Saturday, 29 March 2008

Off on a tangent

More work on the new novel, and it took a strange sort of turn today. I'd kind of planned what the next chapter would be, but when I sat down to type I knew that it would be more interesting to do it a completely different way. It makes far more of a minor character; one who I was actually planning on killing off. I suspect this completely changes the dynamics of the first section of it, but I also think that might be a good thing. As much as I like to plan things out properly, I love it when the characters take over for a little bit. It usually means that I've got a good feel for them, because they're not just going through the motions of the plot anymore.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Language and Writing Meme

Having done a couple of other peoples' memes, I thought I'd have a quick go at putting one together. So welcome to my languages and writing meme.

How many languages can you speak?

Ah, that's the awkward part, isn't it. I read languages a lot better than I speak them. Aside from English (and since the Hull accent has yet to infect me, I think I can still claim to speak my mother tongue quite well), I have a little German, that I haven't practised in years, a tiny bit of French, and some Latin. Mostly, the French and Latin are confined to reading very old books these days, and my Old French is actually better than my modern French.

Do you write poetry, novels, articles etc?


Does your knowledge of other languages ever help with this?

Occasionally it's fun to throw in the odd non-English word, particularly where it describes a concept that doesn't translate that well. Mostly, it helps with research.

What are your favourite non-English words?

Mostly Scots words like Bokie (scarecrow) and bluffert (strong wind), since I'm part Scots and part English. Of course, my knowledge of these comes mostly from poets like Charles Murray, and so could be completely wrong for all I know. As a historian, the Latin word Testibus is always my friend, since I'm often on the lookout for witness lists. Also assorted swearwords picked up while fencing. Mostly in French.

Do you like doing research into other cultures?

Yes, but I'm usually more interested in historical cultures than modern ones. 12th century France interests me more than the modern country, for example.

Does this come out in what you write?

I hope so. Certainly, I think it adds interesting little details to what I do. It's hard to imagine that the knowledge is going into my brain and then doing nothing.

What's the last non-English book you read?

Probably some collection of charters or other. Maybe Southwell's Liber Albus (the Minster Chapter's collection of charters, letters, etc) for fiction, I started to reread Raoul de Cambrai recently, though that has a facing translation, so the French is mostly there to check.

A cunning plan?

Two chapters in, and I still haven't put together a complete plan for the novel, just a general one. Maybe that is something to do today. Then again, perhaps I should just crack on with the next chapter.

I've been reading Bill Bryson's biography of Shakespeare, which mostly seems focussed on how little we really know about him. I particularly liked the section on the various theories proposing that Shakespeare didn't write the works attributed to him, on the basis that he couldn't have been educated enough. That no one questioned it in his time or for hundreds of years afterwards seems unimportant to them. But then, you should never let the facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

The Writing Meme

Thanks to April Boland for tagging me with this meme.

What's the last thing you wrote?

Well, I started a poem last night asking whether being the absolute worst at something wasn't a kind of achievement in itself (I'd just watched Chris Martin bat). Before that, I was doing some work on a new novel idea.

Was it any good?

The poem will probably end up being entertaining, but nothing special. I have a good feeling about the novel.

What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?

Probably an essay from my undergrad days about Iron Age society in East Yorkshire. I didn't get into writing as a separate thing until a couple of years ago.

Write Poetry?


Angsty Poetry?

From time to time. The time to really watch out for me is when I'm producing only silly poems, because I'm probably bottling up my feelings.

Favourite Genre of Writing?

Fantasy. There's a Neil Gaiman short story, 'Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire' where the main character can't stop injecting moments of 'fantasy' into otherwise serious writing (of course, this being Gaiman, what's fantasy and what's real are more or less the opposite way round to usual). I'm more or less the same way. I might think I'm going to write something 'normal' or 'mainstream' but it never quite works out like that. I've been getting more done since I've just given in and started writing modern fantasy from the start.

Most Fun Character You've Ever Created?

Probably Brian Northington, a character from one of my short stories. Since he's completely obsessed with reptiles, he gave me an opportunity to finally make use of the various facts that a boy inevitably memorizes about these things when he's 12. He's a bit of an idiot, but an endearing one.

Most Annoying Character You've Ever Created?

