Q is for Quixotic

don-quixote2

Quixotic – Extravagantly chivalrous. (Dictionary.com)

Acting with the desire to do noble things without realism. (Wiktionary)

In the best debut novel ever written by me, the protagonist, Sean has a bit of the quixotic about him. In many ways, it is an attractive trait. Nobility is appealing, I think.

In Sean, I am never sure whether he is quixotic by compulsion or convenience. After all, an overblown desire to do noble things can also be a cover for other, less lofty, motivations. Perhaps I am unfair to the lad. you will have to read the novel to find out.

I have noticed how all the major political parties in the UK are getting quixotic about pensions now. To look after our senior citizens is indeed a noble cause. Given that I am heading in that direction myself, I’m all for it. However, at some point, somebody needs to inject a bit of realism.

As a society, we now spend enormous sums of money on life-enhancing and prolonging medicine and treatment. In the UK, much of this is funded by the public purse through the NHS. As a result of this amazing work, people live longer. Drawing a pension – again funded by the public purse.

Either the public purse needs to get bigger or we are going to need to have a rethink about pensions and health.

Still – quixotic. Great word.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

P is for Procrastination

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Of late, writing for me has been 1% production and 99% procrastination.

In fairness, I believe that a large % of most endeavours is spent on activities that have little, or at best, only a tangential bearing on the aim of the endeavour.

Take E-mail for example. Those of us who have worked as office employees at some point in the last twenty years have spent inordinate amounts of time on e-mail.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this. (Procrastinating perhaps?)

With hindsight, I believe that all e-mail is procrastination. Not some of it, not even most of it, all of it.

You may not believe me, and I am sure that you are right. I am often wrong about these things.

As you are believer in e-mail – please sign up to this site – and I’ll send you the odd e-mail to keep you in the loop.

Forgive me, I have digressed. I am a champion procrastinator. I have multiple methods.

Self-Improvement is one. (Books, Apps, Courses.) Applications. Ways of automating processes that I don’t even do, is another. To-do lists. Facebook. Buying stationery, changing wallets, oh I could go on for ever.

As I write this post, I am in a new daily routine. Essentially, I remain digital-free until after lunch. So far, it has been a huge success. But then it is only day 2.

How do you procrastinate?

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

O is for Organised Crime

organised-crime

I know that this is obvious, but Organised Crime is not a good thing.

It is worth writing down, because Organised Crime has had, and still has, some fantastic PR. All sorts of romantic associations of Organised Crime as a brotherhood, as a family, as a coping strategy. Lovely ideas, but all nonsense.

Organised Crime is made up of nasty, grubby, greedy criminals.

Researching into Organised Crime for my novel, I was struck by how err…, organised these groups are. Long before management consultants were extolling ‘flat, responsive, management structures’ and ‘smart creatives’, Organised Crime was growing, spreading and diversifying. I can admire the ambition, scope and efficiency of these groups, but I am under no illusions as to the true nature of them.

The Godfather, The Sopranos and the like were great entertainment but they downplayed the true nature of Organised Crime. It trades in human misery. It enslaves, tortures, rapes and brutalises without compunction.

Increasingly, criminal activities are one aspect of wide-ranging organisations that contain many legal enterprises, giving the whole an appearance of legitimacy that obscures the true nature.

In my novel, set in the 1990s, Sean meets one of these organisations in Central Europe. What begins as exciting and fun becomes something else entirely.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

N is for NaNoWriMo

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National Novel Writing Month. It’s all in the title really.

I have mentioned NaNoWriMo in several posts already. Briefly, the challenge is to write fifty thousand words of a novel in the calendar month of November.

As a way of establishing a regular writing practice and of getting words onto the page, I highly recommend it.

I did a warm-up NaNo in October, so that I could start a fresh manuscript in the November. I wrote thirty something thousand words in October and just short of sixty thousand in November.

Participants are broadly divided into two camps. The planner and the pantsers (seat of pants). I was a pantser. I had no idea where my characters were going to take me. It turns out that they had no idea either. Still, we got over the line.

As a creative endeavour and experience, I enjoyed NaNoWriMo.

As a method of writing a first draft, I remain unconvinced. It may be that actually, I am unconvinced of being a pantser. Writing fast, with no clear plan is great fun. It gets the creative juices flowing. Truth be told though, for me, it did not create characters with depth. It did not create a taut story arc. I am having to go back and do those things retrospectively.

Will I do NanoWriMo this year?

Maybe – but if I do, I will go into the month with a firm outline already written.

NaNo-2015-Winner-Badge-Large-Square

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

M is for Money Laundering

money-laundering

Organised Crime is about profit.

Status and power have a role, but ultimately Organised Crime Groups exist to get rich.

Ever since the FBI used tax evasion laws to nab and imprison Al Capone, criminals have strived to make their money appear legitimate. It must be quite galling to make millions from one’s nefarious activities but be unable to spend any of it.

Money Laundering is making the proceeds of crime appear legitimate.

In the best ever debut novel written by me, the hero, Sean has an opportunity to partner some unsavoury people as their laundry man. He is faced with a decision.

