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Stuart Lennon

Writing about stuff

Merry Christmas

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Merry Christmas!

Now is the time for bloggers to write a self-indulgent post about the meaning of Christmas or about how the true meaning has been lost, buried in marketing.

I’ll try to avoid that.

My Christmas is already underway. I have just eaten an illicit prawn baguette – illicit in that the prawns are programmed to be part of this evening’s starter. Fear not, there are sufficient prawns to feed a medium sized army.

The overworked and underpaid Mrs L is at Marks and Spencer, doubtless attempting to prevent the good people of Andover killing each other over the last packet of pigs in blankets “wrapped in apple and chestnut smoked bacon.” I’ll pick her up at the end of the shift and we will swing by to see my Mum, who now lives close by.

Then the beautiful Margaret will start the mammoth task of keeping me fed, starting with a spectacular fish dinner tonight. Tomorrow, Mum will come over, sprouts will be eaten and the Queen will be listened to.

Christmas for us will be filled with great food, British and Italian, plenty of dog walks, laughter and fun. We may even risk a glass of wine or two.

Is that the true meaning of Christmas?

No idea. But I like it.

Whatever you are doing – have a great Christmas.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Editing

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That is the Danube flowing between Buda and Pest.

I have two first drafts. Catchily titled “Sean 1” and “Sean 2”. The first was completed in a burst of writing in October. The second is my NaNoWriMo novel; blitzed out entirely in November.

I suspect that they are both quite crap. I am reassured that this is almost invariably the case and that the real work comes, not in producing a first draft, but in editing and rewriting until that draft becomes a polished bit of writing.

I have had a couple of weeks off and Sean 1 was done and dusted a month and a half ago. I have some distance. I feel ready to think about some editing.

I have been taking a course in editing¬†with the fantastic Anne Rainbow. Well worth looking at her site for information on Scrivener (excellent software to write on) and Red Pen Training (Anne’s approach to editing).

The first question that I need to address is:

“Do I have two first drafts or, two halves of one first draft?”

I had intended to pose this question here in the blog, on twitter tonight at #writingchat, and by email to Anne. However, in looking out the photo above and writing this post, I arrived at the answer all on my own.

Buda and Pest were born as separate cities. As more and more bridges were built across the Danube, they became interdependent, until at last they came to be known as Budapest. So it is with Sean 1 and 2.

Right now, I have a big chunky first draft that needs some pruning.

Time to get to work.

Guns

Gun-Control-Debate-Poster2

Gun control, a debate. There’s a subject that elicits sensible reasoned commentary from around the world.

As I have finished the first draft of my book, I am in the ‘cooling off’ period, where I leave the manuscript in a drawer until I can view it with some perspective.

So, from writing every day, whether I wanted to or not, I have gone to not writing at all.

I found this quite difficult, so I have started a journal and made a promise to myself to update the blog a little more.

It is with some trepidation that I enter into the arena of debating gun control. My first sentence is intended to be ironic. Rarely have I seen so much vitriol thrown about as I regularly see when there has been a mass shooting in the USA. Each side is passionately, irrevocably convinced that the moral high ground is theirs and that anyone holding the opposite view should be…well, shot.

Let me first nail my colours to the mast.

To my own very great surprise, I love the United States of America. Before visiting it, I adopted a peculiarly British position of regarding the USA as a bit of an errant child. A little too full of vim and vigour, but essentially too crass and stupid to do any real harm. Then I went there. Not everywhere, but Minnesota, Denver, Dallas, and California. I went mostly for business, but did manage to squeeze in a little golf too.

What a revelation! I found the people to be kind, generous and welcoming. I was intoxicated by the positive energy that seemed to course through the cities and towns. I loved it.

I own a gun. A shotgun. A Beretta Sportster, if you must know. I use it to shoot game birds and clay pigeons.

There. I love the USA and I have a gun. You are in the picture.

I am going to quote precisely zero statistics here. It is a curious thing, but both sides in the gun control debate have conclusively proved their case using statistics. Therefore, I can only conclude that statistics do not really move us forward.

Nor will I examine intensely the words and intentions of the Second amendment, as again, both sides conclusively prove their case using legal analysis.

In my opinion, it should be harder for people to get hold of guns. Whatever rationale is being used, I cannot reconcile in myself that any citizen has a legitimate need for a weapon that can bring down a passing aircraft or helicopter. Nor do I see that an assault rifle has a legitimate place under the Christmas tree.

