Monday, 8 December 2014

A Warning to Readers and Writers Everywhere

There's a bit of a situation unfolding on Amazon right now - a user going by the name of "Jay Cute" has been uploading other people's books, slapping their name on them and hoping it will pass as one of their own.

For the past little while I've been scrolling through the pages of search results for "Jay Cute", one-star reviewing them all as the piss-poor attempts at plagiarism that they are.

It makes me really sad to think that somebody could really just take the work of another person and try to make money off of it like that. Authors spend months - heck, even years as I well know - drafting their book, going through the euphoric and frustrating process of shaping it into something readable, drowning their sorrows in their beverage of choice, et cetera... and then you get jerks like this who just disregard all of that and pinch it for a quick buck.

"Jay Cute"'s efforts really are bizarre, though. The stolen books have little to no product description, and the thief has made no attempt to conceal the name of the original author. They've just slapped their name on there somewhere, and more often than not the original author's name is quite clearly visible.

I'm scrolling and scrolling and it's becoming sickeningly obvious that there are quite a few victims of this crime. "Jay Cute" has victimised erotica authors, writers of chick-lit, non-fiction, there are a few covers in there that look fantasy-ish - but like I say, it's hard to tell with the vague or non-existent product description. I get the sense that "Jay Cute" is randomly stealing books to sell, not sticking to a particular genre. The prices vary as well, from about £1 - £6 that I've seen so far.

((Later, after many many reviews in which I began to lose the will to live and started copy-pasting "PLAGIARISM, AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE...IARISM" over and over))

Some of the stuff is downright confusing. They attempted to sell Kaje Harper's "Show Me Yours" (available for LEGITIMATE download on her Goodreads page) as "City of Bones" by Cassandra Clare?? Whuuuuu????

I've also been checking the reviews of other people on there who are calling this individual out and I've seen a few remarking that "Jay Cute" has other pages on Amazon, which probably means that they are going under several different names.

The whole situation just makes me sad. I'm sad that there are people out there who would do this, and I'm sad that Amazon has let so many plagiarised titles slip through to the point where the thief could actually make money off of them. And as a writer who was seriously contemplating going down the self-pub route, it makes me feel nervous and kinda unprotected. What is there out there to stop somebody doing this to one of my books in the future?

I dunno. I just thought I'd get this out there, so that writers and readers alike can become more aware of what this person is doing, and the risks. From what I've heard, people have been e-mailing and Amazon is aware of the situation, so hopefully soon we'll have a result.

People, don't plagiarise. And be wary when buying books online. Might be worth noting that these links probably won't work any more when Amazon resolves this, which will definitely be the best outcome.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Really Rad Roleplayers do Mutants and Masterminds

Mutants and Masterminds © Green Ronin Publishing

I'm not sure if I've written about this on here before, but I take part in a tabletop RPG every month with my roleplay group - the game is a superhero RPG called Mutants and Masterminds, and our particular game is set in the Marvel universe, in the North West of England. Our characters are brought together by a robbery at a bank that they all happen to be waiting in line at, and wind up joining MI13 as a superhero group known as the Liverbirds!

It's hilariously good fun, and more often than not we're all laughing so hard that we can't even roll our dice properly. We've had people falling on their own swords immediately after kicking ass, heroes who would happily bring a building down to stop an enemy despite there being civilians inside, vomit related PR disasters, emotional breakdowns involving bacon sandwiches, and whales using Twitter.

One of our members, the wonderful Laila, has been working hard to write a novel based on the crazy adventures of our heroes, and you can find her blog with all of our updates here. She has a bit of catching up to do because she trekked a part of the Sahara for charity recently but most of our adventures are there!

The players, our characters and their Twitter accounts are...

Me and my girl Indrani Abbott, codename Devi; a young British-Indian witch with a rat familiar called Thelma (go figure!) (@DeviTheMystic)

Anna's character Dr Willow Andrews, whose seductive superhero is the gorgeous Nymph. Due to her using her pheromone powers on everybody in the first session, and then me failing utterly by rolling a natural 1 in my efforts to resist, Nymph has the easily-flustered Devi wrapped around her little finger. She uses super-serum to give her skin a bark-like strength and appearance, and has power over plants and insects. (@woodenNymph)

Rhi plays Facade. Facade cannot remember her own name, has a propensity for punching things, and surprises me every session with her recklessness and disregard for everyone's safety. Even her own. She is hilarious. (@FuryAndFists)

Hannah plays Maeve Maddox, a magician's assistant and skilled telepath who goes by the name of Cassandra. She can mind swap, she enjoys singing in other people's heads, and she really hates the circus. (@CassMaze)

Laila's character Ellis Parker works in a museum by day, but when criminals are afoot she becomes the telekinetic sword-wielding Vixen. She goes between kicking ass and completely humiliating herself, usually one round after the other. (@CodeNameVixen)

Ren plays Iris Layla Caddigan-Yves, an ebony beauty with power over electricity, AKA Joules. She isn't particularly fond of people, and can teleport through the mains if needed, which is awesome! Unfortunately, Joules does not have a Twitter account.

