Once again my body betrays me

Yes it’s a very dramatic title. Unfortunately it’s also true.

I am typing this very slowly because there is something horribly wrong with my right thumb. Yes I am right handed. How did you ever guess?

My thumb is swollen, itchy and sore. It won’t bend properly and it looks like the knuckle has somehow slipped round the side of it. It’s incredibly distracting and it means that I can’t do any of the things I normally do to fill the day. No computer games, no crochet, chores are even harder than usual and typing anything takes ages.

Yes I have sought medical attention. The current working hypothesis is that there’s an infection under the skin and pressing on the joint. I’m back on antibiotics. If they don’t work by Friday there will be blood tests. It might turn out to be gout. Because my body never met an embarrassing and poorly understood health problem that it didn’t want to try out.

Which is all very annoying because I should be working on the novel I want to pitch for Blood Scotland. Or the pitch. And I’m not. Because just typing this little bit has fucked my right hand up even more.

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Pitching blues

This year’s Bloody Scotland is bearing down on us. There’s a pitch competition that I’d like to try but I’m having trouble working out which novel to pitch.

Until recently I would have assumed that I’d have to pitch a finished novel but that doesn’t seem to be hugely important for the competition. That’s confusing to me since every published author’s top piece of advice is “Finish your shit”.

For this competition I have to write a 100 word pitch and submit that and if they’re interested I get to pitch in person in front of actual publishers and agents and a paying crowd. The live pitch will be in late September at the Bloody Scotland festival. It’s dedicated to crime writing so the publishers and agents will be looking for crime/detective/mystery fiction.

I have to decide which novel I want to pitch because that’s the novel I should be focusing on just now. Let me describe them for you.

Firstly there’s the one I’ll call Project Kindness. It’s the one that’s closest to finished. Close enough that I could have a complete 3rd draft to show anyone who was interested by the end of September. However it’s a supernatural spy thriller. There are some murders and there is a mystery but it’s not what they’re looking for.

Secondly there’s the one I’ll call Project Cecil. It’s the furthest from being finished and I don’t really feel ready to work on it. However it’s the closest to the kind of novel they want. It’s a modern epistolary novel told through emails, chat logs and blogs. It follows a group of friends as they investigate the disappearance and murder of a mutual friend and eventually come to realise that one of them did it. I think I could do a killer pitch of it but it’s the one I feel least able to finish.

Thirdly there’s the one I’ll call Project Dingo. It’s about half done. It’s the funniest. It’s set in 2012 and it’s about a locked room mystery that nobody wants to solve. It’s the closest to a traditional mystery novel in structure but it has witches and other weirdness in it that might make it a harder sell at Bloody Scotland.

I can’t make up my mind. I feel like I should pick Project Cecil because it’s the one they’re most likely to want. But I don’t want to work on it. I’m not ready yet. Then I want to stubbonrly pick Project Kindness because ‘Finish your Shit’ and because it’s the one I’ve been working on recently and it’s in my head. But then I want to pick Project Dingo because it’s the balanced one.

I don’t know how to make up my mind. Suggestions are welcome in the comments.

And if you have enjoyed this indecision you could show your appreciation by buying me a coffee with Ko-Fi.

A TV Question

Guess the character and TV show.

The titular character arrives in a new town at the start of every episode. He tries to keep his head down and fit in but he can’t avoid getting involved. He sees people in trouble, or in need of a friend, and he can’t turn a blind eye to injustice or bullying. He pitches in to help and the town or his new friends are the better for it. By the end of the episode it’s time for him to move on. He simply cannot stay where he is.

Any guesses? I’ll post a pretty picture as a spoiler break to give you a chance for something to suggest itself. Just remember that I am old enough to have watched TV in the 70s and British TV back then had a lot of repeats of American TV from the 60s.

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So. Am I talking about Doctor Richard Kimble in The Fugitive, Dr David Banner (yes it was David on TV, Bruce was his middle name) in The Incredible Hulk, or the unnamed dog in The Littlest Hobo?

I don’t have a point with this. It’s just the when I realised that these three have identical episode structures I couldn’t stop thinking about it and now I’m sharing it with you all.

