Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Welcome to my newly branded website! In an effort to celebrate, here is a miniature map of the new shape of the site:

Home!
From the Old English ham meaning ‘dwelling’, ironically where content changes most frequently and people linger the least

Modelling!
More pictures, less text; the best of my modelling portfolio, plus links to the other places you can see my face online

Project Flashcards!
A big part of my life at the moment deserves big fancy capital letters. The question is, which of the three movies currently in post-production will make it to this page first? (Hint: THIS ONE)

Writing!
My fiction, my featured writers, and my proofreading services

Blog!
This one, specifically

About!
Including links to other places you can find me online and other things that I like

As I’ve been pushing Flashcards pretty hard recently, here’s a brief update on how the project is going. In mid-January we shot STRINGS, the first short written for the project, utilising the professional help of Kiera Gould, Bill Thomas and Jon Boylan, among the other friends Kiera convinced to convene in the woods at 7am. Estimated wrap was 8 o’clock that evening, but following a joking conversation a week earlier, we had at the last minute arranged to shoot Ben Daly’s OUT OF BREATH the following day. Both shoots went surprisingly smoothly, with Out of Breath only marginally slowed down by everyone’s collective exhaustion and the only moment of panic in Strings caused by a stage light exploding on the Vincents’ driveway.

Having pulled several (proverbial) strings to make the shoots work, I left several parties eagerly awaiting the finished films, while my own interest was quickly snatched by the SCI-FI-LONDON 48-HOUR FILM CHALLENGE. I tentatively approached those who were already involved in Flashcards and scraped together some interest, which eventually became a team of twelve. Then, in a sleep-deprived desperation to meet deadlines, Phil Grigg and I made the painful (read: easiest) decision to remove the credits from the final product in order to stay below the time limit. So while the film sits with the judges with no names but that of the team, here are the awesome people who helped make it happen:

Andrew Cunningham (2nd unit director, composition, voice actor)
Chloe Isherwood (director of photography)
Alex Twinn (writer, production assistant)
Phil Grigg (production assistant, editorial assistant, foley artist)
Toby Warren (sound recording)
Fran Green (production assistant, and one of the first to encourage me to make this happen)
Gemma Druce (actor)
Jon Boylan (voice actor)
Adam Gould (voice actor)
Michael Vincent (voice actor, art department)
Matt Evans (voice actor, cybernetics consultant)
And Dan Tull (lender of Macbook and Final Cut Pro)

Curious? Watch A SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT on Vimeo now!

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I meant to post this yesterday, but I got caught up in the excitement of the 1st of December and my car breaking down.

Now that November: Extreme Writing is all over and everyone is resting their aching hands in bowls of warm water, I thought I would revisit National Novel Writing Month in a slightly more positive light, and by positive I mean in the same strain as my previous blog which is collaboration, my friends!

So after writing about this a month or so ago I shopped around a few other blogs to see what other people had to say about the Big Month. What I learned was that  while aptly-named event does foster a lot of novels (of whatever quality), there are participants with slightly different agendas to smashing out a story as quickly as possible.  The NaNoWriMo forums contain extensive sections for poetry and screenplays, which didn’t settle my previous dispute much. But some people tackled the whole event in a different light: fellow gamer Dave Thompson blogged that he would be using the motivation to write some tabletop adventure material, and another face from the LARP field, Nataraptor, having used last year’s month to kick-start her planned novel writing, has been slowly copyediting since then, and planned to pick up the wordcount again this November.

And that’s not all! To further expand my horizons I decided to find a whole other perspective on the subject, and thus contacted Gavin Smith, author of Veteran, War in Heaven and upcoming The Age of Scorpio (out in April 2013), all from Gollancz. Despite his busy schedule and constant underlying disappointment in me, he very sportingly had this opinion to offer:

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“The NaNoWriMo is an excellent idea.  As a writer you can often feel like you’re working in a vacuum, I like that NaNoWriMo fosters a community, which in turn provides support and encouragement.  What it does best, however, is provide the impetus to get words down on paper.  Most people talk themselves out of writing, either they never quite get started or they give up halfway through because they get bored or convince themselves that what they have written is rubbish.  With the rather clever month deadline and the achievable word count, even for people with a full time job and families (though I appreciate it’s a lot more difficult in those circumstances), NaNoWriMo should help people overcome both the above problems.

