Navigate / search

Stage fright

I’m now feeling decidedly apprehensive about NaNoWriMo. It’s been eleven months since I wrote at such a pace, plus I’ve been in “edit mode” for most of that time, and on top of all that my outline isn’t complete by a long stretch. I guess this is where I find out how well I can wing it…
Tonight is the Kick-Off party (meeting at the Cambridge Blue pub), so at least I’ve got that to look forward to!

Scene and sequel

I’ve spent the last couple of days working frantically on my outline of Book Two – last year I started outlining in August, so I fear I’ve left it a bit late this time around!
Earlier today my copy of “Scene and Sequel” by Jack Bickham arrived. It took me a while to get my head around the difference between his definition of “scene” (a section of narrative in which the character takes an action and discovers the consequences) and the definition I was more familiar with (a section of narrative which takes place in a single location and is told from a single viewpoint). Anyway, I’m giving it a go for this outline, and it has certainly helped me to come up with plenty of scenes and sequels (the viewpoint character’s emotional reactions to the outcome of the previous scene)!

Ivor is here!

My Neo finally arrived today, two days later than anticipated (I wasn’t able to work at home this week, and UPS made a pig’s ear of changing the delivery address). Sad person that I am, I already picked out a name: Ivor. It’s short for both Ivor Novello (I know, seriously groan-worthy!) and Ivor the Engine, who is of course green and heroic 🙂 I don’t normally name inanimate objects, but all our computers have to have names so they can be identified on our home network, and although the Neo can’t be networked, it’s still part of my IT infrastructure.

First reaction is that the screen really is much more readable than the Dana – which is a relief, since that’s why I bought it. Being smaller, the screen attracts fewer reflections, the contrast is better, and the built-in fonts are bold. I’ve installed some additional fonts created by one of the members of the online Alphasmart community at Flickr, which means I can get slightly more text on screen without losing readability.
I’ve already taken a nail file to the keyboard (i.e. for levering up the keycaps) and swapped the physical layout to Dvorak – much easier than painting the keys. So I’m nearly set for NaNoWriMo – all I need now is a completed outline!

Neo decision

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been looking forward to NaNoWriMo rather nervously, hoping I can win it again and avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump”. One thing that has bothered me is that, whilst I do want to use my Alphasmart Dana – I don’t think I could have won without it last year – I do sometimes find the screen hard to read. And since I’ve also been having eyestrain headaches lately, I want to avoid making things worse by squinting at the Dana all November. I’ve therefore decided to get a different Alphasmart, the Neo – the screen is smaller but apparently has much better contrast. Also, although it is purely a word-processor (no Palm OS or wireless), on the upside it runs forever off a single set of AA batteries, so I wouldn’t have to worry about keeping it charged either.

Read more

Close, but no cigar

Yesterday I spent some time trying out StoryLines (part of the Writer’s Cafe suite), an outlining program that runs on Windows, Mac and Linux. Apart from its OS-agnosticism (which is not to be sneezed at), the main difference from SuperNotecard and Scrivener is that you have to assign your cards to a story line, and the cards are laid out in horizontal rows across the corkboard. After some consideration, however, I have decided that the ability to use it on Linux is not enough to make me switch.

Read more


I’ve been struggling with the issue of titles for my works in progress. For Book One, I originally used a great title which all my beta-readers liked, but it no longer fits the book, so I really have to change it. And I wanted at least a working title for the sequel, rather than “Secret Theatre Book Two” 🙂
Thus, Book One is now “The Guiser”. A guiser is someone who goes in disguise, specifically (in regional British dialects) a mummer in one of the winter celebrations. The title works on several levels: at least two characters disguise themselves at some point (one of them for the whole book), and many of the others are not what they seem.
The title of Book Two, “Treasons, Stratagems and Spoils” is taken from “The Merchant of Venice”. I’m not sure yet how well it will fit, but when I heard the phrase during Saturday’s performance it immediately clicked.