I do not argue whether on has a right to these things, I simply believe that there is no need for them in the hands of an ordinary citizen.

“Ban all guns” is, I believe unnecessary, unrealistic and bound to fail. Many people are too attached to them. Regardless of any statistics, some people believe that they are safer armed than they are unarmed. People do hunt. People do shoot recreationally. I am an advocate of a system that licenses gun ownership. I acknowledge that criminals or deranged people are unlikely to apply for a licence, but at least some of them might not have such easy access to weapons – perhaps one life might be saved. Who knows? Maybe lots of lives will be saved.

Securing all guns is another area where I think that there is room for agreement. I believe that responsible gun owners do not leave their weapon loaded next to their child’s toy box. Tragically, there are incidents where a child has picked up a gun and blown its sibling’s head off. Some rules around this probably wouldn’t hurt.

The aim of gun control should not be to infringe on anyone’s rights, nor should it intended to make people feel less safe and secure – precisely the opposite in fact. It should be a national initiative, the idea of different rules in different states is quite obviously utter nonsense.

The United States of America is full of some very smart people, I am confident that those people will work it out.

Winner!

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On the first of November, I set out on a challenge to write 50,000 words of a first draft. All of the writing had to be done in the calendar month of November.

Today, the 24th of November, I validated my novel through the NaNoWriMo website and have been officially declared a Winner.

Officially, a Winner has a validated word count of 50,000 words or more.

In reality, the challenge is all about learning one’s own possibilities. A winner is one who can develop a daily writing habit. A winner is one who can sit before a blank screen with a blank brain and still churn out words.

Writing is hard work and graft. Just like any other human endeavour, a winner is one who has realised that perspiration and perseverance are as important, if not more important, than inspiration.

Now, I have two first drafts. I am going to complete a couple of tasks on the one that I have just finished, then print it and put it in a drawer with its predecessor. I have some corporate bits and pieces to keep me busy for a while and I will come back to the first drafts after Christmas.

I am going to catch up with some reading, some blogging and some chores around the house.

First though, I’m going to have another glass of wine.

Perseverance

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Hello there. It’s been a while.

I have been a busy, busy boy.

I am writing this on November 17th.

Just over half way through National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo for short.

Simple concept, write 50,000 words of a novel in a month.

As of right now my count stands at 37,671 words. Ahead of target.

I have learned a lot of things about writing in these few days, which I will undoubtedly share when the month is over. For the moment though, I have this:

Perseverance. Writing is about perseverance.

To write a novel requires nothing more than perseverance. To write a good one? That, I suspect, takes a little more, but to get to a good one, you need a first draft – and a first draft takes…you’ve got it; perseverance.

I began the challenge believing that it was all about the novel. Now halfway through, I realise that the challenge is about the practice of writing.

Creative muse? Pah! If and when the muse turns up, I am sure it’s fabulous. Most of the time however its just me and the keyboard (oh and the dog of course).

I’m off to persevere for a bit.

First draft party!

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First draft of ‘Sean 1’ is nearly complete.

I have been toiling away, determined to finish the first draft of my first novel by the end of October. It is Saturday the 24th and I am a chapter and a half away. With a fair wind, I will declare the first draft done by the end of the weekend.

I am thinking that I might throw a party.

It would be quite a small party; just the dog and I, probably.

To anyone else, it’s not really a big deal. I will print off the draft, put it into a file and then hide it in a drawer. Not really cause for a party is it?

The dog and I know different. The dog and I have sat staring at the screen together, fighting the urge to get on Facebook and watch cats driving cars. The dog and I have argued about whether Sean should eat breakfast or have a shower. (Actually, I am not sure that the dog has contributed much to these arguments, but they have definitely happened.)

All the smart people say that a break is essential before unleashing the inner editor, so into the drawer it will go.

For the statisticians, Sean 1 stands at 51,000 words or so at the moment.

What’s next?

As you may remember, I am throwing myself into ‘Sean 2’. The aim is the write the first draft of the second novel in the calendar month of November.

As a consequence of all this industry, the blog has been a bit quiet.

What do you think of the new look? I’m having trouble posting photos right now, but I am sure that the Tech team will sort me out soon enough.

The idea is that you can use the box top right called ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ to search by category and therefore only read posts on things that interest you.

