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Thursday, October 05, 2006

NaNoWriMo is coming

Something fun is about to take place: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo for short) is approaching. NaNo is a world wide write-fest in which participants attempt to knock out a 50,000 word novel starting on November 1 and ending on November 30. Only prose penned for the first time in November is allowed - no pre-written material. This year about 75,000 people are expected to take part and less than 20% are likely to finish their novel. It's like ... er .. marathon running for writers. So I'm 'in'. Complete madness, I know. But sometimes you should just spend time doing something really silly - just for the sake of it. Be a kid again (for a while).

Don't expect anything exciting to come of this particular literary venture. As the blurb for NaNo says, "Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down." If you finish, and are really lucky, you might have something worth spending the next eleven months turning into a passable novel - but don't bank on it!

Anyway, I have a bit of planning to do this month before I launch into the write-fest on 1st November. I'll keep you posted.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

On your marks ...

Well, the writers are all ready. Thinking time is nearly over and in just over 48 hours tens of thousands of writers will start writing. This afternoon, eight of us (including Andrew) met up at the Arts Centre in Christchurch, talked about writing, NaNo and what we were all doing. Then we listened to "AJ" (our 'Municipal Liaison' guy) giving an interview on National Radio. If you want to you can find the podcast here at: (at least for the next two or three weeks - look for for the item "(Inter)National Novel Writing Month".

We have all been given our instructions; "don't log on to the Internet, don't read email, no instant messengers, if you blog, don't - in fact, for November, any time spent at a computer when you are not writing, is wasted time." So, if you don't hear from me for a while, you will know why and if you find something here that makes even less sense than usual, then I have probably posted part of my novel in the wrong place!

See you out the other end (unless I fall of my bike at the first corner).

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Ready ... steady ... type.

Another five hours and it will be heads down, ready, steadyeee ... Type!

I am starting with not a great deal of confidence that I will be able to keep up the pace or won't run out of words. But, hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say (who was it came up with that one?)

Anyway just to make me more embarassed to fail, my "NaNo Meter" is over on the left so everyone can see how I am doing (or not). And, if you haven't the faintest idea what I am talking about, then you haven't been reading these pages for a while so go and check out NaNoWriMo - I am on my way towards that elusive 50,000 words and being one of the 15% who make it.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

I don't have time ...

... but my NaNoMeter tells only half the story. The rest of it goes something like this:

November 1, get up early and complete nearly 1,000 words before work. Complete another 1,000 at lunch time. Fall of bike on way home from work and disrupt my shoulder joint. Get home and go to doctor; suspected broken bone at AC joint - large bony lump on shoulder. Arm in sling. Right arm in sling.

November 2, go to hospital. X-ray, torn ligaments, end of collar bone flapping around in breeze looking for a home. Off work five days, sling for two weeks, recovery about six.

November 3-10, Searching for new ways to type faster than one finger on left hand. Some success; well ahead on word count thanks to days at home and inability to do anything else.

November 11, Arm out of sling already, pleased with progress, took time out to type blog. Wants medal for dedication to 'art'.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Time out for good behaviour

Tonight I take a break from writing my story. Today my word count passed the 32,000 mark with eighteen days left. That means I have averaged over 2,680 words per day so far and only need to average 990 per day for the rest of the month to complete my 50,000 words during November.

Considering my initial fears about keeping up the pace or running out of words, and then feeling that I would be forced to quit after the November 1st accident, I am pretty pleased about where I have got to. Pleased enough that I lodged my last words today at about 3 o'clock (32,182) and awarded myself the rest of the day off. My characters however are less kind, they haven't stopped nagging me to carry on telling their stories.

My main character is about to embark on period of discovery in a virtual world, my other MC is currently locked up for a murder that he may not have committed (I suspect that he wants me to get him out quickly) and National Security seem to have a finger in the pie, but no one quite knows what finger - least of all the police inspector who is beginning to think that there is more going on than she has been led to believe. Of course, that's just the surface story, underneath there's a more fundamental question about the responsibilities carried by someone who creates a life.

See what's going on here; I might have stopped writing the story, but these fingers are still in motion :-)

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Friday, November 24, 2006

The insanity has ended

Last night at ten o'clock, I finished my NaNo novel with seven days still in hand. I have started several novel length projects before but this has been the first for which I have written a complete first draft. And, believe me, after NaNo that's all you have - a first draft.

The whole experience has been both challenging and exhilarating The challenges started on November 1st when I had a cycling accident and wrecked my shoulder (prognosis: sling for 2 weeks, no driving for 3, recovery in 6). After trying to type with one finger on my left hand, I thought my NaNo was over. But, with a bit of cheer-leading from my fellow NaNo participants, I hung on in and, at some point, a dogged determination to finish come what may, set in. Writing a 50,000 word story (I won't call it a novel yet) in such a short space of time, is the writer's equivalent of running a marathon. Perhaps NaNo is harder than a marathon; certainly fewer percentage of people seem to cross the finish line.

From a writing perspective, I personally discovered how to tap in to my 'inner writer'. The inner writer is the little guy in your subconscious who sits there in the background quietly weaving intricate plot ideas and then feeding them out to you a bit at a time. When this guy is in the driving seat it is hard for the fingers to keep up with the flow of ideas that he generates. My best day (the last day) my 'inner writer' generated well over 5,000 words and I was still in bed by ten o'clock.