Her name is Sophie. She's teenaged, obnoxious, and a werewolf. If I didn't suspect that there was more depth under there somewhere, I'd probably have killed her off by now.

Best Plot You've Ever Created?

I have a horrible feeling that it may be from one of the pieces that I've deleted in one of my more depressed moments. But then, that could just be a case of remembering them more fondly because they're gone.

Coolest Plot Twist You've Ever Created?

I find myself thinking of my poem Pest Control, which, though a simple piece of rhyming nonsense, is quite fun. It's more of a punch line than a plot twist, but it will do. The last stanza runs:

I've tried disbelieving in faries
And they've made my life living hell
So now, I'll try out a new tack
And believe in what eats them as well

How often do you get writer's block?

The answer to this is either all the time or never, depending on how you look at it. There are rarely days when I can't bring myself to write, and that has nothing to do with writer's block. There are, however, lots of days when I can find inspiration about one thing but not another.

Write fan fiction?

No. That is what parody is for.

Do you type or write by hand?

I make notes by hand, but rarely write out prose longhand. I just don't write quickly enough. Poetry will usually go through a hand written first draft.

Do you save everything that you write?

I have a feeling that I ought to, but I've also had very bad days when I've thought 'It's awful, it's never going to be even half way readable' and deleted a bunch of stuff. Childish, I know. Thankfully, I've found at least some of it on disc since then.

Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?

Yes. Mostly because the idea is taking up space in my head. I try to write something else and it's jumping up and down shouting 'write me, write me'.

What's your favourite thing you've written?

Probably my novel, Searching, though I'm often in the position of hating absolutely everything I write as soon as I'm finished writing it. Still, I think I managed to get some moving moments into it. That's not to say that the sequel won't be even better.

What's everyone else's favourite story that you've written?

Now this is awkward. Mostly, people have seen my poetry and articles so far. I've had some good feedback from the people who've seen the novel, but in terms of family and friends probably the short story that they like the most is 'Fishing for Worlds', which is a decidedly odd piece of writing.

Do you ever show people your work?

For a long time, I was quite embarrassed about the fact that I wrote. I only told my family a few months ago. I've been swapping a lot of pieces with my friend Adam recently, and obviously, I'd like to think that someone has read the published articles and poems.

Did you ever write a novel?

4 completed ones (although I'm actually still doing re-writes on one) 1 I've just started. And, sadly, probably 6 or 7 that I got part way through and then deleted.

Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?


What's your favourite setting for your characters?

I end up setting a lot of things in and around the North of England, since it's the place I know best, but I have a certain fondness for Scotland too. Despite living in the south and the midlands for a few years, I don't think I can quite get the feel of them right.

How many writing projects are you working on right now?

Well, there's the novel, and the re-writes on the other novel, and the work on the PhD (which at 100000 words must surely count), and the poem I started last night, and an idea for a non-fiction book that I keep playing with, and the series of linked short stories I've written the first one for. That's what? six? Of which maybe two or three will get serious attention.

Do you want to write for a living?

It certainly seems better than many of the alternatives.

Have you ever won an award for your writing?


Ever written anything in script or play format?

No, but I've been thinking about it. The trouble is, if I get a good idea, I feel I should work on it in a way I know gives me decent results.

What are your four favourite words?

Looking at this, I'd say Probably is fairly high on the list. As a fencer, Sabre is quite a nice one too, but only with that spelling (the American English Saber never seems to encourage that slight roll of the r) I quite like Bokie, the old scots word for scarecrow, and I have an unhealthy poetic fascination with the word toast. (I blame a rather strange poem I was forced to memorize as a child, of which I can only remember the first Stanza. 'Colonel Fazackerly Butterworth Toast, Bought an old castle complete with a ghost, but someone or other forgot to declare, to Colonel Fazak that the spectre was there'. And to think I could have been learning Blake.)

Do you ever write based on yourself?

I certainly make use of my experience of things to add detail to them in prose, and some of my poetry is personal. Some of it, though, is written more from the point of view of characters. I can't understand this apparent insistence that poets write only about their own lives. There's so much more to the world than me.

What character have you created that is most like yourself?

In one way or another, I suspect most of them are me to a small extent, because if I'm making them seem human, I'm the human being nearest for reference. I think it's probably some of the minor characters that are closest, though.

