Plough on or Chill Out?

We’re fast approaching the end of 2018 – has it been a good one for you? A wild ride? Productive? Or has it been a fallow year, with less accomplished than you had hoped?

I know I definitely tried to accomplish too much this November making me feel, like Bilbo Baggins, “… sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” I took on three online courses in one month, completed two. The third hangs in the balance. I tried to be the ‘Little Engine That Could’ – turns out I couldn’t, not quite…

Part of my problem is that I am a dilettante – a dabbler, a tinkerer, a potterer. I have been told on the one hand that I have the mind of a butterfly, on the other, that I am a mine of useless information. I have taken part in NaNoWriMo with a novel planned, and also writing by the seat of the pants. The second works best for me. You’ll have your way of doing stuff.

Don’t despair if you didn’t get to do all the things you’d hoped to, it’s all a learning process and next year is a fresh start. As Professor Albus Dumbledore said, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

Image result for albus dumbledore
Professor Dumbledore

Though I do have to admit to feeling a little miffed when I hear, on the radio, as I did this morning, about someone who began writing five minutes ago and just got their first novel published! What’s that all about? I ask myself, how did anyone even know they had written this little gem? I am by inclination, a combination of melancholic and choleric, and have been trying to train myself to be more pragmatic, so forced myself to feel good for them- sort of, a little bit, maybe. Oh all right, I hate them!

Lyra Belacqua tells her father in Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass, “You told me that was my nature, and I shouldn’t argue with it…you were wrong… I can’t choose my nature, but I can choose what I do. And I will choose, because now I’m free.” She learnt that as a child, I, in my mid-life am just beginning to.
Do you take stock at the end of each year, of your accomplishments? And how do we assess our own accomplishments anyway? Some believe we are too close to give an accurate appraisal of our own selves and work done.

I have met many people who are extraordinarily hard on themselves, they are the perfectionists who can never meet their own high standards – this does not mean all they do is done well, sometimes effort isn’t exerted so as there is an excuse to have not met one’s own exacting standards. Then there are those people who – and this is particularly pertinent in regards to creativity – think what they have made is wonderful, when in fact the rest of us can see the awfulness, or blandness, of it. Self-criticism does not come easy to these folks.

And yet…should we just not try? Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird.

As Christmas approaches, will you slow down your production? Will you take a complete break from your current project to frolic with family and friends? Or, will you be the snow plough that keeps on going through the deep mid winter? Will you plough onward, or take time out to chill and recuperate?

Related image
Does Father Christmas write all year round?

One habit to cultivate is taking account of our successes and failures – and do not be afraid to use the word fail, we cannot all be winners in everything we do, if we don’t fail we don’t learn –only ‘snowflakes’ don’t like to fail – some will keep an actual written account, for others it might be a simple check-list, or just a mental run-through. Have a general idea of what you wish to achieve in the coming year. Bloggers are encouraged to plan, keep a calendar of what will be written every week for months – I typically tend to waft from week to week writing whatever takes my fancy. You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go...” Doctor Seuss.

Here comes the end of the year, approaching fast, like a steam train with the whistle not quite screaming, and the engine driver trying to wave me off the track, because I’m too stupid to move! Each year I make myself promises and set targets and charge headlong into too many projects at once – like I said, too stupid to move off the same track!

 

THAT’S MORTALS FOR YOU, Death continued. THEY’VE ONLY GOT A FEW YEARS IN THE WORLD AND THEY SPEND THEM ALL IN MAKING THINGS COMPLICATED FOR THEMSELVES.

Related image
Death as The Hogfather (Source: https://ani-izzy.com)
Advertisements

NaNoWriMo 18 – What Now?

Apologies for the huge gap between my last post and this – it’s been a busy time.

NaNo-2018-Writer-Badge
NaNoWriMo 2018

We haven’t quite reached the end of the month – but – I have hit the 50,000 target with five days to spare.

It’s an odd sensation, a combination of exhilaration; I did it! I finally did it! And, What now?

I am sure that if you have been following my blog for any length of time, you will be aware of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. There are around 400,000 writers taking part, it’s a wonderful image isn’t it? People from all over the world, from all walks of life, busy beavering away at their stories.

To describe it as a race doesn’t quite do it justice. To talk about competitiveness only grazes the surface.

