Adjectively speaking

Adjectives and adverbs are often cited as the enemy of writing. I participated in a “Twitter-Chat”, called #writingchat on this very subject.

Mark Twain is quoted, “when you catch and adjective, kill it.”

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Living the Dream – 47. Hotting up

Hotting Up

Cyprus is hotting up. Overnight, summer arrived. In true British style, we had been lamenting how unsettled the weather was and how temperatures were below average. Then, boom. Temperatures leapt from low twenties (70f) centigrade to low thirties (90f). The dog appeared shocked initially, but has quickly dropped into a new routine. It’s taking us longer to adapt.

The upside is that the change in the weather has forced me to deliberately consider my daily routine.

Routine

#livingthedream is intended to chart our efforts to design a new life for ourselves, and we’ve been here nearly eight months now, so this is as good a time as any to look at how we’re doing.

I rise early, usually around 6.30am. I don’t use an alarm, nor have I made a conscious decision to rise at a particular time. It just happens. Once up, Spice, is up and wants out for her morning patrol. I’ll play with her, trying to activate her appetite by throwing a ball. (She has taken to not eating in the morning.)

Margaret and I will have an espresso or two for breakfast in the early sun, and I’ll write a gratitude note in my bullet journal. Then I’ll go swim for half an hour. By 8 / 8.30 I’m heading downstairs to the office as the day is hotting up.

Through till lunch, I am writing, or working on one of my businesses, usually with podcasts in the background. My tiny contribution to running the house is to hang out the laundry whenever the machine beeps insistently at me from the room next to the office. How things get into the machine is a mystery, similar to how the house is always full of food. I’ve asked Margaret, how all these things happen, but she just rolls her eyes…

Lunch is around 1, and we eat together, up on the terrace. Afterwards, I’ve taken to spending some more time in the pool and then having a nap. Traditionally, Cyprus shuts down through the heat of the afternoon, and I’m all for it.

Some time around four, the day restarts. I refresh myself with a shower and will either get back into work, or read a book.

Evenings

Dinner is getting lighter and lighter, and later and later. In the winter we ate around 6, but now don’t feel much like food until 8 or so.

Evenings are delightful at the mountain hideaway. It’s quiet and there is often a breeze. A chilled glass of wine with some olives on the terrace is the perfect evening as far as I’m concerned.

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Working Tools – 22. ScanSnap

Filing. Yay!

Alright, it’s difficult to get excited about filing. However, the ScanSnap has made my filing tolerable.

Evernote

I first came across the ScanSnap, in a green jacket: The Evernote Edition. This piece of hardware was completely integrated with Evernote, and I was smitten.

I would flick open the scanner, drop in a document, a receipt or a business card, press fire and it would be automatically scanned and saved into the right place in Evernote. It was awesome.

However, my love affair with Evernote waned. Retasking the scanner to work outside of Evernote was awkward and hacky.

Fujitsu

Eventually, I bought a “naked” ScanSnap, the iX500 by Fujitsu. It looks exactly the same as the Evernote edition, but with a black and blue colour scheme rather than a grey and green one under Evernote.

This allows my office to be paperless. The system transforms all correspondence into electronic format.

ScanSnap

Paperless

There is irony I know, to read from someone who has a business selling notebooks, and runs his life from a bullet journal, that he prefers a paperless office.

Much though I love paper notebooks and writing letters, I’m less keen on paper copies of invoices, delivery notes and receipts. I’m even less keen on paying rent for space to put expensive shelves, where expensive folders sit full of expensive paper that nobody ever looks at.

I love the ScanSnap because it makes scanning so easy. The unit connects to my wireless network meaning it can sit anywhere. Scanning is quick, reliable and easy. Invest a little time in setup, and the scanner will save specific types of documents to designated folders. The software even ‘reads’ the documents, allowing them to be searchable.

Open Scansnap

Instructions

Listening to the excellent podcast, Mac Power Users introduced me to David Sparks and his field guide to “Going Paperless”. Here, I learned about Hazel, a mac app that does much of my filing automatically.

