Thursday, 31 May 2007

Magic Moments

I was going to go to the opera the other weekend (Tosca was on at the Nottingham Royal Centre), but events conspired against me. So, to console myself, I bought the Benoit Jacquot film version starring Angela Gheorghiu (catch me, I'm swooning).
And I watched it yesterday evening, blubbing like a big fool.
Anyhoo, several things struck me. So here are some random Tosca-inspired observations:

Time of Life:
At the beginning of Act III, Tosca is up on the ramparts with her lover Mario. He's about to be shot at dawn. However, Tosca has struck a bargain with the evil Baron Scarpia, and she explains to Mario that the executioners will be firing blanks; Mario must fall to the floor, feigning death, and then they can go off together. They sing of their love for each other and of the wonderful life they will share together.
Well, Scarpia wouldn't have been so evil unless he had lied to Tosca, and the executioners will be using live ammunition. BUT, the audience doesn't know this, and nor does Tosca, and nor does Mario.
Here, the audience is invited to project into the future, to embrace hope. Tosca and Mario really will spend their lives together in lovers' bliss! Without this moment, without this image planted into the audience's mind, without this context of rise and fall, Mario's death will have a much lesser impact.

As we write, we have a good idea of where we are going. This knowledge is often something that we do not want to share with the audience. We can misdirect the audience. We can place ourselves into our characters and believe what they believe and write with that conviction such that we might convince our audience that things will be wonderful.
It's a very powerful and easy to apply technique: it requires only that we forget ourselves as authors and enter the real-time world of our characters. Just as you sit there imagining that you have a future, there may well be a runaway truck coming for you as I type. Imagine the effects of gifting you with that knowledge now. Imagine the different effects upon the narrative and the reader's experience.

I don't know anything about acting: I can well imagine that it requires the same discipline and determination as writing to achieve well. And, like writing, the techniques often stay hidden from the casual onlooker until they are performed badly.
As Tosca explains to Mario about the bargain she has struck with Scarpia, the camera closes in on their faces, framing them cheek to cheek. What Mario does not yet know is that Tosca has murdered Scarpia (one of the greatest 'choices made under pressure' of all time, agonized through the magical Vissi D'Arte aria). So I'm waiting for the moment that Tosca mentions the blade, and watching for Mario's response: at the mention of that word, he should begin to understand what she has done.
However, and as we see above, an actor in character should not know anything that is in the libretto to come: at this moment, I would expect Mario's eyes to widen, for him to react to the word 'blade'. Whilst Roberto Alagna has a terrific voice, he often fails to respond as I would naturally expect him to. He, the actor, knows every word of this opera, and he knows how it will end. But the character Mario does not, must not.

Through our life's experiences, we have come to expect call and response, action and reaction. As authors, we should understand what our characters understand, we should read them as a reader will be reading them.

One Look:
The rifles fire and Mario falls to the flagstones and Tosca is well impressed with his acting. Tee Hee. At this moment, she (and the first-time audience) still believes that Mario is alive and he is going to stand up and brush himself down and take her away to some beautiful cottage in some peaceful part of the world.
As he leads the execution party away, Scarpia's also-evil henchman Sciarrone turns to Tosca and does this horrible leer thing, not far removed from the famous Voight leer from Anaconda. This is a purely visual moment; not something that you would normally discern in an opera. But that twisted smile makes a massive impact: it is the first moment the audience realizes that something is wrong. That leer made all my hairs stand up, not least because I'm used to Tosca only realizing that Scarpia has cheated her from beyond the grave at the moment when she tries to rouse Mario.

All three observations pertain to knowledge within a time frame. The author must understand that his knowledge is different to the reader's. As far as the reader is concerned, nothing exists beyond the moment. Even if the author is skilful at creating anticipation, the reader's knowledge still does not extend beyond the here and now. This is the time frame of the real world, of the audience, and it is very different to the time frame of the story. If we are to write for a reader, we must remember that this reader lives moment by moment.
There are moments when the reader begins to understand something, and these are very powerful moments; they can be created from the smallest of actions, the most economical of sentences, the tiniest of inferences.

Bigger Trees, No Sunsets

I think I'm safe to use this image: it's being posted across the globe.
David Hockney, one of the greatest living artists and probably best known for his pop art, notably his Splash paintings, has unveiled his new work: Bigger Trees Near Warter.
He constructed this work from fifty canvases and it is a continuation of his desire to move away from the photographic and towards the essence.
As we saw with Mondrian's trees, it's fascinating to observe how an artist begins to determine what is relevant and what is not, removing all trace of irrelevant clutter, leaving the essence as they perceive it.
Hemingway called this truth, and I would suggest that this search for the truth was by far the greater part of his literary journey.
From A Moveable Feast:
Since I had started to break down all my writing and get rid of all facility and try to make instead of describe, writing had been wonderful to do. But it was very difficult, and I did not know how I would ever write anything as long as a novel. It often took me a full morning of work to write a paragraph.
Time and again, Hemingway advised his mice (newbie authors) to look and listen, to cut away all the crap and to search for the truth.

Reading through Jack M Bickham's 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (just to see how many fundamental mistakes I'm still making), I was interested in chapter 6: Don't Descibe Sunsets (which might be/probably is [having internal conflict with this] the fundamental mistake I am still making).
Jack discusses delivery systems and makes the point that descriptions stop the reader dead. He introduces us to the frustrated poet. He discusses and reiterates the need for clarity and obviousness (similar to Hemingway's truth and repetition) and the importance of continually moving the story forwards - always moving forwards towards a clear goal.

