Thought, experience and memory from a brain in a jar, one that sometimes has control over a thirty-two-year-old Londonite.

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Location: Herne Hill, London, United Kingdom

30 October, 2007

NaNo Draws Smellable Near

Well it's nearly here, and I wish it was already. I've been terribly naughty and scribbled down a few sketchy notes for Pieces, and have started to seek out the voice for the main character (it's always my voice, so I don't know why I'm bothering, really).

Last Saturday saw the London NaNoWriMo Kick-Off Meeting, which was a frightfully well-attended bacchanalia of ale, soft toys and fizzing creativity. I had forgotten how great it was to know that so many folk try for it every year. Even though, when one gets down to it, there isn't always a great deal of communication between participants, even at the write-ins, the fact that there are a bunch of crazies willing to put themselves through hell alongside you is wonderfully encouraging.

Another bit of prep what I have done is to dust off the Excel wordcount progress doohicky that I drew up last year. I've made it more flexible than 2007's strict 1,667 words a day model, and will be looking at adapting the daily targets to my social calendar as we go along. Get it here!

You can key in different wordcounts for each day, and the dates are automatically filled in following the first entry. You get a neat little spike on the graph showing you what today is. Always handy!

I shall hopefully be posting at the end of the first.


22 October, 2007

The Mouse Situation

A quick update.

On Sunday, as we were sitting down and enjoying some bad telly, we heard one of the traps go. We have two plastic "humane" traps in the bed-sitting room. We had understood that by humane it meant that the traps in question killed quickly, rather than mame the wee beasties. However it became quickly apparent that the ensnared vermin was very much alive, as it's still-moving (oxymoron?) tail waved at me from the jaws of the device. As it transpires, the traps were even more humane than we had gathered, so off I trotted to the far entrance of a nearby park and released the critter, which made a dart for the long grass where it could no doubt nurse its injured pride.

I have just returned from a very very very hard day's work, dealing with ads that may or may not be for a dangerous brain-washing cult and a big old tonne of archiving to discover that two of the three inhumane traps, of the Warner Brothers BFO metal bar, mouse guts and poo everywhere variety, have been stripped of their seemingly irresistible bait of peanut butter and yummy chocolate spread, and remain very much unsprung. Pictures to follow.

Actually, following the successful relocation (one assumes) of one of the mice on Sunday, I've rather gone off the idea of killing them, and so the failure of the Little Nipper traps (yeah, nipped to fucking death!) has rather quickened my resolve to replace them with big blue perspex live capture varieties. I shall take this up with him indoors who, I suspect, will be very much of the same opinion. Just so long as I do the releasing.

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WTF? No, actually WTF? Actually WTF? Actually WTF? Actually!

I just sent myself an email to my work account from my hotmail account and this is what came through:

"You can't make an omelette
without breaking stride."

Do you know a place like the back of your hand? Share local knowledge with

Now I don't mind, given that hotmail is a free service and all, receiving adverts when I log on to use it. There's a quid pro quo going on which seems perfectly fair. However, to append spam to my outgoing emails seems a step too far. What agreement lies between the recipients of my emails and MicroSoft? Hm? I'm not wrong, am I? This is a deal breaker.

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21 October, 2007

Damn You Technology!

Every so often I call to mind some device or other that I would like to have. I call it to mind not from having seen it in a shop, or advertised in a magazine, but the assumption that something at such and such a price, with such and such a function ought to be feasible in this capitalism paradise in which we live.

So, having become fed up of the stupid, sound-leaking earbud headphones that came bundled with the horrifically badly designed Samsung E900, I sought out a teensy box with an audiojack on one side and a mobile phone cable on the other. Simple, thought I! Plug the box into the phone and then any old pair of headphones (such as the nice white RAB ones I got from work) and bob is very much your mother's brother. So off I trot to my grand-father's chest and bought me a box of the very very best. No of course not, because a device of such simplicity, that I would happily spend 10-15 pounds on does not exist. What does exist is the biggest pair of headphones in the world at the price of £199 that uses bluetooth. If I'm going to spend two hundred quid on a pair of headphones, I'd be pretty insistent on them being tethered to something, making their cablelessness very much a two-edged sword.

