One year on…

It’s now been over a year since I started this blog, and I thought it was worth taking a few minutes to reflect. In that time, I’ve finished one book (again), started another, entered some competitions with mixed levels of success, got an agent, and moved to a four-day working week. I’ve managed to keep to my self-imposed deadlines, writing blog posts on a variety of topics including cricket, music, trolls, the hidden gems of London, historical fiction, and how to write humorous poetry. Checking my stats, I see that I’ve had more than 2,000 views from people in countries including Canada, Israel, Malaysia and Kazakhstan. A number of different search terms have brought people to the blog, including ‘Giles Coren is a drunk’ ‘blah blah blah simple diagram’ ‘where to buy feuerzangenbowle’ ‘xkcd bubble bath’ and ‘Alastair Cook sexy and hot’, but by the far the most popular is ‘triple facepalm’. Not entirely sure what to make of all this, but hey, it’s feeling like some kind of success.

For my writing, it’s been a vintage year: I’ve improved my productivity and made some genuine progress towards publication, although there’s still a long way to go before I crack the Amazon Top Ten. This time next week I’ll be at the World Fantasy Convention down in Brighton, where I’m hoping to catch up with my agent, meet some interesting people and get some inspiration. Then I’ve got a whole week booked off to spend writing, coinciding with the start of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, where aspiring novelists try to complete 50,000 words in November). I’m not sure yet whether I’ll spend it working on my new book, Forever 27, re-working my first book, The Heartland of the Winter, working up some short story ideas, or perhaps just taking stock and thinking about what direction I want to take next.

I’ve always found one of the best ways to get in some quality thinking time is to wander around a local park or woodland. As well as being an aid to rumination, you can sometimes stumble across cool things – like a fine crop of toadstools. As a fantasy writer, I thoroughly approve of toadstools (Amanita Muscaria if you want to get technical) although I was amused to discover last year that some of my friends were under the impression that they were mythical. I can assure you that they are not – and here’s the photographic evidence. And with these pictures, my friends, I’ll leave you, until next time. TTFN.ImageImage

The fine art of filth

As previously mentioned here, I’m currently writing a book called ‘Forever 27’, now with the working tag line: ‘a tale of sex and death and drugs and magic and rock ‘n’ roll’, which I think sums it up pretty well. I’ve been doing a bit of research into these topics, and some writing. All the characters now have names and I think the plot should just about work. Then I hit a bit of a stumbling block: the first thing on the list. I realised that, if I want to write this book, I’m going to have to write about sex. Oo-er – I’ve never done that before: the young lovers in my previous book, The Heartland of the Winter, went all shy on me. But the characters in Forever 27 are a bit older, and a lot more confident, and they want sex lives (characters and their unreasonable demands really are the bane of an author’s life…). So I figured, I’m just going to have to take the, er, plunge, and try not to imagine my mother reading over my shoulder.

I’d previously struggled to write about death, but I got over that problem with the help of my writing group, whose advice was very helpful in getting me to stick in the knife and give it a twist. And, really, if you can’t write about sex and death, what are you going to write about? So I approached them again. Not everything they said was helpful (‘the thing is, murder is socially acceptable’ was probably my favourite comment), but now I have a stack of books called things like ‘How to Write a Dirty Story’ lying around the house, right where the cleaner can see them.

Nervously, I got cracking. I found that coming up with the scenario, writing the build-up and the dialogue, was easy enough, but my characters were demanding more than a bit of flirtation and then a discreet veil draped over the rest of the proceedings. They want to go all the way, and I have to take them there, but I didn’t feel ready. My solution was to try to write something separate, a related-but-distinct set-up and characters, a kind of sexy sandpit, and see if I could get things going there without worrying about the writing forming part of anything I might actually want to get anyone to read. The hope being that, having lost my literary virginity there, I could transfer the lessons across to the actual book.

There are, I soon discovered, many perils of doing the literary nasty. Ikea Erotica (’insert Rod A into Slot B’). Mills & Boon speak (‘her pink flower of femininity opened’). Elaborate metaphors which end up either hopelessly mixed and meaningless (’we are lost in oceans and deserts…’) or just stupid (’she is like a rockpool… she keeps a starfish in there’). The biggest issue I found at the start was figuring out what words to use for, y’know, parts, without sounding either medical or ridiculous. Is pussy okay or does it just sound like you’re talking about a cat? Should you try a more robust Anglo-Saxon term, or is that just a bit too – blunt? How are you supposed to refer to a clitoris? And that’s before you’ve even thought about the male side of things. One of the books I’ve been lent suggested that you shouldn’t get hung up on terminology. Which is all very well, but I think if I had my hero ask my heroine if he can put his mop-handle in her love-bucket, both she and the reader would fall about laughing.

When questioned by a writing friend, I confessed to wrestling with the above, and was treated to a Google-derived list of terms, many of them… interesting. At ‘meat curtains’ I laughed so hard my wine went up my nose and I nearly choked to death. Things were not going to plan. Fortunately, rock ‘n’ roll came to the rescue. After establishing with two separate groups of people that Trent Reznor has the sexiest voice ever, and that therefore ‘Closer’, a song in which he expresses his desires in a forthright manner, is the sexiest thing ever recorded, the suggestion was made that I should simply stick it on repeat on my iPod, get the creative juices flowing, and go for it. It was also suggested that I try writing about Mr Reznor himself – a tempting idea for the punning possibilities alone (’Oh Trent, is that your nine inch nail…’), but I decided that would be taking things too far.

So what’s the result? Well, I didn’t actually put ‘Closer’ on repeat (one play is enough…), but I did crack my knuckles, sit down on Sunday morning with my laptop, my iPod, and a cup of tea, and manage to forget about my inhibitions for long enough get a few characters into bed and out again. I’ve drawn the meat curtains, fired the love gun, wanged the doodle. Metaphorically speaking. Of course, I’m still too nervous to show anyone the actual material, so it won’t ever see the light of day in its own right (unless I can think of a good enough pseudonym – Jenny Taylor? Penny Trait? Anne L. Loving?), but at least I’ve got over the hurdle of my own hang-ups. The main characters from Forever 27 can’t wait.