It's not that I distrust Jack (and, indeed, chapter 31 is entitled: Don't Ignore Professional Advice); it's that, in breaking down his years of experience into succinct chunks, he has allowed little exceptions to leak across chapters.
Whilst he repeatedly, and quite rightly, insists that the author keep the story moving, he also discusses pacing elsewhere. To this end, his disclaimer reads something like: Descriptions are fine provided that they occur at a 'valley' - a point where the momentum needs to sit on a rock and take a breath and watch the sun going down.

To my mind, Hemingway describes things more beautifully than any other author. He finds the truth. He studies the minutest components of his scene or character, and he decants the thing that moved him - the purest form that made him react.
This truth links Bickham's advice to Hemingway's: Descriptions come at a cost; every single word in that description is high premium; every single word must be perfectly cast, designed to 'make' rather than 'describe'.

You can be sure that my thoughts on this are ongoing :o)

Saturday, 26 May 2007


Slimedrogley has claws in his eyes and fires lasers from his teeth. He has a fireplace in his chest which is filled with black dot creatures.


Had a very odd image as I was drifting to sleep last night.
Felt compelled to write it up.
What is most peculiar is the omission of an expected reaction.

‘You can show me now,’ whispered Lila, casting furtive glances from side to side.
Amongst the twilight shadows of spiced orchids, Redoute’s metal body blushed with the embers of scarlet sunbeams. At his side stood a tall, gilt-framed looking glass.
Redoute knelt before Lila, his Achilles pistons hissing as he lowered himself.
‘I really do have four hearts Miss.’
His clunky fingers fumbled at the latches on his chest plate until it came away and fell without sound to the dirt. Inside his chest beat four hearts: each was suspended in a cobweb of tubes and wires; each pulsated – delicately curved plates of wafer-thin platinum bound with springs and peppered with tiny rivets.
Lila gasped and reached a hand into Redoute’s chest, running a finger across the shining organs.
‘They’re wonderful Redoute!’
Redoute cocked his head.
‘May I see yours now Miss?’
Lila undressed, her clothes piling at her feet until she stood naked before the robot.
Redoute extended the blade on his index finger and carved a wide, sideways H into Lila’s chest from her clavicles to her belly button. He peeled open her chest and snapped away three ribs and pulled the looking glass before her.
‘You have one heart Miss.’
Lila marvelled at her heart’s reflection.
‘But I like yours best Redoute,’ she pondered.
Redoute cupped Lila’s heart in his hand and gently squeezed it.
‘And I prefer yours Miss.’

Essential Clues

So I have this character in my head and I want to share him with my readers. I have loads of decisions to make now. How closely do I want the reader's image to tally with mine? How closely must it tally in order for my story to achieve maximum potential through understanding of this character? When should I create this image? Perhaps build it up over the first few pages, or in one quick, fell swoop?
One thing is for sure: If I allow my reader to create a false image and then shatter that image, they will be upset. The reader allows the author a little time to tease this image, to reveal this template, but they won't hold out indefinitely. Moreover, if the author doesn't control this image, the reader will make it up anyway.
There are easy options.
Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.
Okay, not getting much feel for Mary here, but her lamb is pretty vivid.
And everywhere that Mary went, her lamb was sure to go.
Cool, a bit of characterisation for the lamb there.
However, more often than not, we don't really want to bog our narrative down with pages of info about a character (for reasons I'm coming to).

What is the essence of my character?
A lamb; has a snow-white fleece; follows Mary around (implies love, loyalty, etc.).

Let's imagine that Mary had another such devoted beasty.
I begin by mentioning that it has a long pink tongue.
Hmmm ... that image isn't really gelling in my head.
Okay, scrap that.
Mary's companion had fangs.
Still struggling.
Start again. Mary's companion had a stripy tail.

Wahay. Now we're getting somewhere.


Still working up new opening chapter to Tethered Light.

We had a right old verbal ping-pong match a few years back. In forging an image of Blinky in the reader's head, I had spread my clues very poorly. It's easy for me to picture him: I created him. I had unwittingly and unwillingly forced the reader to picture a kitten, when in fictional fact, he is a big cat, not far removed from a tiger.
Sure, I could've introduced him in such a way: Blinky was a big cat, not unlike a tiger.
But, apart from not being very classy, it really doesn't fit in with my limited third-person pov: Penpa knows Blinky is a big cat; Penpa has no idea what a tiger is.
I had successfully and succinctly defined Blinky's feline characteristics in the reader's head, through mention of purring, tail, amber fur and so on. But the moment Penpa rode on his back, I upset my audience and they had to reshape their mould.

The argument for me really came down to the disparity in the feedback, what with people missing or subverting pieces of information that seemed unimportant to them, but were absolutely key for me.
My readers began by imagining Blinky as a kitten.
I had opened with mention of sky-kittens, thereby planting a kitten seed in the reader's head. I made no link in the narrative between Blinky and the kittens. But the seed was there. Mea culpa.
This key point dissolved as readers began describing their mould as a cat. As Derren Brown will tell you, brains tend to take the easiest option. Unless my readers are hanging out with tigers, and understand that this is the norm, their default animal created from purring, stripy tail, whiskers and non-human name would probably be a domestic cat.

Whilst the distinction between kitten and cat was moot in terms of my failure to relay the large size of Blinky, it gave me lots of clues into how my readers were converting my words into images.
On the one hand, I was subliminally forcing them to make inappropriate connections.
On the other hand, they were defaulting; they were filling gaps and taking the easiest route to a mental picture, and I needed to plug those gaps.

Armed with this knowledge, I can now leave a trail of correctly ordered and essential breadcrumbs that guide my reader to the tiger-like form of Blinky.