And now, with the calendar ticking away to the next NaNoWriMo I fancy that there must exist something in the £20 range that allows one to compose something akin to a txt file with a minimum of fuss - either with a stylus and touchscreen or a dinky qwerty keyboard that I could wrap my big sausagey fingers around - and then let me slot into a USB to transfer them across. This would allow me to write on the hoof without worrying about all the typing that might ensue. More to the point, when one is supposed to be writing and not editing, it is very difficult to take written work and type it up. Well, having beavered away at Kelkoo, Amazon, Play, FireBox et al, it would appear, again, that no such device exists. The Palm Zire comes close, but it is £30 which seems a lot to pay for what you're getting.

I suspect I shall have to try using dead trees and squid blood in its stead.

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20 October, 2007

Precocious Advice for NaNoWriMo

I thought I would go through what I felt I learnt last year, as much for my benefit as anyone else's.

1. Plan

Planning is a real necessity if you want something other than "just" 50,000 words by November 30th, but be careful. If we imagine a line, and at one end of the line is Slaughterhouse Five, and at the other end is, say "A man's concept of time is shattered and he revisits all his experiences in a jumble, from the bombing of Dresden to being abducted by aliens and kept in a zoo" at the other end, then that line becomes a kind of spectrum of planning from "idea" all the way through to "novel" (which is a kind of absolute plan, if you like) . The plan that you want at this stage is probably about a tenth of the way along from the idea. You want to keep it loose, little more than a structure with maybe some details for the opening and the finish. You will probably have some major plot points already, but for the plan you just need to know when in the 50k they happen.

2. Don't chain yourself to your plan

This seems like a contradiction to point 1 but it reallys isn't. Once you get your characters going you may find that you can't quite maneuvre them into position as easily as you'd like. It's at moments like these that you have to abandon aspects of the plan, or revise it. Sometimes you will find you have to set up the environment in which a character exists in order to get the response you need. All of this is much easier if you don't invest too heavily in the planning stage - that's why you want to keep the plan nearer the "idea" end of the spectrum. Thos plot points I mentioned earlier are best thought of not in terms of things happening, but as a set of effects that you wish to befall either your characters or your plot - keep the details loose, and think chiefly of what you need out of the plot point to get you to your big finalé.

3. Enjoy your characters

Seems obvious but you're going to be spending a good deal of time with these people, and you're counting on other people spending a good deal of time with them too, so even the bad guys have got to be the sort of bad guys it might be fun to hang out with.

4. Vignette Vignette Vignette

A down and dirty trick I pulled a couple of times in Bad Aji was to utilise cut scenes, picking up fairly minor characters and giving them a few hundred words or so on their own. This was mainly for cut-aways so I could hit the ground running on subsequent scenes, so very useful not just for the word count but for pace. I also tried to make sure that the vignettes bring something to the table - try and tell more of the central story through them.

5. Leave Work For Tomorrow

Not to be confused with procrastination, it is really really benefitial if you have something you can start tomorrow, which invariably means not finishing up a scene the night before, or it can just mean knowing what's coming next.

6. If you're bored, make a leap

I'm loathe to raise any qualitative points, because quality is something that happens in December, but some, like "enjoy the characters," have as much to do with making your writing journey pleasurable as with the quality of your first draft. From a critical point of view I would say that if you are bored writing it, people will be bored reading it, and as this is NaNoWriMo, this is where you should feel free to jazz things up a little. At a lull in Bad Aji I decided to strip a couple of the main characters, pretty much just because I could (though it helped tie the two of them together) (not literally). Sudden events, twists or turns are a great way of catching your second or third wind and can often take your plotting into whole new territories that you never knew existed. Which brings us to...

7. Develop themes along the way

Bad Aji started out with the idea that someone who believed themselves to be a temp going from job to job was actually working the same job over and over again, but had their memory tinkered with every couple of months. The title and the key aspect of the novel, the influence that dead characters have over the living, all arose along the way. If you can discover themes in your writing and emphasise them as you go along, it will give you further sources of inspiration, and better tools with which to solve problems and make decisions about your writing.

8. Grab everything you can from life even if it is nailed down

All writing is autobiographical, which is not to say that C S Lewis ever went to Narnia, but that we can only write about what we know about (which sometimes means finding out about what we want to write about). Whereas lifting characters and events wholesale from real life carries with it dangers (but smoke 'em if you got 'em), do not be afraid of taking the beefsteak of reality, mincing it up, and coming up with some tasty burgers. Although time is short try to embrace the experiences and events that have taken place in your life recently or are scheduled for November. Bad Aji's showdown at the Tate Modern was there because I'd visited the gallery and was taken with the slides that were installed at the time. Stoole's trip to Marlow was more or less my own (my school, thankfully, had existed after all).

