Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Recent Scribbling.

It's been a good month for writing.

Not only have I submitted four stories in the past two weeks, but I have started another story and written an article. This week I was commissioned to write another couple of articles which will be published shortly.

I love writing, when I can manage to make the time. And I wish I had more time in which to sit and focus my energies on getting words on the screen. Wouldn't it be wonderful to be a full time writer? Maybe not for everyone, but it's what I desire and should I win the lottery I think that's what would happen. Of course winning the lottery would actually require a great deal of luck; even more since I so rarely buy a ticket. But I can dream.

Writing these articles takes a great deal of research. A lot of time spent looking at documents, chasing links and leads, and formulating clear, concise paragraphs that are easy to follow. My feedback from editors suggest I succeed at delivering on this.

My fiction writing is improving as well. I plan on selling four or five stories by the end of the year. My Sherlock Holmes story is due for release in a couple of months, and I think I have another story out by Christmas. All I need is the confirmation and I'll be able to share those details with you.

It's time I found a writing group here in Lincoln. I need to mix with other writers. But finding the right group for you can be tricky. Ideally it should include writers at a similar and higher level than yourself. I've been in groups consisting of only beginner writers, and it was of little benefit to me. They don't have the experience and skills to critique your work as required. A mix is ideal, with new writers and some old hands.

I'll start looking around soon, see what's happening. There should be a group that meets my needs. After all, this is a university city. Surely there are fellow writers geeks.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

All I Know Are Sad Songs.

There's no doubt I'm rusty. I've hardly played my guitar for the past few years. I'm not really sure why as I love making music. Time, other plans, life. The truth is I would make the time if I really wanted to.

And this is exactly what's happened. My local pub has a weekly open mike evening and I attend quite often. The musicians are mostly regulars of varying styles and abilities, with the occasional newcomer or irregular visitor. Some are good, some need more practice, but they all love the music. I always enjoy the evening.

I haven't been game to jump behind the mike, mostly because I am so rusty. But they have inspired me to drag out my guitar and play more often. Actually, I practice about an hour a day at the moment, and it's coming back to me. My fingertips are hardening, my fingers are moving more freely, and the old skills are returning.

There is only one thing that concerns me. Much of the evening consists of 50s rock and 60s pop. Happy, jangly tunes. The songs I would play are sadder alt-country. I'm not sure if I want to be seen as a downer playing songs they don't know.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Good Ship, Fandom.

Continuum 13, an annual sci-fi convention, was held in Melbourne over the weekend. Obviously, having moved to the UK last year, I wasn't able to attend. It felt a little weird missing it as I have attended every year since Continuum 5.

From all accounts it was a great convention. Well organised and attended, with interesting panels and workshops. I'm really pleased by this, as I must confess that over the past few years I haven't gotten as much out of the convention as I would have liked. There has been a gradual shift in the focus from the science fiction I like towards pop culture, most of which I have little time for.

Now this is where I am in danger of being misread. I really need to emphasise I'm writing here about my tastes, my preferences, the things I enjoy. Give me old school sci-fi and fantasy any day. I'm not big into superheroes, anime or most other pop culture. I found fewer panels and sessions I was interested in attending each year. Fewer spaceships and robots, and more people with capes. Fewer discussions on classic books and more on TV shows and superhero films. And I'm just not interested in them. Honestly, I couldn't tell you your Magneto from your Brian Mannix.

Over the past few years there have been panels where I struggled to see any connection to SF, fantasy or horror at all. But that's fine. It doesn't matter. The convention isn't solely about me. It's about fandom, and what they want.

You see, if I had my way rock bands with guitars would rule the Top 40, science fiction films would be more like Arrival than X-Men, and reading would be compulsory for everyone. Conventions would have more panels on classic books alongside the newer ones.

But, as I said, it's not about me. There are lots of things that generally don't excite me at the moment. I've already mentioned superhero films. Let's add to that the current trend in retelling fairy tales, urban fantasy, and more vampires. Maybe I am getting older, but like the music I like, I know what types of fiction I like.

If we stick with the music comparison, you'll soon realise I don't have to like it. There are plenty of alternatives for me. And if I dig around I can find plenty of new bands I do like. I don't want to buy a Beyonce album. She doesn't speak to me, and the music leaves me cold. But there are plenty out there who love her music. Me, I'd rather buy the new Roger Waters album.

Yes, I do read new SF books. I have to be a little more discerning in my hunt for them as they're usually not the same books that appeal to my friends. I've tried many of those, and I often find them underwhelming. Taste, again, I suppose.

We all don't have to like everything. Or even the same things. There's room for us all in the good ship 'fandom.' But remember, I don't deserve name-calling or abuse because my interests and tastes lie elsewhere.

Having said that, I've been quite excited about the impending release of Wonder Woman. And I wasn't disappointed. I thought it was fantastic.

You never know. Maybe someday someone will play me a Beyonce track that I actually like.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

How Will I Know?

I've been writing again. Re-writing, actually. But this isn't just a skim and edit, I'm completely rewriting the entire story, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, and trying to be ruthless with it. In fact I spent about three hours today completely restructuring a 350 word opening.

I hope it's improved.

This is a story I love, and it received great personal rejections from three pro-level markets. So there's hope for the story, and I'm hoping the changes I'm making at the moment give it the push it needs. I'm using those comments, as well as a solid critique from another writer, as my guide. These people know what they're doing, so I'd be a fool not to pay attention. The question is can I get it right.

