It’s The End…..

Or perhaps a new beginning.

Some months ago a film director asked me to work on an outline script they had for a Zombie short film (8mins).  The result is this film (only on till 10pm GMT so watch it quick!) It’s been an amazing journey and I’m so proud of all those who worked on it to turned it into something really special. Take a look right now!! Only on Haloween night 5-10pm GMT

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Occupancy

When a property developer visits an abandoned house, advertised as a development opportunity, he encounters two macabre sisters, unwilling to share occupancy.

I’ve spent most of the last year splitting my time between finishing my novel and writing a number of short films.

Occupancy will be the first of my scripts to make it to film. The film will probably only be around 3 minutes in length and its main purpose is so the director can work with the location and some of the actors we intend to use for a zombie film (which I script edited/co-wrote). The film is being produced by Cold Water Canyon pictures by a very inspirational guy called Crash Taylor.

He’s written a bit more about the process of making the film and the people involved here:

http://coldwatercanyonpictures.com

Crash Taylor is an award winning photographer turned cinematographer. He has infectious enthusiasm and, being from California originally (now based in Nottingham), a very positive view of life. Crash puts his all into every project. Many of the scripts we’ve worked on have gone back and forward via various film script critics, to ensure they are the best they can be before anyone shouts ACTION!

Also in the pipeline is a ‘store hold-up’ short film and a slightly longer short called Watching Over You. Watching Over You is my favourite of all my scripts so far and is the one I desperately want to see made. The script is being put forward to the BFI to see if we can get funding – if we can then it could really become something special – fingers crossed.

It’s nice to be able to blog some positive news – let me know how things are going with your works-in-progress…?

Feeling a bit ‘Alice’

I have an artist friend who has begun to produce some fabulous pictures for her brother’s steampunk event next year, in Oxford. She is a very talented lady, and on the cusp of becoming more recognised; a graphic novel and a TV series both in the pipeline. Am I jealous? Probably, a bit, but I’m old enough to feel inspiration and admiration, especially when it’s success well deserved.

I’ve become quite interested in the whole steampunk thing recently, although I’m aware its probably been going on for a while, it’s fairly new to me. There’s something very alluring about the over-designed steam powered, cogs and pulleys technology and of course the lure of funked-up period clothing – from almost any period pre 1950. Take your pick, adapt, accessorise and make it your own. I haven’t actually gone as far as to dress up and attend anything yet, but you never know. I’m eager to read more steam punk literature – but as my reading list grows I’m not sure there are enough hours in the day!

My friend’s/her brother’s theme is Alice is Wonderland -I’ve glimpsed some wonderful images already of cheshire cats falling from dirigibles and an airship disappearing into a chess-board hole in a rabbit shaped cloud. They really are quite inspired.

Like Alice’s adventures in wonderland and through the looking glass, life takes some strange turns. I couldn’t have predicted at the beginning of this year that my life would take quite the turn it has. And like Alice, the quicker I tried to move towards my writing goals, the further away they seem than ever. Perhaps some strange magical, slightly surreal event will occur, landing me exactly where I want to be. Until then I’ll keep turning myself around and forging ahead, dealing with this peculiar world the best that I can.

When I have details of the steampunk event – I’ll let you know 🙂

Searching for inspiration 2: the parameters of magic

In Searching for inspiration 1 – I got some great feedback on the issue of creating great battle scenes in novels. I’ve not yet had time to read the books you all suggested, but I will –  after that and a bit more thinking time I’m going to tackle the re-write of my own battle scenes. The second major issue – which I need to solve before I can tackle my battle scenes, is getting the magical elements of my book just right.

For a fantasy writer the use of magic is a major issue.

I’m currently mid-way through an old fantasy novel written sometime in the 1980’s. Let’s just say it’s probably ‘of its time’. In many ways the book is well written, but the novel’s hero has the ability to summon and command powerful gods. So, whenever he’s in a bit of a tight spot he utters some spell and conjures a god who sorts it out. I’m going to plough through to the end because I hate to leave a book unfinished and am hoping its all grist to the mill, but there’s very little tension for me in seeing him facing any enemy.

If magic can conquer all, then it would, end of story. So, without trying to put fetters on our imaginations, I think fantasy writers need to come up with some ‘rules’.

Now I’ve read some blogs which firmly disagree with this. I can see where they are coming from too – after all, this is fantasy it is supposed to be fantastical.  There are some great books where magic is an unknowable force, even for the most knowledgable characters in the novel; where magic can be conjured but its effects never be accurately predicted. But this is a ‘rule’ in itself – this creates the tension. You don’t know what will happen when someone casts a spell, it could depend on their mood, their ingredients, the words they use etc.

