Short Stories as displacement activity

  
I started writing a short story soon after I got back from Florida last April. I had convinced myself that it was a good idea, that it would improve my writing, that I could get it published in a magazine and that having a publishing credit would look good when I finally finished my novel and was looking for an agent. The real reason was that I was stuck about two thirds of the way through my book and couldn’t see my way forward. Finishing seemed a long way off and I was getting impatient. Displacement activity alert!

But the thing is, writing a short story is hard. I had an idea for a SciFi story about a wannabe private detective who leaves his virtual reality existence and returns to his body in order to track down a missing person. I worked on it and then got stuck about two thirds of the way through. Sound familiar? But I pressed on, finished it and started submitting it to magazines. Encouraged, I started a second, then a third before I finished the second, then a fourth. 

Then I got my first rejection. Bizarrely, that made me feel like a real writer (weird I know) but the second rejection just sucked. And the third. I sent off the second story, titled “The third thing that made me kill myself”, and that got rejected too, which hurt because I thought it was way better than the first. By now I’d got two complete short stories, one that I wanted to think was complete but privately suspected wasn’t, and another incomplete.

And suddenly I started writing my book again. I have been ever since. The short stories are exactly where I left them. Maybe I’ll come back to them. Maybe I won’t. Maybe they’ve served their purpose.

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Are you worried about the new Star Wars film?

  
I am, and I bet I’m not the only one. If your experience is anything like mine then your feelings about the Star Wars films could be summarised as follows:

First 3 (i.e. Episodes IV,V, and VI) – LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT!

Second 3 (i.e. Episodes I, II and III) – BORED, BORED BORED!

Ok, so that’s a bit of a simplification. There are some good bits in the newer films, but they are nothing compared to the experience of seeing the first film at the cinema when it came out. I’d never seen anything like it.

So now I’m worried about the new one. Because I want it to be great. And I’m worried it won’t be.

(Oh my days! I’ve just realised the parallels between Star Wars and my book! And my main character is called Lucas, eek!)

Birdman (yes it’s review time again!)


This review has been a long time coming. I actually watched the film on a plane on the way to Florida, this was back in March. So why am I  talking about it now?

The thing is, it absolutely blew me away. When it ended I thought “That is just the best film ever!”. I raved about it to my wife so much that 2 weeks later she watched it on the way back. She didn’t like it though, so why did I think it was so great?

Well, there’s the obvious stuff. All the main characters are weirdly compulsive and pull you into the story, and they are brilliantly acted. It’s beautifully filmed, with that famously long continuous introductory shot. The unrelenting, hypnotic jazz percussion sound track. I think watching it on a plane helped as well. It’s an intense movie and sitting just inches from the screen and wearing headphones really helps you to get sucked right in.

Then there’s Raymond Carver.

The film revolves around the main character’s attempt to stage a Broadway play. He’s a Hollywood actor, the star of a superhero franchise (the Birdman of the title), and this is his attempt to be a ‘real’ actor. The play is his own adaptation of “What we talk about when we talk about love”, a collection of short stories by Raymond Carver, who, I’m ashamed to say, I’d never heard of. The play is central to the film, the characters and their dialogue, resonating off the stage and into the actors lives.

The words of Raymond Carver hit me like a smack in the face with the complete works of William Shakespeare. The first thing I did when we got to our apartment in Orlando was to download the book and start reading. I read two of the short stories until the fact that I’d been up for nineteen hours straight finally forced me to bed. I had two thoughts before I slept: “Wow!” and “I should write a short story”.

So in a way the ultimate result of me watching the film was the short story that I just blogged about. Which is why I’m writing about it now.

     Original Writing – Cat video Sci Fi

   

The robot had five of these snaky limbs but unlike the other four which held the robot steady as it perched on the ridge, this latest one moved around as if the robot were looking for something. Suddenly the tentacle pulled three tiles off and plunged through the roof into the attic.

“Hey!” I shouted “That’s my house. Leave it alone!”

I thought it was ignoring me but then another triangle detached from the body and came snaking all the way down the side of the house towards me. I took a nervous step back but the triangle stopped at head height about three feet away. Then to my surprise words appeared on the surface.

“Please wait…”

“What?” I said “Why? What’s going on?”

“Work in progress…”

“What work? What are you doing to my house?”

“Dry rot…”

“Dry rot? I don’t have dry rot!”

“Dry rot detected and treatment in progress. Please wait. This video will help you relax…” To my utter confusion the words were replaced by a video of a cat falling off a sofa.

“Why am I watching a video of a cat?” The video shrank to fit in the lower part of the triangle and more words appeared across the top.