But wait, as they say in the infomercials, there's more.

A couple of years ago a well-known and admired writer very kindly sent me three pages of notes and advice on things she'd learned along the way. At the time I read these notes, tried to apply them and thought I'd done a decent job. This week, as I prepared to delve back into this story, I re-read the notes. And that little light metaphorical bulb in my brain went on. Now I'm approaching the story with so much more rigour and determination than I've ever applied before.

Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees, and I just now as I re-read what I'd written, I had doubts as to whether it was better or not. And that's why distance and time, and a decent beta-reader, makes all the difference. So I'll get this piece done, have another set of eyes go over it, then send it out into the wild world.

Who knows? This time it might even survive.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Don't Bring Me Down.

Some people really can't help themselves. They simply cannot allow another person to be pleased or happy.

Four times in the past two days I've seen Facebook friends be brought down by naysayers. Something that's occurred, a great social commentary, encouragement meant for another - all considered to be great news by the poster. And then you read the comments.

Recently, on my last day of employment at my old school, a friend and I left together. As we were walking out for the very last time someone asked what we were going to do next. My friend announced she was thrilled she'd already found employment - and then came the comments. Why would you want to work there? I've heard it's awful. I wouldn't go there in a pink fit. And so on.

Really? Is that all you can offer? Remember, this isn't someone asking your advice prior to making a decision. This is someone who has already achieved their goal of new employment.

Even if you think those things, or have some inside knowledge, why can't you just congratulate someone on their achievement? You really have to bring them down?

For the record, my friend is happy with her new role, and none of the warnings of dread turned out to be remotely true.

But it's happened to me. Decisions I've made in many areas of my life - personal, career and hobby - and there often seems to be someone prepared to bring me down. Am I an eternal optimist? No. I am, in fact, quite the realist. But when I share some good news or an achievement, be respectful. How about a simple 'congratulations,' or 'well done?'

Build people up, don't bring them down.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Diving Back In.

I subbed a story to a pro-market this week. It's been a long time since I've subbed anything anywhere, and I must say it felt great.

Partly because of the move and trying to settle in at a new job while focusing on a new curriculum, but also for a number of other reasons, it's been while since I've written very much at all. I haven't written any new words yet, but I've done a major rewrite on one story, started rewriting another, and read through a few more that need work. Time and space between writing and self-critiquing is a wonderful thing. Fresh eyes pick up flaws.

I've also finished and submitted the edits on my Sherlock Holmes story. Even at this late(ish) stage I found a typo, clarified a few sentences, and cringed at the repeated use of the same word in a couple of sentences. But the proofs look fantastic, and I love the illustration for my story. Thanks to Christopher Sequeira and the publishing/editing team for their work. This is an anthology I'm really looking forward to. Very proud to be a part of it.

In the meantime I have continued making notes in my writer notebooks, the ones I carry almost everywhere I go. I never let up on those so there is a collection of ideas, thoughts, sketches and thumbnails waiting to be harvested.

For the first time in ages I actually feel optimistic about my writing again. It's a great feeling.

Look for more words from me soon.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Home Is Where The Heart Is?

Some of you may not know I am actually Scottish by birth, not Australian.

True, I sound like an Australian when I speak (although my accent is not as strong as many I know), and I prefer AFL and Vegemite to Soccer and Marmite, but I was born in the highlands and emigrated to Australia as a small child. I've been naturalised, so I have Australian as well as my British citizenship.

As a child I wondered what Scotland was like. We didn't have the internet then, so my knowledge was limited to encyclopedia entries, pictures on postcards, and wild imaginings based on stories by relatives. This, of course, led me to believe such things as all Scots children walk 16 miles to school each day in snow 6 feet deep. I think I had my dad to thank for that one.

As I grew older, Scotland continued to call to me. I was proud of my homeland and its history. It was an almost mythical place, and I yearned for any connection. From books and movies to music and food, I lapped it all up. And then, in 1985, I returned for the first time since leaving as a 'wee bairn'.

I was not disappointed.

Scotland was truly beautiful. It was a gentle, peaceful country with generous, funny people. I felt at home, and I remember telling my parents that one day I would return to live in the UK.

I am pleased to report, that after spending the past two weeks on a road trip, Scotland is just as beautiful and the people are still the same.

We drove from Aberdeen, my father's hometown, through my grandparents (both sides) hometowns (Buckie and Cruden Bay), saw the house where my mother was born, caught up with second cousins, visited a fantastic museum which has photos and information on the trawlermen on my mother's side (including my grandfather and his brothers) and stayed for a couple of nights in Inverness, the city where I was born. We toured through the highlands, lonely, desolate, magnificent mountains dominating our landscape.

We drove past Culloden, where the Camerons fought exhausted after marching 50 miles in two days, and Cawdor, which is only a few miles from my birthplace. I guess I could have been a thane.

Macbeth too (in the play, anyway) was based in Inverness. I could have been a king.

And, of course, Loch Ness. Don't even mention I could have been a monster. You don't think I spent half my childhood hearing that one?

This has been an important time. A time of reflection and appreciation for my relatives and ancestors. A time to consider what was and what could have been. A time when I felt a connection with the land around me.

Mostly, though, it has been a time of gratitude.