One pitfall (I don’t think I’ve fallen into), is to use magic to get myself out of a writing dead-end. As with the novel I’m reading right now, using magic to solve every problem is just boring after a while. It smacks of lazy writing, even if the manifestations of the magic are amazing and awesome (I hate that word) it’s still a cop out.

Despite knowing what I like and dislike about other fantasy novels, I have found myself needing to take a step back from my own writing to make sure I’m on the right track. I’m not going to go away and draft some intricate magical system, I think it’s a fools errand. I’ve written some random notes about vaguely where I think the magic comes from and how it manifests in my world and what it can and cannot do. My major issue is the use of magic in combat. I want to have a lot of proper medieval style battles – just ‘cos that’s what I like 😛  – so there’s no way I want my magic making such battles irrelevant. I’m still undecided, however as to whether magic should have some place in it.

For me the magic isn’t the key to holding the novel together. It runs through it, helps to create the texture of the world but is only one element weaving through the story.

Once again any recommendations for books with subtle or well-crafted magical elements would be great. Also I’d love to hear about how other fantasy writers tackle this issue.

It’s not writers block…. I’m mulling.

Or at least I hope so.

I’ve been through my manuscript I’ve removed a whole heap of unnecessary words and paragraphs, corrected spellings and grammar. I’ve highlighted areas that ‘tell’ but do not ‘show’ and areas where I’ve scrawled ‘develop’ or ‘re-write’. I have also written a list of major issues to address:

One of these I discussed in a previous blog, is my need to develop a strong female character to replace the one that was cut in the last purge. A writer friend suggested to me to see if any of the existing male characters might be suitable to be altered to be a woman; something I’m now seriously considering.

Another issue was my need to be clear about the parameters of magic within the novel – I thought I had a good handle on this, but the more I consider it the more I tie myself up in knots. Related to this, I was advised to get a good back-story going for the character who has emerged as the (anti)hero of the book. Strangely I have back stories (in my mind) for all other characters but not him. He’s a mysterious character which is partly my excuse for having failed to do this a long time ago.

With all this on my mind I’ve now come to a complete halt.

I spent some time last week reading through celtic mythologies and looking at information on ancient world religions. I did this to try to get back ‘in the zone of myth and magic; something that never used to take much effort!

A combination of a lack of solid time-blocks to write in, and continuously switching my attention from one issue to another made this a very frustrating week. I have written a few new chapters, but I don’t think they’ll make the final cut. It occurred to me I might be so keen to get this book finished asap, I’m trying to tackle too much at once. Consequently I’m not thinking very clearly.

My only hope is that out of this chaos some great writing will emerge; I need to accept it won’t be this week, or the next. I’m going to take a break, do some reading (of some of the books you all kindly recommended last week, featuring strong female characters) then revisit my book.

Thank you all for your continued support and in advance for your comments and advice.

The Arvon experience – Part 3 – fears & dreams

Overcoming fears and making dreams come true.

Overcoming fears

A large part of the success of the Arvon format is simply that, for one week, it brings together a group of writers. At first this can seem a little daunting. After all, aren’t ‘other’ people so much more ‘sorted’ that oneself; more confident,  more experienced, more talented? What becomes clear, during the week, is almost everyone else is thinking exactly the same thing. It was great to spend time with a group of people experiencing the same challenges; difficulty finding time to write, difficulty in sharing the process with one’s nearest and dearest, feeling guilty for writing when there are ‘more important’ things to be done and so on… (if you’re a writer you’ll be able to add to the list!)

Testament to the power of Arvon in bringing writers together and facilitating the forging of relationships that go beyond the week itself, six of the attendees  had met on a previous course. This group set up, and encouraged others to join, student led co-mentoring sessions. I didn’t join myself, mainly because my aim on the course was to pull my sprawling novel together, rather than focus on specific passages. However,  those who did go found the feedback on their writing useful.

Every night three or four students read a five to ten minute passage from their work in progress. Each night I enjoyed the variety of styles and the sheer talent displayed – I also experienced a growing sense of panic about reading my own work. I considered simply not doing it, but I would have been the only one who didn’t. So, I put my name down for the last night and probably wasted a little too much time agonising over which passage to read. (If anyone is interested I might post the passage here; seeing as its escaped my clutches and wandered into the ears of real people already?)

Part of my initial reticence was that no-one else was writing fantasy (or sci-fi), although there were a few writing something with a fantastical element. Maybe Arvon should consider a fantasy writing course? That would bring the weirdos out of the closet – I include myself here!

When I finally did my reading the reaction was good. I was relieved to have got through the ordeal, for me that was an achievement in itself. The group gave me great feedback.

