294 Words at a Time

Regular readers may be aware that a few weeks ago I submitted my work to the United Agents August Open House extravaganza fetival hullabaloo, wherein the absolutely huge agency ignored their usual policy and invited people to submit works in progress.

Suffice to say that excitement ensued, moreso when they pledged to reply to everyone that submitted, meaning that my humble little ramble would eventually end up on someone’s desk. It may have been the desk of the intern that makes tea for one of the junior readers’ assisstants of course. It may not even have been a desk, just an upturned mop bucket glued creatively to the wall of one of the cleaning cupboards to create an ad hoc flat surface. My work may not even have been placed on top of said improv bucketdesk but instead kind of put in a bin next to it. I don’t have any reason to suggest that United Agents were telling porky pies when they told me that absolutely everything would be read, but I do have an inkling of an idea how many works in progress there may be in the country and how long and how many people it might take to read all of them.

A lot. A lot is how many. Now while ‘a lot‘ may not be a particularly scientific measurement, I was not all together surprised when I received what is very obviously a generic rejection e-mail in response. Disheartened? Sure. Had I secretly believed that so blown away by my first three chapters would the tea maker to the junior reader’s assisstant be, that it would be put through the internal mail system from The Hudsucker to the boss’ desk and I would be rewarded the entirely fictitious and equally prestigious Davis Mann award for best intro ever and let into the secret club I’ve always suspected exists where they serve weird fruit smoothies that cure procrastination. Well, maybe a little.

Pictured; my work being sent upstairs, by Tim Robbins of course.

But, never mind. Rejection and more importantly responding to it positively is a huge part of this game, and always has been. So I set about finding some other industry types in whose general direction I could throw my work whilst wearing a waxy expression and consciosly trying to avoid looking desperate and sounding silly only to be told what I knew at the start of this little ramble, which is that no-one is interested in reading unfinished work.
So then, the question became how quickly could I get this bloody thing finished and move on to the next stage? To that end, I worked out how much I’ve got done in the last few weeks (5,000 words, give or take) and how much more I need to write to have a vaguely manuscript sized thing on my hands (25,000 words, give or take).

So, after trying to fit some numbers in my head, I realized that if I continue to average 294 words a day, which I have been for the last month or so, I can have the first draft completed in 85 days which, at the time of working it out, would take us to December the 8th.

So I guess, if there’s something to take away here, its take a sample of your writing speed over a few weeks and see what you realistically accomplish. Everyone knows that a deadline might be a headache, but it’s also a great motivator, so set yourself one and get into it!

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Happy Birthday, Mr Dahl.

Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it
Roald Dahl.

It is far beyond my capability to say anything about the man, his life or his work that hasn’t been said already; but the idea of allowing this day to sail past without marking it in some way didn’t sit quite right with me.

To say this man influenced my writing would be more than a slight understatement. It would be more accurate to say that the entire idea of trying to put words together to try and form something coherent from the odd walks that my mind takes would never have entered my head at all without his work.  Quite apart from that, until fairly recently I found it  difficult to communicate with people my own age, and for about three years when I was a child I didn’t really feel like I had anything to say to anyone, and that the things I did say were the wrong ones. I spent a great deal of that time making medicine with George and hanging out with giant grasshoppers and watching the Twits torture each other. I’ll never be able to repay my debt to Roald Dahl, but my own writing is, in part, an attempt to thank him.

An awful lot of people struggle to externalize what happens within their imaginations and an awful lot more don’t think that their imaginations are worth the effort. Well I’m sure Roald Dahl, and certainly myself, think that the world needs a little more magic so take a leaf out of one of the storyteller-in-chief’s many, many books and have a go.