Laura G, one of our newest members, plays a university student who accidentally acquires her powers after a drunken dare goes horribly wrong. Her tweets are golden. (@Distortion_KK)

And we have an enemy played by Katie; Victoria Bramhall, AKA Phreak, who isn't a superhero but is scarily gifted with technology and gave us a run for our money when she decided to go renegade. She will be back... (@PhreakTech)

Last but not least, mention must be made of our brilliant GM Pottsy, who doesn't play a hero as such but he plays our AI assistant, BOB - which stands for Battery Operated Brain. BOB helps us in our investigations, struggles on a daily basis to understand human beings, and ensures that everybody's bowel movements are normal. (@BatteryOBrain)

We have two more members waiting to begin - Jack, one of Hannah's friends, and my good friend of many many years, Laura F. Jack has a character created and ready for introduction, Laura F is still in the planning stages. It's all terribly exciting!

So there you have it! If you would like to get on board and follow this mad adventure, check out Laila's heroic novelisation efforts (seriously, the lass writes so fast to get it all down it's unbelievable!) and our characters' respective Twitter accounts. Some of our characters usually tweet and interact (read: bicker) during sessions. It's a lot of fun!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Book Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

Those who know me well also know that it is dangerous to mention the name Patrick Rothfuss around me. His two books are burned, word by word, into my brain. Mention him around me and my eyes go faraway as I begin to gush about him and his blog and the beauty of his prose and how amazing his characters are and how gripping the plot of his Kingkiller Chronicle is and how excited I am for the third and final book in the trilogy and and and...

When I heard that Patrick Rothfuss was releasing a short novel featuring one of the characters from The Kingkiller Chronicle, I was thrilled. I found out that it was about Auri, one of the series' most intriguing characters, and I did several backflips of joy. And then I spotted, available for pre-order on the Waterstones website, a beautiful hardcover edition, SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR. I think I died; obviously I can't remember for sure, most likely because I was dead. Somebody was kind enough to resurrect me - probably Jason because he's the White Mage of our group and all - and you're damn right I hurled exactly 1299 pennies at the computer screen.

Obviously it was a pre-order, and so took some time to arrive. I kinda forgot about it for a while because I'm easily distracted. But a few weeks later, a parcel arrived...

It's beautiful!

I haven't been able to read it what with all the NaNo business and busyness, but in the last few days while I'd hit 50k and was winding down, I decided to give this book the read it was crying out for.

And... wow. How do I describe it? It was not what I expected from a book, but exactly what I expected from a book about Auri. Does that make any sense? It's joyous, bittersweet, sad and beautifully strange, and full of the childlike excitement and wonder that endears Auri to so many readers in The Name of the Wind. Rothfuss structures the book so neatly, so perfectly, that Auri herself would be proud.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is bizarre in that it has no dialogue. Apart from the brief appearance of an unnamed little girl who spots Auri during the book, there are no other humans shown. We see footprints, we hear the clamour of life echoing down from the world above, but Auri is the only person we meet.

It's wonderful. I am a total sucker for unusual books like this. When the writer does well, they are amazing. And here, Patrick Rothfuss has done very, very well indeed, because despite the lack of dialogue and the singular human character, it is such a gripping read. Auri's only company in the Underthing are the various objects she picks up along her journey - sprigs of lavender, jars and bottles, long lost perfumes, broken cogs - and like her, we grow attached to these objects as she seeks to put the world right and find a proper place for them. We feel her pain when things are moved, or seem out of place. We are overcome with fascination as she explores these long lost rooms buried deep in the ground. We quiver with excitement as the days pass by and her unnamed but very much known friend comes closer to visiting.

Also strange is the fact that the book doesn't feature action and conflict on the same level as The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear. But again, because this is a story about Auri, it works. We watch her exploring, and the excitement comes from discovering new places with her. There are terrifying moments such as when she swims to grab the brass cog in The Yellow Twelve, unsettling moments such as when she fears that people might be coming into the Underthing to disrupt her peculiar perfection. On page 77, a short chapter titled 'Hollow', my heart simply broke.

Of course, we have got to look at Nate Taylor's gorgeous illustrations. They're so clean, and detailed - they remind me of something from a fairy story. He captures Auri's innocence wonderfully too, her slight appearance, her cloud of bright golden hair, the vastness and mystery of the Underthing in which she resides. The full-page illustrations are stunning. Some of the pages are 'framed' by what I would describe as studies of some of the Underthing's architecture and it works brilliantly to really draw you in to the setting.

As a voracious reader and aspiring artist and writer myself, this book complete with Nate's illustrations was like tucking into a big, fat strawberry covered in chocolate. Delicious, sweet, the perfect treat that leaves you wanting more. The whole thing together is a work of art in itself; I am so impressed.

I literally do not have any qualms with it. I know that probably makes me a shitty reviewer, but at the same time I'm not the sort to whip problems out of thin air. The only thing I would say is that I definitely recommend reading at least The Name of the Wind before picking up The Slow Regard of Silent Things. It will lose none of its mystery if you do, but a few bits here and there would make a little more sense, and you would probably be a bit more invested in the story having drummed up a bit of curiosity! Plus the series is just awesome anyway. GO. GO AND READ IT.


Sunday, 30 November 2014

National Novel Writing Month 2014 - The NaNo Diaries!

Obviously I haven't been particularly active on here this month... but it's because I have been typing frantically away, working on my project for NaNoWriMo 2014 - the same old story, adding on to 'The Great Couch Happening of 1969'. And while the blog and my Facebook page have been kinda quiet, I've been keeping track of my progress in my little purple notebook. Nonexistent readers, I present to you...