What I would say is that many writers, myself included, hate what they are writing at the time they are writing.  Don’t try and fix things as you go, you can fix things when you’re finished, though when you return to what you’ve written you may be pleasantly surprised to discover that it is a work of genius (this is, of course, my working process).
In general I think people who want to write (and if you want to, why aren’t you?) have no reason not to try NaNoWriMo, and I don’t think they should limit it to just November.  Though obviously I’d prefer it if people steered clear of the genres I work in as I don’t need anymore competition.  In fact the main thing I dislike about NaNoWriMo is the dreadful contraction of its name.  I mean how is that supposed to foster good writing practice?  I’m tempted to submit a fifty thousand word novel using similar contractions which would read as one enormous word!”

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With this in mind, I am still not convinced that NaNoWriMo will ever be for me, at least not until I have a slightly less hectic lifestyle. But who knows – I have recently been toying with the idea of moving to Los Angeles to write my blockbuster screenplay, and that day might well fall in late-autumn. And in the meantime, we can all look forward to Gavin Smith’s next book, which I can only assume will be entitled GaSmiNeBo.

(In the meantime, to read more from Gavin Smith, keep an eye out for his collection of short stories set in the game universe of Crysis 3, coming out in February!)

I enjoy one of the Twitter users I follow, @FakeEditor, self-described as “A publishing industry insider who tells you the best way to be a successful writer! No, really!”, who co-posts with #FE2 about how their work, lives and endless Twilight-inspired submissions continue to make them reach for the tequila. My favourite time to read their tweets is November, specifically towards the end, when the submissions for National Novel Writing Month start to flood in.

I am in two minds about NaNoWriMo, as a writer who has never attempted it. On the one hand, I struggle with boundaries (in terms of plot and word count, that is) and timeframes, so giving oneself a very definite word count and deadline can be a great encouragement, in a world where nothing around you ever stops,  to just sit down and write. It teaches young, amateur writers to manage their time, to set daily targets, to support one another in their craft and, on top of all that, it has the potential to be very rewarding at the end, something which can be rare in the thankless world of trying to find a publisher.

However, it’s at that finding-a-publisher stage that I think NaNoWriMo falls down, as very aptly described last year by @FakeEditor with tweets such as “…if you’re already behind, just give up. We’ll have enough shitty novels to reject even without your masterpiece”, a whole month of ‘Fake NaNo tips’,’ and gratuitous use of the hashtag #thisiswhyIdrink. Timeframes are all very well, but the writing of anything, let alone a novel, requires several things: planning, writing, rewriting and editing, proofreading at least a hundred times, and preferably proofreading by a friend whose linguistic skills you trust. The deadlines surrounding NaNoWriMo, however, seem to end up as simply dividing the overall word count by the number of days in November. What one ends up with, at the end of the day, is a hurriedly-written, unedited, rush-planned and un-proofread 50,000 words: in short, an inaccurate picture of the life and craft of a writer.

Now, NaNoWriMo itself describes the project on its website as “Thirty days and nights of literary abandon”, and maybe that’s how the whole thing should be viewed – pure abandon, writing for the sake of writing, learning the art of pumping out words until there are no more words at the bottom of the proverbial word well, grasping at least the primary aspect of being a writer, rather than the entire ordeal. Maybe it is helpful for aspiring writers to work this way, at least once a year, and apply what is learned to their actual career. It’s likely that many participants go back to the rewriting/editing/proofreading stages in mid-October. But if I have learned anything from @FakeEditor, it’s that there is a significant amount of participants who full-stop the final sentence, hit ‘save’ and immediately hit ‘send’ on the submission email. To me, the phrase “write a novel in a month” is less of an exciting, productive step on the way to literary success, and more like something paraphrased from a casual afternoon with Annie Wilkes.