If the inner writer' is the friendly guy, then the 'inner editor' is his nemesis. He constantly tells you that what you have just written is no good (agree with him and tell him you'll fix it later) and is always trying to get you to read what you have just written (tell him you are writing, not reading right now). The inner editor is the reason I have never got past chapter three in any story I have previously attempted. Now that I have got to the end of this story I can, of course, let him back in to do what he does best.

Some things surprised me during NaNo.

  • The first was how the inner writer took over the story. I had the basic idea and a handful of characters, but the little guy just kept having them say unexpected things and taking them in directions I hadn't intended. I had ideas for scenes drawn up before I started writing, but half of them never got written and many new ones just popped up out of the blue.
  • The creative paralysis that set in around 33,000 words. That inner writer took a holiday or, more likely, I forced him out of the picture. The problem was that I started worrying about how I was going to bring all the threads of the story together for the end. The more I worried, the harder it all seemed. I decided to just write my main character towards the end and leave all the loose ends for a later edit. But still I only inched my way from 33k to 43k words. 10k words of drudgery.
  • The third surprise was that around 43k words, the inner writer came back and took over. I just wrote as fast as I could and in a final frenzy of writing all the story lines merged in an unforeseen and synergistic climax. That final day was a frantic 5k+ words fitted in around my day job bring the story screeching to a halt at 50,124 words.

Was it hard work? - You better believe it! Did I enjoy it? for the best part and ultimately, yes. Would I do it again? Try and stop me, I can see a sequel on the horizon already.

Here are the stats:

  • Started writing = 1 November 2006
  • Finished writing = 23 November 2006
  • Days with no writing = 3
  • Average words per writing day = 2,506
  • Best writing day = 5,196
  • Worst writing day = 850
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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Hot editing

Today is hot with a strong Nor'west wind ... it swings down off the Alps and assaults our house like the wolf that 'huffs and puffs' (maybe I am really a piggy?).

Anyway, it's far too hot to be outside (it's too hot to be inside too) but I have manged to finish editing the eleventh scene of "Past Life". Just another seventy odd to go. Sigh. So far that's added another 1k words and I am sure to add a few new scenes as well, so the word count is creeping up, even as extraneous text is deleted. 'More but tighter' is the dictum of the moment.

My next scene is where the reader gets their first introduction to a computer character. This is where things get difficult - the character needs to be a bit 'thin' and at the same time have qualities that the reader can relate too. Lots of head scratching coming up there, I think.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

China Ocean Shipping Company

At home my window overlooks the foothills of the Southern Alps. I love the view. At work, I look out on a rail yard. Right now they are loading containers onto a train of flat beds. There's a whole row of containers with "COSCO" stenciled on the side.

I Google "COSCO"; the "China Ocean Shipping Company". Their site says that "Every day, we manage the flow of cargoes, funds and information". Rail yard ... contaners ... from China ...


It was three in the morning. Sam Williams walked the rows of containers as he did six nights a week; every week. He liked nights. A man could be King of Everything at night. All these containers, the high fenced rail yard in which they stood, it was his kingdom. At nights.

Once, while wandering the alleys between the three story stacks of steel, he had tried to count the containers. But had lost track when some stupid cat had dashed out in front of him and made him start. Now he just told Elen that there were thousands of them and that the place felt like a graveyard at night.

That wasn't quite true: Graveyards were frighteningly silent at night. Once he had walked through one; the silence had sucked at his soul as though it wanted to drain the life from his body - to have him join the graveyard ghosts. Sam shuddered at the thought. Among the containers though, every footfall echoed back from the steel walls giving him an audible assurance of his substance.

Tonight there was another sound. Sam stopped. It seemed to come from high up; from one of the containers. He inched quietly down the row towards the sound; expecting to find one of the local cats. But now he could hear voices; Oriental voices. Instinctively Sam firmed his grip on the shaft of the Maglight that he carried, but the black shadow was too quick. It fell on him silently, wire slicing through his throat. Sam fell to the ground; life draining from his body.

There was more rustling before three black shadows ran from the containers and the place fell silent. As silent as a grave yard.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Clobbered by doubt

Last week I got clobbered by doubt. I sat down and reread Chapter 1 of my story, got through the first page and suddenly it occurred to me that my writing was crap. No one would want to read 75k of this!

Because it was such an unexpected thought, it caught me off guard and basically ruined my day (... and the next ... and ...).

I spent a while wrestling with the thought: is crap ... isn't crap ... is crap ... isn't crap (you get the idea?) and realised that this wasn't an argument that I could win right now. Only other people can tell me if they find my writing crap and even then it is only their opinion (though ten out of ten could be convincing!).

Point is, crap or not, I haven't yet finished writing the best book I can. It's still mainly rough draft and until I have finished editing it and making it the best I can make it, it doesn't get subjected to the crap test.

So, unwelcome thought that you are, your day has not yet come - you are going to have to wait until I am 'finished' (whatever that means). Now, back to that editing.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

China Ocean Shipping Company - First person PoV

After writing the COSCO vignette, another writer suggested it might be better written from a first person point of view (PoV). Now, I have never really tried first person, so I was a little anxious as to whether I could pull it off. But, you be the judge. This was the result:

* * *

It was three o'clock; two more hours to sunrise, and I was doin' the rounds. Me footsteps were echoing off the container walls, sounding sort of gravelly-metalic like ... if you know what I mean. I liked nights. Nights were the best. A man could be in charge at nights; no one else to boss you around. Everything in that yard; the rows and rows of containers - they stack 'em three high ya know - it was all mine. At night.

