fleetingly amusing, I don’t feel the pressure to make comments all of the time — only when I think of them.

I’m often forced to listening to the call waiting music on the telephones at work. The best phrase I can use to describe it is ‘ambient tinkling’, and it’s so utterly innocuous that it drives me up the wall. Jack Johnson has the same effect — his music is so mellow and harmless that no one could possible take offense to it, and yet, when it’s played at work, people are falling over each other to turn the music off.

It’s a strange paradox that the most utterly bland and innocuous things become the most incredibly offensive. I think most of the literature industry works on the principle of ‘bland and innocuous’, which is one of the reasons I can hardly ever read past the first page of a book randomly picked off the shelves. They seem like they’re trying to appeal to everyone, rather than risking alienating some people in order to appeal more strongly to others. The books that do take that risk end up being the most popular, but all that people can then see is a book that’s universally appealing. Even though some people hate the apparently universally popular Harry Potter, they’re disregarded as aberrations rather than acknowledged as collateral the people that the books risked annoying.

People try to emulate the success of other writers, but they try to emulate the effect rather than the cause — the effect is popularity, the cause is an infinitely subtle quality that’s impossible to identify or document, and is obscured by the effect of popularity.

This is probably why a lot of artists are on drugs. Wednesday, Apr 18 2007 

At the moment I’m reading Eats, Shoots & Leaves, which is one of those books that won’t appeal to many people, but will appeal to those people more than generic wide-appeal books will ever do. Which is incidentally what I want to achieve with my novel.

Reading the book gives me some ideas for minor little gags to put in my book. Chapter eight features a scene in a bookstore, and the idea occured to me of calling it “Book’s” or something similar, which would seem gramatically incorrect until the store owner turns out to be Mrs. Book. (I would have worked on it to make it somehow less naff)

The problem with these “little touches inspired by something outside of the story” is that, to me, they thoroughly interfere with the flow of the book. It’s as subtle as a brick in a quilt — everything is consistent and comfortable within the world until, oh wait, there’s this big lump that doesn’t really quite belong. I think Terry Pratchett is guilty of this a lot, and he is, sadly, probably my favourite living author.

The important thing, for me at least, is to refrain from indulging in this, hard though it may be. Part of me may be saying “but it’s a nice little touch that’ll appeal to X demographic”, but I have to counter this with “but it’s a touch that could apply to any book at any time and not specifically this one, and you only want to put it in to feel clever — these things will be obvious to the (intelligent and astute) reader, and they’ll think less of you for it.”

I do respect the intelligence of my readers. Unlike, for example, my favourite living author, but I won’t go into that.

What I find most irritating, and here I’m thinking of examples from different author, is when the author knows they shouldn’t include the little gag or whatever, and tries to justify it by pointing out how reluctant they are to include it. Obviously they have the same idea as I do about incongrous cleverness, but they really need more self-control — including by way of apology what shouldn’t be included is disingenuous and annoying.

Oddly, if an idea bubbles out of my subconscious I’m much more inclined to work it into the story somehow. For one thing I don’t feel smug and clever because I don’t really know what I’m talking about. The other thing is that ideas from my subconscious always seem more ‘artistically correct’ — things I could never consciously have thought of always do. I’ve already called the bookstore “BoysInBerries” — the name came out of nowhere and doesn’t have anything to do with books, but it’s an irreverent, slightly homoerotic non-sequitur and that’s good enough for me.

(Incidentally, here’s an example of why Pratchett irritates me: in one of his books, someone substitutes the word ‘ambience’ with the malapropism ‘ambulance’. Which is amusing, except that Pratchett italicised the word ‘ambulance‘. I’m not sure whether he was determined to draw attention to the joke, or wanted to assure the reader that he himself wasn’t getting the words mixed up, but there’s nothing worse than a gag that says: “LOOK AT ME, I’M A GAG!”)

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