Since I started playing Dungeons and Dragons (Edition 3.5, for those who are interested) at university I have struggled to create the same sense of enormousness and grandeur that roleplaying games can bring in my writing. Actually I’ve been trying to do this for much longer, right from when I used to belong to a little roleplay club with friends from school, back in 2004. Mainly, however, I started to do this following a year-and-a-half campaign in which I played a stereotypical chaotic/good rogue named Amber (not the first manifestation of this character), the classic hopeless-romantic save-the-world not-leaving-without-my-friends sort of character I think probably every girl plays sooner or later. The campaign stretched over three continents of the setting world, included more than ten players on-and-off and at least three times that many characters, and ultimately held true to a theme of love conquering all. That, and Ilithids. Because as we all know, nothing goes hand-in-hand with love quite like Ilithids. (Maybe that should read ‘hand-in-tentacle’.)

So I had a go at transferring the epic quests and tales of these characters into narrative-form, centred, of course, on my Amber (a point I’ll come back to). Immediately I began to run into problems: there was an argument at this point, but what was that awesome line Character X said? Ah well, I’ll rewrite it. Wait, was it Character X or Character Y who was on this side of the argument? Never mind, let’s get them back to the town so Event Z can happen. Shit, wait, Event Z happened before all this—In short, a lot of the events and conversations that take place only hold their intrigue and interest (and, in some cases, sense) when phrased exactly as they were at the tabletop, in the heat of the moment, and without the aid of a dictaphone they can never be perfectly recalled.

This isn’t the only problem. I said earlier that my attempts at writing the story all centred on Amber, my rogue. This, again, is something inherent in roleplaying writeups – the same thing happened, to a lesser extent, in my Fiasco! writeup. The obvious reason behind this is vanity, but it’s also a little to do with the characters, their creators and their motivations. I did not invent these characters: they are not mine to do with as I will. This makes it harder to play with them, to twist them to suit the situations (as they appear in the story differently to the sessions), and overall, to know precisely why they do what they do. I know my character’s motivations inside out – I made them up; they’re a just shade over from my own motivations. Why did the ranger just pick up a Halfling and hurl it at that cave troll? Amber doesn’t know, and nor do I. (For the record, however, I don’t think that ever happened.)

The final issue with this type of writing is more generic and a little more disheartening: reader interest. I said at the start that the events and scenes in a roleplaying game are rarely less than huge, grand, exciting and epic. They outscale any book, they are bigger and more fulfilling than movies, brighter, with better characters and fight scenes and special effects—that is, in the eyes of the player. The overall problem with writing what is essentially fanfiction of this type is that the writer, being the player, has seen all this from the very centre of the story: he was, for all intents and purposes, there, fighting those battles and crying for those characters. And other players from the campaign who read the resulting story are likely to be just as engaged: their characters might be less well-represented, or slightly altered or not as badass, but they were there, too, and reading about their characters is a bit like reading a newspaper story about how you saved a cat from a tree: you are the hero, the star. And no matter how convinced you are that the story is good, that it transcends the barrier between player and reader, that sense of grandeur and magnificence will never be present for a reader who was not there.

What I wrote of the aforementioned university campaign I never finished; I like a lot of the scenes I did write, but a lot of them simply never reflected how I felt when I played them out at the tabletop. I’ve written other pieces based on games, including Lorien Trust (but more for my own pleasure and linguistic practice than to show anyone), but I think my writeup of Fiasco!, which I recently put up on here, is the only one I’ve actively shared, and that is mainly due to the storytelling nature of the game itself. At the end of the day, sharing roleplaying fiction simply feels selfish, a demand for everyone to read about my character and how amazing she is, how awesome her actions, how heartfelt her story; and tabletop roleplaying is meant to be anything but selfish. Having said that, roleplaying writeups do share the same benefits of fanfiction: the chance to concentrate not on story, or character development, or even making much sense, but only on the writing itself, exercising the craft in the best way one can, so that maybe, just maybe, it might be a substitute for that feeling one can only get from being there.