Apart from the bloody cats of course. Hate the cats. I was countin' the containers one night - Elen had asked me how many there were - I'd got to about six-hundred or some'ing when some stupid cat dashed out in front of me and made me loose count. So I just told my Elen there were thousands of 'em and that the place was like a graveyard at night. I think that made her realise how important my job was.

Of course, it wasn't true ... the graveyard thing I mean. Graveyards gave me the willies. Walked through one once. God, it was quiet. Feet don't make any sound on wet grass. I tell you, it was weird; felt like the ghosts were reaching out from the graves trying to grab hold of me. Bloody scary.

Anyway, that's when I heard the sound; seemed to be coming from one of the containers further down the row. At first I thought it was another cat, so I started creeping down the row to give it a fright. But then I realised it were voices. Not English; some'ing Eastern; Japanese, Chinese, some'ing like that. Some bugger 'ad got into me yard! So I took a grip on me Maglight ready to lay into 'em ... never got the chance ... next thing I knew was this thump on me back and something cutting into me throat. That's how I ended up here.

I looked around at the others. It would have been nice if one of them had said, "poor sod", or something; but they just started laughing. Sitting there leaning against their 'eadstones laughing. The one next to me laughed so bloody hard that he fell over backwards; 'eadstone sticking right up through his chest. That's when I started laughing too.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

China Ocean Shipping Company - Second person PoV

After writing this story in third person and first person, sombody else dangled the bait for a second person version. For those who may not know, second person is often used for instruction manuals, but very rarely in fiction because it is so difficult to write convincing fiction in second person.

In second person, the voice of the author or narrator (not necessarily the same thing) addresses the reader directly. The reader is asked to become a part of the story through the use of 'you' and 'yours' rather than 's/he' 'his', 'hers' (third person) or 'I' 'me' (first person). I wasn't at all sure it was possible, but I had a go anyway. In this case, the reader is invited to become 'Sam'.

* * *

Hello, Sam. Do you remember being told that, as you die, your whole life flashes in front of you? Well, now you know how true that is. Even those last few moments - the ones that caused the flash - became part of the flash.

I know, you are still struggling with the idea, but you really did watch yourself die. That's right Sam, it wasn't a dream, and this isn't a dream either. It was all very real and you watched it unfold; Sam Williams, victim and observer.

You don't believe me? Well, you always were a skeptic Sam. Look at this gash around my throat - no you won't spew, you can't spew any more - this gash is how we died ... Oh, you don't buy that either? Then let me remind you of how it went down:

As the wire was cutting into your throat, you saw yourself; strutting around that yard like you owned the place. Banging your boots down on the gravel so hard that they made the containers rattle. ... Yes, sure, anyone could have seen that. But I tell you what, only you could know what was running through your mind Sam. "This is all mine", you thought. "My yard, my containers, at least at night." Oh yes, big-shot Sam and his rail-yard full of containers. That's right, shuffle your feet Sam. I'd be embarrassed too, well, I mean I am embarrassed; both of me.

I tell you what else you thought; you remembered that cat - the one that scared the crap out of you when you were counting the containers for Elen. Bloody hell Sam, you were going to double what you counted anyway, just to impress her. Sometimes, you're a bleedin' embarrassment to myself. Yes, of course you miss Elen; Elen and a whole bunch of other stuff that you haven't begun to realise yet.

But let's just finish with those last moments. They are, after all, classic Sam ... So, big, brave Sam heard a sound. Did that ring warning bells in your mind? Oh no, not you - Sam, Sam, The Security Man; you thought it was a cat. You thought you'd like to scare it out of one of it's nine lives. You liked bullying poor, defenseless, furry creatures. That was real big of you Sam. ... Now come on Sam, don't start blubbering on me yet, we have a lot to get through.

How long does this go on? Oh, a very long time Sam; a very, very long time. You know, you have to live with yourself Sam ... especially when you die.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

What is a writer?

I have been wondering lately; what is a writer? My dictionary says that a writer is "one who writes, an author". It also says that an author is "a person who writes a book, article or other written work". Not exactly helpful definitions, and they don't take us far from the verb, 'to write' which, my dictionary tells me, is to " draw or mark (words, letters or numbers) on paper or a blackboard with a pen, pencil or chalk." There are other definitions of 'write' but, strangely, none of them refer to computers and the act of typing. Odd for a mainstream dictionary last published in 2004. But, I digress.

What these definitions do tell us is that writers are perceived as people who handle words; hence the term word-smith, I guess. There is an art and a craft in stringing words together and an art and craft in turning those strings of words into a story, book, manual, or whatever. And, isn't it true, that when most people think about a writer (if ever they do such a thing) they have in mind the art and craft of words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters and books? This, surely, is the wonderfully rich and intricate world of the writer. Or is it?

I've been wondering; yes, a writer needs all those word-smithing skills, but isn't there something larger, even more wonderful, going on when a writer puts pen to paper? You see, I am coming to think that the greatest challenge for a writer is not in assembling the words in a grammatically correct and readable way. No, the greatest challenge for the writer is to to have ideas, thoughts and images and to write in such a way that a reader can share and experience similar ideas, thoughts and images. The writer, I submit, is really in the business of thought transference.

Perhaps it's like a long distance love affair; the writer and the reader never meet and all the writer has available to make the relationship work, are these strange assemblages of words. Equipped with nothing more than these words, the writer has to sweep the reader off their feet, hold them intimately in an embrace for as long as the reading takes, and then finally release them, totally satisfied and knowing that they have shared an intimate 'oneness' between the covers of a book.