What with changing some major details about one of my PoV characters (see “A rose by any other name“) and merging two other, rather shadowy, characters to make one more important one, I’ve had to go back and fix the chapters I’ve revised so far so that my beta-readers don’t get utterly confused!
Today I did the rest of the edits for Chapters 1-4, having already written a couple of new scenes for them. Thankfully there wasn’t as much to do as I feared – I mostly had to adjust some character interactions (switching a character from a 20-something widow to a teenage girl disguised as a boy alters her relationships with men considerably!), and change a couple of scene transitions.
Next up, however, is a much bigger job – a substantial rewrite of Chapter 6. The first version was adequate but lacking impact; this one will be much more exciting!

Merchant of Venice

Last night we went to see “The Merchant of Venice” at the Globe (a regular annual trip arranged by the campus sports and social club). The production was very good indeed – great acting and lots of music and spectacle. Unusually, they had added some bits of scenery to suggest the cityscape of Venice: at one corner of the stage were some rustic wooden poles, perhaps ten or twelve feet long, for tying up gondolas, and the normal short run of steps up to the stage had been replaced by a wooden bridge. The costumes were mostly Elizabethan but with a few tweaks to add the flavour of a busy modern metropolis (the programme made comparisons between Venice and New York), such as trilby-like hats for the men and one of the merchants in dark pinstripes!

Most surprising of all, though, was how funny the play was. When we think of “The Merchant of Venice”, we tend to focus on the trial, and Shylock’s contract with the eponymous merchant Antonio. But the subplots, of Bassanio’s wooing of Portia, Gratiano’s of Nerissa and the elopement of Lorenzo and Jessica, are much closer in tone to Shakespeare’s other Italian comedies, and the production certainly brought that out. As is typical with Shakespeare’s plays there is a part for the company’s clown in Lancelot, but this production added a nameless courtesan, played (I think) by Leander Deeny (who also took the minor parts of servants Leonardo and Stephano), who clopped about the stage in his high-soled chopins and engaged in “business” (in both the stage and usual sense) with some of the male characters. At the end of the performance all the cast joined in a jig, as was Elizabethan tradition. Perhaps because of the courtesan’s “clogs”, I was suddenly reminded of the big dance number at the end of the movie “Zatoichi”, and I wondered whether Takeshi Kitano had ever seen an authentic production of Shakespeare! Given the Bard’s popularity in Japan, it’s not so very improbable…
This was my second visit to the Globe, and as usual I treated it as something of a research trip as well as a good night out. In the theatre shop I bought a heavily-illustrated children’s book “A Shakespearean Theatre” – with their cut-away illustrations and tidbits of information, books of this sort are really useful for writers, condensing years of academic research into vivid images. Of course I have other, more grown-up resources to fill in the gaps, but an illustrated book makes it much easier to visualise what other works labour to describe.

Amazingly organised

Today was the last NaNoWriMo lunchtime inter-rim meet of 2006/7, at CB2 in Cambridge as usual. Also as usual, only myself, Lottie and Anne-Lise were in attendance, and as usual we got almost no writing done.
That was OK, though, because the real agenda for the day was looking at holiday cottages in Cornwall, the reason being that at last month’s get-together it was suggested that we have our own little writing retreat in the off-season when holiday homes are cheap. Amazingly, not only had Lottie and Anne-Lise both printed out their short-list of seaside cottages, but we actually managed to choose one we all liked and reserve it!
The cottage is called ‘Waterwitch’, and it has a wood-burning stove and lots of comfy sofas – ideal for long hours of writing or just pondering. It’s also a mercifully short stagger from the pub – one of our main selection criteria 🙂

A rose by any other name

It’s funny – despite being female myself, I find male PoV characters much easier to write than female ones. I’ve really been struggling with the female PoV in “Secret Theatre”, to the point where I need to change her name and history in order to make her more fun to write!

Read more