At the time of writing, here is the order and essential content of the clues on the first page. I'm not happy with it just yet, but I'm having far more success than previously:

Penpa climbed from Blinky’s back and bounded to the edge of the precipice. (Opening line. Here, size is [relatively] defined. I stand a good chance of the reader understanding that Blinky is non-human, but it's not conclusive just yet. Note the mention of the word precipice lends itself to suspense, and Penpa's bounding to its edge sets up her character brilliantly.)
Blinky cast Penpa a look of disapproval. He swished his stripy tail and squinted at the sky ... (Here, the word stripy is causing me much anguish: it serves the single purpose of closing in on the tiger image, and I dislike single-purpose words or descriptions unless they are very important. The tail swishing demonstrates Blinky's irritation AND adds to the reader's construction of the Blinky mould.)
‘Such a sourpuss! ...’ (Penpa's disparagement subliminally adds weight to reader's understanding.)
Blinky’s amber fur bristled; his ears flattened and his eyes narrowed.

N.B. Other clues come from inferences such as interaction between Penpa and Blinky, and body language.
Of course, if this book ever does get published and features a picture of Penpa and Blinky on the cover, I'll be as covered as one can be!
I've posted more on this in preconceptions and essence.
[Tiger pictures from here.]
[Very angry cat here. Poor thing.]

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Near and Far

Astute readers will have noticed that in my retelling of Juan's story (previous post), I changed tenses towards the end. It's a reversal of the technique I used for my last ss:
When the reader is in the moment with the protag - up close and personal - they are swaddled in the events. When the reader is pulled away, they become a friend, helplessly watching from the sidelines; a private place where they might laugh or hurl insults or weep uncontrollably in solitude without being heard.
For my ss, I bound the reader to Bina, holding the two together until the climax, at which point I pulled the reader away so that they could witness the intimacy and the sadness of Bina and Kov's last moments.
In Juan's tale, the reader is held at distance, free of all responsibility. By dragging them into the moment for the climax, at the point of entering Beardy's flat, I attempted to lock the reader in that smelly flat with a potential psycho, thereby intensifying the cliffhanger.

I found this on wikipedia and, whilst it refers to the limited omniscient pov, the concept of distance is still prevalent:
Henry James, who used the third person limited omniscient narrative in his novel 'The Ambassadors' and coined the phrase 'effaced narration' to describe it, believed this could create high art, and contemporary literary writers seem to agree. The effaced narrator dominates contemporary literary art. James pointed out that in effaced narration, the art consisted of varying the reader's psychological distance from the action, bringing the reader in close for high drama, and further out for ordinary events.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

A Return to Innocence

Robert McKee observes that there are people who can tell stories well and people who can't. He points to those work colleagues upon whose words everyone hangs, and then those other folks who fail to make the most interesting of subjects ... interesting.
A friend of mine - gonna call him Juan - was relating a story of a night out. He had met with some friends and friends of friends for a few drinks. An obnoxious fellow at the table managed to offend people whilst also taking offence at remarks about his beard (which looked to all to be a fake). Turned out that nobody knew who this guy was. Anyhoo, at last orders, this guy invited everyone to a club he knew. Some went with him, including Juan, and some decided to go home. At the club, this false-bearded malingerer shouted abuse at a group of skinheads. At this point, Juan hid in a corner with some goths. As luck would have it, Juan and Beardy bumped into each other on the way out, and Beardy offered to drive Juan home. Juan, perhaps reluctantly, agreed. You can imagine, Beardy was more than likely over the legal alcohol limit, and he took speed bumps with little regard. On the way back, Beardy explained that he had to pop into his flat briefly to send an email. Brilliant! So, some time around 3.00am, Beardy pulls up at some Godforsaken flats and Juan follows. Beardy's accommodation is a single lounge/kitchen/bedroom space with a closet bathroom. Juan notices that Beardy has two fridges and both fridge doors are open. The food is stinking and rotten. Juan asks why the doors are open, and Beardy shrugs the question off: 'Must've forgotten to close them this morning.' Beardy taps away at his keyboard leaving Juan to contemplate his predicament.

I'll leave off there.
So, the other night I was watching Little Miss Sunshine. It struck me that it was a series of predicaments not at all unlike Juan's, all wrapped up in a quest: To get Olive to the beauty pageant on time.
Could it be that the writer of Little Miss Sunshine had simply glued a series of predicaments together, offering direction by way of the time limited goal?
What would prevent an author from doing this?
Well, in a way, that was how Little Miss Sunshine appeared to have been constructed. The key, however, was to use these stories to further any given character arc. However, I don't think the movie had much success here; certainly the only arc that I felt worked was the father's as his obssessive faith in self-confidence breeds winners is tested and his attitudes are changed in degrees.

When I read Ricardo's embarrassing transvestite adventures, I laugh - often, I enjoy his relaxed storytelling more than I enjoy his convoluted (intricate) novel or short-story writing.
I am quite sure too that the same accusation can often be thrown at me!
So I got to thinking: What would happen if I took Juan's adventure, opened The Commuters with it, and fiddled with it such that it served as an introduction to the protagonist, Corus?
A good feeling began to grow inside me and the words trickled into my notebook (thereby filling my second moleskine - a lovely little milestone!).
I found that my opening was fun and exciting.
I found that Corus does not have to be introduced as an oddball: moreover, I am better off saving his oddball moments for later.
I found that by placing Corus alongside a weird, unpleasant, unpredictable character, Corus becomes more acceptable anyway!
I lose a number of things such as my brilliantly crafted themes and allusions and subtexts. But who cares? (Well, I do a bit, but I'm darned sure that nobody else does and I can live with that.)
(Note that Juan's story hits a number of senses; in particular, the multiple open fridges and rotten foodstuffs are the kind of details that an author would typically create himself.)

Which turns my thoughts back to David Mitchell's Ghostwritten: A series of unrelated short-stories made to work together with thin recurring themes here and there.
But a cracking read for all that!