Where do you get ideas for your characters?

Some of them have aspects taken from people I know. A lot of them take general character types that I know I'll need within an idea and work on them. I want them to be a little different, a little bit more human or memorable than just an archetype.

Do you ever write based on your dreams?

I don't really remember my dreams, but I do manage a lot of thinking just as I'm waking up or falling asleep.

Do you favour happy endings, sad endings, or cliff hangers

So long as the ending has some power, I'm not too bothered, though I'm a sucker for a happy ending when I read.

Have you ever written based on artwork you've seen

I've written poetry inspired by artwork, mostly stuff that' s shown up at the Beverley Art Gallery. I wrote one about the Black Mill on Beverley's Westwood, without realising that it was a mill. There was no caption to the picture and it looked more like some sort of watchtower at the time. The poem might have turned out very differently had I known.

Are you concerned about spelling and grammar as you write

If I type, then yes, but even so I'll have to change almost everything in a first draft.

Ever write anything in chatspeak? (How RU?)

No. It's too dependent on everyone pronouncing words the same.

Does music help you write?

I'll often have it on to drown out other distractions, or to remind me of the mood I'm trying to create. Of course, getting it wrong can do more harm than good. Trying to write a tender love poem while listening to Pantera probably wouldn't work, for example.

Quote Something You've Written. Whatever Pops into your Head.

Crow’s Nest

A crow perches on the building’s edge
Wings spread, balanced against the wind
He glances down to watch the students
Pass in knots and clusters
Eddies in a concrete sea
He does not care about
The learning of his perch
Or read the patterns in those passing current’s paths
To him his brick built eyrie
Is just a place to watch and rest
And fly at last.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008


The relationship between inspiration, hard work and self control seems an odd one. One the one hand, my favourite writing moments are the ones where I'm inspired; where words just seem to flow out by the truckload and the main challenge is to write fast enough. Yes, it still needs revision, but you're not fighting for every word of the first draft. The only downside is that from time to time it feels like you absolutely have to get something down, even though you're exhausted at the time.

But moments like that are rare, which is why most writers get into this business of setting writing hours or trying to write a certain amount every day. It's certainly a worthwhile thing, but I find that it only works well for me if I'm not too picky about what the thing is that I get done. I might be hoping for an article, but if I can't get the next chapter of the novel out of my head, there's not much point trying to force things. Sometimes though, I seem to get stuck. For at least the past couple of weeks I've been trying to come up with an article for next month's Estella's Revenge. Now deadline day has arrived, and I have to admit I've got nothing. For some reason, I just haven't been able to put a decent article together.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

The Colour of Magic

I've just finished watching the first installment of The Colour of Magic, the TV adaptation of Terry Prattchett's first Discworld novel. It had its moments, but mostly it's proof once again that books can just do so much more than even the most high budget TV. The adaptation missed out a lot of the detail from the book, presumably for pacing and time constraints, reworked the ending, and probably hammed things up a bit too much. Where the adaptation of The Hogfather worked well thanks to some perfectly pitched acting, in this, several actors seemed to feel the need to exagerate their characters to show how funny and outlandish they were. There's another installment tomorrow, which is, judging by the trailer, effectively the whole of The Light Fantastic. I hope it is better than this one.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

M, M, and M

A piece of reasonably good news. After deciding to make the switch from e-books to real books, my publisher has got round to producing their first print-on-demand novel. It's by Craig Sodaro and is entitled Mom, Murder and Me. I'm rather hoping it does well, since if it doesn't, there's always the annoying possibility that said publisher might decide it isn't worth the effort and give up, forcing me to go through the whole submissions rigmorale with someone else. That, of course, is the peril of new publishers. Still, in spite of a fairly plain cover, the blurb for the thing looks pretty good. I've included a link to its page on Amazon below.

Down Day

I got an e-mail today about an article I'd almost forgotten I'd written, confirming that the magazine I wrote it for has finally got its funding together and will be coming out later in the year.

I don't seem to have gotten much done so far today; a couple of hundred words on the new novel idea at most. It feels like that combination of wanting to do things and not having the energy that I get in my more down phases. I suspect this week's job rejection has hit me harder than I thought, probably because I really believed I could do the job quite easily.