Maybe that imagery doesn't appeal to you; maybe I exaggerate just slightly, in order to make a point. But I do suggest that the place where the writer needs to work hardest is not in arranging and rearranging the nouns, verbs and adjectives, to make grammatically correct sentences, but in getting inside the mind of the reader. There's an unspoken contract between reader and writer; when the reader starts to read they are inviting the writer into their private world, they are inviting us writers to plant ideas in their heads, ideas that will start them thinking and imagining. Ideas that will cause them to laugh or cry, to be glad or sad, to want more of us or to never read us again.

You know what? I think that's both a privilege and a challenge of significantly more awesome proportion, than fretting over the placement of a comma, or a dozen other grammatical niceties that most readers will never notice while they are being swept off their feet by your awesome, passionate, writing.

What do you think?

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Beware the writing scams

It is said that, if something looks too good to be true, then it probably is. Using the Internet over many years, I have developed a 'nose' for a scam. So, then I went to (a site purporting to help writers) and saw that if I signed up for their free email, I would receive over $3,000 worth of writing related material and software for free, my nose definitely started twitching But, I felt the need to investigate - among the main draw cards was a picture of a software box marked "free writing software" and another picture of a software box marked "free mind mapping software". These were evidently some of the top listed items that I could have for free just by signing up.

So, I signed up.

Eventually I was sent an email with a link to a downloads page where I could retrieve my free goodies. Guess what - a scam. Most of the free items consisted or reprints of parts of books or short articles on writing. The material isn't rubbish, but nor is it worth even a teeny fraction of a decimal point of a percent of $3,000. It's all good advice that you can pick up any where on the net for free. Any time. No strings attached. And guess what? I already had both the software titles on offer; yWriter and Freemind. Both of these are free software downloadable at any time you like from the authors websites. Again, good software, but without a monetary value and, as far as I know, never sold in the type of box used in the pictures - you don't get a box either.

What the owner of the WriteStreet site (Mr Trent Steel) wants, is to sign you up to his email letter so that (a) he can get advertisers to place advertisements for writing related products which (b) you might purchase from him and earn him a commission. In short he wants to turn you into a statistic from which he might generate cash flow There are no $3,000 worth of goods. Its a scam. AND this isn't the only site of this sort; WriteStreet is one of a network of affiliated sites that cross reference each other. You might get suckered in through another site entirely, but its all part of the same scam.

What riles me about this is that it preys upon people who want desperately to become writers. Sites like this depend upon a naivete backed by a strong desire; they seem to offer help, but their interest is in their own pockets, not in the wannabe writer's success. Everything you need, to learn how to become a good writer, is out there on the Internet; free with no strings attached.

No one needs to get suckered by these con artists. Stay well clear.

It will be interesting to see whether the "Unsubscribe" link works. I'll let you know.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Kiwi Writers, open for business

It's great to see that Kiwi Writers is now up and running. A spin off from the highly successful 2006 NaNoWriMo Kiwi participation, it aims to foster the NaNoWriMo spirit all year round. Pay them a visit, fordy may well be lurking there.

Look out for the kiwi or the worm on other writing sites.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

I've decided; I don't want to be a writer any more.

So, that got your attention. Now let me explain; I've realised that the writing isn't the most important thing. I'll still write, of course, but my first ambition isn't to become a good writer; my first ambition is to become a good story teller.

Yes, I'm thinking fiction stories specifically. But its not just fiction; I've realised that people like the reports and the manuals I write, because they too tell a story. I'm a member of an organisation called TCANZ - the Technical Communicators Association of New Zealand. The members write all sorts of technical documents and they would probably be horrified to be told that they are story tellers. But they are. They tell the story of how this piece of equipment works, how this software works, how this procedure should be performed. Its a story which has to be told a special way, but it is still a story.

The point is, that before we can write, we need to be able to tell a story. There is an art in story telling; it's the art of engaging the reader in the story; it's the art of carrying them along with you, the teller; it's the art of painting a picture of what is in your mind in such a way that the reader can 'get' what you are trying to say.

A good story can be written in mediocre prose and still make a good read. A badly told story is never redeemed by well structured and grammatically correct writing. Now, don't misunderstand me - I'm not saying that bad writing is OK as long as the story is good. I'm saying that a well told story will carry the reader through most minor writing indiscretions. What we should aim for is great story and great writing. But if the story telling is crook, then the whole thing is crook.

So, I wannabe a good story teller; how about you?

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Station

This was a fun thing suggested by another writer. What, she asked, happens to all those characters that we put in stories that never got finished? Do they all end up in some "Grand Central Station" somewhere, waiting to be written into a story? I knew who I had to write about straight away ....

I first saw Jeff hunched over the bar in The Station. I couldn't see his face, but the woollen jumper he was wearing looked so 1950's with its multi-coloured zig-zag patterns. Intrigued, I sidled up to the bar and sat on a stool beside him.

The barman, a dwarf who's name I can never remember, hopped up onto his box and stuck his chin on the bar.

"Waya want?" he said.

I ordered and he disappeared below the bar, reduced to a disembodied series of shuffling, clinking, and gurgling sounds. My drink appeared on the bar as if by magic.

I looked sideways at Jeff. He was staring into his drink, motionless, as though he were in a totally different world.

"New here?" I asked.

There was no reply.

"Look, were all here for one bum reason or another", I said. "Best to get it off your chest. Folks here are pretty understanding."

