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Stuart Lennon

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Review

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Ducks on the Pill Brook at the end of my street.

This morning, I was watching a very brave journalist broadcasting from Aleppo in Syria.

I do not claim to have any real handle on the rights and wrongs of that terrible conflict. I watched in horror and shame. Will we ever stop being a cruel and murderous, species I wonder?

I am fairly certain that the involvement of this joker hasn’t helped.

It is difficult to maintain any sort of perspective in relation to the events that I mention above, but I thought I might provide a review on a variety of things.

IT. I posted here about moving away from Apple, and here about moving to Google. My Pixel XL phone is great. Reliable, efficient and fast-charging. I can say the same for the Chromebook. The biggest change though works regardless of hardware. Turn notifications off. All except phone. This one simple step puts you in charge of your apps, rather than they in charge of you.

Politics. A lot of nonsense continues to be talked about Brexit. A favourite is the clamour for the government to publish a plan. A plan for a negotiation. A chocolate teapot. Eventually, the PM realised that all she had to do was agree. She will soon publish a plan saying – “We want free trade, and control of our borders.” Remainers will cry foul and demand to know what is going to happen. The government will respond – “Don’t know. It’s a negotiation.” Still. It keeps them busy.

US Politics. From a field of two, one candidate won. He is certainly a departure from the usual. There is a lot of noise about the inherent unfairness of the electoral system, and at the moment, outrage that a foreign power is alleged to have attempted to influence the outcome of the election. Apparently such claims made with no trace of irony. How will ‘The Donald’ work out? I really don’t know. I suspect he will continue to delight in upsetting any apple-cart that he can find.

The CaminoThe word alone brings a smile to my face. Somehow we managed to ensure that the pilgrim with the photos is the one least able to share them, so I have not written or posted as much about that week as I had planned. Walking twenty miles or more each day certainly simplifies life and I can’t wait for the second instalment next year.

Journals, organisers and stationery. I have chopped and changed through a myriad of schemes to organise myself. Both digital and analogue. My preference is analogue, yet digital is far better for sharing. Thus, I use a hybrid. My calendar, shared with Mrs L, is kept on Google; accessible from multiple electronic devices. Many events, I also transfer to my Economist desk diary. Here, I get some perspective on how my week looks. I find this more attractive than an electronic output and better for my weekly review. On the move though, the diary has too much heft. I now carry a simple paper A6 notebook with a Fischer space pen. I would rather use a fountain pen, but I often dress casual – and ink and jeans can be uncomfortable companions. Here, I employ parts of the #BuJo system to run my daily tasks. Of late, I have even developed a double page system to prioritise. I also have a reflective journal – which I would like to keep daily, but often is neglected. Joyfully, the journal has no notifications function, and therefore does not berate me for missing a day.

Corporate. I have a couple of clients for whom I provide support in anti-money laundering systems. I have also been reviewing a multitude of potential acquisitions. Both of those things are, by their very nature, confidential, but hopefully the work done this year will lead to good outcomes.

Writing. The last few months I have done no work at all on Sean. I have been perpetually busy on everything above. Now, given that I am largely (when Mrs L lets me) master of my own time, I have to ask myself why it is that I can find time for anything, anything at all, except writing.

That’s probably another post all on its own.

 

 

Writing

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Most of you have forgotten, but I am writing a book.

I’ve forgotten from time to time.

Fortunately, I somehow snared a writing buddy (Amanda Fleet), who reminds me.

Amanda and I have been discussing a character in my novel. We’ll call her Natalya. As her name is Natalya that seems the simplest thing to call her.

She is quite a looker and smarter than the average bear. Amanda wanted to know what made this woman tick. Had I worked out where she was from? Did I know her backstory?

I began typing an answer to the question. I stopped for a cup of tea. Then I typed some more. And more. Yes, I did know where she was from, what made her tick. To my own great surprise, I know a hell of a lot about her.

This taught me two things, which I now share with you for free. (Don’t forget to buy the book when I publish it)

  1. When I’m not sure about a character, or a plot, I’m going to write down the question, and then start writing the answer out. It’s amazing what’s in the head, waiting to come out.
  2. You do not need a writing buddy to write a book. But having one makes it a hell of a lot easier.

Amanda has not mucked about as much as me – you can buy her book here.

When not toiling away at the book, I have been preparing for my wee walk which is a scant six weeks away now. Stu and I are, in turns, terrified and excited. How bad could it be?

Right. Off to polish Natalya. (Ahem…)

 

U is for Un-

 

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Uninteresting, unbelievable, unfair.

Reading the first draft of the best debut novel ever written by me, I bumped into all three of these ‘un-s’.