(Thanks to my brother Nathan for scanning this header in while my laptop is dead. Oh yeah, I don't even mention in the following diaries that I had no laptop at all this month. Tried to turn it on on the night of October 31st and it never booted up.)

I didn't kick off right away at midnight - because when midnight rolled around I was still reassembling Doppler's cage! But I got a good 600 words in before going to bed at around 1:30am, which establishes the beginnings of my 'Last Day' arc and the beginning of my [REDACTED BECAUSE SPOILERS] short story.
Today being a Saturday and me being off work, I was able to go to the write-in! Jason and I had lunch at Maggie May's after bumping into Mike (good pal from the college days!) and his dad. I had the nicest veggie burger ever, and then we headed on to Costa Tithebarn.
My little Kindle served me excellently - in the table on page 47 of my journal you can see my word count progress as the write-in went on. We had two sprints and I managed about 800-900 words between those.
So far I'm feeling okay about NaNo, but still unsure as to where I'm going; definitely beats last year's day one feeling of uncertainty and despair, when my laptop was broken and I had no idea what I was even doing.
Tomorrow I would like to start on my Clarietta and Iestyn arcs. It would help to have two more storylines on the go for when the wind threatens to leave my sails. Onwards, into Day Two!

Day Two of NaNo, and this is the first day of the month where I haven't had to go out, meet anybody etc - I've been able to stay in and just write.
Of course, this is after I cleaned out Archie's cage. I put him in his newly cleaned cage on the bed to free up my desk, sat down at about 3pm and then worked on and off until about 10pm.
I was gonna try and stick to my NaNo calendar by making today a 10k day - but it's early NaNo, and I haven't really planned much plot wise, and the plot is going just a tiny bit slow as a result.
However, I now have another plot line underway; my Iestyn and co sub arc is catching up now in length to the "Last Day" arc, which really should be the shorter of the five. Spenser Spencer has taken the opportunity to bolt from these strange men (Iestyn, Jeremiah and The Clock) who have abducted him, and is now lost in Edinburgh, 1666.
I would really like to start my Clarietta and maybe my Sanctuary arcs tomorrow. I just really need to flick through the novel, figure out what's been written so far and from there decide where to go next.
And this is the main pitfall of not planning anything!

Okay! I've finally started work on the Clarietta arc, as you can see from the above table.
I had a few things to do in town today, so I went in early and when I had finished my shopping, set up my Kindle in Cafe Nero and got in a good 1k!
Obviously it's been slow going, being that this is one of the least developed arcs I have so far, but I've plodded on and managed a respectable word count today. I'm currently second on NaNo Faces, just behind Dawn! That's never happened before!
(A later addition to this diary: That 1k came from a lovely little addition I made to a crucial scene I had previously written, appropriately titled "the awkward scene". I was in Nero, headphones in and listening to Barclay James Harvest's debut album when I decided to write the aftermath of that awkward scene to the tune of two of their very lovely songs, titled "Need You Oh So Bad" and "I Can't Go On Without You". I think those songs capture the characters' feelings pretty well!)

Things continue to go well, and I now have something written for all of my intended story arcs! I wrote a decent amount across all of them yesterday and only fell short of my goal of 13336 words by a couple of hundred.
Tomorrow is Pottsy's write-in at Starbucks; I'll be getting there at around 3 so I'm confident that I'll be able to catch up and hopefully exceed my goal.
To be honest, one more word sprint would have seen me on target today, but I'd written about 3900 words and I was tired and I didn't want to burn myself out like I usually do when I write a lot of words.
Tell you what, though, the NaNo site must be inundated with a lot of traffic because there are error 404s right now wherever you look. Oh yeah, and Timmy died a couple of times in the chat tonight - I noticed it had gone eerily quiet and there was a distinct lack of foofings and defenestrations. I tried to take over but - meh, I'm a crap chat bot.
I'm still listed as second on NaNo Faces, but if Hannah wasn't doing her 500 drabbles challenge I would probably be third. By now she would easily have surpassed at least 20k but with her plan she could probably only do 55k before some of her pieces no longer constitute as drabbles?? Is that how drabbles work?? I dunno, I'm too verbose to write them most of the time!
(Later: Nope, according to Hannah in a more recent conversation, a drabble has to be exactly 100 words! So I have never written a successful drabble :P)

I can't be bothered working out how many words I've written today (I'm on the train, away from the luxury of WiFi and the super handy NaNo calculator that does all of that stuff for me), but I'm pretty sure that I managed to write about 4000 words, probably more. I actually made my quota for the day with a few word sprints to go so I thought what the hell, may as well get ahead while I still had the energy to do so.
Pottsy's write-in was great as usual. I kinda overestimated the time it would take for me to get there so I was there 2nd earliest, even though my journey is probably one of the most time consuming. After Pottsy arrived at half three, we had about two sprints an hour, starting at 4pm. So that was eight sprints by the time we left at eight, and I managed just about five hundred words per sprint.
After that, we headed through the misty bonfire night air and to the Shipping Forecast pub. Me, Pottsy and John had a drink and a chat and then Pottsy updated me on the RP session that I had missed while we walked to our respective means of getting home. The train was delayed by like half an hour while the driver was still coming in from Manchester Vic, but that's okay because we're on the move now and I'm in no great rush to get home. I would like to cuddle Boffin though.