Slowly, his head turned and he looked at me; sizing me up. After a few moments his eyes returned to the glass in front of him; he lifted it and took a large swallow.

He put the empty glass down and pushed it to the back of the bar. It disappeared, and he turned to face me.

"Look", he said, "I come here to drink to remember. I don't need any understanding. Just some memories. Ok?"

A drink had reappeared on the bar and he reached for it, without taking his eyes off of mine.

I don't give up too easily. A lot of the characters who come to The Station can be a bit awkward but its my job to see that they all get on while they are here. We don't need trouble - this is the only place some of these guys can call home.

"If its memories you are after, there's a few doctors - well ex-doctors mostly - who might be able to help."

"No one can help", he said, "my memories don't exist. Never had any."

"Everyone has memories. Some got a few more than they're comfortable with. So how come you got no memories?"

"My writer hasn't given me any", he said.

"Oh, that's nothing to worry about", I said trying to cheer him up. "There's plenty of folk here just waiting on their writer to put pen to paper. Just gotta be patient."

At that point he put his drink down, got off his stool and stood facing me, finger poking me in the chest.

"I was going to be an academic", he said. "A computer scientist - brain the size of a planet. But right now I'm thinking Vogon Captain and chucking you into the great void of space!"

I swallowed. He looked like an academic, but I didn't want to take any chances. Anyway, he was still poking words into my chest.

"My writer ain't coming back for me. E-V-E-R."

Now he was poking letters. There would be bruises I was sure.

"My writer killed me before the story started. I arrived on page one dead. Got it; D-E-A-D."

I nearly toppled off the stool.

"Any memories I should have had are all in the book. Me, I got N-O-T-H-I-N-G."

He stopped and climbed back on his stool.

I waited, feeling my heart pounding, as he lifted his glass, emptying it in another big swallow.

"W-would you like another drink?" I asked.

Almost instantly, another glass appeared over the edge of the bar. His hand reached out.

I flinched.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Resources for writers

I should be writing (well I am writing this!) but instead I've been browsing the "Resources" section on kiwi writers. I am impressed with what they have gathered together so far: some of my favourite sites (like, Holly Lisle, My Writers Circle and NaNoWriMo) and many that were new to me.

There is a lot of Kiwi specific material there (like New Zealand history, publishers, etc.) and a lot of general information, useful for writers everywhere. Pop on over to the Kiwi Writers site and take a gander.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Critiquing payback

Someone has asked me to critique their writing. It's not something I have done a lot of; probably because my own grasp of grammar, punctuation and spelling, is often a little tenuous. I also had a couple of WIPs that I should be working on; one at the rewrite stage and one going through first draft. But, I decided to undertake the task; not as an editor but as a reader. I would let the author know what sort of things troubled me as a reader and offer suggestions for improvement, if I could.

I am glad I did. It's so much easier to spot problems in someone else's work. I guess that's due to the lack of familiarity and emotional involvement in the writing. But even better, is the challenge of offering alternatives that remove those problems. It requires an analysis of exactly what is wrong: What made me stumble over this passage? How could it be improved? I need to ask those questions because, if I am going to offer suggestions for improvement, then I owe the author an explanation of why. It's the sort of questioning that I don't do when reviewing my own work, and its the sort of questioning that helps me understand what makes writing good, mediocre or bad.

The payback is that I carry those lessons into my own writing. There I was worrying about the WIPs that I should be beavering away at, but I reckon I'll beaver away much more effectively, once I have finished these critiques. So, if you want to improve your writing, then I highly recommend critiquing another writer's work. Thanks Kelly.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Is it worth it?

Someone, on a forum I frequent, asked whether this writing thing was worth the effort: why bother to write when, as a new writer, all you get is knock backs from the industry?

In the main, the advice given was along the lines of needing to have high quality product and lots of perseverance. Too many people approach the writer's market place with work that is, quite frankly, not up to standard in the English department. Editors will correct many mistakes, but they don't exist to give writers lessons in basic grammar and punctuation. They certainly don't exist to correct a work punctuated with spelling mistakes. And that assumes that, in the first place, the writer has the basic ability to write with clarity and engage the reader.

But even when you have a good product, it still needs marketing correctly - to the right people in the right format. This is a subject in its own right and can involve the writer in as much work and perseverance as writing the book or article in the first place. Often, good work fails through poor marketing. No wonder people ask whether it is all worth it!

Is it worth it? Well, I believe the answer to that question comes down to motivation. If you are writing because you want to get published, earn an income and, perhaps, get famous then the answer is probably 'no it may not not worth it'. There are many easier ways to earn a living than by writing and fame is a transitory thing, only achieved by the few. But, if you write for the sheer joy of writing, for the pleasure of creating and crafting something of beauty, then it's certainly worth it. If you happen to get published, and make some money as well, then that's the icing on the writer's cake.

So, it's your call; is writing worth it for you?

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Get Writing

Get Writing. No, it's not an instruction, it's the BBC website for writers; which is actually a very fine instruction! Confused? You should be.

Like many things on the Internet, it's not always easy to remember how you ended up on a particular site. I can't remember how I ended up on the "Get Writing" site, but I am so glad I did and I think that every serious writer should end up there at some point or another.

I am completely overwhelmed at the richness of the material on this site. There is a whole section on "The Craft" of writing with substantial articles by professional writers. Not the teensy-weensy little articles you get on many sites, but substantial articles of around 3,000 words on topics such as:

"Anatomy of a Story" by Charles Palliser (The Quincunx) advises on what makes story work from beginning to end, and "Losing the Plot?" by Mike Phillips (Blood Rights, A Shadow of Myself) unpicks a number of plots and explains how to make your plot work.