So many things seem obvious after the event.
I've been thinking about death-bed Solvey since I introduced him a few posts back. It occurs to me that he will tell me a different thing depending on the moment of death-bedness. In that way, it is of no benefit to imagine what his words of wisdom might be.
So here's looking forward to the next revelation, about turn, rebirth and change of heart!

Friday, 18 May 2007

Missing Madeleine

Breaking my heart.
Please visit Missing Madeleine and download a banner and stick it anywhere where it might be seen. Please ask all of your friends to do likewise.
Also, you can donate to the Madeleine fund by texting MADDIE to 60999. You'll donate £1 with each text. At the time of writing, the fund stands at £73, 505. 58.
Thanks everyone.


The marketing machine has been plugged in and Haze is to be previewed in pretty much every June games magazine, and in goodness knows how many languages! We've even made the cover of one high-profile magazine!
Whilst we have pre-copies of these magazines at work, I'm only allowed to post from the ones that are currently available to you, the general (but very lovely) public. So here's Edge magazine's preview.
I wish I could link to our new promotional vid too because it's awesome. But I can't. So picture something awesome in your head and imagine that it's our promotional vid.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Essence 2

Here's how Piet Mondrian's trees evolved.
It's an incredible and fascinating journey to witness!
What changes? What does he lose and what does he exaggerate? Through these three pieces, we can see how his thought processes and decisions led him towards a personal sylvian essence.
N.B. Do check out the wikipedia link: It'll take you to my favourite Mondrian piece, Broadway Boogie-Woogie!

Wednesday, 16 May 2007


What is the essence of something?

What, for example, is the essence of a rabbit?

Imagine that a rabbit has lost its powderpuff scut in a fight. Is it still a rabbit?

How about if it gets into another fight and loses its ears. Is it still a rabbit?

And then it goes to the rabbit surgeon and has artichokes sewn onto its head to replace its ears. Still a rabbit? And a fox's brush stapled to its behind to replace the scut. Still?

What is the essence of a thing?

What is the very foundation that defines a thing - what is that essence that we can use in our writing to succinctly, powerfully, precisely convey the very core of a thing?

Plato imagined a world of ideas. In this world, the template for everything exists - the original form from which everything else is made. Naturally, nothing made from its template is an exact copy; it is a mutation. If we could see this world of ideas, we would be able to see the essence of everything.

My son has drawn me a picture of the Dalek Emperor. He did this from memory.

I have placed it beside the template.

It's fascinating to observe the parts that my son has recreated; the parts he has emphasised; the parts he has omitted either by choice or by swiss cheese memory.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

What Does a Six-Year-Old Think of as He Plays Videogames?

A year or so back, I was sat with my son as he played Simpsons' Hit and Run on the PS2. Whenever I'm watching him play a game, he likes to narrate. This has been an incredible series of windows into his head.
Having just begun lecturing in Games Design, I took the opportunity to transcribe his narrative. And here it is, as verbatim as I could manage.
If I appear unresponsive, it was because I was trying not to influence his decision-making process. For anyone who thinks 'computer games are bad,' check out all of these thought processes and calculations. Remember, my son was six when I captured these thoughts. It really is nothing short of astounding.
N.B. We're fast approaching the end of a gruelling project (Haze). Soon I'll have nice pix to post and will be at liberty to blog about some of the ins and outs of game development. This seems an appropriate post to introduce the new 'games' tag.

Start Level 5.
Levels begin open:
Accept missions (follow arrows to next available mission);
Explore (ignore arrows);
*Gain money (Primary sources are wasps, cola boxes, and Krusty cola machines);
*Search for bonus cards (Collect all seven to unlock the level bonus: a race level);
*Find and race in three race challenges. Win all three to unlock bonus car;
*Buy character clothing (sometimes required to undertake mission);
*Buy new cars (sometimes requires to undertake mission);
*Find level gags (jokes).

- - -

Look – Apu!

Oh no – don't forget about that really bad mission with Snake!

Look – there's a man here [car salesman]: shall I buy the cola truck or the police car, because when I buy one, I won't have enough for the other?

  • Police car.

I said I wouldn't have enough. All of the wasps though, don't forget! [defeating wasps rewards player with lots of coins]

There's everything to get though, don't forget!

- checks level progress -

I've got 2% already, look daddy.

Huh – I've just got one car and it says 2%. It's meant to be one!

Oh man!

Ah – wicked: I biffed the wasp when it had its bubble on!

A wasp! Oh no – no wasp.

A wasp!

Oh wicked! I have 350 coins and guess how much the cola truck is? 350!

I can go and buy the cola truck now. Do you think I should?

  • Ok.

Naughty wasp – it biffed me! Naughty naughty.[If player is hit by wasp, a number of coins are released and must be re-collected before they vanish]

Where's my car?

'I am a lean, mean, vindaloo machine!' [imitating Apu]

Do you think I should buy a car on this level? Cola truck or Car Built for Homer?

  • What do you reckon?

Car Built for Homer. Do you?

Ah – I'm, near the Car Built for Homer already.

Yeah, but if I buy the Car Built for Homer, I'll just have 75 coins left.

Ah, but I know where some stuff are actually.

Do you think I should buy Car Built for Homer because I'll just have 85 coins left?

  • It's up to you.


- checks level progress -

8%! There's just 6 jokes!

Why aren't you watching me play?

  • I am!

Oh man! I've got to biff the hover car - and it's really whizzy that one as well! And it's really tough!

I'm never going to do it – it's going to be really hard!

- restarts mission – [frustrated at losing the hover car]

Yay! I biffed him a bit daddy!

  • Oh yeah! A little bit.

I biffed him quite a lot now!

Oh, wait! You naughty, naughty man!

He is really, really naughty. Naughty, naughty.