When you take part in NaNoWriMo, you can, if you wish to, award yourself Personal Achievement Badges; Planner/Pantser/Procrastinator/Word Sprinter and so on. You also gain Earned Badges; Word Count/Update/Winner. You can also add Buddies. I know, it’s tres American, but it can be a device that helps you get through the difficult times.

my NaNoWriMo Badges
My NaNoWriMo Badges

I have eight Buddies, I don’t get in touch with all of them, but this year three in particular have been on this journey with me – and that’s the point of having Buddies. Three of mine are based in America, one in France, two in the UK and the others haven’t posted their locations. Amy, David and Kristi and I have, this year, mailed each other throughout the event. Congratulating each other on reaching benchmarks, 10,000, 30,000 etc. We have spoken of time – not enough, word counts – falling behind, and emotional barriers – varied.

It reminds me of a tribe I once read about, and watched on TV many years ago – ‘Millennium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World’ by David Maybury-Lewis. (The Xavante of South America I think it was, but I cannot be absolutely sure.)

This community held a race each year. Everyone took part who wanted to – from the smallest kid to the oldest tribal member. An exciting event where everyone gathered at the starting line amidst cheers and joyful shouts. And off they went, running. I remember watching this really elderly man fall midway. The race slowed down. A couple of others came and raised him up and continued to run alongside him, everyone, every single participant crossed in a muddled lump of laughing and cheering.

The point was, the race was symbolic. They were sort of competing against each other, but more importantly – they were running the race together, as one. It was an analogy of life.

In the NaNo writing event, we all compete against ourselves. We push to reach that Finish Line ahead of others, but at the same time we are supportive of each other. Should someone not make it, then that is okay, they have written something and that’s what matters. We all begin with different skills at different levels and that is to be expected and appreciated.

So it is never an ‘In your face!’ moment. It’s a kind of ‘Phew! I made it. And you can too.’ moment. It’s not only about the individual; you, but about interconnectedness.

Image result for helping others
Helping Hand

Last year I did not reach the Word Count goal – but I had never intended to. It was a 30,000 word novella. The previous year, my first NaNo, I hit the goal in good time – but – and this is important to remember for all participants – I am still writing it! When NaNo ends, the writing doesn’t. 50,000 words does not a novel make. And it will depend greatly on which genre one is writing in. Just over that word count might be a YA fiction story, but if it’s fantasy your writing, which is what I am doing this year, then I’m only half way there.

So a goal was reached. Now there is a new one – finish the novel. After that there will be another goal – edit the novel. After that another – re-edit/re-write.

And so on and so forth.

As with life in general.

Good luck to all those still working at their word counts, but remember, that reaching it is only one stage in the life of a novel.

Image result for crossing the finish line
Finishing. Not the end.

FL/RPGWW/NANOWRIMO- or How I Bit Off More Than I Can Chew

Header for Blog 3 courses

Its NaNoWriMo time.

For those readers not familiar with this acronym, this is – National Novel Writing Month. An annual event lasting the whole of November for writers to encourage us to attempt 50,000 words in a month – no research, no editing, no worries – just write.

This is my third year of taking part. Previous  years I wrote a sci-fi story and a historical/magical realism story. This year it’s fantasy.

Plus…

It’s RPG Writer Workshop month. A new pilot programme being run by Ashley Warren to help gamers write a ‘one-shot-game’ before the first week in December. Game writers range from absolute beginners; never played TTRPG (Table Top Role Playing Games), to those who have already had work published and sold.

This is the first time -obviously – and although I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons for around 30 years or so, I am WAY behind with the changes that have taken place in this scene. Plus, it’s all online, so digital comms, chat rooms, etc are a challenge!

Plus…

FutureLearn  is currently running a course title, Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People. It’s running throughout November only and it’s something that will be useful for the job I am employed in – Learning Support Assistant.

This is probably the easiest of the three as I need no tools, except my laptop to access the course.

I have to say, I do not know how many people are on each of these courses, but combined, it’s thousands – NaNoWriMo itself gets around 500,000 writers enrolling. As someone who is not au faix with Discord, or chat rooms, or, let’s be honest, any digital technology beyond TV’s before the advent of the remote control, I do struggle, but people are so helpful. Really. The number of times I’ve posted in the wrong place, been unable to find something, couldn’t do whatever needed to be done – someone has ALWAYS come to my rescue.

Image result for d&d characters talking
Things were getting heated in the chatroom. 

However…

I hadn’t really thought this through when I signed up for all these online courses. In previous months; the build up and promotion of these courses, I had paid very little attention to the time they all took place.