I don’t mean it as a criticism of this structure or these shows. In many ways it’s the perfect structure for episodic TV, allowing the writers to hit the reset button at the end of the episode and cycle through a lot of guest stars. It made more sense in the days when you couldn’t expect people to keep up with the show and possibly it’s had its day now that we can all stream and record.

The consequences of falling down.

Last week I fell in the shower.

My able-bodied readers will probably be a little worried by that statement but reassured that I must be fine if I’m blogging about it. My spoonie readers will be wincing. Us spoonies know how particularly awful it is to fall in the shower.

Allow me to explain. I fall over a lot and I’m rarely injured because I know a little about falling safely. But when you fall in the shower no amount of breakfall technique will save you from injury because there just isn’t the room. When you fall in the shower it will be awkward, you will hit something hard, your body will get twisted.

The second big problem with a shower fall is getting up afterward. You’re on a smooth, wet surface that’s covered in soap. You are also wet and covered in soap. And so are all the hand holds. There’s not enough room to roll over and get onto your knees so unless you fell that way round you’re going to have difficulty getting to your feet. That’s assuming it’s even possible to get up.

In my case it was a close run thing. I twisted my right leg badly and injured my good knee (let’s be honest it’s really only the slightly less shitty knee). I couldn’t get my weight onto my feet. I couldn’t roll over. I had to inch out of the shower stall on my bum, get to the top of the stairs and use the top step to get to my feet. It was horrible. It’s been more than a week and my knee might actually be getting worse.

You might wonder why I haven’t been to the doctor for treatment. That’s because there’s no point. I know from experience that they’re not going to do anything. If I had been forced to call an ambulance to get me up they might have x-rayed my knee but since I haven’t broken anything nothing would have showed up. I’ve probably done some horrible soft tissue damage but since I’m not a hot young athlete there’s no possibility of surgery. Nobody cares how much pain you’re in when you’re an impoverished, fat, old woman.

My knee will either get better or it won’t. There’s not much I can do either way.

Reveiw of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

I’ve already written about the experience of going to see this film with my son but now I’m going to tell you what I thought of the film.

It’s very entertaining but it’s not a good film. It’s not good in ways that I, as a writer, find irritating but I still enjoyed it. If you like dinosaurs or you have kids that like dinosaurs and are old enough to deal with the level of peril then you’ll probably enjoy it. I’d also recommend it if you have a nostalgic hankering for disaster movies.

Now I’m going to talk about the film in more detail and that means spoilers. There will also be spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok.

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The cinematography is excellent, it’s a beautiful film. The visual effects are stunning. The music is pretty good and though it doesn’t quite have the majestic sweep of the music from the original Jurassic Park it does the job. The casting is excellent and the cast do a fine job with the script that they’re given. The problem is the script and to a lesser extent the editing. I find that frustrating as a film fan because those should be the easiest, or at least cheapest things to fix.

The plot is full of holes some of it makes no goddamn sense. None of the dialogue is exactly sparkling and a lot of it is just horribly flat. Every scene with lava in it made me want to throw the director into a volcano. Owen (Chris Pratt) survives at least 3 things that would definitely have killed him – the radiant heat from the lava, the pyroclastic flow and the jump from the cliff into the sea. I half expected him to turn out to be a robot or something.

The director doesn’t seem to know what to do with Blue the raptor. She’s one of the big driving forces of the plot and she saves the human characters several times but she’s not treated like a character in her own right which would make for a far more satisfying arc. She just disappears from the film for long stretches which makes her triumphant slaying of the Indo Raptor feel cheap.

But the scene that I find most irritating doesn’t involve lava, or Blue or plot holes. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen are in the front of the truck about to drive out of the ship and she asks him where the mercenaries are taking the dinosaurs and he says that he doesn’t know. All that scene adds to the movie is run time. It doesn’t develop the characters or move along the plot or build the world. It doesn’t add tension or raise the stakes and it’s not funny. There’s literally no reason to leave it in.

Compare that scene to Thor and Loki in the lift together in Thor: Ragnarok. That’s also a little joining scene and it happens at roughly the same point in the film. That scene is funny and poignant. It shows us how Thor has grown and it gives us a hint of Loki’s ambivalence about that growth. It sets up the action in the next scene, it lays the groundwork for Loki’s subsequent attempted betrayal and his eventual heel turn.