9. The epilogue - Productive cheating

I realised with a few days to go that I was going to run out of story before I hit 50,000, which would have been a better realisation to have had on the tenth, say, than with the finishing line in sight. I had two choices, which was to fill before I got to the showdown (and ruin the chase that had been set up) or to cheat and come up with an epilogue. I chose the latter, which led to one of my favourite sections from Bad Aji, and allowed me to give my central character some kind of resolution after his tragic demise. It can be useful to pull characters temporarily out of the narrative and give them some headspace for them to make the big decisions.

10. Don't be led by round numbers

Or any kind of structure or order that doesn't spring organically from what you are writing. I've seen people ask things like "how many chapters should I write" but if you're going to write 50,000 words, then the number of chapters oughtn't be a factor. You've got your story, let that be your guide.

11. Narrative can be vertical as well as horizontal

If you're running out of story, don't just think in terms of lengthening the plot; try bunging in a subplot or two. It sounds really obvious but if you send some characters off to do some business, either aiding the central narrative or as an aside, then you get more words out of it with little replotting. And with business happening away from the main action, you'll have more cutting points to choose from which ought to help you get round the stuff you don't want or need to write about.


18 October, 2007

Signs & Portents

I'm not overly superstitious. I believe coincidences are just coincidences; but I also believe that much of our intelligence is based around trying to discover or otherwise work out correlations between the various chaotic events that surround us. To that end, I can explain away coincidence quite merrily with probability, yet still enjoy the visceral thrill of noticing them when they crop up.

So I was thrilled when I got my fairly unexpected stickies through from NaNoWriMo in exchange for services rendered. This year's novel will focus on a central character doing a jigsaw puzzle (for 50,000 words! Crazy!) and lo did the thank you postcard feature a design involving a jigsaw puzzle piece! This in the same week that an old story of mine caught up with me. The good lady husband and I have a mouse-shaped visitor and have laid down traps, which is at slight odds with my hilarious "don't kill anything, but continue to condone the killing of animals by buying rather large quantities of dead flesh once a week, which is fine really because at the end of the day the planet wouldn't be able to support a vegetarian humanity so really what should concern us is the manner in which the animals are bred, raised and, ultimately dispatched, so take that evangelical vegetarian; your moral highground is a luxury my sausage guzzling pays for" position.


That's all I have, really.


12 October, 2007

Adjusting My Jacket Tails

I'm still not thinking of elephants.

I've waved NaNoWriMo about a bit amongst friends and forum buddies, and managed to convince a few to have a stab at it, which will help me immensely with my own work.

Also, the plot of the novel is beginning to emerge out of the mists of my unthink. I'm torn between writing in the first or third person. The story involves someone sitting in small apartment doing a jigsaw puzzle, while ruminating about his distant past, a less distant Terrible Thing, recent developments, his world view, and his immediate situation. Because of the focus on a single character, I feel a first person narrator would be more appropriate, but I don't want the character to be an open book. Also I need to write 50,000 words in a month, and I feel a third person narrator would allow for the inclusion of things that I wouldn't be able to bother with in the first person. But then there's a lot of reminiscence that I don't want to broach by a spray of harp strings and the picture going all misty. I did have the idea of fudging it and have the third person narrator be revealed as the central character talking about himself in the first person which would be a great deal of fun, but might be too distracting considering what the December dissection will be about and what little I have of a plot doesn't quite go with it somehow. If I were to use the device, it would have to be in a story where the revelation actually meant something. I think the first person narrator is getting the upperhand...

As to the plot, it seems to be evolving into a confrontation of guilt, with lots of ambiguity thrown in, and malevolent darkness burning the edges of the paper. One of the other things I want to do, which I did to some extent last year, is weave in the current events of November (in various scales) into the story. The realtime of the novel takes place at the end of November, with immediate reminiscences taking place throughout the month, and leading up to the end. There's a fair amount of unreality that's likely to occur, though, so the November events might fall by the wayside. What has also been interesting is the way in which this new rendering of Pieces is comparing to what I had of the original. I'm totally starting from scratch in terms of set-up and story-line, but there are distinct thematic links which I'm sure can only be a good thing.