“Research shows cat videos are the most popular entertainment for humans?”

“Switch it off!”

“Do you not like cats? Other animals are available…”

“Of course I like cats. I’ve got one of my own”

“Detecting cats…” Videos of cats started appearing, each one shrinking to a small triangle until the lower half of the screen was filled by cats. More words appeared across the top.

“Identify your cat…” And there he was, my rather scruffy looking black tom cat. Without thinking I leaned forward and touched the triangle. All the other cats disappeared and I was watching mine. He was sitting on a wall having a wash and ignoring the Alsatian that was going crazy in the garden below. More words appeared across the top of the screen.

“Is this your cat…”

“Yes, that’s him. He’s called Steve”

“Contact attempted with Steve. Subject was unwilling to communicate”

“That sounds about right”

——————————————————————————

This is an excerpt from a short story I wrote called “The robot that sat on my house”. I was reminded of it by a post on Charliandmeg’s blog, so decided to post a bit here.

I don’t know whether this story is finished. It could even be part of a novel, you never know.

I got the idea for this bit after I heard a song on the radio called “The Internet is made out of cats”

I think that sits in the “Strange but true!” category.

Why can’t I whistle?

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Today I learned new ways of dribbling. This was not my intention. I was trying to whistle with my fingers in my mouth, which I’ve never been able to do. So I looked it up in the Internet, found a blog called ‘The art of Manliness’ and gave it a go, but I’m not quite there yet.

I was mainly doing it because I was writing a bit where one of my characters whistles, and I wanted to be able to do it so I could describe it better. I’ve tried to teach my self other things for the same reason, sword fighting for example. These activities usually have two results: my family think I’ve gone crazy and I hurt myself. Today it’s just the dribbling, a tired mouth and a bit of dizziness.

Still can’t whistle though!

Beware Harry Potter!

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The other day my daughter’s English class were writing ghost stories and one kid wrote a story about a haunted bus. Pretty cool idea. Except loads of the other kids said “That’s just like the night bus, you’ve stolen that from Harry Potter!”. And there’s the problem.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like the Harry Potter books, they’re inventive, exciting, wildly imaginative, which of course is why they’re so successful. The problem is they are so amazingly, almost overpoweringly, successful that it feels like they’re looming menacingly in the background when you’re trying to write a fantasy story about a teenage hero who leaves home, has adventures, goes to ‘school’,makes friends and enemies etc.

Which is what I’m doing.

The obvious answer is to write something else. There are two reasons why not. For a start I’m a teacher, and teenagers and schools are what I know, but the main reason is that this is the story I’ve got inside of me. This may sound strange but I feel like I invented this person and I’ve got them into a situation and I sort of owe it to them to get them out of it. Ed McBain said he always started writing his detective stories with a body and then went about solving the murder, I sort of feel the same way.

The fact is that when I was a kid I loved books about teenagers having adventures and this was way before Harry Potter. I particularly remember P.G.Wodehouse’s books ‘Mike and Psmith’ and ‘Tales of St. Austin’s’. Swap Cricket for Quidditch and you’re well on the way to Harry Potter right there. I loved Robert Heinlein’s books like ‘Farmer in the sky’, I read all the Swallows and Amazons books again and again, it’s only natural I suppose that those are the sort of stories that I want to tell.

You can always draw parallels between stories and it’s always hard to know where your influences come from. There are probably millions of books being written right now, all are unique in one way or another. This one is mine.

 

 

The technicalities of writing

  
Roald Dahl used to work in an old shed at the end of his garden. Patrick O’Brian wrote the Jack Aubrey series in a vineyard shelter in southern France. I write on my iPad.

Ok, so it’s not as romantic in the classical sense, but I actually love my iPad. Even before I started writing I used to carry it around the house with me, now we are rarely parted.

I use an app called Werdsmith, pictured above. I’m sure there are lots of good apps for writing but I started with this one and I’ve never had cause to look for anything else. It’s easy to use with two menus: ‘ideas’ and ‘projects’. I use ideas for just that, bits of story that don’t fit in exactly where I’m writing, ideas for short stories, descriptions of places that I might use etc. The only difference with a project is that you set a word goal. Here I have all my chapters, each with a word goal of 2500 words according to the plan (see previous post). In the menu you can see a little circle by each chapter; a tick means I have reached the word goal, otherwise it shows progress towards it. You can see that chapter thirty, that I’m working on now, is about half way there.

You can export from the app which I do by email. That way I’ve always got a back up. Plus I then take the chapters from email and put them onto one document on my laptop. 

So that’s how I work. I’m at about 75,500 words. Coming up to two years and three months. Nearly there!