If that wasn't enough, there is the "Mini-Courses" section with tutorials and advice split up into categories for Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced. These tutorials are amazing and the title "Mini-Course" is really a misrepresentation: each course is far from "Mini" and it would take most of us a year or more to work through all the material.

So, there's "The Craft" and there's "Mini-Courses" but there are four other sections to this site as well; "Reading", Tools & Quizzes", "Useful Links" and the very interesting "Watch and Listen" section with audio and video interviews on a range of topics.

I really can't recommend this resource highly enough. Pop on over to and get browsing.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Not a poet

I'm no poet, but recently I have found myself conversing with poets and trying to understand the poetic form.

It's a different world out there in poet land, different objectives and different ways of achieving them. I've read more poems this last week than I probably ever have; mainly in an attempt to understand why I fail to 'get' a lot of modern poetry. I'm beginning to think that poetry is like a guitar - one of the easiest instruments to play and one of the most difficult to play well. And maybe that's why there's a lot of poetry out there which is, sort of OK but not particularly good.

So, if I am not a poet, then why am I bothering? Because, like a pianist who decides to learn the guitar in an attempt to become a better musician, I want to learn poetry to become a better writer. There is a place for prose to be rhythmic, melodic, to embrace metaphor and vivid imagery; those are all tools of the poet's craft. If I learn those things well enough to become a mediocre poet, maybe they well help me become an excellent writer.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Lady in Blue

Continuing down the poetry path, I was set a challenge - to write a poem to go with a picture. I can't show you the picture, because it wasn't mine but ...

Picture; a silhouet of a lady sitting alone in an otherwise empty restaurant. The restaurant and the window she looks out from are at the stearn of a ship. The sea and the wake stretch into the distance. On the table sits her handbag.

Now back to her childhood ...

Standing, frozen.
Staring at the broken glass,
   the sea of milk,
      the bedtime treat;
   now flowing,
round her island feet.

Larger hands had lifted up.
Gentle voices made it right,
and told her
there would always be
another glass, another night.


Sitting, frozen.
Staring at the broken past,
   the crests of dreams,
      the wake of time
   the endless sea,
her barren, island life.

Who now, would lift her up?
Who now, would make it right,
and tell her
there would always be
another day, another night?

Her bag; a small tomorrow.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Angel Rock by Darren Williams

Angel Rock by Darren Williams
Harper Collins, 2002

"Angel Rock is a fabulous novel of revenge and redemption, coming of age and coming to terms, of love, loss and yearning, and of trying to find your way home." So says the back cover and I agree.

This book is a compelling story well told. The characters are believable and the setting, Australia 1969, portrays a less sanitised life, a raw and more dangerous life, than most of us are used to in the twenty-first century. It is a beautifully crafted story that I found hard to put down, even when tired at the end of a long day.

I believe that a well told story can redeem poor writing, but good writing will not make up for a poorly told story. This book was an example of the former; I enjoyed reading it despite poor writing and, by implication, poor editing.

The opening sentence of this book was a whopping forty-eight words long and the second sentence was written as follows:

"The footpath was baking hot and the grass on either side of it full of bindi-eyes and no easier on his bare feet and his progress was punctuated by spells of hopping to recover from one or the other." I stopped and read it again, and a third time. Then gave up and moved on. The book was full of such bad construction and I soon gave up trying to decipher each one and just read through them to maintain the flavour and rhythm of the story.

The other problem was the dialogue - it was well written and believable but appallingly attributed; it was as though either Mr Williams or his editor didn't believe in attributions and deleted them at every opportunity. The result was strings of short pithy dialogue where, as a reader, one had no idea which character was saying what. Again, in order to maintain the flow of the story, I had to stop trying and simply move on.

How much of the subtlety in this story I missed due to poor writing and poor attribution, I have no way of telling, though I suspect that it may be quite a bit. Nevertheless, this story was ultimately a good read and one that I am glad to have spent time with. If the writing had been better, it would have achieved 4.5 stars but, as it stands, it really only qualifies for 3.5 and a "Should try harder" comment for both writer and editor.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

A better blooper.

Looking back on the last two reviews, I realised that the last one was about a well told story, not too well written, while the previous one was about a well written story, not well told. As I explained at the time, my premise is that you can get away with the former, but can't get away with the latter. Writing is essentially about 'story' (in it's broadest sense). Put another way, the art of storytelling is made concrete in the craft of writing. Art can shine through mediocre craft, but craft can never redeem mediocre art.

The last two books I read rather prove the point. If I had to read one of them again, I would choose Angel Rock because the story is so well put together that the writing bloopers can be read through. On the other hand, I almost gave up on The Testament of Gideon Mack, despite the excellent writing, because the story was so poorly constructed.

My original post on this subject was entitled "I don't want to be a writer any more". If you're interested, then go and read it again; it was a fresh conclusion to me at the time, but one that's proving to be quite sound.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007


Cemetaries may not seem like a good place to spend writing time, but they can be. I went looking for some inspiration for a story and came across the grave stones of the "Winter" family. Husband and wife died years apart and three children all dead at around a year. I made notes and tucked it away for another time. Then, when I came back to it recently, what I thought was a story turned out to be a poem:


Ghosts of breath hang,
drifting silent above your stones.
Robert, 49, husband of Beatrice, 79.
What happened, Robert Winter,
that you left so soon?