Of course, I just had to do NaNo again. And wouldn’t it be cool as a writer to be able to design/write games and sell them? Yup – sign me up for that too. And what opportunities are there for what essentially boils down to free training?! Most industries provide staff training, but that little extra you do yourself always goes down well. So, yeah, I’ll do another course to help me do my job better.

So I find myself now, a mere 9 days into November, staring at blank docs. A kind of numb terror creeping up on me….how am I ever going to get 50,000 words written before the months end? How can I read a whole new rule-set for games and make a decision. How do I complete ‘Thinking Diary’ when my brain is turning to cheese? How can I go to work and give my best to those who rely on me? I know, thinks I, I’ll write my blog – as if I don’t already have enough writing to do -but the folks will be waiting for something, some pearls of wisdom, some amazing insight into creativity and gardening – phtuh! – no pearls here folks – brain, cheese = panic…

Related image

What if I get some hideous cross-over like in a 50’s B-movie!!

Characters from the RPG workshop sneaking into the NaNo story and developing depression!

The low mood student wends his/her way into the game writing and ruins the jolly humour!

My NaNo protagonists burst free and run amok amongst the comments section of well-meaning, kind-hearted people studying on FutureLearn, swords flailing, and continue the charge into the RPG workshop, dog-lock pistols ablaze – there’s bullets and documents flying…people fling their laptops aside as a black-eyed soldier leers from a video of a gentle soul telling his tale…nascent character ideas from the minds of newbie gamers are quickly laid to rest by a swift and smartly placed stiletto blade…and the Dark Order find an in-road during all the mayhem and the seeds of disorder are planted and then the NPC’s take over and…and…

Genre Mashups. Image from Indiereader.com

but that’s never going to happen!!!!

Or is it…

Oh, hey, remember that pearl of wisdom? Let me know if you find it! Right, I’m off to dig a hole and scream into it.

 

Steampunk Collection

The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler

The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler
Steampunk Adventures

I forgot to mention – This:

A book, I wrote!

The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler: An Illustrated Journal of Amusement, Adventure and Instruction 

It’s got treasure hunting, monsters, strange aliens, alternative history, it’s got dashing young men, a ballsy woman with a dangerous ‘side-kick’! It’s got pictures – well, a couple.

It’s pulp fiction, penny dreadful. It’s 12 stories starring the titular Lockhart & Doppler, who travel from Lancashire to France, South America, North America, Saxe-Coburg, Italy and Somaliland!

Grab a copy now! (You could always use it to line the cat’s litter tray!)

Extract:

I stood on the drive smoking a cigarette, taking in the cool evening air and disparaging the stiflingly formal gardens. At a sound behind me I turned. Lord Nelson Orange stood about five feet away. I looked at what he held;

An 1860 Tesla ray gun with delayed action paralysis release bullets, explosive heads an added option – why is it pointed at me?”

You know,” Nelson Orange said, “at first I wasn’t sure what about you drew my attention, then I realised it was exactly that, you’re designed not to draw attention. Very subtle, playing the slightly dull mother-in-law to be and melting into the background. But how many mothers would leave their daughter in the company of strangers?”

Damn! I thought.

Then when I looked for you again at the buffet, poof,” he made a motion with his free hand, “You were gone. And grandmamma left in the corridor? Tut, tut.”

Lord Nelson,” I continued with the ploy, “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

And there’s another thing, your accent, doesn’t quite fit, no breeding you see, one can always spot a lack of breeding.”

I beg your pardon?!”

Very good ma’am, keep at it.” He lowered his chin and gave me a chilly smirk.

 

Created and only available on FeedARead.com

 

lucylockhart
L.A.G. Lockhart

 

 

Getting into TTRPG Writing

Image result for ttrpg
Image curtesy of  @TTRPG Twitter

You all know I write stuff. ‘Course I do, I write this blog for one. Had some stuff published. Done posts for other blog sites.

So, what’s this TTRPG Writing all about Alex?

Table-top Role Playing Games. As opposed to LARP- Live Action Role Play (kind of like historical re-enactment societies, but with fantasy, and monsters, and probably more drugs!) or RPG in relation to video games (which I also spend quite a bit of time on)

It does what it says on the tin – you play it on your table, like a board-game, with dice and little pewter figures (painted or not), and maps, well some maps, sometimes.

I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons for nigh on 30 years – oh, my wasted youth!

I have been DMing campaigns for about 10 of those.