Of course, it doesn't help that I've been having ideas for poems last thing at night, and from fear of losing them I've been scrambling to get them down. Not the best way to uninterrupted sleep, especially when the end results aren't that great anyway.

Still, I'm going to go back to the chapter I'm working on in a minute. If I stopped writing every time I felt like this, I'd never get anything done.

Friday, 21 March 2008

A Game

Lisa from Bluestalkingreader( tagged me with this game. Apparently you go through your blog archives, linking to 5 posts

1 Something about Family (since it at least mentions my brother)
2 Something about Friends
3 Something about Yourself
4 Something you love (the poetry reference, not my own work. I'm not that narcissistic)
5 Something else (I thought I'd stick the very first one in, since it's got a nice silly poem)

Apparently I'm supposed to tag five other people, but I suspect this is something that you'll only do if you really want to anyway, so I'm not going to.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Luc at what I can do.

In my (apparently) continuing quest to write poems based on hideously complicated poetic forms, I wrote a luc bat today. At least, I think it was. There's always a faint chance that I've written the instructions down wrong. Anyway, it goes a bit like this:

The first line has six syllables (not feet)
The next has eight. Syllable six of this line rhymes with Syllable six of the last.
The next line has six. Syllable six rhymes with syllable eight of the last.
The next has eight. Syllable six rhymes with syllable six of the last.

or, to count out the syllables with the rhyming ones as letters

12345b7c etc.

The really fun bit comes at the end, where you try to set it up so that the rhyme on the initial six syllable rhyme would work as the next rhyme. Got all that? I'm glad one of us did. All the fun of doing the crossword, plus you get a nice poem at the end of it.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Another starting point

More re-writes on the PhD, but it seems to be getting a little closer to something that works. I've also written the first chapter of a possible novel; I think I'll throw some effort into that, since I like the basic idea, and rewrites on the other one can wait a while yet. Let's just say I like to keep busy.

It doesn't look like I've got the job from Saturday's interview, since it was today that they were supposedly notifying the candidates. It's a pity. Presumably my 'sparkling' personality did the trick once again face to face.

Thanks to not running away quickly enough at my local cricket club's AGM, I got roped into going to a cricket development group meeting last night. That's a couple of hours of my life I won't be getting back. How anyone can have such a long meeting and do so little is beyond me. I'm not even sure what the group is there for. Worse, the guy who runs it probably doesn't know.

Mark Barrowcliffe, The Elfish Gene

Now, I suppose I'm going to have to give in to my geeky side here and admit that, as a kid, I played an assortment of tabletop RPGs, D&D among them. So did Mark Barrowcliffe, but for some reason he felt the need to write a book about it.

In theory, this has the potential to be quite good. A teenaged boy, weak and socially inept, finds an obsession that weaves around his years of growing up. It might offer a unique insight into growing up in the midlands in the late 1970s. Alternatively, it might offer a funny insight into a hobby with an eccentric reputation and a large following. The trouble is, it tries to do both. That frequently means it's trying to make too much of a point to bother being truely funny, and yet shies away from real insight at crucial moments for the sake of getting a laugh. The joke in question mostly seems to be 'hey, wasn't I embarrassing as a teenager'. Yes, you were, but I don't care.

The trouble is, if I'm going to read an autobiography, it needs to be of someone I'm interested in. The incredibly annoying teenage self of this writer just doesn't meet that description.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008


I've been having a bit of a count up of things I've written in the past 18 months or so, mostly as a way of reassuring myself that I do occasionally do something. Obviously, quantity isn't the same thing as quality, and frankly some of this stuff is rubbish, but I was still pleasantly surprised. It seems that in that period I've written about 150 poems, 40 short stories and 4 full length novels, not to mention a few articles. The strange thing is that I don't really remember most of them. (I assume that no one's wandering into my house and writing things for me.) It's probably no wonder I haven't been churning out stuff on the PhD quite as quickly as I did at the start.

