Z is for Zenith

Matterhorn

If the A to Z is a Challenge, then today is the zenith, the highest point.

This post was drafted in early April. It represents the clearing of the decks – leaving me free to concentrate on the redrafting of the best debut novel ever written by me. So, by the time you read this, the first draft will be no more, replaced by a pacier, tighter draft. You, the reader will be propelled through Central Europe in the last decade of the twentieth century, where ambition could make you rich and get you killed.

To get to that point, a zenith of sorts, I have meandered through a variety of writing approaches and spent a kings ransom on stationery and fountain pens. I have driven my wife to distraction and even the poor dog is sick of listening to tales of Sean and Natalya.

Congratulations to everyone who completed the A to Z Challenge. Give yourselves a big pat on the back.

Thank you to all of you lovely people who came by, commented or signed up to the blog.

I entreat you all. Sign up for updates from any blog that you enjoy. It is a massive boon to the writer. Read more. It’s the zenith of learning and civilisation.

And of course, buy books.

Read new authors.

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X is for Xenophobia

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(Image taken from The Daily Telegraph.)

Xenophobia. ‘Fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange.’ Wikipedia.

More recently Xenophobia is understood to mean specifically a fear of foreigners.

In the best debut novel ever written by me, the hero Sean finds himself in a new country, facing new people and challenges.

He is Xenophobic. Of course he is. We all are. We would be stupid not to be. I am no evolutionary scientist, but I suspect that fear of the foreign or strange was essential. It is what made our ancestors look at a sabre-tooth tiger and think ‘Hmmm… Not sure that I’m going to go give that thing a hug’

When I hear or read the word xenophobia now, people are using it to lament that prejudice remains. Prejudice about gender, race, disability and sexuality. I believe that it is in our nature to fear that which is strange or foreign. We overcome these fears through learning and education. At the root of learning is reading.

Read more.

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To eradicate prejudice, we need to read more, to learn more, to become familiar with more and more different people and situations. This will help us overcome Xenophobia.

In short, sign up for my e-mail newsletter and I’ll let you know when the best debut novel ever written by me is available – and you can join the fight.

By buying it.

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Bye Bye Desktop

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I have posted about how I am becoming a little more analogue in my approach to life.

I felt that technology was beginning to dominate and dictate my days. Through a combination of electronic tools, I was always connected and always looking at one or more screens. I decided to reassess how I used all these wonderful gadgets. First, I swapped my iPhone for a ‘dumb’ mobile phone – one that works just as a telephone.

My next target was my desktop at home, where I sit to write. The picture above shows how dominating the computer is – both in terms of real estate and visual impact. The iMac is a beautiful piece of kit – and its screen demands attention. Attention that I very often gave it.

Below, is how my desk looks now.

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Quite Zen isn’t it?

I still have access to my electronic life – I am writing this post on my MacBook.

The laptop sits either on the slide out shelf under the main desktop – or in a book stand to the side. I open the laptop out when I specifically want to use it: At other times – I use the desk to write letters or notes with a pen, on paper.

How novel.

W is for writingchat

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Every Wednesday evening, at eight o’clock, a bunch of people get together on twitter. Each week there is a different writing related theme determined by a shadowy collective that I think of as the ‘White Witches of Words’. (Boy, am I going to get stick for writing that!)

For any not familiar with twitter – to participate, we add #writingchat to each comment and then follow all comments with that #.

The chat is light-hearted, and fun. Participants are generous with their time, knowledge and experience. The forum that the chat provides allows newbies like me the opportunity to glimpse other writers and learn that many challenges are shared by all.

I have met some great people at writingchat, not least, my writing buddy Amanda Fleet. As you are reading this, the self-effacing Amanda is too – and muttering to herself something along the lines of ‘stop talking about me.’ That night’s writingchat was ‘Writing Buddies’ and neither I nor Amanda had one. We skirted the subject shyly. An experienced writer tweeted “Just swap 1,000 words and see how you get on.” So we did.

Despite her best efforts, she can’t shake me now.

Very soon, Amanda is releasing her first novel, ‘The Wrong Kind of Clouds’ as a paperback and e-book. Skip along to her blog here for details – and even a discount if you are quick enough.

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V is for Venality

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The Oxford English Dictionary defines venality as;

  1. The quality or fact of being for sale.
  2. The quality of being venal; readiness to give support or favour in return for profit or reward; prostitution of talents or principles for mercenary considerations.

Like it or not, venality is a fact of the world that we live in. I don’t think that I have ever read venality used as a positive attribute, it is always used pejoratively.

In the best debut novel ever written by me, the protagonist, Sean, could be characterised as venal. He is ambitious, he wants to get on and, he wants to succeed. He is prepared to work hard to achieve these aims. Does this make him venal?

I suspect that it comes down to how far he is prepared to go to get what he wants. The actions that he takes will determine our view of his motivation. After all, one person’s ‘venal’ is another’s ‘driven’.

Are we not all venal in some way? Certainly in the ‘developed’ world, many, if not all of of us, satisfy number 1 in the definition above. We sell our time and effort. That is how our world works. What is far more interesting to me is what principles we are prepared to put aside or suppress in return for reward.

Is venality inevitable in our world?

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Q is for Quixotic

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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

O is for Organised Crime

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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.

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A is for Amanda

Amanda Fleet

Amanda is my writing buddy.

We have never met. We exchange messages on social media, by e-mail and sometimes by post.

Amanda is a woman of many talents. University lecturer, PHD, runner, stationery addict and most importantly, writer.

She is completing the A to Z Challenge – you can visit her hereHer stationery blog is worth a quick look too, but I warn you; stationery is seriously addictive. My novel needs to succeed to support my stationery habit.

Her first novel is coming out soon, in fact there is a launch event at Waterstones in St Andrews. (She is a proper author!)

I was sitting looking at two sprawling first drafts, trying to work out what the hell to do next. Amanda and I ‘met’ on Twitter. She has been incredibly generous in sharing her approach in producing a book, and unstintingly supportive. It is no exaggeration to say that without Amanda, the best debut novel that I have ever written will not ever see the light of day.

For that reason, my first post in this A to Z Challenge is a simple thank you to Amanda.

Many people are aiming to complete the A to Z Challenge – this is the list. Go and check some out, obviously Amanda’s first.

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This is the first of 26 posts in April (Sundays we get to rest) as part of the A to Z Challenge.

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.

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.