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Write-in, write-off

Some good news and some bad this week. The bad news is that my right arm is painful again, so I’m really struggling to do my morning pages for The Artist’s Way. I don’t know if doing half an hour of longhand every morning is actually causing the pain or whether it’s just part of the recovery and rehabilitation process, but either way I think I’m going to have to knock it on the head for a while. A bad arm affects everything, especially my sleep patterns…
The good news is that the revisions are going well. After a slow start in the first half of last week, I started to pick up speed, and for the Forward Motion word-count marathon at the weekend I wrote just over five thousand words, taking me over the 75k mark!
The last couple of days haven’t been at all productive owing to sleeplessness and a bad arm, but I’m hoping that things will pick up. I might even try for another 5k this weekend…

Dvorak on the iPhone/iPad

If you’re at all interested in the iPhone (and even if you’re not), you’re no doubt aware that yesterday saw the launch of the new iPhone OS (version 4), just ahead of the iPhone 4. For the writers and Dvorak users amongst us, there’s some good news and some bad.

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George R R Martin is not your bitch

To while away a train journey yesterday, I caught up on one of my favourite podcasts, “I Should Be Writing“, which just started running again after a hiatus in May. The first new episode was live from Balticon, and unlike the regular show was a tipsy, sweary and totally hilarious session (not the the regular show isn’t entertaining, just seldom laugh-out-loud funny). The highlight was a song by John Anealio, based on a quote by Neil Gaiman, which inspired this blog post.
The story’s a bit old now by internet standards, but a good story is worth retelling. That’s what we do, right?

A fan of George R R Martin wrote to Gaiman asking if Martin owed it to him, the reader, to finish his epic fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire”. Now I’ve only read Volume 1 so far, but I loved it and fully intend to buy the next book once I’ve finished my work-in-progress. Like the enquirer I do hope Martin finishes it in the not-too-distant future, though knowing how slowly he puts the books out, I am not hurrying.
However, as Neil Gaiman succinctly put it, “George R R Martin is not your bitch”. As writers, we don’t owe our audience anything – except thanks for buying our books. Readers have no idea how hard it is to write a novel. Well I have news for you guys; something that takes hours of your time to read can take weeks, months, even years to produce. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow one writes – in fact, writing slowly is much harder work, in my experience. No-one willing writes slowly if they can avoid it; it’s tough to maintain that momentum, the total involvement in the narrative that makes the story come alive. Slow writing is a sign of self-doubt, and we should be encouraging tardy authors, not whining that their books are late. Fan pressure is the side of success that I least look forward to.
So let’s hear it for Neil, George and all the other writers out there. There are a thousand struggling authors who would love you to buy (and read) their books. The wait for the next volume of ASOIAF will go much quicker if you find other books you like – and you might just discover a new favourite in the process.
And here for the record is Gaiman’s original post, which is of course far better written than my incoherent ramblings :)

Write about what you know!

As writers we’re often told “write what you know” – which admittedly is kinda tricky when you’re writing SF&F! – but it holds true no matter what genre or medium you work in. When it comes down to facts (and even the most fanciful of stories contains a few), you really have a duty to get them right. And if you don’t know the facts, you need to a) do your research and b) get someone more knowledgeable than you to check them.
On Sunday night, Mr L and I watched the latest episode of “The Mentalist” to grace UK TV screens. I have to confess that I love US crime/mystery shows, even though the formula has become so formulaic (feisty female detective, maverick male sidekick, obligatory black boss) as to be embarrassing. Anyway, we knew we were in for a few cringe-worthy moments as soon as it transpired that one of the characters was British…
(Warning – mild spoilers for episode 217 “The Red Box”)

Now, I can easily forgive a character with a Yorkshire accent professing to be a Liverpool F.C. fan – the major teams have followers everywhere, not just in their home city. But there were two “facts” in the story that I found totally implausible, one of which revealed that the writer knew bugger-all about British culture – or worse still, didn’t care.
First, we were expected to believe that an inexpensive replica of an Ancient Egyptian ring, from the British Museum gift shop no less, could be successfully passed off as the original. Perhaps to an extremely gullible member of the American public, but to a dealer in stolen antiquities? I have a handsome replica Anglo-Saxon ring from that very establishment, made of gilt bronze, and not only is it very obviously machine-made and therefore mass-produced, but it bears a modern hallmark! Admittedly “The Mentalist” is hardly CSI – it’s more about showing off the central character’s eccentric personality and kewl skillz than portraying realistic investigations – but this is the kind of slipshod plotting that gives cozies a bad name. I can only assume that, by using the British Museum rather than, say, the Smithsonian, the writer hoped to give the plot-hole a gloss of plausibility, but it’s a plot-hole nonetheless.

The second gaffe was the one that made me laugh out loud, however. Examining the body, Jane observes a scar on the young man’s face, and says that he can’t have been at Eton or he would have had plastic surgery to remove the scar. Seriously? Americans seem to be obsessed with how bad our teeth are (and admittedly we don’t worship orthodontists the way they do) – so why would they perversely think that that we share their attitude to cosmetic surgery? I know the world has changed a lot since I was young, but even now I’m pretty sure that, unless the scar was really noticeable and disfiguring, a young chap at Eton would not even think of having it removed; on the contrary, if he had the surgery he would likely be teased mercilessly for being so vain. But obviously the writer thought it was a cool clue, and used it regardless of its plausibility.

To paraphrase the show’s pilot episode: “It irks me. It’s irksome.”

Now, I’m not going to stop watching the show just because of a few stupid errors – it’s entertaining fluff, and Simon Baker is certainly easy on the eye :) But if this were a book, I’d be tempted to throw it at the wall, because I hold novelists to a higher standard than TV hacks. A flaw like those described above breaks the willing suspension of disbelief, and throws the reader out of the story.
Of course I’m setting myself up for a fall here, because I’m sure that sooner or later I’ll make a historical gaffe in my own work that will irk someone else and maybe even lose me a reader, but I guess that’s a chance we all take when we set pen to paper. No-one ever made art by playing it safe.

Butt in chair – and The Artist’s Way

I know, it’s been over a month since I posted here, which is not like me at all – but then I don’t see the point in blogging for day after day about how I can’t seem to settle down to writing. That’s fine for a private offline journal, but online it just comes across as whiny and self-indulgent!
In my defence, I have split my blog in two and been posting to the other one for the past couple of weeks. My main blog is now a more-or-less weekly mini-essay (or rant!) about something that interests me, bugs me or is otherwise worthy of comment. I’m keeping this blog as my public writing journal, where I post my progress – mainly for my own edification and self-encouragement, since few people are likely to be interested!

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A not-so-princely sum: academic royalties

About three years ago I was asked to write a chapter about the project I work on for the second edition of a book on bioinformatics software. We had contributed a similar chapter for the first edition, so it was just a matter of rewriting the introduction and updating the technical details, and of course I said yes. My colleague who had written the original chapter said that although there was no advance, I might get some small royalties eventually, albeit probably only enough to buy a round of beer.

Would that it were that much!

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