Making dreams come true.

Thursday seemed to be a turning point for a lot of us on the course. I spent a lot of time on my own, getting over the grief of my massive 80,000 word cull and going through a heap of self-doubt. I later discovered quite a few people were having a similar experience that day. Perhaps it was something in the air, or perhaps it was the fact the end of the week was in sight and we were all desperate to make some momentous breakthrough. The realisation began to hit home that however much input a tutor gives you, at the end of the day its down to you to make your dream manifest.

I had one dream of the outcome I wanted from the course. I didn’t mention it to anyone, because I felt it very unlikely to come to pass. To my quiet delight, on the last day of the course, in my last tutorial, that dream was realised.

I spoke again with Alan about my novel. He said some very positive things about my the depth of my character development and the story overall. He then told me that he felt my work might be of great interest to the publishing industry/readers if I could get it out in the next couple of years. He advised me to re-write over the next year and then send it to him. He offered to read the whole novel and then, depending on it’s state, pass it on to a contact of his; a prolific fantasy and sci-fi writer also involved in the publishing business. He felt this contact may well be interested in it or at the very least be able to put us onto someone who might be.  And there it was, my pre-course dream: that someone in the business would read my work and tell me they knew someone who might be interested.

Now the hard work really begins!

The Arvon experience – a writer’s paradise

Part 1 – first impressions

I can’t believe it’s been four days since I came back from the Highlands. Seems to have taken me that long to get back up to speed with everyday life.

For anyone who doesn’t know what Arvon is, it’s a charity offering life-changing creative experiences to anyone who writes; from beginners to established published writers, from school age upwards. They run a programme of weekly residential courses, open to the public, and tutored by leading writers in genres from poetry to fiction to script writing, at secluded rural centres. On their five day writing course you find yourself living, working and eating in a secluded historic writing house. To help those on lower incomes there are grants available. I believe they also work with school and communities, often from very disadvantaged areas, to help them develop self-confidence and language skills.

The particular course I attended was a Novel writing tutored retreat at their Moniack Mhor cottage, about fifteen miles from Inverness in Scotland.

For me the journey was pretty mammoth. I took a late train into London, then experienced the joys of the Caledonian Sleeper, arriving into Inverness in the early morning and waiting till later that day to join the shared taxi to Moniack Mhor.

I had intended to awake refreshed in Inverness, dump my bags at the station then explore the city. However, the ‘Sleeper’ train failed to live up to its name (though the service was wonderful). I spent all but perhaps two hours of the journey wide awake. This was due to a combination of factors:

a) My paranoia of someone breaking into my cabin

b) The fear I was about to be trapped with a group of strangers in a remote cottage where my writing inadequacies would be exposed

c) Some snoring man who sounded like he was lying right next to me. My aggravation with him was compounded by the frustration he wasn’t lying next to me; as this would at least have enabled me to give him a firm kick

d) Deciding to have a coke with my whiskey with my evening meal (should have had it neat, doh!).

As we drove into the countryside I got my first glimpse of the stunning mountains and flowering gorse and had high hopes for the week. We arrived to a warm welcome and, after putting our bags in our simple but comfortable rooms, gathered for a welcome reception. It was our first opportunity to meet our fellow housemates and the tutors.

The attendees were from a wide range of ages and backgrounds, the youngest was just turning 24 and the oldest, well lets not dwell on age…I try not to! Some students had an almost completed novel with them, some had a few chapters written, others just a sketchy outline. It became clear everyone wanted something different out of the week. It also quickly became clear that just being around other writers was going to be quite liberating.

The cottage itself is a homely place with the most gorgeous farmhouse kitchen (the kind I’ve always dreamed of). I was surprised to find it packed full of food which we were encouraged to help ourselves to whenever we wanted; fresh bread every day, basket of crisps, tray of chocolates, a fruit bowl, cereals, cold meats, variety of cheeses, a range of teas, coffees and soft drinks. In terms of creating that relaxed feeling I personally think this is quite important (though a little hazardous for my waistline). It’s a small thing, but can make all the difference.

Every evening a group of three or four of us would cook the meal for the whole group. On the first evening the two tutors read for us and were followed by two very brave students who decided to read their work as well. Every evening after that three or four students read out their work. This was entertaining and interesting, as well as being very daunting. The standard of writing was very high. I have to admit the merest thought of my reading anything out nearly gave me a panic attack.

Every day we spent half an hour with one of the tutors and the rest writing – or walking, eating, chatting. It was really up to us to make use of the retreat. I think other course are slightly more structured but, as I came on it to get to grips with my novel, time and peace and quiet were an important component to it working for me.

In my next blog I’ll let you know how I got on….