No more filing!

I have to admit, that I have not set up a fraction of the automation that I should have, but nevertheless, once paperwork is into the system, my automated backup routines mean that I have multiple copies distributed across several sites, both physical and virtual.

I have two ScanSnaps now. One in the UK office, and one beside me here in the mountain hideaway.

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Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week begins today, May 13th. Twenty years ago, I’m fairly certain that I had no awareness at all of mental health issues. I’m guessing that I had a loose perception of depression, which I would have confronted with pearls of wisdom such as “chin up” or “pull your socks up.”

Then, a friend was sectioned.

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Living the Dream – 46. The Trouble with Trees

The trouble with trees is that they keep growing.

“Sorry. We can’t stay long, we have to get home to meet our tree surgeon.”

Not words that I had ever imagined saying. My parents built the house nearly thirty years ago, and planted several trees then. One or two pre-date the house.

Carob, fig, pomelo, lime, mandarin and orange are the ones that I recognise and that produce fruit. There are several flowering trees too, that burst into colour at various points through the year. Some provide welcome shade in the summer.

The Plan

As the title suggests, the trouble with trees is that they grow. Pretty big as it happens. Some of them were touching the house, even towering above it. As I sipped a cold beer, I decided that a few hours with a wood saw would sort everything out.

Hmmm…

Several people have snipped at, and trimmed branches over time. A couple of them have cut back growth severely.

However, some of the larger trees remain pristine. As I stood at the base of one, craning my neck to see the top, it was clear that one man and his saw was not going to be sufficient.

Nor could I overlook the facts of the matter.

  1. I have not the faintest idea about how one properly reduces the size of a tree.
  2. There is a documented and demonstrated lack of competence with any and all tools.
  3. I respect hard, manual, work and if at all possible, avoid it.

Faced with these truths, I repaired to the terrace and opened a bottle of wine. (Playing to my strengths.)

Plan B

I spoke to the guys that put up the fence, and they put me onto Daniel, of High Access Point, and so it was, that yesterday, I met with him.

It is little known that “Daniel”, in Bulgarian, means “little tree squirrel”. As I write, Daniel is sucking his pencil somewhere, preparing me a quote to makeover all of the trees, with judicious use of ladders, ropes and power tools.

I am resigned to the prospect of a big, scary number.

This is made less painful by the realisation that I will, on a regular, if infrequent, basis be able to say,

“Sorry, must dash. Doesn’t do to keep one’s tree surgeon waiting.”

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Working Tool – 21. Me

The biggest tool of all. Me.

Hmm… that hasn’t come out quite as I’d hoped.

It’s blazingly obvious, but whatever tools I use to help me write, they are insignificant next to the source of the writing. Whether it be of the head, the heart, of experience or imagination, the words come from me.

So, looking after me, keeping the tool sharp, as it were, is important.

There is no magic formula. No special magic.

It’s all the things that everybody has already told you. No, I didn’t believe them either.

  1. Sleep. Yep. A good night’s sleep makes you a better writer. (Naps work too.)

  2. Diet. We are what we eat – and all that. Overused, often with a preachy tone, but believe me, less processed stuff will make you feel better.

  3. Exercise. HUGE!!! (Look, capitals. That means I really mean it.) The endorphins help with mental health, physical health and a sense of well-being. Exercise takes time, time that allows the mind to wander…to say, a plot, for example.

  4. Self-love. No. Not that. Go wash your mouth out with soap.

Whatever it takes to show yourself a little love. If you’re interested in writing, then you are insecure. Not insecure? Come back and read this post quarterly. The insecurities are coming. Techniques that I use? A gratitude journal. Meditation. Participation in several writers communities online.

I’m not going to labour the point.

Looking after yourself is important for a myriad of reasons, so do it. Make one small change for the better. It will help your writing. Really, it will.

Now – I’m off to #writingchat on Twitter

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Rewrites

Act 1 is rewritten. Almost.