You might be about to suggest that and Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are just better actors. I don’t think that’s it. They’re very good but so are Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. The problem is the script that gave them so little to work with, the director who filmed such a nothing scene and the editor who left it in.

Nevertheless, I’m still probably going to see the inevitable sequel. I just wish it was going to be a buddy movie about Maisie and Blue fighting wildlife crime in the forests of Pacific Northwest.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Took my son to see this movie and it was an interesting experience. My son is autistic and, like me, has ADHD. This means that he finds some movies a tough watch but he still enjoys them.

He found the previous movie, Jurassic World, a bit over stimulating and half way through I had to break out my narrative decoding skills to tell him who would live and who would die. It was the first time I broke down the logic for him and explained how I could tell roughly what was going to happen.

He found the film so hard to watch because he identified so strongly with the two boys, particularly Grey, the younger of the two. He calmed down considerably when I told him that it was a family movie and that meant that they boys wouldn’t die. I predicted that even though the park was packed with kids and escaped dinosaurs that we wouldn’t actually see any of the children die.

Then I explained that it was a disaster movie and that meant that the hero could only die at the very end and by giving his life to save others but that they probably wanted Chris Pratt for the sequel and he’d be fine. I explained that in a disaster movie the people morally responsible for the disaster would die in narratively appropriate ways. So that one guy is going to die in a helicopter crash, that other one is going to get what he wants and it’s going to eat him. I explained that anyone in a uniform who’s name we didn’t know was dinosaur fodder and that he shouldn’t get attached to them.

He’s matured a lot since then but he still found parts of this movie a little too much. I had to remind him that it was a family movie and that they wouldn’t kill the kid in a family movie. Once he’d been reminded of the genre conventions he was able to remain calm by trying to predict the twists and turns.

This time around he not only identified strongly with the child character, Maisy, but also with the velociraptor, Blue. I had to agree. I think the film is ok but it’ll be much better once someone adds subtitles for Blue. Once all the noises she makes are translated I think they’ll mostly turn out to be calling other dinosaurs bitches and insulting Owen (Chris Pratt). I’m pretty sure Blue thinks it’s a buddy movie.

I’ll post a review some time soon but the short version is that the film is very entertaining but also flawed in really annoying ways.

The invisible wall

It feels like there’s an invisible wall between me and my novel. Some part of me doesn’t want to work on it and I’m not sure what it is.

It’s not because I don’t know what to write, or because I’m having plot problems. I know where the story is going and how to write it. It’s not because I don’t like the novel or because I’m tired of the characters. I like it and them as much as I ever have.

It feels like I’m scared of something. Or at least reluctant. Could it be that I’m scared of finishing it because that would mean I’d have to query it and that would mean more rejection?

I’ve invested a lot of hope in this novel. I’m hoping that, because it has a better opening, it will have more chance of attracting an agent. I think the opening is good but it doesn’t solve the problem of writing that doesn’t fit easily into any genre. Agents just don’t seem to be looking for the stories that I write. I’ve been trying to build contacts but so far the contacts that I have don’t link up with the kind of stories that I write.

There’s also the problem of my, apparently, terrible grammar. I say apparently because every grammatical problem that gets pointed out is stuff that I can’t see even after it gets pointed out. I know there are rules to formal english but prose isn’t formal. In prose you’re allowed to break the rules. Unless I’m wrong. Unless I should be following the rules of formal English just so that agents will know that I know what they are. Are agents laughing at my terrible comma usage?

It’s tempting to just give up on the idea of ever getting paid, stick a plain cover on it, self publish and then try to find something else to do with my time. It is just so frustrating to put all this work in on stories that nobody wants to read. I believe in them but I don’t know how to communicate that belief in any useful way.

Immobility

I’ve been sitting at this computer, trying to write something, for the last two hours. This is not writer’s block. This is ADHD and I would really like it to stop.

ADHD means that I don’t always get a choice about what to focus on. Sometimes I flit from project to project unable to settle. Sometimes inspiration strikes but then it’s gone by the time I’m able to sit down and work on it. Sometimes a shiny new idea will hijack my mind while I’m trying to work on something else.

I have techniques that can wrangle my attention to where I want it to be but they don’t always work and they tend to rely on external supports like deadlines. If I commit to writing something by a certain date I’ll usually succeed but if I don’t have a plan then I tend to just drift and get nothing done.