I didn't write much at all on Day Seven, and the day before that managed just over the basic daily goal for NaNo by getting 1700 words written.
Apart from the things on the "Work Needed" list, my Laz and co arc is pretty much written I think! [YET MORE DETAILS REDACTED BECAUSE SPOILERS]
So, it's just my other arcs and my "Work Needed" list to cross off now!

My finishing count for yesterday after the (Saturday) write-in was 23188 words. It's crazy how close to 25k I am!
Of course, I had a few not so productive days on the sixth and seventh, but they were totally worth it because I still wrote something, and 500 words a day is still good progress, and also it was while lying in bed on the night of Day Seven and wondering where to go next with my storyline that I came up with a brilliant idea for where to go next with my Iestyn and co storyline, involving an unexpected new antagonist! I just had to make a note of it in my NaNo journal, there was no way I was gonna let that one escape me!
But yes, the write-in was a lot of fun today. I was the first there so I got a lot of work done while waiting for the others, then Anna and Rhi came, and then Megan. After that, people gradually filled up our usual writing space and there was a decent attendance in the end. I managed about 3k at the write-in and another 700ish at home after Doctor Who. Would have done more but Nathan wanted to watch The Mighty Boosh while his PC is still in for upgrades, so we binged that for a while.
So yeah, after an uncertain couple of days, I'm feeling confident about my novel again! It's usually the case; in the first week of NaNo I'm still "easing into" what I'm writing, and then I get excited all over again and things really take off.
I just wish I had my laptop back so I could see how many pages I've done across the whole thing. That would be awesome.

I didn't count my words in one of the little tables I've been using but today's finishing count was 25010. I hit my quota for the day, realised I'd also hit 25k, and then decided to go to bed.
It's been another tough day for writing, so I put my headphones in and really knuckled down. Doing a couple of word sprints in the chat helped massively as well.
Quite a bit of my work today has been on my Clarietta and Sanctuary arcs, which are definitely the two that need the most work. Maggie is currently seeing broken reality for herself, and in the Sanctuary, Specimens 23912129113 and 451426512 have gathered everybody together because they know that something lies beyond that strange, clinical realm...

I haven't written anything on here for a good few days but things are going okay. Gonna admit, I'm definitely not on track for 100k because it's been kinda on and off for me lately, but I finished Day Twelve with only 200 words to go until 30k and my next star off Pottsy, so things are still going well. I could probably manage 75k this year, which is definitely a good amount.
My week off work ended on the ninth, so I haven't been able to make it to any of the write-ins this week. I should be at the write-in next Wednesday (19th November), so hopefully I will have earned my star for 40k by then.
And I have another week off at the end of this month! From the 24th to the 30th I have all the time in the world to write, so 75k is definitely doable.

So... obviously I haven't added to my NaNo diary much this week. I've had a few tough writing days during week two and I'm currently not even on target to reach 75k. I'll still definitely hit 50k though.
Laura and I have gotten together twice to write, which has been great and really helpful. We've been doing some much-needed sprints and she's doing excellently; at her current pace I reckon she'll smash past 50k on the 25th, maybe before?
It's great because it's her first NaNo and she's doing so well! I'm so glad she finally decided to give it a go :)

As you can tell from my Day Nineteen progress table, I am on a roll again!
Today was a Wednesday, and mercifully I had an earlier shift so even though I had to get up stupidly early (boo), I was actually able to get to Pottsy's write-in.
I've only really been working on my Stan spin-off story today, and I've progressed the plot pretty well. I think that tomorrow, I shall give my Clarietta arc some much-needed love and attention. It's been a few days since I worked on it but thankfully I left it in a pretty good place, mid-scene where I like it so it'll be easier for me to start and get a good flow going.
Today, I've written a total of 3873 words and my average per day has crept up to 2298. I would really love to push that average up to 2500 so I'll be on track for 75k so I might even churn another couple hundred words out - maybe I'll even try and cross some stuff off the "Work Needed" list. It would be nice to have the story feeling more complete.
Some great banter at the write-in today, though. Being metaphorically reborn by Yoko Ono, sleep paralysis and freaky faceless crones on the edge of your vision, and snapping people's shoes when they steal your drink at the bar. Afterwards me, Jason and Pottsy went to get noodles at a place called Wok&Go; never been there before but the veggie boxes are brilliant!

Today was my day off, and I was determined to write at least 3100 words - the daily average I will henceforth need to hit 75k.
At first I decided to ain for 500 words an hour - a manageable goal that I could do by adding little 100 word chunks onto every arc. But eventually that plan went to pot (in hindsight, dribbling out bits of plot like that probably meant I wasn't able to get a good flow going) - I still ended up with a good 3.3k written across all but my "Stan" short story though. I finished a lot earlier than I intended and my word count is currently at 47k. Not long to go now before I can call NaNoWriMo 2014 a win!
I've been adding to my Laz and Co story arc today, working on some of the items from the "Work Needed" list. Specifically I've been working on the city of gentlemen zombies, filling in that gap in the manuscript before I move on to the next. Gotta be honest, though, I don't think this book will be finished at the end of November, once again. I'll be closer to the end at least, and the main arc is definitely done except for the aforementioned gaps.