A lot of the novel’s narrative was based on personal experiences and real events. Tall tales of high times in Prague and Budapest.

These were vaguely amusing to read about for those  present at the time, but uninteresting for anyone else. Minute detail about the journey from one part of the city to another, was nostalgic for me, dull for others. Uninteresting.

“He wouldn’t do that!” I had pebbledashed the manuscript with muesli. I had made Sean, the hero, do something that moved the plot along, but did not fit with what the reader knew of him as a character. Unbelievable.

A couple of characters were inconvenient. They had served their purpose in plot terms, but were a loose end. I invented a flimsy premise to remove them. Reading the passage, it felt like a cop out; which is exactly what it was. Unfair.

These three ‘un-s’ and a few others will quickly turn off any reader.

A good novel is built on trust. A trust that is built up through the book. A writer abuses that trust at his or her peril. Don’t let an un- turn your reader off.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

K is for Kill

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Calm down. The wife is not under the patio.

‘Kill your darlings’. William Faulkner no less. (Back to those great American writers again.)

Writing the first draft of the best ever debut novel written by me, the challenge was to get all of the words out of my head onto the page. All of the advice that I read was to write; to get on with it, just get on with it…

I stumbled across National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)Check it out.

NaNo is the extreme end of ‘just write’. So, I wrote and wrote and wrote. No looking back, no editing, always moving forward. The writing took on its own rhythm.

When November ended, I printed out not one, but two manuscripts. As advised, I hid them in a drawer and collapsed in a contented heap. I may even have had a glass of wine or two. 😉

Two novels. Done.

I took the rest of the year off.

Late in February, I judged myself ready to edit. You know, tidy up a few bits of grammar and the like.

The drafts were awful. Prose that was wonderful as I wrote it was dreadful and overblown as I read it back. I needed to kill a lot of darlings.

E is for Editing

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‘Editing? That’s just checking the spelling and grammar isn’t it? Computer does most of it, doesn’t it?’

I honestly believed that.

In my posts for C and D, I wrote about creativity and deadlines. Once I set myself some writing deadlines and got my inner creative out, the words flowed all over the page. I had not planned the book as such, I was just letting it flow.

As instructed, I left my drafts alone for a while. Locked them in a drawer. After a few months, I pulled them out to read them. I felt pretty certain that the odd grammar issue would have slipped through.

“Hmmmm.” I mused.

“This is crap.”

Approaching a novel with no clear plan works for some people, I’m told. I thought that it worked for me. I now have two chunky wedges of paper that are clear testament that unplanned novel writing produces well… unplanned prose that wanders off in all sorts of directions.

Editing for me is about bringing some order and direction to the prose. Helping the story make sense. Two people have helped me enormously in this area – Anne Rainbow who runs a fantastic web course on editing over at her blog www.scrivenervirgin.com and my writing buddy Amanda Fleet who gave me some fantastic insights into her planning process, which thankfully, is flexible enough to be used retrospectively.

Editing my second novel will be so much easier than my first – at least I will have planned the second before I write it.

 

Editing – Where to start?

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I have been doing some editing. I mentioned it before here. I am implementing a ‘Red Pen’ approach to editing. I have been receiving newsletters from, and attending webinars at, scrivenervirgin.com

I cannot recommend Red Pen enough. Anne Rainbow is a writer with a broad experience. Her system is logical, methodical and straightforward.

You can get onto the newsletters free of charge, and in themselves, they are an excellent resource. If, like me, you see the benefit, you can sign up for some webinars. They are far from expensive.

Anne has given me an approach to editing and an understanding of the process.

One thing that is immediately apparent is that an eye for detail is a real advantage when editing.

Regrettably, an eye for detail is something that I lack entirely.

Fortunately, help is at hand.

ProWritingAid is editing software. I access it through the web, although I believe there are ‘bolt-ons’ for Word and Google Docs. There is a free version, and then a paid version.

Without getting into all of the options, I copy and paste text into the webpage, press go and the software does an analysis for me.

It looks at spelling, grammar, how many adverbs there are, sentence length; the list goes on.

Put simply, it’s brilliant. In a few seconds, it highlights multiple things that require attention. In some instances, it might suggest alternatives.

It does not claim to replace the human process, nor should it. It does have an option to have a human look at the work for you (at a cost of course). For me, its value is in automating the ‘eye for detail’. Faced with the highlights, I must still decide how to deal with them, but at least I know that I have made a decision, not simply missed something.

It costs $35 a year. I will renew.

One thing that neither the Red Pen process, or Pro Writing Aid have been able to help with is WAS. WAS is my new acronym for Writing Avoidance Strategies.

It has got to the stage that I have even resorted to writing to avoid writing. I’ll explain what I mean next time…

 

 

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.