Let me know what you think of it.

‘Sean 1’ has taken 8 months. I am putting aside 1 month for ‘Sean 2.’

To quote a friend, “How bad could it be?”

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I am taking on the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge to produce a 50,000 word first draft in November.

As a warm up, I am completing a draft for Novel number 1 in October.

If all goes to plan then at the end of November, I will have two novels in draft form.

At the time of writing, the word count on Novel number 1 stands at 40,701.

As you may gather, I am feeling ever so slightly pleased with myself.

All right, I am feeling very smug and unbearably cocky.

This, of course, is a harbinger of impending doom.

But I am ready for whatever challenge is coming my way.

It turns out, that writing lots of words can actually be quite easy.

The trick is to banish one’s internal editor to the naughty step. He is not allowed back in my head until the two drafts are completed.

It is incredibly liberating to just let the words flow with scant regard for quality.

In effect, I am probably writing drivel.

I daresay that the editing will be quite a challenge when the time comes, but I have a secret weapon.

My own personal “Editing Jedi” who is teaching me the ways of The Force.

It’s more of the ‘Red Pen’ than The Force, but it’s equally powerful and well worth a look if you are learning to write effectively.

 

NaNoWriMoOn the 22nd February 2015, I started this blog.

I hoped to use it to record a journey from “I would like to write a book” to “I have written a book.”

I might also post the odd observation about the world in general.

This is post fifty-four.

So, fifty three posts in 7 months or so. Just under two a week.

Hardly prolific, but not bad, I reckon.

I have dribbled on about politics, IT struggles and even blogged from A to Z in a month.

This will be the twentieth post that has the category ‘Writing’ attached to it.

The novel got started at around the same time as the blog. By the ninth of March, thirteen thousand five hundred words were in the bag. I had set myself a minimum of five hundred words per working day and was going at almost twice that pace. Easy this novel writing.

I thought I might take a day or two off.

By the twelfth of July, I still had 13,500 words in the bag. Four months gone. Disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Time to get the shoulder to the wheel again. On the seventeenth of July, the word count stood at 18,782.

What had I learned?

Firstly, time flies when you are avoiding novel writing.

Secondly, one thousand words per working day was not exactly a stretch. If I could write ten words, I seemingly had no problem writing a thousand.

On the twenty eighth of September, the word count STILL stood at 18,782.

Somehow, I had mislaid another two and a bit months.

Seven months after becoming a self-proclaimed writer, I had actually produced 18,782 words or an average of 125 words per working day.

The really striking thing was that actual days spent on the novel was eighteen, at an average of 1043 per day.

If I am going to actually produce any novels, then I need to focus on those first ten words of each day.

This led me to NaNoWriMo, which is possibly the worst acronym type thing in history.

That such a cumbersome lump of letters was produced by cooperative of writers is a beautiful irony.

It stands for National Novel Writing Month.

Without going all technical on you, a bunch of lunatic writers commit to producing a 50,000 word draft entirely in the month of November.

It’s not strictly policed, there is no prize and you don’t actually have to pay anything.

There is a large internet forum and more localised writing groups.

Here the lunatics can whine, laugh, cry, rant or even have constructive conversations and offer each other support.

That’s about it.

“The very thing for me!”

I immediately signed myself up as a NaNoWriMo lunatic.

The thing is, I can’t really use my current draft. It really needs to be a new one.

In actual fact, there is nothing at all to stop me from doing what I like, but it seems silly to sign up and then not follow the rules.

Fear not – I came up with a solution.

“I’ll finish the draft for the first novel in October, then do the second novel as my NaNoWriMo draft. Perfect!”

This stroke of genius hit me on the 28th of September.

Allow me to summarise.

Each November writers the world over get involved in trying to produce 50,000 word drafts of their novel. Many succeed. Many fail. Many go slightly mad trying.

In order to ‘do it properly’, I have decided to, in effect, do it twice.

Once in October to finish the draft of my first novel and then again in November to finish a draft of my second.

I really need to have a good look at my reasoning process. Something is seriously wrong there.

And yet…

The word count on Novel 1 now stands at 31,037

So, if you’ll excuse me I have to dash.

I’m writing two novels you see.

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I spend a fair amount of time in Cyprus.

My parents retired here and I lived here for a while.

I have a holiday home not far from Limassol.

It’s beautiful. It’s hot and sunny.