I didn't write much today. I'm only about 2k away from passing the 50k mark and I've had a busy few days for writing, so I thought I would take it easy today, especially while it was also quite a tough day at the day job.
So far, my NaNo experience has been pretty good. Progress has been off and on, and those "on" days have been vital so that I could have days like today. I've accepted that I probably won't make 100k, possibly not even 75k, and that's fine - because I've made some pretty good progress on my book. I'll be working on the damn thing into 2015, most likely, but what the heck. I'm young, I have plenty of time to get it done. The writing process is one best enjoyed anyway, not rushed in the sake of money or prestige or fame.

Today was a creeping start for me. I began on the brink of that last one thousand words, determined that today would be the day where I finally crossed the finish line.
It was tough going in the beginning. I kept obsessively counting my words to find I'd only written fifty when it felt like I'd done paragraphs and paragraphs. The end crept closer, and closer still, and then finally, at three to four in the afternoon, I checked my word count again and it stood at 50118.
Tell you what, though, I love my little Kindle to bits and it has been a godsend this month, but when it comes to selecting larger bits of text, it doesn't half take ages. It took me about ten minutes to select five chunks of text, paste into my validation document, and then copy and paste the lot into the word count validator on the NaNo site. And one of my rats, Erza, decided to walk across my keyboard while I was doing it; it's amazing that she didn't step on the backspace and erase the whole thing.
The on and off progress has been tough. Obviously it can be easily remedied by just putting words on the page, but my plan is pretty vague and I don't like writing incredulous nonsense simply to progress the plot. At the same time, I still want my book to be funny and freewheeling, so it's frustrating.
I'm also getting pangs of sadness when I think about how every word brings me closer to the end of the book. Another 50k will probably see it done and that's not all that long to go, considering I've just done that in 23 days. These characters might be complete idiots but I love them and I've really enjoyed writing them.
Well, all the more reason to write some short stories and spin-offs!

I've decided that I'm not going to beat myself up for only writing 600ish words today. I wrote the 50k needed, made some decent progress on my novel, and I think I can just take it easy now, write at my own pace.
One thing I've finally learned after all these years of doing NaNoWriMo is that I do better when I don't try and commit to what is, for me, an extreme goal (i.e. 100k). I'm probably better going for the 50k - a doable yet respectable goal that won't stress me the hell out. In the past when I've aimed for 50k, I've often surprised myself and managed to write way more.
Obviously I can manage 75k in a month as I've done it a few times before, and I think that if I had a good month and planned my novel well I could easily manage 100k, but I would rather keep NaNoWriMo manageable and fun.
My sub arcs are beginning to feel like they take up a decent chunk of the plot! The Clarietta arc is probably about 25k words long now - maybe about the same for the Iestyn arc, but I'm not so sure as I would need to add the words up.
... okay, the Iestyn arc is 39281 words long. I had a file with all the scenes sitting around. The Clarietta arc is 28209 words long, obviously because I started it a lot more recently. All in all I would say the non-Laz stuff accounts for almost a quarter of my novel.
So... if I could round Iestyn off in another 25k, Clarietta in another 32k, Sanctuary in another 7k maybe...
Or even less, to be honest. I wouldn't want to stretch the plot out pointlessly with the book being huge as it is.

I managed a good 1200ish words today and began work on a "Work Needed" item that somehow evaded my proper list - [REDACTED BECAUSE YET MORE SPOILERS!]. The arc felt a bit patchy for a while but now I'm working on filling in the gaps, it feels like it's all starting to come together.
Tell you what, though, this book is getting awfully long. It's going on 900 pages, maybe 1000 depending on the font size. Trimming it down is going to be fun. Like how do I make this monstrosity a reasonable length without losing any of the heart or humour of the novel?
I dunno. It can be done. There's just gonna be a lot of heavy editing involved, and a lot of wrangling to avoid totally losing my intended vision.

Aw man, just realised that today is my last write-in of NaNo 2014. Me and those of us who are in the RP group have decided to do the RP session next Saturday after all. It's been a tough decision because I want to do the write-in as well, but I would really like to get to an RP session while I have this week off - I missed the last one due to work and I'm not sure what we're doing next month with the last Saturday of December being the 27th...
ANYWAY. The write-in. Me and Laura went today, and it was her first ever write-in! Between sprints we played Story War since Pottsy had yet to test out his new Volume Two set, and it was hilarious - but difficult; I couldn't argue my way out of a paper bag. My definite highlights were my hero gems attempting to take Pottsy's journalist mutant to court for slander regarding his smear articles slamming germs and Laura's monster truck, and when Laura's therapist had my arsonist fox detective sectioned. Setting everything on fire in an effort to kill the therapist and Hannah's sexy blob only helped Laura's case on my firestarting lunacy.
I didn't get as much done at this write-in as I would normally do, but I still got in a decent amount of words and discovered that I know sweet bugger all about nineteenth century Belfast and gaols in nineteenth century Belfast. But I wrote a good ol' tavern brawl!
It's weird because I wrote loads today, but nothing of it was particularly memorable. Some filling in the gaps, some bridging scenes, some pretty linear and forgettable stuff. Hopefully tomorrow the words will feel better.
After the write-in we popped into Wok&Go (NOM) and then chatted a bit before going our separate ways. Laura and I got our 9:20 train just as the whistle was blowing, and now I'm home. Shared some of my noodles with the rats because I can never finish a Wok&Go regular box, and now I'm in bed with Boffin and Burrito running about.