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Living the Dream – 45. Coptic Gales

The Khamsheen Winds, the last of the Coptic Gales are here. The air is thick and heavy. Everybody has a sore throat and irritated eyes.

Sounds like the opening of a Wilbur Smith novel. But it isn’t.

Coptic Gales

There are fourteen Coptic or Phoenician gales, between the end of September and the beginning of May, each named by Arabic fishermen. The gales come each year at broadly the same times. I am no meteorologist, and I can’t comment on the science, but there’s definitely something to these romantically named phenomena.

The storms often bring sand from the Middle East and Africa, of various hues. It can settle like snow. The red stuff is the worst. It’s a swine to get off garden furniture and cars, particularly if it comes down with rain. If there is no rain, then the dust simply constantly appears and reappears, silently settling on every surface. Many visitors feel that they must have brought a cold with them, that manifests as a scratchy throat and sore eyes.

When the gale comes as a real storm, it’s very identifiable. The sky is dark, the temperature changes (up or down) and winds and rain turn everything red or yellow. Then the skies clear, everyone cleans up and gets on with their lives.

Limbo

However, things are not always as straightforward. The Khamsheen Winds are due on the 29th of April, and since around that time, (it’s now May 3rd) there has been dust in the air. Some days have been unusually cool, some unusually clammy, and we have had winds; but a storm, per-say, has not quite happened. We’re in limbo, on the cusp of Summer, but not quite free of the last Spring storm. Some years, the dust just stops coming and one morning all is clear. I look forward to breathing easier soon.

Grumbling

Our weather remains cooler than normal. It’s actually pleasant, mid 20s centigrade (mid 70s to 80s Fahrenheit) during the day. Ideal for pottering around in the garden and playing golf. In true British fashion, everyone is so busy lamenting the wet winter just passed and predicting a long, too hot summer, that they are forgetting to enjoy the perfect temperatures of today.

Right, I’m putting my shemagh on, and gazing into the sky, with a faraway look. I might even play the soundtrack of Lawrence of Arabia for effect…

Working Tools 20. – Music

“Music is the shorthand of emotion.” Leo Tolstoy.

I’m writing scenes set in Budapest in the early 1990s. My protagonist, Sean is in a bar. Everything is going his way. He’s invincible, unstoppable. The world is his oyster and everything is coming up roses, (ouch – talk about a mixed metaphor.) He is full of that impossible confidence of youth.

I want the reader to feel all of that, to be transported to a smokey bar, whisky in hand, rock music booming from the speakers, ready to party hard.

“Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.” E. Y. Harburg.

History

I lived in Budapest in the 1990s. Sean and I have similar tastes in music. To get inside Sean’s head, I decided to build a playlist.

Wow.

I’m back there. It’s all I can do not to pour myself a Johnnie Walker Red. I can smell the bar, see the faces. Memories rush back with every chord.

I messaged a friend from those days. We reminisced about basement rock clubs full of leather jackets, tattoos and sticky dance floors. He suggested some missing tracks. Listening to a playlist melted 25 years, taking us both back to those days. It was a joy to bathe in nostalgia and “feel those feelings” again. The question is, can I communicate those feelings to the reader, without the music?

Technique

I can’t use the lyrics. In order to quote Guns and Roses or U2, I need their permission, which can be withheld or charged for. That’s overhead that I can’t afford, neither in terms of money, nor time.

Still. I’m a writer. Communicating is a core skill, I hope. How hard can it be?

Turns out, really hard.

I’m going to invest some time in creating specific playlists for each character and each venue. At worst, I get to luxuriate in memories of my youth, and the scenes become much more vivid in my mind’s eye.

I’ll publish them in the members section of the site.

Now. Where did I leave that Johnnie Walker?

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Just one hour

That’s all it takes.

One hour to write a novel.

My writing is supported by people like you. The remainder of this post is reserved for Members. Membership costs £12 per year. For this princely sum, you will get access to subscriber only posts, direct access to a members chatroom , and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year. Become a member.