Of course, now that I've gone through them quickly, I've got the slightly harder task of doing it properly. That means working out which of the various unsubmitted pieces are worth the effort of sending off somewhere, and which should be consigned to my 'never to see the light of day' folder.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Neil Gaiman, Odd and the Frost Giants

This is the story that Neil Gaiman put together for World Book Day, and as such is aimed mostly at younger readers (since the aim of giving away short books on the day was to get them interested in reading) It's the story of how Odd, the boy who is the book's hero, travels to Asgard to drive out the Frost Giant who has taken over there, leading to extended winter in the world below.

Neil Gaiman's deftness in wrapping myth and legend around his stories comes through well here, taking what is ultimately a very short, very simple story and managing to maintain the feel of a grand adventure. All the main characters play true to their types in Norse mythology, but do so in a way that makes them feel far more rounded and real. It's a fun story, and well worth reading.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Some Random Questions

1- Why, when very few of them appear to have been Brummies, do all English poets prior to 1900 insist on rhyming eye with eternity and infinity?

2- How exactly do you answer the interview question 'are you sure you won't be bored doing this job' without sounding either idiotic or arrogant?

3- Were plectrums (sorry pedantic people, plectra) designed in some way that allows them to magically jump to the back of sofas, the inside of odd pockets, etc?

4- Will my younger cat ever get tired of losing lumps of fur every time he pounces on my older, grumpier, cat?

5- Failing that, will he stop trying to devour my right foot?

6- Will Bangladesh ever start playing cricket well for more than 20 minutes at a time? (They're currently getting a bit of a kicking from South Africa)

7- If the plan for a short story ends up longer than the story is meant to be, has something gone horribly wrong?

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Foggy sort of day

Not thinking all that clearly today. Had a meeting with the PhD supervisor earlier. Was expecting it to be much more stressful than it really was. Somehow, I seem to have hit the stage where I'm mostly reworking things. Apparently, I'm not as far short of the required wordcount as I thought, since I forgot to take into account things like the bibliography.

I haven't really got any writing done, though this might just be the lull from finishing a short story and a couple of pieces of poetry yesterday. At some point I must go through the stuff I've been producing and work out what's there. I tend to forget about things almost as soon as I've written them. Revisions of the sequel to the novel are on hold for the moment. It seems almost silly finishing it off before I know exactly what's happening with the first one.

I'm reading about half a dozen things at once again. I'm waiting for one of them to grab me. So far, nothing's really standing out. Perhaps I should give the copy of Bill Bryson's book on Shakespeare that I got from the library a go.

Guthrie Govan, Creative Guitar Vol2

An odd sort of review this one; partly because it's for a book that' s been out for at least a couple of years now, and partly because it has absolutely nothing to do with literature. Over fifteen years or so of guitar playing, I've read an awful lot of instructional books. Some of them are helpful, some of them are awful. I thought it might be helpful to review what I think is the best I've come across.

The first thing to remember with Guthrie Govan's book is that it is Vol 2 of his series and deals specifically with advanced techniques. Those after a general introduction to the guitar would be better off with his first volume. This is very much a book for more advanced players looking to explore more extended musical and technical possibilities. There aren't, for example, any sections telling you how to play open position chords, but there are instructions on how to eight finger tap pianistic chord voicings.

The book has a few major selling points. One is how well written it is. Thanks to years of contributing to Guitar Techniques magazine Govan is able to convey ideas in print with clarity, enthusiasm and humour. It certainly makes this more than a dry instructional tome. Combine that with Guthrie Govan's phenomenal technical abilities, a concern for musicality not found in a lot of other books, and a range of exercises that covers just about every conceivable technique, and this book is a must have for guitarists.

My favourite parts are the ones that go a little beyond what you might expect from most instructional books, particularly those focused on rock playing. There are, of course, the usual sections on alternate picking, economy picking, legato and tapping, but there are also chapters on such things as emulating other instruments and country style hybrid picking. Showing you how to steal licks from bassists, organists or theramin players must surely count as a good thing.

All in all, this is probably one of the best guitar instructional books on the market, written by one of the world's better players.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

The Tyranny of Rhyme

When Milton wrote those words, I don't think he meant this. He was attacking the belief that poetry had to rhyme. I know that. I just happen to think that it's often fun to do so. What aren't so fun are the side effects.