That’s the problem. I don’t have a plan.

It’s not the only problem. I also don’t know how to make a plan, I can’t decide what sort of plan it should be and I’m having trouble convincing myself that it’s worth the effort. I have stories that I want to tell but I don’t know what to do with those stories once they’re told and if I don’t do anything with them then what’s the point of finishing them.

And now I’m convinced that the effort of writing this has been wasted. The sentences seem stilted and I’m sure that it makes no sense. I hate it. Writing it has been like trying to drag body in a velcro suit across a shag pile carpet. I’m going to post it anyway.

In Honor of Beta Readers

For those who don’t know beta readers are the people who read your ‘nearly finished’ book as a favour in order to tell you if it really is nearly finished. They’re also the people who tell you if your structure is horribly broken and if your plot makes sense and if they can tell who’s alive and who’s dead at the end of a fight scene and point out when you’ve made cardinal errors like head hopping or accidentally changing a character’s name half way through.

Beta readers are important to the process of turning a manuscript into a novel. I suspect that once upon a time most beta reading was done professionally by ranks of editors and printers. I doubt that Austen, Dickens or Conan Doyle were sending out hand copied manuscripts to their writer buddies and waiting for the notes to arrive by post. But we live in a better educated world where many more books are published by much slimmer profit margins.

I’ve been lucky to have some excellent beta readers. I know at least one of them finds the process immensely enjoyable and actively tries to make me laugh with every errant apostrophe she finds. That makes the process much less painful for the writer. I’ve been honored to be asked to beta read for another writer and I hope my feedback was useful to her because I loved her book and I want to see it get published.

Actually now that I think about it I realise that there have always been beta readers. Most of the great writers left behind massive piles of correspondence. Often they correspond with other writers. And when they weren’t corresponding they were down the pub with each other. JRR Tolkien (author of Lord of the Rings) and CS Lewis (author of the Narnia books) were members of the same writing group, the Inklings, that met in the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford. H.P. Lovecraft (creator of the Cthulhu mythos), R.E Howard (creator of Conan the Barbarian), and Clark Ashton Smith (artist, poet and author) regularly corresponded with each other and borrowed elements of each others fiction.

So when you’re reading your favourite books maybe you should take a moment to be thankful to the people who listened as the author drunkenly thrashed out the idea, to the people who read it when it was raw, to the people who pointed out that there were two characters with the same name, and the villain had no motivation, and that’s not how you punctuate a quote within speech. It’s not just that beta readers make a book better. By believing in the book they make it more likely to be finished.

I have things to say about movies

This isn’t a proper blog post because I don’t have enough to say to write a proper blog post and, in spite of what my friends might tell you, I’ve never quite mastered the skill of talking for ages when I don’t actually have anything to say. So this is just a brief chat inspired by recent cinema visits.

I’ve already posted twice about Infinity War, here and here, and I might yet have more to say about it. If anyone’s interested I might have something to say on the subject of how Thanos is not just a dick he’s also wrong.

Yesterday I went to see Deadpool 2 and I might have something to say about that soon but for now I’ll just tell you all to go and watch it (if violent action comedies are your thing). If you’ve been put off from going because you’ve heard rumours that Wade’s true love, Vanessa, is getting fridged I suggest you go anyway. Gail Simone, the woman behind the Women in Refrigerators website, said on twitter that she enjoyed Deadpool 2 more than Infinity War.  If that isn’t enough then I’m available to entirely spoil the film for you if that’s what it takes to get you to go.

Another thing I saw yesterday was a trailer for Equaliser 2. Some time ago I posted a review of the first Equaliser film. I missed that in the cinemas and I probably wouldn’t have gone if I’d known about it. I tend to object to reboots even when they have Denzel Washington in them. I saw it on Netflix because I was in the mood for a certain kind of film. I really liked it. I might make my other half watch it with me in preparation for watching the sequel in the cinema.

Yes it’s going to be an action grandpa film but that’s not necessarily a bad thing if it’s done creatively. The first film included a scene in which the central character took out a squad of assassins using the inventory of a convenient hardware shop (if you’re American think Home Depot, if you’re British think B&Q). If the idea of Denzel Washington slaughtering very bad men while armed with only power tools and ingenuity doesn’t interest you then I don’t know what to say.