Hey! Come back here!

He got biffed by himself.

He has to because I'm never going to catch him up.

Well, I will, but it's a problem.

He's flashing! [performance indicator – vehicle damage bar flashes when almost full]

Frinky Kinky's flashing – that's what he's called: Frinky Kinky! [mission title is Frinky Kinky]

Go on! Explode!

Oh, he's just really hard isn't he!

  • Yep.

I got him y'know. And the car's mended now by the spanner. [spanners mend player vehicles. When player's vehicle explodes, numerous coins are released and must be re-collected before they vanish. Repairing exploded cars also costs money]

Oh – nearly 'hit and run'. Oh, it is! [when player causes damage to environment, damage meter fills up. When damage meter is full, 'hit and run' mode is entered and player is pursued by police cars. If caught, player loses lots of coins – possibly the greatest penalty in the game]

Hit and run! Hit and run! Hit and run! Hit and run!

Oh – I got out of the car and he just got me. [entering a building removes 'hit and run' status]

Ah wicked! I've got Professor Frink's hover car now!

I'm going to get it. Shall I go and get it? [player can access vehicle menu by entering a phone box]

  • Yeah.

Let's see how good it is then! [vehicle menu displays stats: speed, acceleration, handling and toughness. Max value in each case is 5 (best)]

Look – I've got it! It's got 4 acceleration and 1 toughness. 3 handling. I'm going to get it.

That's how we can do the really hard missions now.

I'm going slow. Ah wicked! I can't even slow down.

Ahhh – how do you stop?

Way! Yes! Ex-ce-llent!

Ah – this is how we do Frink's mission – with this car.

  • Oh yes.

(Hums along to music.)

Got a wicked car! Yay!

Oh wicked!

  • Did you see that wasp then?

Yeah! Uh oh – it's looking at me. Now that looks scary!

Hey – my car – my beautiful car! My car – my beautiful car!

'Who put this here? It makes no sense.' [imitating Apu]

Every time I crash, I need to get the spanner straight away, because I've just got 1 for toughness, that's why.

I know how to get that wasp.

Ah ha!

Shall I go and buy some clothes?

  • Ok.

- enters shop and looks through available clothing -

I haven't enough. I haven't got enough for any. I've nearly got enough for that. How much more do I need? 61 I think.

  • Yes, that's right! Clever boy!

How did I know that?

If I get a wasp, I think I'll be able to buy it.

I can turn invisible now! [extra property of hover car]

Oh – nearly have enough now definitely.

Well, I found one wasp and I've got 343 [coins] now.

And that's another one.

Ah! That isn't fair, is it! Look! [wasp explodes into coins, but most coins are spawned out of player's reach and require the player to jump from train to collect them]

6 coins to get there!

Yep – I've got enough because I have 398 – nearly 400.

I need to go up again because there is a card and some more coins.

Actually, I need some of these clothes for a mission I think.

Ah man! Look at those coins.

Well, I got some. There's just 3 that I missed.

Actually, I've got enough for 2 clothes now I think.

Look – I have got enough for 2 clothes.

Which one do you think I should buy: this one or this one?

  • Do you need one for a mission?

Yes – this one I think.

Do you think I should do some missions now, because I've got a fast car?

It's up to you. I'm near one anyway.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Blog of the Week 4

I sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star whilst oscillating my index finger over the pages of my bigger dictionary - thereby picking the word 'lost'.
Lots of people like the tv show Lost.
And lots of people have lost their blogs.
But only one girl has an impossibly voracious appetite for brass goggles and all things steampunk.
Hey Tinkergirl: Great blog!

Harry is Coming ...

Here they come, the invitations to buy the forthcoming Harry Potter from all those virtual bookstores I have patronised with my custom. go with this:
Harry has been burdened with a dark, dangerous and seemingly impossible task: that of locating and destroying Voldemort's remaining Horcruxes. Never has Harry felt so alone, or faced a future so full of shadows. But Harry must somehow find within himself the strength to complete the task he has been given. He must leave the warmth, safety and companionship of The Burrow and follow without fear or hesitation the inexorable path laid out for him.

What on earth are the Deathly Hallows?

Who will make it through to the end?

In this final, seventh instalment of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling unveils in spectacular fashion the answers to the many questions that have been so eagerly awaited. The spellbinding, richly woven narrative, which plunges, twists and turns at a breathtaking pace, confirms the author as a mistress of storytelling, whose books will be read, reread and read again.

This is the best most exciting Harry Potter adventure yet! Order now and save more than 10% compared to other online bookstores!

Worth taking a brief look how a popular novel translates into sales talk.

Harry has been burdened with a dark, dangerous and seemingly impossible task: that of locating and destroying Voldemort's remaining Horcruxes.
Here we have the protagonist's goal spread before us. We can see that the thing Harry needs is not the thing he wants - he is 'burdened'.
Harry's goal is in direct opposition to the antagonist's: Harry must 'destroy' what Voldemort possesses. We understand that Voldemort would not want his possessions destroyed, although this is not explicitly stated: we recognize through convention that this novel would probably not work so well if Voldemort were willing to have his possessions destroyed by his arch enemy. We need and desire conflict; in this instance, a conflict of interests.
Note the power words: burdened, dark, dangerous, seemingly impossible, destroying.

Never has Harry felt so alone, or faced a future so full of shadows.
We are led to believe that this is the best HP yet, for whatever has come before, not once has Harry felt so alone, etc. Note that the future refers to expectation/anticipation: the reader will want to ride this journey to the future, turning pages along the way.

But Harry must somehow find within himself the strength to complete the task he has been given.
Ah, the inner struggle. Harry didn't ask for this responsibility. If he is to 'somehow' accomplish his goal, he is going to have to dig deep ... to make choices under pressure.