Most of the work I've done today has been typing up these NaNo Diaries so they'll be ready to post on my blog, but I got a good 600 words done today on the Iestyn arc.
I was doing a bit of research for the novel today and realised yet again how awkward it would be if the police ever seized any of my devices. Today I've been Googling 'undetectable poisons', 'cyanide' and 'Irish names', so clearly I want to murder someone, run away to Dublin and change my name to something so stereotypically Irish that they'll have to believe that my name is Patrick McLeprechaun, I've lived there my whole life and murdered nobody at all. Also, I've reached page 100 in my NaNo notebook! Wow!

After the 27th, with a good 60k under my belt, I decided to give myself a couple of days to just chill and enjoy the remainder of my week off.
So, now that NaNoWriMo is basically done and my first ever winner's shirt is on the way, it's time to look to the future, to formulate a plan and charge on towards finishing my novel.
See, another thing I've learned from my many years of doing NaNoWriMo is that I tend to burn myself out and then barely work for the rest of the year. I would like to end that habit now and carry on writing at a more relaxed pace. Maybe if I aim for 1k a day, which would be 500 words on each of the main arcs...
When those are finished, I would polish off the 'Sanctuary' arc, then take a break from "Couch" to finish my "Stan" short story, and after that, I would go back to heavily edit "Couch".
This month has been a lot of fun. I've gotten out of the house a lot more than I would normally do, got to write alongside old friends and encourage the new. As always, I've met some wonderful people - and I hope that they'll all be back for next year! Oh, and I also hope that next year when people ask what I'm writing, the answer won't be "the same bloody book that I've been writing since 2009"!
But anyway, farewell NaNo 2014. You were fun, you were stressful, you expanded my book in ways I never expected. You taught me a lot as usual about myself, about discipline and my habits both good and bad. Same time next year?

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Why I'm Donating $10 a Month to NaNoWriMo

I've been participating in National Novel Writing Month now for about seven years – NaNo 2014 will be my eighth, in fact. Since I penned the first words of my first ever NaNo novel back in 2007 (it was called Trinity and it was awful), NaNoWriMo has become a huge part of my life. I've won five out of seven attempts - in 2008 I gave up about 4000 words in because of college work – and the event is now one of the highlights of my year.

I've never been able to donate, though, which has always bugged me. Back in 2007, I was in my last year of high school and had literally no money, not even a bank account. Then I was in college, with a bank account but hardly any money to live on. And then I was either on Job Seeker's, which barely allows you to feed yourself, or working temp jobs on minimal hours at minimum wage.

Lately, things have been better. My job is secure, I'm working hard. I've treated myself to a Kindle, which will be an excellent back-up writing device should my laptop fail me (which it inevitably will, this November). I've been faced with a succession of vet bills in this past month, mostly unexpected, which I've actually been able to cope with. I have a small amount of savings – I've never had savings before!

So today I decided that I was finally going to get myself that halo. And I've decided that it won't just be a one-off donation of $10, I've set up a $10 monthly donation. 

The thing is, I owe NaNoWriMo, and the good people who run it, a lot. They've taken a hobby that's pretty solitary and turned it into something social, and made it so much more fun. I've made some wonderful friends through NaNo who I see throughout the year; brilliant, hilarious people who I never would have met otherwise. People to laugh with, word sprint with, celebrate with, share advice and support with. Plus I get the chance to read the embryonic work of some truly excellent writers, which is a rare and amazing thing.

I've learned a lot about discipline. I've learned a lot about myself as a writer; I can comfortably hit 2000 words a day, my all time record has been 10000 words, and I've learned that I also burn myself out when I push myself and do that much. I've come to understand the benefits of writing every day, even if it's just a little bit, and I've discovered the joys of hitting those targets early in the day and realising that I actually have a few hours to push myself even further. I've learned to seek out those little pockets of dead time to turn into writing time; waiting for appointments, bus and train rides, the half an hour or so before I head to work where I can't really do anything else. 

Plus, without NaNoWriMo, I don't think I'd still be writing The Great Couch Happening of '69 today. It would be sitting, long abandoned, in the 'old stuff' folder in the writing section of my Google Drive. There have been times where I've gone weeks or months without writing a word but I've always been able to count on NaNo, its people and its support network to give me that much-needed boost. I sometimes think that NaNoWriMo embodies the spirit of 'Couch' a little bit; that freewheeling craziness, the pretty personal mad humour that comes from me just letting go and expressing myself. Without NaNoWriMo and everything it's taught me, 'Couch' wouldn't be what it is today. It's a rubbish book, but it's mine and I'm oddly proud of it so far.

So that's why I've decided to donate $10 a month to The Office of Letters and Light. They've given me so much over the past seven years; it's about time I gave something back. 

If you'd like to take part in National Novel Writing Month, you can sign up to the site here. If you're under eighteen and would rather set your own word count goal, then maybe their Young Writer's Program is the thing for you! There are also two Camp NaNoWriMo events in April and July, for those of us who like to catch some sun while we write. You don't have to donate to take part, but that halo on your avatar does look pretty damn awesome... just saying!