What side effects? Why, the urge to rhyme everything (...bring, sing...) that you think (... brink, drink...) or do (...queue, blue...). You go through the day, thinking more about what things rhyme with than about the things themselves. Madness lies this way. I'm serious. Write a few rhyming poems if you don't believe me. I think it's something to do with the urge to use normal life as inspiration. One day you're wondering if it might be possible to write a poem about toast, the next, you're automatically assessing if it has any decent rhymes. (It does. It's particularly handy as a silly rhyme for ghost.)

Monday, 10 March 2008

Not Stormy Monday

We were supposed to have storms and 80mph winds today, but while it was a little blustery, for the most part it was fine. Perfect weather, in fact, for taking my library books back. The local library has just reopened after refurbishment, and to be honest, I was a little disappointed. The place seems a little tidier, and there's a new self service option for taking out and returning books, but it's hardly a major overhaul. And, of course, the first time I used it the receipt caused a paper jam. I'm actually vaguely disappointed by the lack of gale force winds as well. Everyone was comparing this to the 1987 hurricane, but I can't remember it, by virtue of having slept through it. To be fair, I was under a general anesthetic at the time, but it does mean I have no experience of that sort of thing.

I have a job interview Saturday for a part time job that will hopefully mean I can afford to finish the PhD. It turns out, from the conversation I had setting it up, that I'm running into the problem of being both not quite qualified enough in things like office admin, which are kind of essential for these jobs, while at the same time appearing hugely overqualified thanks to the 1st and the MA.

I'm re-reading the poems of Sophie Hannah again. At what point does this sort of thing tip over into odd?

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Short Story Sunday

I'm having to find a way of writing this that doesn't include the words 'England cricket team' because I suspect they will induce a rant. Suffice it to say that the 1st Test against New Zealand did not go well.

I read the Tom Holt short story 'Pizza to Go' earlier, as part of a general short story phase. Like most of his work it was very funny, though even he has trouble making a time travel based plot work without asking awkward questions. I think the Neil Gaiman story 'Shoggoth's Old Peculiar' is next on my list for re-reading, because if I remember rightly the combination of Lovecraftianisms, quirky English villages and real ale is a good one.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

My Short Story Odd-essey

I wrote a short story today; not a particularly great one, but the first I've written in a little while. Interestingly, it came from an idea that I'd more or less rejected a few months ago. I suspect the problem was that it's a slightly odd, quirky idea with absolutely zero potential for ever selling. I'd let myself get caught in the trap of trying to write short stories for the 'market', whatever that is. What it mostly meant was rejecting any idea that didn't seem commercial enough. Now, I don't know about anyone else, but I don't have enough talent and creativity that I can afford to ignore ideas. Anyway, I suddenly decided to get back to trying to write short stories just because I enjoy it and the thing came out pretty well, in a Neville Cardus does Lovecraft sort of way. For those who get that reference, I did say it was odd.

On the musical front, my picking technique has settled down for the first time in probably ten years. I've spent most of it going back and forth between alternate and economy picking depending on who I was listening to. Finally, I've got the idea that I should just ignore the whole issue and get on with it.

I've also read the first few chapters of Homer's Odessey, but probably won't be reading the last few immediately. I got it out of the library fully intending to read it, but then forgot. I hate it when I do that. I might just get a copy out of the university library instead. As a research student, I get to keep the things out for longer than my local library would allow. That way, even if I forget again, it won't be as annoying.

Friday, 7 March 2008


There's been a setback on the novel front. Not with the one I'm editing at the moment, but with the one that's with the publishers. It means, at best, a delay before publication. They've offered the option of pulling out, letting me try to find another publisher, but I don't think I'm going to. Not only would that take almost as much time overall, but after the faith they've shown in my work so far, I think I owe them at least a little loyalty. Besides, they seem to be making the shift to print from e-books, which is kind of what I was hoping might happen anyway. As much as I like the idea of e-books, those things with all the papery pages are still real books to me.

I'm due to meet with my PhD supervisor some time next week. In theory, I've done quite a lot of the thesis, but no doubt a lot of it will need re-writing. I've got one more main chapter, a conclusion, and an appendix to get through. The trouble is, they seem to be the hardest parts. And I suspect that tidying up the references is going to be a nightmare. Still, one last push. All I've got to do then is work out what I want to do with my life now that academia is almost certainly out.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

World Book Day

So, it's world book day. What am I reading? Well, I'm re-reading Terry Pratchett's Making Money at the moment. It's probably not quite as good as some of his others, but it's still a fun read. Today though, it seems to be more a question of what I'm not reading. I have two or three books lying around unread, none of which I much feel like starting. I must have felt like reading them at some point, because otherwise I wouldn't have bought them, but I just never quite seem to be in the right mood. Maybe tomorrow.