Cyprus, island of Aphrodite, sits in the eastern Mediterranean, not far from the coast of Lebanon. As islands go, it has seen more than its fair share of turbulence and invasion.

For many years it was a part of the Ottoman empire and laterly was a Crown colony of the United Kingdom. In 1960 it became an independent republic.

Recent history is complicated – Greek Cypriots in the 1950s were fighting for ‘Enosis’ – ¬†union with Greece.

Instead, they got an independent republic, where ethnic Turkish Cypriots had protected rights.

The Republic never really worked and in 1974, the Greek Cypriots staged a military coup (egged on by the Junta in control of Greece) with an eye to achieving Enosis.

Turkey resisted this with an old fashioned, but effective counter.

Paratroopers.

The island was partitioned and remains so to this day.

The above is a gross over-simplification, I am no historian.

There is a fascinating book called the Cyprus Conspiracy by Brendan O’Malley that does a good job of shedding some light on a dark corner of geo-politics. Well worth a read.

The United Kingdom, throughout all of this upheaval, has largely managed to maintain a strong relationship with the part of the island that was not occupied by Turkey.

The Royal Air Force has an airfield here and there are several other UK military installations on the island.

Cyprus is reliant on tourism and the lion’s share of visitors have always been British.

Certainly, one would never struggle to find an English Breakfast on the coast.

While I would not necessarily see the ubiquitous availability of an English breakfast as a positive, there can be no denying that the universal use of English and affinity with the British does make Cyprus ‘easy’ to work for the Brits.

This affinity, together with the tourist industry and turnover of military personnel means that thousands of UK citizens make Cyprus their home in retirement.

Greek is a tough language, and the British are notoriously bad at learning languages anyway.

In Cyprus, this never mattered. Cypriots speak excellent English and many have attended university in the UK or the USA.

Over the last couple of years though, I have noticed a trend.

A sort of militant “Greek only” trend.

In equipping the holiday home, I have visited that famous Swedish furniture giant – Ikea. As Cyprus is a small island, rather than invest directly, multinational firms tend to grant franchises. Ikea is no exception.

Everything in Ikea – from the labels on the goods, to the leaflets, to the signs on the door is in Greek and only Greek.

I have never seen that in Cyprus before.

Adjoining the Ikea store is a shopping mall. The mall has a food court where can be found the usual fast food suspects.

There is also a fast food version of more traditional Cypriot food.

Again – all of the signage was in Greek only.

A reasonable percentage of consumers in Cyprus will speak little or no Greek. Tourists generally don’t, and many expats don’t either.

Therefore this policy has a cost to the business.

Perhaps I am reading too much into it – but there seems a sort of militance to it – an intentional statement.

I am not sure why it should be happening and whether it might have a broader connotation.

 

What? My data is not safe?

 

 

 

I have been droning on and on about email and productivity.

My email client of choice is Mailbox. A great piece of kit on the iPhone (and hopefully soon on my Mac).

Joyfully, this great app is free. Yes, free!

How can this be?

Well – its pretty simple really.

All of my email is passing through Mailbox’s servers. I have no doubt that all of that data has a value in some way, shape or form.

Big-Brother-is-watching-youI daresay that I have accepted buried deep in the terms and conditions, that Dropbox Inc (who own Mailbox) will never use my personal data unless it makes them money, or something similar.

Will.I.Am has said that he believes that we will all look back with wonder at how we gave away all of our personal data for nothing. Actually, I suspect that he said it a whole lot more eloquently than that.

Google and now DropBox see all of my email. The hosting company does too. The vast majority of my electronic filing also exists on a commercial company’s server somewhere. Data privacy is effectively a thing of the past.

What will all of this mean in the long run?

I don’t know.

Where have I ever written anything that would make you think I am smart enough to know that sort of thing?

12493936Companies apparently are prepared to pay to know what stuff I might want to buy – that way, they can sell me stuff.

Terrifying isn’t it?

No. It’s not.

The reality is that I get convenience (a great app) in return for the data.

Increasingly, my junk mail is around subjects that actually interest me. That’s a win as far as I am concerned.

Should I really be worried that Google tracks that I visited the John Lewis website and tells Facebook so that a John Lewis ad appears on my home page?

Why would that worry me at all?

Perhaps I am just too naive, and that one of you knows why I should be terrified that Google knows where I go on the internet?