It brings out my eyes.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Book Review: The House of Sleep

These past few days I've been a dedicated artist and a voracious reader, but I haven't managed a great deal of writing. The reading time has been perfect for chilling out with my rats, and the art is for a secret project that I'm working on that needs doing ASAP. So my novel has been sat for a few days, in that strange state it sometimes enters where I'm between plot arcs and waiting for things to pick up again.

On the subject of books, I now have a HUGE stack of Agatha Christie novels to get through:

I also have a book on the way and another pre-ordered; en route is Haruki Murakami's latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, which I'm led to believe is something along the lines of Norwegian Wood. The pre-order is something I'm so excited about; Patrick Rothfuss has written a story about one of my favourite characters from his awesome series The Kingkiller Chronicle. It's called The Slow Regard of Silent Things, it's about Auri, it will probably be as poetic and amazing as the name suggests, and my copy will be SIGNED BY THE MAN HIMSELF. WOO. I AM STOKED.

But anyway, the real reason I'm here is to write about my latest read...


Oh wow, I love Jonathan Coe. I discovered his work back in Sixth Form when my tastes in music led me to his novel The Rotter's Club (Hatfield and the North, excellent band ♥), and since then I've loved every book of his that I've had the pleasure to read. 

The House of Sleep takes place between two time frames; the odd-numbered chapters take place in the past (largely in 1983-84, and some a bit later on), while the even-numbered chapters show us the characters in their present, in June 1996. 

Coe provides us with a cast of characters who are in their own ways eccentric, unsettled, sympathetic and fascinating. There's Sarah, a narcoleptic, whose dreams are so mundane, yet detailed and vivid, that she has difficulty distinguishing them from reality; the innocent and devoted Robert, whose life seems governed by misunderstandings and the realities Sarah thinks she's living through her dreams; insomniac film critic Terry who goes from sleeping for fourteen hours a day in his youth to needing barely any sleep at all; and Dr Gregory Dudden, whose obsession with sleep leads him to think of it as a disease that must be wiped out. In the Eighties, all are university students living together at the remote house called Ashdown. In 1996, Ashdown is home to Dr Dudden's sleep clinic.

Some reviewers would have you believe that the novel starts slow, but Sarah's encounter with a furious man in the street means the novel hits the ground running and introduces her to a character and a movement that will prove pivotal to her life. We see the disastrous end to her relationship with Gregory and the start of Robert's struggle with his feelings for her. 

Like a typical Coe novel, The House of Sleep is full of misunderstandings and coincidences that might seem too convenient to believe - if that kind of thing makes you roll your eyes then walk away, but otherwise you'll enjoy a novel where the characters' lives are so deeply intertwined you might wonder whether some greater force is holding them together. That connection remains across the years, though some of the characters meet less than kind fates - there were a few moments where I had to put the book down and think 'damn you, Coe!'.

Coe explores with appropriate sensitivity the themes of lesbian love and sexuality, feminism and transexualism, enduring love, consciousness, media and reality. Through Sarah's initial tolerance of Gregory, the end of her relationship with Veronica and the way Robert hangs on to his feelings for her to the point where he changes his whole life, Coe explores the things people will do and put up with when they are in love. He shows to us strong feminist women (e.g. Veronica) in a university campus with a strong anti-feminist movement, and through Veronica, Sarah's growing awareness of feminism and her own sexuality. But he also shows us how the characters discover and rediscover themselves over the years. 

It's interesting how some of the past/present chapters flow into each-other. Sometimes it's a bit jarring but it shows us the strong connection of events over the years and how even a decade later the characters are all essentially tangled up in the same web of relationships and drama and intrigue. The novel is clearly structured as a whole, though; I had a few moments of confusion only because my edition (the e-book) had the author's note about odd and even chapters at the back with the appendices, where in the print version I believe it's at the front. Even so, you realise what time you're in as you keep reading, as Coe draws stark distinctions between the characters, the university town and Ashdown in both time periods.

The only thing that I feel lets this novel down is the lack of depth compared to some of the other books that Coe has written which are set in past decades - which are full of references to current events, themes and pop culture that really brings the era to life. The characters, while likeable, feel as though they haven't got much of a backstory beyond what is absolutely vital to the plot, but then this might just be down to efficiency on Coe's part. 

Overall, The House of Sleep is an enjoyable, masterfully written novel. It's comedic, tragic, mysterious and enthralling, and you even feel for the plight of the minor characters. It's a decent size (print editions are around 350 pages), and while it may lack the depth of some of Coe's other books, it's gripping to the point where I managed to get through the whole book in two hours. Coe is an excellent writer; while the plot, on the surface, sounds like something that might suit a science fiction novel more than a work of literary fiction, he handles it admirably well and draws the reader into his beautiful, thought-provoking book.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Couch Progress: Nearing Another Milestone...

Hello there!

It's been a good few months since I last updated, obviously. The last you heard from me, Camp NaNoWriMo was going well and I'd finally found my fire.

Since that post... eh, it kinda went downhill. I can't even remember what word count I finished Camp NaNo with but it wasn't fantastic. Still, words were words and it gave me the opportunity to think about my novel, and about what it lacked, and about what I needed to do to engage with the story again.