He must leave the warmth, safety and companionship of The Burrow and follow without fear or hesitation the inexorable path laid out for him.
Here is the familiarity of which I have written. This warm and safe haven - this companionship - will allow JKR to cast Harry into peril, even providing a context by which the peril may be perceptually augmented, always having somewhere welcoming to return him too.
More dramatic power words; notably, the word 'inexorable' suggests that the ending may remain open ..?

What on earth are the Deathly Hallows? Who will make it through to the end?
Questions. If you want the answers, you'll need to buy the book! (Well, you could go onto wikipedia instead.)
And, for twelve points, what do questions create? Suspense! Hang tight, beloved HP fans, for the answers are almost upon you.
In this final, seventh instalment of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling unveils in spectacular fashion the answers to the many questions that have been so eagerly awaited. The spellbinding, richly woven narrative, which plunges, twists and turns at a breathtaking pace, confirms the author as a mistress of storytelling, whose books will be read, reread and read again.
Okay, we've done the suspense thing - the anticipation. Now, rest assured that the pay-off will be equally fulfilling.
Noteworthy power words are: final, spectacular, spellbinding, richly woven, plunges, twists, breathtaking.
The sales techniques are in force too. In particular, greed is in play, promising the reader value for money: 'will be read, reread, and read again.' Excitement has featured strongly throughout.

This is the best most exciting Harry Potter adventure yet!
And, in case you had missed the subliminal excitement, the excitement is explicitly stated. Always worth repeating these things, hammering upon the customer's defenses.
Order now and save more than 10% compared to other online bookstores!
Now! Do it now! Fear of Loss: what if I don't order it now? What if I order tomorrow morning? Will every copy of this novel be sold out? Jeez, I can't take that risk!
Greed: Save 10%.
Sheep: Well a bit of a no-brainer. However, if you weren't aware that lots and lots of other people are going to purchase this book, be aware that other online bookstores will be stocking it.
Only Indifference is missing from the five key sales techniques. That said, I sense a certain confidence in this sales pitch - a feeling that there are going to be enough consumers to go round.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Line Breaks

I've just transformed my opening chapter by adding line breaks!
We use line breaks to indicate the passing of time or a change in place or character.
By transforming new paragraphs using line breaks, I appear to have emphasised mini cliffhangers.

Here are some examples:

Blinky turned, crashing a retreat back towards the valley, but soon there would be nowhere to run.
'Head left, up to the ridge, out of the forest!' yelled Penpa ...

The action is remorseless and the reader is swept along with the narrative. But see what happens when I add the line break, thereby indicating the passing of time and exaggerating the suspense:

Blinky turned, crashing a retreat back towards the valley, but soon there would be nowhere to run.

'Head left, up to the ridge, out of the forest!' yelled Penpa ...

Works a treat!
Here's a second instance:

She swung herself onto Blinky's back and clung to the thick fur at his neck as he sprang through the trees.
Branches lashed at her, wind snagging her hair, galloping in her lungs ...


She swung herself onto Blinky's back and clung to the thick fur at his neck as he sprang through the trees.

Branches lashed at her, wind snagging her hair, galloping in her lungs ...

An imaginary amount of time passes and a locational transition has occurred, creating a sense that suspense is distended. It's like taking a huge breath before plunging into the sea. Line breaks create in the reader that sense of 'Here we go ...' That very sense alone is extremely powerful.
I've done this four times and the difference made by this simple inference of convention is staggering!


David Mitchell coerced me into turning over 200 pages (400+ pages of narrative). Nice one David!
He didn't have that success with Cloud Atlas, but more on that to come.
There were, however, two points where I almost jumped ship.

Ghostwritten is a series of interconnected short stories. With every new chapter, we are moved across the globe and introduced to a new character. The reader quickly comes to understand that, in each chapter, the previous character will make some form of reappearance, and that the next character is likely to pop up too. The links are reasonably arbitrary, adding little to the story (feeling 'crowbarred in'), until the final showdown in which loose ends are tied up (although even then I wasn't overly convinced). My guess is that David is more comfortable writing short stories and that he gave less attention to any plot threads that might span the breadth of the novel.
Both of my moments of disillusionment came at the beginning of chapters. In those two instances - the story of the non-corpum and the story of Mo - David kept me guessing for too long. But surely the reader likes to guess at stuff Solv? Surely mystery is an important component of suspense, and suspense is a primary force for page-turning?
The reader begins the novel in limbo, seeking orientation. Where am I? Who am I? Where am I going? David's approach ensured that he would have to reorientate the reader each time he shifted location and pov. And in both the non-corpum and Mo's stories, David was slow to give me that foundation upon which everything else evolves. If you were to wake up in the heart of the night to find yourself being dragged by the earlobes across a moonlit field, certain questions would take priority and would need to be resolved before your thoughts could move on.

I did make it through and I did enjoy the novel. But it was a close battle.
Cloud Atlas lost me. I had no feeling for who I was or where I was or where I was going. I was patient for a few chapters, but I felt no closer to a goal than when I had begun. It made me think of a critique I had received on my lit-fic: This feels like an endless loop of beautiful prose.
A good novel grows, always moving towards an objective, always offering the reader fresh insights and excitement. Within this, the reader must feel that he is being masterfully guided - cared for and protected. He should feel that the author understands him and his needs and desires, and that the author is going to deliver!