Then a pal sent me a link to – https://morrus.podbean.com/e/8-whats-an-rpg-freelancer-worth/

What? People get paid to write gaming stuff? Thinks me. Of course I knew people wrote all the initial games books – Dungeon Masters Guide, Players Rulebook, Monster Manual, blahdy, blah blah – but get paid?

To write new ideas?

To create new monsters?

And magic items?

Really?

Wow!

But how do you do it? How do you actually go about writing a game for others to play? To sell? What’s the process? How should it look or be presented?

Who does what to whom and when and how?

I haven’t a feckin’ clue!

I have been trawling the internet for three days – and it seems there is some sort of D&D gaming conspiracy going on! *Sh! Don’t talk about it otherwise more writers and creative types will muscle in on our patch.

Today I discovered – Life as a Hired Gun: Freelance RPG Writing https://youtu.be/U7EXayaK-TQ

and I thank those guys (John Bennet, Keith Ryan Kappel, and Christopher Hunt), for sharing their experiences and suggestions.

I’m going to start putting a few posts up here as I go along to share what knowledge and experience I gain on my path to becoming an #RPG writer.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey – who knows where we will end up – roll a D10 and we could run into a brick wall and fall at the first hurdle, twisting our ankle and hobbling back home shamefaced – or – we could vanquish the mummy of apprehension and discover the giant glow-worm of enlightenment!

Huzzah!

Now, where did I put my +2 Bow?

Related image
The female Archer is more deadlier than the male...

Writing Interruptus

grumpy-old-men-walter-matthau
Walter Matthau as Max Goldman – in reality, I might have strangled him!

So, the schools and colleges and universities of England have broken up for the summer holidays – no, not vacation, we don’t say vacation in England, unless you are going away from home on an actual vacation! (The English language huh?!)

You’d think I would have time to settle into a decent writing routine, wouldn’t you?

Previously I had been posting for this blog on a bi-weekly basis, then I cut down to one as, working and fiction writing demanded more time.

Upon the arrival of end of June, I was raring to go. I had plans to edit a series of stupid stories and self-publish them. I have a complete manuscript that I am ploughing through for the umpteenth time, plus the short story I am currently working on, and the handful of submissions for short story/anthology open competitions/submissions.

First week off, the phone rings – my mother is in hospital

My folks are old, like octogenarian old. My father now shuffles – literally- at a pace that boggles the mind, he’s losing his eyesight, and his hearing, his appetite, his balance. Yet he remains as obtuse, argumentative, opinionated and bloody annoying as ever!

My brother and I can’t imagine why our mother ever stayed with him.

So now, instead of spending happy hours immersed in words, I am driving two or three times a week, on a 2 hour round trip to collect my old dad, through roadworks, hold-ups, congestion, to visit my mother in hospital and take him home again.

She had a half-hip replacement, so is learning to walk again. She’s doing well, considering. I wonder she doesn’t just pretend she can’t do it so she can have a longer break from my dad!

You might wonder that I don’t go more often – but we have one car and hubby needs it to get to work. You imagine living in suburbs that the bus service would be great – it isn’t. Anywhere outside of London has appalling public transport systems.

And so I drive the car whilst my dad points out every bus that passes and tells me it’s route, and exclaims at empty buildings and tells me his ideas for, well practically everything- “These people don’t think!” he rants in his now high-pitched voice – because he knows best. And points his hand across my face as I try to peer over and navigate the road, because he wants me to look at where the British Legion used to be, or where an ex-neighbour from twenty years ago, whom I do not remember, moved to. And we get into arguments because I cannot let him get away with saying things like, “Why do you drive this way? Why don’t you go along the Northbound? You people just can’t think in a different way.” And I rise to the occasion,( I have become in his mind You People, and it irks) reminding him that he had an hour long moan when I washed his tea-pot after doing the dishes.

“Why does it matter?” I had said.

“Because that’s the way we always do it.” He said.

“But it’s all done, see? The dishes are washed and put away, I’ve done the tea-pot, and wiped up, so why does it matter what order it gets done in?”

He pointed at the counter, “There’s water there.”

I stood and faced him and made him tell me why it made a difference. He, of course had no logical answer.

And so back in the car this Friday, I couldn’t resist bringing up the tea-pot argument when he criticised my route.

“Why do you wash the tea-pot before the dishes?”

“Habit.” He said.

“Well, there you go.”

He still harrumphed, so a sent a parting shot – “Pot, kettle, black. Sound familiar dad?”