 

Somehow it feels fitting to share a (very short) extract from my own book, inspired by my time wandering around in Roald Dahl’s head;

“His mind could still reach for the reverie that had lead him to drink the rain and he had found himself retreading the same path more than once in the time since, his journeys through the clouds in particular sustained him during the solitude and he had allowed his mind to wander much further than his body ever would. Exotic lands like Cambodia, so far from the reach of his steam powered legs, were no issue for his imagination. The heights of the Himalayas had been scaled, and he had partaken recklessly in the continued destruction of the Palaces of Montezuma and the city of Pompeii. His limited frame of physical reference created no barrier to Arnold’s mind and as he walked he once again allowed himself to relax and reach towards the clouds that directed him, conversing in a language that made no sound and had no real form and becoming himself weightless once more.”

Please note that the image at the head of this post is the work of an extremely talented artist I’m lucky enough to spend my life with, Jessica Arrowsmith Stanley, (JazzStan)  whose beautiful work is available here.

Stay magic.

Book Review; The Hundred Year Old Man…

I recently dealt with what I really hate to refer to as ‘writer’s block’ for the first time. I really hate that phrase. For me it just conjurs up this kind of beret wearing, nicotine stained Greenwich village tortured-genius-beat-poet image that I really struggle to equate myself with.

That is of course reductive and dismissive but this is my blog and I’ll be insensitive whensoever the mood takes me thank you!

 

Pictured; not me

Pictured; not me

Anyway, it has been suggested by much better minds than mine that one way to make sure that your brain keeps working, and that your words come back to you, is to get stuck into as many books as can hold your attention and in that spirit I recently tracked something down that I’ve been meaning to read for some time now. I have a slight confession to make at the beginning of this, because this will by no means be my last book review.

I buy my books from charity shops. There are several reasons for this, not least that whenever I take it upon myself to support my local book retailers, which everyone with an interest in literature should do, I end up spending far too much money or else limiting myself to one book and inevitably putting too much pressure on it and getting a little disappointed.

I also like the fact that my wildly untamed book habit is in the hands of strangers, and that leads to some real turn ups for the, ah, you see where that’s going. SO, before I lose the run of my thought process entirely I would like to discuss The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson.

First, the obvious. That is one of the best titles you’re likely to come across. People may stand where they wish on the matter of extended titles, and some of them are undeniably horrific.  But, for those of us who are not blessed with that mid 20th century American mastery of the short sentence, of breaking someone’s heart in three words, then why not have fun? There is no attempt to be serious anywhere within this book, which considering it starts with the eponymous 100 year old man stealing from the youngest member of a biker gang and moves swiftly on to recount the death of both of his parents, his incarceration and his state ordered castration, is quite some feat.

The main thing that comes across with this book is how absolutely in love with his own creation the author his, and so he should be. It reads as though Jonas Jonasson was in tears laughing at himself as he found the most ridiculous prism he could think of to look at some of the many and varied political and social conflicts that defined global culture in the 20th century. He sets his stall out early, Allan Karlsson the protagonist doesn’t care about politics, religion, family or idealism of any kind. As a reader we are given motivation for this state of affairs early and succinctly and asked to move on. The author worked as a journalist, and a very successful television producer before living what I would guess is the dream of more than a few of us, selling up and buggering off to some beautiful nowhere to work on his book.

The complete idealistic detachment he allows himself, through the perspective of his main character, means that Jonasson can get right up close to everything from the Spanish Revolution to the Korean War without actually taking a position on anything.

Without wishing to get into the finer details of plot and narrative and make myself sound like a fool I will leave you with a strong recommendation to read this book. As a flight of fancy, an excercise in imagination and, this is the kicker, a thoroughly researched and informative look at recent history even despite its obvious fiction this is probably unique in my own experiences. I wouldn’t suggest there is nothing like this out there, but certainly nothing I’ve read. If the personality and pulp sci-fi touches were stripped from Slaughterhouse 5 then maybe they might be distant cousins but that’s all that comes to mind. Finally, always a bonus in the lives we live, because let’s face it no-one gets enough reading time these days, it’s episodic, picaresque structure means that you can pick it up whenver you get twenty minutes for as long as it takes to get the thing read.

What are you waiting for?