What kept me turning the pages of Ghostwritten was a desire to know what was going to happen next. For me to discover what would happen next, I was forced into turning the page. I recognized a whole slew of tricks - tricks that I have used myself.
When Margarita looks forwards to her life of luxury in Switzerland with her lover, you know she isn't going to get it and things are going to go wrong.
When you recognize the pattern - when repetition convinces you that previous characters are threaded into the next story - you are certain that Suhbataar will be returning to create more mayhem.
In these instances, I was compelled to see if my guesses were right or wrong.
When the girl in the tea shack is so poorly treated, and when the narrative traces the key moments of her tragic life, you hope that things will work out for her.
When a mystery caller phones in to the Bat Segundo show and speaks in riddles, you wonder who this mystery caller is and you attempt to piece the puzzle together and predict where the story is going.
In these instances, I could not immediately see where the journey was taking me, but I was in no doubt that we were travelling to a predefined destination, and I wanted to see it.
This is where JKR and Dan Brown excel.

I wanted to see - to discover - to uncover.
My desire motivated me to turn the pages (and note what forms this desire took).
On two occasions, I nearly put the book away. David had not tended to my needs - he had neglected to settle me into my new host, and with my previous questions answered, he was too slow in presenting me with new objectives.

As I work on my page-turner, I think it is probably prudent to imbue my perceived readership with a low tolerance threshold.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Assimilation and Accommodation

During a most insightful conversation with my son the other evening, he was telling me about some of the kids in his class. One lad, according to my son, is very smelly and nobody wants to hang out with him. I suggested to my son that maybe this lad's parents didn't run him many baths. My son replied that this lad should have more baths anyway.
Clearly, my son is aware of his own responsibilities; he understands that parents are fallible and that he can control his environment. All exciting stuff and another step towards independence.

Jean Piaget referred to two processes used in adaptation: assimilation and accommodation.
Loosely speaking, in assimilation the individual attempts to apply what they know to their surroundings. This can result in a square peg through round hole scenario. Accommodation is about fitting into one's surroundings - adapting as required.
I see a lot of human nature on my commutes each day. It never fails to astound me how few adults are willing to accommodate their surroundings. They will spread themselves over two seats on the bus and refuse to budge when someone tries to sit at their side. Or they will sit next to me and poke me with their elbows and bag, and expand until I am squashed against the window.
I was reading somewhere the other day about types of characters. The writer of the article suggested that there are people who will make the world bend around them, and people who will bend for the world. Assimilators and accommodators. This article, however, frustrated me with its extremism. I see that balance is the key to most things. I imagine a vast set of characteristics per human, each bookended with an extreme. I'd like to think that a world of people whose characteristics are balanced, neatly centred between each extreme, would be a harmonious world.

I wonder how my son will deal with peer pressure. Will he assimilate and stick to his guns, or will he accommodate and do what his friends do?
What I love about his work is that it is uncompromising.
I've been inspired lately, and have been bashing out and splicing together disparate ideas and thoughts. My friends have been party to this, and to the evolutionary process. Discussing my current take with a friend, he was disappointed. I had ironed out the oddities and inconsistencies and had neatly blended together a whole pod of initially unconnected (and seemingly unconnectable) ideas. I could see where he was coming from. Part of me agrees that the original, raw stream of consciousness had great novelty value.
But it would have been nigh on impossible to convince any publisher or agent to show interest in the original version. Furthermore, I can imagine that only the most receptive reader would endure such an indulgent string of surreality. That's why I evolved the story: I accommodated.

McKee suggests that creativity is born from limitations. I would concur. What may once have seemed tantamount to 'copping out' now seems to be the responsible and professional attitude towards writing. I continue with my attempts at understanding how readers read and how they translate words into stories and experiences, both imagined and real (I have some thoughts on Mitchell's Ghostwritten to post anon). It is the reader who determines whether that page will be turned or not and, assuming that the pubs and agents are judging their audience correctly, it is only through probing the reader's mind that I will be able to understand the limitations within which I am working.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Blog of the Week 3

This week, serendipity breathes the word 'orderly' into our collective ear, like a kiss from a faraway land.
Or Russia to be more pinpointy.
Russian mail order brides for you!
It's hard to imagine young Russian women without thinking of James Bond. Indeed, if you follow the link 'Why Russian Women?' your answer will take the form of a quote from Tomorrow Never Dies (allegedly, although I don't recall this quote):
'A key to the great story is not who, or what, or when, but - why?'
If that ain't enough to convince you, there are plenty of satisfied customers eager to offer their tuppence worth:
'With the Russian ladies I have met, I feel younger ...'
'... they are warme, and they can give. thy like home. i mean they care about their home and they dont forget themselfe.'
And my personal favourite:
'... beautiful, articulate, and personable to the point of gently walking inside one's mind, softly and constantly ...'
Apparently, Russian shops sell only very short skirts.
Which could be counted as another plus I guess.
Oh, and give yourself ten points if you can find a bride-to-be who doesn't list 'travelling' as a hobby.
Now, how do I apply for Olga's address ..?


Always something to be concerned about.
My current worry is change.
Specifically, comparing my new opening to Tethered Light with the rest of the ms, I can get a good idea of how my style has changed over the last couple of years.
Can I bring the new me together with the old me?
We'll see.
Okay, in truth I don't think the concept of change worries me; moreover, I see it as a positive thing. Furthermore, I see lack of change as a very negative thing. My worry stems from the mismatches in style. My writing has become so poetic and deliberate - I have been so influenced by Hemingway and by contemporary lit fic authors. I have become more aware of what I want from my style, and what I don't want. When I'm happy with my new opening, I might post a bit up here because I'd love for some external thoughts (thoughts not validation mind :o)
It's a peculiar thing: I feel that I've been on holiday, especially for the last year as I've been working on my lit fic. I've come back to my first ms and I'm a different person. I like what I read - in a way, I feel I've come back home - but I can never write like that again. This has to be a good thing. But it makes me think, and it makes me acutely aware that I am in perpetual change and that I might well look back at this moment in another couple of years and present a wry smile to my previous self. As I look back at my virginal foray into literature and think 'Solvey, I see what you're trying to do there, but there are better ways,' I know that this will occur again and again. Speak to me, the Solvey who lies on his death bed! 'Here I am, and I ain't gonna tell you a thing 'cos you gotta work it out for yourself. It's the journey that matters, young Solvey.'
I wonder if the best writers find themselves in this endless continuum of change. I wonder if they ever settle or feel comfortable. I don't think Hemingway ever settled. I'm pretty sure that Picasso never settled. Worse still, I think he became jaded and, towards the end, could only parody his younger self. I wonder where this journey is taking me.