Harry never filled his first page;
Robert and Beartrice, eighteen
when he was ripped from their book.
Surely it tore a ragged edge,
when he left so soon.

Charles saw just one candle.
Did he take a step before he left?
Did you joy as he fell into your arms
before he went to play in Harry's yard?
Why do Winter boys leave so soon?

Ivy Thelma, thirteen months entwined.
Did two names give you two chances?
Why did you use them so quick
in the rush to join your brothers?
You, the girl that left so soon.

Was it always winter living
or were there summers too;
unrecorded in this place of endings,
where ghosts of breath hang,
drifting silent above your stones?

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

A Café in Akaroa

Sometimes I work, sometimes I write; they both begin with "w" and I get easily confused as to which I should be doing. Lately there's been far too much working and not enough writing. So, Mrs fordy and I took off for a weekend 'blob fest' over the hills to Akaroa. Where, on the twentieth anniversary of our coming to New Zealand, we found ourselves lunching at a street café and watching the boats bobbing on the harbour...

A Café in Akaroa

A winter's day
we sat outside
a café
in Akaroa
warm in the low-sky-sun
twenty years to the day
since we embraced
these shores
expectant, as the gulls
watching from the pier.

A far cry
from an Anglo new-town's
concrete sharpness
to a green hilled harbour
with Gallic sounds;
Rue Jolie
is where we walked today
to sit outside
a café
in Akaroa.

A child ran
dad in hand
across the shore
laughing for his mother
and I wondered
at the dreams we chased
that brought us to this place
to sit outside
a café
in Akaroa

Globe of time
burst by pinprick light
reflections on the water
make me wonder
will we remember
the first of June,
the winter sun,
the day we sat outside
a café
in Akaroa?

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Sunday, July 15, 2007


There is one thing about poetry, even if life takes you away from spending much time writing (as it is doing with me at the moment) there is always time to scratch out a short poem. Here's one from today ...

Winter's Game

Blobs of colour
dart in winter sun
yellow, red across the green
feet run, foot to ball
in breathless ancipation
of the goal.

And over all, the mountains
dressed in winter's coat
watch from afar
ancient touchline parents
beaming in the sun:
well done James!
well done!

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

A long break

It seems (and is!) a long time (4 months) since I posted here. It has been a busy four months and there has been little room for recreational writing and, I am sure, you wouldn't want to read some of the stuff I write for my day job. Anyway, here is a somewhat 'mystical' offering which has been appreciated elsewhere.

YOU Utter Me

You utter me, making of me a Word,
pregnant with lesser words,
though end-to-end would not spell
the name yet spoken in part.

Day, Night, lips restless;
You sing me, a living lyric
to a tune of my choosing;
yet the full score, is before You.

Others call a name for which I answer,
but Yours, the unfinished agnomen,
a double helix of sound
wound 'round the years,
spoken with laughter, tears,
sounding the footfalls of time
'til the echo fades and I will have been spoken.

Only then shall I know my name,
whom you are calling.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

WriteItNow & Papel

Tools ... I love tools. Tools are the prevaricator's best friend; when you don't feel like writing or the block has struck, you can play with the tools! I've played with lots of tools - here are two of the best.

The first one is called "WriteItNow" by Ravenshead Services. "WriteItNow" allows you to keep all the information you collect about your writing project in one place. There are tabs that allow you to write chapters, detail characters, events, locations, ideas and notes. "WriteItNow" even allows you to keep a visual time line for all the events in your story. The characters tab can be fun; as well as entering basic data like name, gender and date of birth (date of death too!), you can have fun auto generating characters complete with names and personalities - great for some random inspiration

Of course "WriteItNow" can spell check, count the words, has a built in thesaurus and can assess the readability of your work. When you are done you can export your work to either RTF, plain text or HTML. Oh, and if you are writing seriously then "WriteItNow" can track your submissions. The final 'clincher' for me is that "WriteItNow" is written in Java so it runs under Windows and Mac and, although Ravenshead Services don't advertise it, I managed to get it running under Linux (Ubuntu) too. All this for a smidgen under US$50 - that's pretty reasonable in my book. You can find "WriteItNow" here:

The second piece of software is called "Papel". It looks very different from "WriteItNow". Papel is a graphical environment where you drop 'papels' onto a desktop. A papel represents a piece of paper or sheaf of pages that can represent chapters, scenes, characters, in fact anything you like - double click to edit any papel. You join your chapter and scene papels together to form a book and Papel will generate the output text file for you. Papel also has spell check, thesaurus and word count built in and can also count word frequency and search for how many times you have used a certain phrase. Papel only works in plain text, runs on MS Windows only and, disappointingly, is no longer supported by the author. However, a Papel fan has set up a web site where you can download it for free at:

Over the years I have tried a few writing tools both commercial and free and these represent the best of each category. Papel is the best free writing program by far and "WriteItNow" the best value for money commercial writing tool.

Try ... enjoy.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Its back to writing then ...

Today was an auspicious day; after over twenty years in this country, today I joined the ranks of the true Kiwi Bloke. I have mentioned before about the KB's shed - the place where a Bloke goes to tinker with his tools, get away from "her indoors" and take a drink or two from his beer fridge. I do not possess such a shed; I am not a real KB. But today I purchased the iconic KB's tool - a chain saw. It's my very first chain saw. For twenty years I have wanted a chain saw, today I got one and entered the ranks of Kiwi Blokedom.