This morning,as I was reading ‘Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim‘, my husband said I should use my writing as a catharsis and write, like David Sedaris, about my family. I’m afraid I don’t have the wit of Sedaris, or the unusual and interesting family, or events to satisfy anyone, just a stubborn set of parents and brother who all seem stuck, like flies in aspic, in a 1950s England, who enjoy complaining as much as the next Brit.

And I fear I might be the same!

Phew Wot a Scorcher!

Due to current ‘heat-wave’ blogger offers shortest post.

Newspapers present information and ideas about topics – and must constantly battle with each other to gain customers – headings need to be attention-grabbing.

Of course, layout, headings, subheadings and pictures play a part in this, but as writers, we could learn something from journalistic lingo.

What types of papers? (UK)
Tabloids are papers such as The Sun, The Mirror and The Express. They are smaller in size containing, usually, light-weight stories or articles written in simpler style. Often have a lot of celebrity gossip and very local articles.

Broadsheets are papers such as The Times, The Guardian and The Independent. These are the larger papers containing more serious stories in depth articles. The broadsheets will also contain news from other countries.

Short Words
Headlines often use very short words to make an impact, this applies to broadsheets and tabloids alike, although the tabloids are more likely to employ eye-dialect – we’ll cover that in a mo’. The shorter headline has more impact – as does the shorter sentence in your novel/short-story writing. For example, Hitler Dead. Everyone knew who was being written about so no need for a full name. The sentence written fully could read, Adolf Hitler is Dead or German Chancellor Has Taken His Own Life, but it doesn’t have the same impact as two words.

Phew HitlerDeadApril1945USApaper
Hitler Dead. Newspaper April 1945

Newspapers have the advantage (or disadvantage in some instances!) of having a photograph accompany their text. As a writer, you don’t. So to pack more punch into an action scene. You might. Just might. Want to use shorter words. And shorter sentences.

Eye-Dialect

This is the use of non-standard spelling and pronunciation. What some refer to as ‘not speaking properly’. It’s not RP (Received Pronunciation). You will all be familiar with eye-dialect, and may even use it, without knowing what it is called. Innit?

(See what I did there?!) It is used to add impact to a headline, or add definition to your characters. Let’s imagine a conversation between two:

English Middle class friends –

Bill- Hello, Ben, How are you?

Ben – Hi, I’m pretty good, thanks for asking. How are things with the wife and kiddies?

Working class friends

Bill – Y’all right mate?

Ben – Sound, how’s the missus and sprogs?

As an opening conversation, this immediately allows the reader to know something about Bill and Ben, without telling. It also adds some realism to your characters.

Examples of eye-dialect you will have seen in newspapers include – Gov’t, Grab ’em, Libs, Wot, Cor, and so on.

Phew Iraq word play
He always was between a rock and a hard place.

Word Play
You find this is a big part of the language of many newspapers. Words with two different meanings in English can be used in an amusing and entertaining way. This is called a pun. The English language is littered with puns, innuendo and double entendres. TV shows and films like the Carry On series were built around this peculiarity (I’m not too sure about other countries/languages) For example, Be Leave in Britain. This headline, from The Sun, plays with the word believe. The Sun is renown for it’s patriotism; some would say nationalism, and urging it’s readers to believe in their country – however, they deliberately misspelt and divided the word (much like has happened to the UK and Europe ironically!), and now they ask their readers to believe in leaving the EU.

Phew - Jolie Pregnant By Pitt
Juxtaposition of text and image. 10/10!

Alliteration

Poets amongst you may be more familiar with this, (though all serious writers should be too). Alliteration is mostly used for humorous effect as well as grabbing the readers attention. It’s essential for the newspapers to stand out from it’s competitors, so you will see a variety of styles depending on the paper and it’s target audience.

Alliteration is the repeated use of the same letter or sound in a series of words. Tongue-twisters are alliterative. e.g. She sells sea shells on the sea shore. The poem of Beowulf has, Hot-hearted Beowulf was bent upon battle. In the second instance, we can almost feel the breathy quality as we say hot-hearted, we pant the words as Beowulf himself might have, then the hard ‘b’s add another quality, harder, punchy.

Phew Alliteration claptrap
Alliteration Excitation

Similarly the headlines might say – Pasties, Petrol and the Politics of Panic, or, Cannibal Cop Finds Killer’s Kit. I would say you couldn’t make this stuff up, but you can, they do! 

 

Okay, the laptop is pretty hot now. The temperature is 26º (that’s 78.8 Fahrenheit for old people and Americans). My brain is overheating. I’m done.

Blogger Bows Out as Heatwave Hits Head