Since April I've been writing in bits and pieces - between tons of overtime at my day job and some stress from external sources, I've not had time to do much. But today I'm enjoying some much needed respite with my good friend Holly (a fellow writer and book enthusiast whose blog I encourage you to follow, especially if you love Sci Fi, Fantasy and YA Lit), getting some writing done, and I decided to check my word count. I've split my story arcs across several different documents now so it took a bit of cutting and pasting, but...

That's right, eleven words off the big 300k. Wish me luck!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Couch Progress: Camp NaNo Day 6 - Novel Notes Make Good Bedding, Apparently

It's happened. The fires of creativity have finally kicked in.

I'm glad as well, because my first few days were a bit of a grind and the words were hard to put down. On Day 4, I did nothing at all. Then yesterday, Day 5, I kinda panicked and ended up writing two days' worth to catch up.

Now, I've managed to write 1.8k today and it's going on 6pm and I just don't want to stop.

I think I will for a while, though, and save my creativity and my eagerness for tomorrow. Though I could always put a sneaky few words down on my side project that needs some love...

But yes, the writing these last few days has been all about bridging some gaps in the prose. I have more of a complete ending now, which gives me something to work towards now I'm nearing the stage of finally rounding this infernal book off.  I've given words to some pretty important scenes as well so that they aren't forgotten. Sorted out a few plot holes as well, so it's all good.

Words today: 1899
Words this month: 11,529
Total words: 291,283

Also, bonus picture of one my my rats, Burrito, attempting to steal my novel notes:

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Couch Progress: Camp NaNo Day 2 - Yet More Beginnings...

I'm glad to report that I'm still going strong!

Words today: 1278
Words this month: 3444
Total words: 283,198

As you can see, I haven't written as much today as I did yesterday - but I'm still wrangling these beginnings, and I feel like when I get these four characters of mine together things will speed up and become much more fun.

It's also pretty exciting to see how close I'm getting to 300,000 words! And then it just gets scary when I realise that even at 300k, my novel will still be nowhere near completed, and I'll still have the daunting task of editing those words, reading through them again and again. Talk about biting off more than I can chew!

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Couch Progress: Camp NaNo Day 1 - Beginnings

I've had a good start on Camp NaNo! My stats are as follows:

Words today: 2166
Words this month: 2166
Total words: 281,920

I'm still writing beginnings for all of the characters I will be dealing with this month. It feels nice, though, finally giving them space on the page to breathe. They started off as background characters, spoken about but rarely shown, and that made me sad. It bugged me from the get-go that my novel seemed to be kind of male-dominated.

One thing I'm proud of today is how much I've managed to get done despite spending so much time on the PS3. I admit it, I am the sort of person who will spend a whole day playing whichever game I'm currently addicted to - for the last half a year or so it's been Final Fantasy XIV, but the beauty of that game is that there can be quite a bit of dead time if you're waiting for a dungeon; I like to spend this time writing.

Obviously I worry that after today the motivation will begin to fade, but I hope that once I get past all the beginnings and things I can do what I usually do, completely lose the plot (literally) and start to actually have some fun sending my characters all across the Multiverse and into the weirdest of situations.

And of course there's the thought of all those words that I'll have when this month is good and done. Delicious words.   

Monday, 30 June 2014

Couch Progress: The Ladies of Camp NaNo July

Hello there! It's been a while!

I'm pretty sure my last post was some time in September – since then, I've won NaNoWriMo 2013 with about 75k, and spent Camp NaNoWriMo April 2014 trying to type up as many of my handwritten work as possible in order to get it all into the same format. I finished that behemoth of a job on May 6th.

I've also acquired a dog, adopted two more rats (Hattie and Violet) and suffered the loss of one of my oldest rats, Barnaby, earlier this month. She had started to get poorly last November but is at peace now.

My word count for The Great Couch Happening of '69 is currently 279,754. This past few months have been dedicated to planning the next stage of my novel: tackling the three other story arcs that I've decided to work into things. This is what I'll be doing for Camp NaNo July... and it starts tomorrow and I'm absolutely bricking it.

The arc I will be mainly focusing on for this Camp NaNo event concerns a group of characters that I'm collectively referring to as 'the ladies'. At first I was going to have Clarietta go it alone in the book, doing what she does best, but then during NaNo '13 a minor character, Jane, who didn't really have any lines or real appearances in the book, suddenly joined her and I thrust the two of them into the midst of a pretty bizarre 'whodunit' type of arc. Then there was Tessa, floating in and out of people's lives at the whim of the Multiverse; I decided I'd like to give her a permanent place with Clarietta and Jane, making the group a trio.

But something felt a bit unbalanced. I had four main male characters and only three female. I realised then that there was another minor character that I would like to develop; Maggie. So now I have four of each, things feel a lot more equal and I'm getting really excited about the prospect of writing some adventures and dilemmas for these four to get through and forge friendships in.

So far, I've planned the bare bones of their arc, a well as some details about their characters. I have notecards with the important plot points laid out; I prefer the notecard method because it suits my way of writing better. It's more loose, you can move things around easier, add or discard ideas or completely go off the path if need be. After all, there's always editing to weed out the twaddle.

I've not got as much planned as I'd have liked, if I'm honest, but I'm hoping that tomorrow I'll be able to just cast off any doubts and write. Wish me luck, and good luck to anybody else who's taking part!