The first thing you have to do with a chain saw is assemble the thing; the chain has to be put on the chain bar (the right way around) the chain fitted to the drive and then tensioned. It took me about twenty minutes. I am told that a trained KB can strip and reassemble his chain saw in under two minutes ... blind folded. I have to practice.

But I cut down my first tree. I finessed an undercut wedge on the falling side, then a perfect back cut until the tree started to totter. As the tree-top described a perfect arc towards the ground, the bridge made a satisfying crack followed by a resounding thud as it hit the ground - just short of the rabbit's hutch. Wow! Now I begin to understand what its all about - its about power; its about bringing a seven meter conifer to the ground with just a couple of careful cuts of the mighty chain saw - my chain saw.

I fell a second tree.

That's when the neighbour stuck his head over the fence, "Got yourself a chain saw then?" he said, smiling.

"Sure have," I said, holding the Red Monster up for inspection.

The smile faded from his face. "Aw, mate, its electric."

"Yes, nearly two thousand watts," I said, joyfully.

"Not a real chain saw," he replied. "You aint goin'ta go out in the bush with that. Why didn't you get a petrol one?"

He was right of course, and I knew it. My Red Monster would never fell a tree out in the forest, it was more of a Red Domesticated Pet, and I had just failed the entry test to authentic Kiwi Blokedom.

"Well, gotta run. Jobs to do," he said. "Catchya later" and with that, he was gone.

I pulled the plug, coiled the cord, and carried the RDP back to the garage. The story would be all around the district before closing time. Perhaps in another twenty years people may have forgotten this incident and I could turn up with a real, petrol powered, Red Monster.

Meantime, its back to the pen; after all the pen is mightier than the chain saw - goodness knows how many trees worth of paper I use in a year.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

A change of heart

I have had a rethink about posting photographs in this writing blog. It was certainly an easy way to provide a varied diet; but is that what you want? If you are heavily into writing, then pictures might not be your thing. On the other hand, if you are a photographer, would you really want to wade through all those words for the occasional picture? Probably not. This was a classic case of not considering the audience before launching out; a big 'no, no' for any writer.

So, dear readers, I have decided to focus on doing both things well, rather than both badly. From today, no more pictures in the writing blog. Instead, I have decided to serialise the novel I have been working on, "Past Life". Two reasons, serialising it will help me finish the editing and ensure that I have a completed story. Secondly, I started this story two years ago as a futuristic crime thriller (or something) and already real life is starting to eat away at my story line; so better publish soon.

The second thing I have done is start "fordy's photo blog" - no words, just pictures. Well, not quite true; each picture has a title and some technical information about the picture, but that is it. You can find "fordy's photo blog" at: or use the link at the top right of the front page. Enjoy.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

"Y right"

Just taking a short break from serialising “Past Life” to answer a rather fundamental question that a reader emailed me … why do I write?

That’s one of those questions that causes me to pause and take a deep breath before diving in, because it has answers on various levels. Deep down I would say that it goes back to our human nature as creative and expressive beings – life seems to be driven by an almost universal desire to express ourselves in creative acts. Of course there are many ways to create (creating mayhem not excluded!) so I guess the real question is, why have I chosen writing as my creative medium.

Well, first, I have to say that it’s not just writing; I find photography to be a very rich expressive medium too – sometimes a picture will say more than words ever can, but at other times a subject needs the richness and more precise expressiveness of words.

At heart, all writing is creative; not just the so called ‘creative writing’ of university courses. Even a technical document is creative; it’s creative because the writer is seeking to produce an artefact (book, article, web page, report … etc.) that precisely transmits an idea or concept from one person’s mind to another person’s understanding. Given the potentially poor ‘signal to noise ratio’ involved with language based communication (written or spoken) that task presents a uniquely creative challenge for every communication.

Unlike the spoken word, writing allows a more considered, polished, use of language – we can draft, revise, perhaps have our work peer reviewed and tested, before we finally deliver it. And when we do deliver those carefully crafted words, they do not go out as sound waves that are heard once and then lost; they are captured in some form that gives them substance and life. It’s the same with photography; its one thing to say “look at that” to another person, but an altogether better experience to attempt to capture that visual experience in a picture that can be shared with a wider audience.

So, to sum up, both writing and photography are ways of creating richly expressive artefacts that transcend the ‘now’ moment. To create either requires both analytical and intuitive thought process that use both sides of the brain, and overall I find that a very rewarding and satisfying means to helping and giving pleasure to others.

Of course it’s always possible that the reader’s question was rhetorical; if that’s the way you write, why bother ;-)

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Excuses, excuses ...

For the last six months I've been on a major writing assignment. Nothing as exciting as fiction writing, but playing a part in putting together a 2,000 page web site with three other writers. I haven't been counting accurately but I estimate that I've written about 500,000 words - that's ten NaNoWriMo competitions! So, there haven't been any words left for these pages (I told you this was an excuse).

For a writer, the project held some interesting challenges particularly as it was managed by an IT project manager who started out with little understanding of what it took to put together 2,000 pages of cohesive content. Perhaps I'll share some of the lessons learned on these pages - once a little water has passed under the bridge.

Writing website content won't make you as rich as rich as J. K. Rowling, but for every J.K. there are probably 9,999 other authors trying to get published, and you'll probably do better than all but the very best of them. Financially, it's a job not to be sneezed at.

Anyway, it's just about over and I can take breath and pick up where I left off. Which is back to Katherine and the house of the dead Professor ...

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