Once More, With Feeling

‘Once More with Feeling’ pic from Den of Geek


“She needs back up.”

Those of you who also worship at the shrines of St Buffy and St Joss will recognise those words with no further ado. You will also note the clever play on words in that last sentence (‘ado’: geddit?). For anyone else: I’m sorry for you but it is not too late.

Life’s never too short for catching up with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I read an academic book  recently, full of textual analysis of Buffy, that stripped all the life out of Joss Whedon’s sharp humour and observation, so brilliantly terse and witty and wise. Those last five words in turn are an homage to E.F. Benson’s Lucia. It’s an homage-y sort of day.

‘Once More, with Feeling’ epitomises for me everything that is awe-inspiring about Joss Whedon. He risks a hugely-successful series to include a musical: one that he has written and directed. It does everything imaginable: moves on the plot, defines and explains characters and their actions, is technically accomplished and manages to be moving and utterly hilarious at the same time. This one episode alone earns him the title of writing genius as far as I’m concerned.

So: to back up. I’m rubbish at it:  the singing, the watching the back of the person who saves the world (A Lot) and, even more importantly, the IT variety. At the bottom of the living room cupboard by the window, there is a laptop that maybe, just maybe, still contains every existing photograph of my honeymoon. I watched the screen catch fire a year or so ago and have never dared to check that what seems like a very dead machine is in fact deceased.

I’d rather hold on to the little hope that it might not be. Those photos aren’t backed up anywhere.

Last night, while watching another genius at work – Graham Linehan’s final IT Crowd on 4OD – the screen of the machine on which I’m writing went black. We switched it off for an hour and you probably heard my sigh of relief as it rebooted.

So today, I’ve been backing up the 70K of my novel that was backed up by Scrivener – but only on this machine where the software’s also downloaded. All my writing eggs in one basket. Now it’s also safely in the interwebs on My Writing Spot; twee name but great service for writers by Google. And breathe. I just have to remember to do so every day.

This week I have mostly discovered that out of every hundred words of my prose, at least 50 will be ‘that’. I ‘m trying to stop my teen protagonist sounding either like a middle-aged academic studying mythology or a foot-stamping toddler. I’m getting better at varying sentence beginnings so they don’t all start ‘I’ (get lost, Freud) and not every single sentence still has someone frowning, sighing, turning or gasping.

Whedon-don is unattainable, I know. But the writing’s getting better and it’s still great fun.




Kill the Talking Elk

Leap_the_Elk  _and_Princess_Tuvstar_ John_Bauer
Leap the Elk and Princess Tuvstar, John Bauer

Not the rubbish sequel to Drop the Dead Donkey: writing advice from my daughter.

It hasn’t been quite the productive week for writing I planned, mainly because of two events. The first is lovely but has kept me busy: I’m volunteering to help organise this year’s Writeidea Festival, London’s only free literature festival. I’ll post about that as soon as the website is live. Do please follow @writeidea to find out more in the meantime.

The second wasn’t quite so much fun. I ran into a nasty git and was assaulted. I’ll post about that too after he’s been sentenced early next month. It’s preoccupied my thoughts to an extent that has taken me by surprise, hardened cynic that I am.

So: writing. It’s now 1120 on Friday morning and I have written about four words since I got up at 0700. I’ve edited the first 5K words again and am about to rewrite a first turning point, where the action steps up a gear and forces a change for the main character. Her name has also changed over the past week.

She was nicknamed Moo and this has altered to Mu. Because, reasons. It might not sound much but it feels like one of the family wandered home and announced they wanted to be known as something different.

Anyway, back to elk. I have rather a thing about elk. I have been to Sweden perhaps 20 times now and, apart from at Skansen, the wonderful open air museum in Stockholm, I have never seen an elk. This is a constant source of amusement to my Swedish family, who take a sadistic delight in pointing out the abundance of elk in my absence.

‘Oh, look over there! That’s where we saw the mama elk and her twin babies, yesterday before you arrived/the day after you left.’ I’ve seen elk-hunting platforms on all over Småland, where most of my siblings live, and evidently ex-brother-in-law Adolf (I bet no-one else has one of those round here) makes a comfortable living from organising such hunting.

They are beautiful creatures. Although I know they kill a number of people each year by running into cars, I love seeing the elk warning signs on the road and long to meet one face to face in the wild.

So, when I wanted some form of magical animal in my Young Adult fantasy novel, part of which is set in Swedish forests, elk seemed obvious. A talking elk might not be in the league of Pantalaimon, Lyra’s daemon by Phillip Pullman in His Dark Materials – the greatest animal sidekick in literature – but he was the best I could do.

Sadly, Amelia loathes him. She also dislikes my heroine but rather fancies one of the boys in the story. I’m taking any views to mean the characters have some three-dimensionality or credibility so am not too worried about them.

I’ve learning a lot about my writing. I begin loads of sentences with pronouns (see?) and repeat phrases constantly. Description comes hard to me and I’m naturally concise, probably as a result of years of news- rather than feature-based journalism and pr.

And I think that the elk stays. For the moment.

The pic is by John Bauer, illustrator of Swedish folk stories, taken from bauer.artpassions.net


lyra's_bench_oxford_botanic_gardenBlog writing has taken a back seat to hospital visits over the last two weeks. We’ve also undergone a settling Sixth Former into new school procedure that has been lengthy and worrying. All done now.

I’ve been keeping up with scraps of writing and thinking about my novel from time to time. Now I’ve decided it’s time to cut the prevaricating and procrastinating.

It’s Reservoir Dogs time: let’s go to work. Of course, that ended really well for them. Maybe I need a new slogan. #amwriting is always a good thing to write on Twitter. Though Twitter itself is one of many diversions that need to be set aside for a while, I think.

I’ve written 73,703 words, which the wonderful writing tool Scrivener tells me is 211 paperback pages. Much of that was done during last November’s National Novel Writing Month. I scrapped about half of the 50K I wrote then when I picked it up again in the spring. I suspect the other half needs to be started from scratch again too.

But rather than confront that, to date I’ve rewritten a couple of scenes until all the life has gone out of them. A few others are just lines of conversation, in an attempt to try something new and fill in the gaps later. I should know by now that later doesn’t happen.

So: public commitment time. I have six months left of paid employment. I’ve written the first draft of a novel for young adults. The second draft will be finished by the end of October.

There’ll be fortnightly progress reports here. That started off as ‘weekly’ but I have no doubt that various daughter/cats/rants will intervene.

The photo is inspiration, from a literary pilgrimage to Oxford Botanic Garden. I’m sure you know what that means …

All offers of kicking me off Twitter, beta reading or coffee-making will be welcome.