Straightforward you would think. Sean can do the right thing or the wrong thing.

I’m not sure that things are quite as black and white as that. Motive is a very difficult thing to pin down. Often different people have different definitions of what they see as right or wrong.

Let me leave you with a few questions to think on.

  1. Have you ever paid a tradesman in cash for a lower price? “Let’s call it a hundred for cash?”
  2. Bought cheap duty free cigarettes or booze from a friend?
  3. Picked up designer label jeans from a street market?
  4. Watched a pirated movie?

Quite probably all crimes.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

L is for Lonely

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On the whole, I am comfortable in my own company. I’m an only child and lived for many years as an expatriate.

Despite this I have found writing lonely at times.

When in the grip of writing a story, I am happy, delighted even, to be alone. After all, I have an entire cast of characters in my head to keep me company.

At other times, being a writer can feel lonely.

Sadly though, the loneliness is not relieved by company.

Non-writing friends and family try to help, but they can’t. Non-writers find it rude if I call them for a chat and then suddenly, and obviously, lose interest in the conversation. Non-writers are mystified to be invited in, to then be ignored. Writers don’t do this on purpose – but when a character demands attention, we must listen. If a scene appears in our heads, we must capture it; to the exclusion of anything else.

Most people go to coffee bars to meet friends, to chat and laugh. Some people even go for the coffee. Writers go to be alone. To observe. Sometimes we go to be ‘not lonely’ but still alone.

During NaNoWriMo there are regional meet-ups. Four of five of us met in a coffee bar in Salisbury. We said Hi, opened our laptops and started tapping away, flatly ignoring each other. After a few hours, I closed the laptop and stood.

‘Same time next week?’

We are definitely not quite right.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

K is for Kill

faulkner

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.

J is for Journal

Journal

I keep a journal.

In the past, I used a brilliant app called Day One. This allowed me to update from my computer, my iPad and even my phone. I could ‘geo-tag’, add photos, a soundtrack even.

Now, I use a fountain pen and a notebook.

Keeping a journal helps me stay grounded and focused. I don’t have a prescriptive format for the journal. I may write a single line one day and five pages the next. I may celebrate the successes of the day or lament the failures. I may simply record events without judgement. I have a friend (No, I do, really), who writes entries with titles like ‘Carthago delenda est’. Cato the elder, I think.

Initially, I wrote entries in the mornings. However, I found that writing a journal put me in a wistful, contemplative state, which is not ideal when I have things to get done, so now I write in the evenings.

If you don’t keep a journal – consider it. It is scientifically proven that you will be more attractive to the opposite sex if you keep a journal.

OK, I made that last bit up – but keeping a journal will help you understand where your time is going, and time is one thing that we can never get back.

I is for Index Cards

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Index Cards – This template is courtesy of my writing buddy Amanda Fleet. (Her blog is here.)

Her soon to be released novel, ‘The Wrong Kind of Clouds’ was written using index cards like this. You should get along to her site and pre-order the book – there’s even a discount on it.

I have always been an early adopter of technology. I started writing my novel on a great app called Storyist. I then switched to Scrivener, another great app. I use Evernote as an excellent scrapbook. I can write on a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, even my phone. Yet faced with a sprawling first draft, I had no idea how to whip it into shape.

Amanda led me through her Index Card system. Key scenes are sketched onto the red cards like the one in the picture, and other scenes – ones that join the key ones together are on green cards. Once the cards are written, I can place all of the scenes together onto the dining room table and move them around. The whole novel laid out in front of me in a very visual and malleable way.

I daresay that it is possible to have a screen the size of my dining table and an app that is as intuitive as my own eyes and hands, but I fear that I have crossed that invisible line: where technological advances were once interesting and exciting, now I find them irritating and confusing.

I even complete the index cards with a fountain pen.

H is for Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway.

I can’t imagine that anyone has not heard of him, but if you haven’t, go and read any of his work right now. I’ll wait.

This chap could write. I realise that my last post also featured an American author, but I am not on the verge of becoming a literary critic. I promise.

In addition to knocking out some cracking reads, Mr Hemingway saw a bit of life.

An American, he lived in Paris, Toronto, Chicago, Spain, London, Key West and Cuba. He went to both World Wars, the Spanish Civil War and got married four times. He got amoebic dysentery on safari in Africa and sailed extensively in the Caribbean. Being flown to medical attention after a plane crash, he was instantly engulfed in a second plane crash.

Impressive eh?

Throughout his life, Mr H was fond of a drink. Actually, ‘fond of’ might be understating it a little. At the time of his death, he was rumoured to be drinking a couple of pints a day. Of whiskey.

He was (incorrectly) attributed with inventing the Bloody Mary, drank his Martinis dry enough to make your eyes water, and memorably penned the following;

“I drink to make other people more interesting.”

Ernest Hemingway committed suicide. As did his father, brother and sister. Startling sad.

His writing will live for ever.

It’s Saturday. As you raise your glass tonight – raise it to Ernest. I think that he would approve.