Grandad, the self-appointed guardian of human righteousness, has written of his despair at falling standards in literacy, and of his disdain for txt spk. He doesn't like change. And yet, within a single post, he observes how few people are able to use an apostrophe correctly, and subsequently uses an apostrophe incorrectly. An in-joke? No; you can find similar errors throughout his blog.
Is it the endless pursuit of perfection that motivates the best of creative minds? The ceaseless realization that things can be better? And an ultimate realization that the quest for something unattainable is a folly that instils a bitterness in later life?
I've no idea, and the death-bed Solvey isn't letting on either.

Sunday, 6 May 2007


Here's my son's latest work of art: a monster named Eyeballs.

He has blood pouring from his eyes, evil faces on his chest surrounding a happy face, and pyjama trousers. According to the writing on the left, he also has grass lines under teeth.

Original combination of non-original elements.

Btw, if you like this pic, please post a comment for my son to read. Thank you :o)

Saturday, 5 May 2007


I guess you all know how much I love this. Isn't it wonderful, this disparate community of people who write.
Okay, I'm gonna pull the plug on Professor Internet and do some writing in a mo. But as part of that often pointless psyching up pre-getting down to it hour, I chanced upon this blog feed thing:
Writers Guild Members
All those hopeful writers, spread across the globe, congealing into small clans, drifting away like a bit of brittle coastline, anchoring elsewhere or just floating out at sea for a bit.
Sometimes you forget what it was like at the beginning. You remember when you read a fresher's work (or even your first ms!). So many adverbs and tells; little regard for the emotional topography; problematic povs and two-dimensional characters; random scatterings of emotional stimulae. There are loads of ways of recognizing the fresher! But the fresher doesn't know this. It remains a secret for a time ...

My son is writing a Doctor Who story at the moment. He has three double-sided pages written. His new best friend Mark is illustrating it, and Tom is colouring in the illustrations. Reminds me of those old Marvel comics. He was so eager for me to read his story that he pulled it out on the bus as we headed home. It's fascinating stuff - an almost verbatim reconstruction of Army of Ghosts. He had misinterpreted Grandpa Prentiss as Uncle Peter which made me laugh (anybody remember Uncle Peter from Reeves and Mortimer?). And Dirty Den became someone else too. So he didn't pick up on the names. But he got the bezulium [sp?] in there and even attempted some Japanese from the tv report. I do enjoy these glimpses inside his mind.
The new writer does this: He wants everyone to read his work. I did it. I roped a friend in. Every week, we met for a drink and she would read my new chapter. The best bit about this was that it made me write a chapter every week! She always liked what she read, and I was happy, not least because she has a degree in English Literature!
Of course, that's how it is in the beginning - in the first phase of the writer's life-cycle.
I doubt there are any exceptions to this ever. Some first attempts are better than others, sure. But there is that confidence and optimism, as blind and as misguided as they might be, that are necessary to take the writer through to the next stage.
I remember, too, the unpredictable reactions of people when you exclaim 'I'm writing a novel!' Even now, I know that there are some people who are interested, some who really aren't, and some who find a mild amusement value in the notion. I find this very peculiar, but a lovely snapshot of human nature.

At some invisible point along this continuum, I think the writer no longer needs this external validation: That is to say that the writer becomes comfortable with their task. There is a kind of acceptance that, perhaps, dips its toes into resignation occasionally. It's not as easy as you thought when you started. There are no shortcuts. You gotta write and you gotta read and you gotta study. All those little successes along the way - the excitement displayed by your readers and whatever little moments of acclaim come your way - they help with motivation and self-belief, but nothing more. And they are transient too - they apply to a moment in time, and that moment soon passes and the writer is different.
When something is new, it slaps you. You quickly acclimatize. You see that there are times when writing comes easy and times when nothing comes out right and times when you can't face the keyboard. You see that there are times when you feel great about your work and times when you hate it. Sometimes you want to throw in the towel and sometimes nothing is further from your mind and you couldn't imagine life without writing. You can imagine your book on the shelves of Waterstones; you can imagine that you're one of those writers who are never going to make it.
You see that it is the same for every writer. You're one of them. They're one of you. Okay, that last line makes no sense. But you see don't you!
All those people like you. Some better, some worse (in fact, only if you are the best or the worst will that statement not hold water). Sometimes you feel small.

Maybe you saw the Horizon programme on the hadron collider? Or maybe you read Grandpa's thoughts on the end of the world?
To think how important that errant particle is - the Higgs boson as it is named. The Higgs boson is considered the final piece in the fundamental particles puzzle. It is thought to explain how particles acquire mass. It is so important that it has been nicknamed the God Particle.
So small and yet so important to so many people.

To those with whom the writing journey is shared: If you write, you are a writer.
So I'm gonna go and write. It's brilliant isn't it!

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Blog of the Week 2

This week's random word is dowry.
Which led me a merry and peculiar dance.
I've chosen Granny Lost the Plot, and its counterpart, Head Rambles.
In these two blogs, you'll discover what happens when granny and grandad communicate through the medium of blog (not just with the world but with each other). A distractionarily disturbing blend of love and vitriol.