Oh, and I have my ending, but I'm not sure what it means or how I'll get there. Should be fun finding out though.

Also, I have just this second decided to write a couple of 1,667 word stories, just to remind myself of what I'm letting myself in for. Nothing too strenuous, though - just a couple of stretches at the starting line.

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09 October, 2007

The Railton Turnaround

Prompted by a post over at Fallen Angel and while I have some free time during my slow recovery from a zombified state, I would like to let you in on an anthropological wonder that I have discovered and have dubbed the Railton Turnaround after the road on which I observe it.

The Railton Turnaround is one of the many many pedestrial faux pas that one encounters on a regular basis, and can be added to such delights as the escalator bearing loss (whereby the ped alights from the moving staircase but fails to move away from the immediate area) the short-sighted eleventh hour navigator (who stops right in front of the underground station lists for about a minute before then moving toward the platform they need) and the Indiana Jones (those who board an underground train by getting the absolute minimum distance inside the carriage, thus blocking the entrance for the two-hundred or so commuters directly behind them). The Railton turnaround is peculiar inasmuch as it is perhaps the most irritating pattern of behaviour to take place that is not directly attached to public transport. I can think only of the Psychic Meander (whereby a slow walker will meander into the path of an overtaking walkeri) as matching it for annoyance.

1) The first phase of the Railton turnaround involves adopting a stationery position. This can either be a brief cessation in walking or alternatively begin from a position that the ped has occupied for some time.

2) The ped then stares into the middle distance in one direction only. They may feel this phase benefits from raising themselves to their full height, possibly even tilting their head back to maximise the eye-level. This added fluorish is entirely optional, however the scoping out of a single direction is paramount.

3) By the third phase the ped is now fully comitted to making the turnaround, and must make the complex move that is at the heart of the action. The ped must, while still staring into the middle distance, take one step backwards, transfer their weight onto this leading foot, then in one move turn in the opposite direction to that in which they have been staring and, to complete the gesture, push off from the leading foot as if to adopt a brisk walking pace.

If the Railton Turnaround has been successfully employed then there will have been no warning to oncoming pedestrians that the move was about to take place and the "turner" will have collided, hopefully with some force, with someone in the process of walking past them. Seasoned turners will be well used to picking out the most viable spots along a pavement in which to make the maneuvre. This correspondent recommends areas heavily populated with unlicensed street furniture, or starting points parallel with streetlamps or bollards. Psychic meanderers are particularly adept at the maneuver and a team local to South London is already campaigning for it to be considered a host discipline in the 2012 Olympics.

i I should point out that the only time James Randi has had to give away his million dollars to someone capable of proving paranormal abilities it was to just such a meanderer, a rather flamboyant homosexual by the name of Red "Hots" Fletcher. "An extraordinary claim," Randi commented at the time, "calls for an extraordinary poof."

08 October, 2007

Not Thinking Of Elephants

NaNoWriMo is approaching and perhaps against my better judgement I am deciding to give it another go. I hadn't intended to, but having begun the Night Store project I feel that setting out 50,000 words at the hurry up might enable me to get some meat for the novel proper. Night Store will be constrained as anything, but the NaNoWriMo will be brash and jazzy. The trouble is, I'm intent on keepting true to the NaNoWriMo ideal of not thinking about what I shall write before the first of November. Last year I was blessed in only finding out about it at the start of the month anyway; this year I am caught. It is testament to my laziness that I can do quite a substantial amount of work on ideas in my head without committing anything to paper - running through scenes, plotting and whatnot. The facility is troubling in that I find I can't not think about what I intend to do. I shall try and be strong.

As a further encouragement for the NaNoWriMo it will be my intention to use it to complete Pieces, or at the very least to replace Pieces with another semi-random ordered story. Too much of Hamilton's Brain is given over to the abandoned and half finished, so it will be nice to get to the end of November with the bulk of a text that I can then polish up into something shiny for the homepage.

I have bullied Daniel into joining me for the adventure, and intend taking the first (and probably the thirtieth) off for a big old typing jamboree. 2006 saw me attempting the actually quite excruciating 1,667 words a day approach. This year I shall go for the initial blitz, regroup, recalculate and attack method, which could be a lot more fun.

More later.

01 October, 2007

Four and a half to go...

Four and a half to go...
Originally uploaded by Simon Scott
Makin' skulls....