I've finally cottoned on to the idea that prose and poetry require very different sorts of reading. With prose, I tend to get through it quickly, finishing with books in a day or two. With poetry, that doesn't seem like the right way to read. Instead of finishing a poem in thirty seconds, thinking 'that was nice' and leaving it, it seems better to read and re-read it over the course of a few days, letting it seep in. Of course, lots of things take different kinds of reading. You wouldn't read a textbook the same way as a short story, for example, in much the same way you wouldn't listen to classical music and rock in quite the same way.

Now if only I can find the right way of reading the books I'm leaving alone.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Why poetry is like jazz

Until recently, I've had a hard time writing free poetry. Without any kind of rhyme or metre to hold it together, I wasn't sure what made it poetry instead of something else. I certainly didn't get it well enough to write it. Reading Tracy Ryan's excellent poetry has helped, but perhaps the biggest thing was being able to connect it to the way I play jazz.

I'm a pretty good guitarist (and harmonica player, and mandolin player, and bassist, and...) but for years I had difficulty with wrong notes. I just couldn't use them well. It turned out the problem was that I didn't understand how to use 'normal' notes well enough to delve into the murky waters of chromaticism. I also didn't understand that using the odd wrong note doesn't mean I've got to suddenly play randomly. By using little bits of outside playing in normal phrases, I was able to make it work.

In the same way, instead of jumping right off the deep end of free poetry, I've just dipped my toe in it, producing a few things that aren't quite metrical, but still have their own quiet rhythm. I'm told that's closer to the sort of thing that TS Elliot did than to more out-there free poems. I hope so. I'd like a good excuse to write poems about cats.

Since I haven't written much in my fencing blog in the last month or two, I'm going to take this moment to congratulate Hull University's club members, several of whom did quite well in the Nottingham open. Our president in particular managed to make the last 32. I didn't go, because the sabre was the day after, and because I didn't feel up to doing an individual competition without a few other club members around to keep me sane. Since I'm fairly confident after making the last 16 of the Yorkshire Sabre, I must get hold of our sabre guys and find out if anyone feels like doing the British Open this year.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Estella March Edition

The March issue of Estella's Revenge has gone up, featuring my article 'The Middle Ages: A User's Guide.' It looks like there's some really good stuff in there this month.

Aphelion and Random Thoughts

This month's issue of the fantasy zine Aphelion is up, featuring my rather silly poem 'Industrial Action'. There's a link to the zine at the bottom of the page if you should feel like taking a look.

In the absence of anything approaching coherent sentences, some random thoughts:

Why does my spellchecker know fewer words than I do?

How do my cats always manage to appear when I'm making breakfast, no matter how asleep they appeared before?

Exactly how long should I wait on a reply to a job application before I write it off completely?

Why has my computer not been told that modern poetry normally doesn't capitalise each new line?

Why, on the days when I most feel like getting stuff done, is the rest of the world on a break, while on the days when I really want to take things easy, it's ready to work?

Why, having studied Latin but not French, is my Old French better than my Latin?

Saturday, 1 March 2008


Exhaustion. Probably partly fencing related (I spent most of last night pushing a bunch of foilists to be ready for the Nottingham Open today) but also due to things like erratic sleep patterns and trying to do three or four things at once.

More work on the second novel. One thing I've discovered about the editing process is the occasional need to prevent myself deleting large sections. They're not that bad, it's just that I've tried to edit while in the wrong mood for it, or what seemed like white hot prose as I wrote it looks less good now. Thankfully, I seem to have gained the self control to make the things better rather than throwing a childish temper tantrum and losing work. It hasn't always been the case. I have to admit to having deleted at least one partially completed novel before. One of my stupider moves, on the whole.

In a (sort of) preparation for the cricket season, I've been rereading Gideon Haigh's Many a Slip, Simon Hughes' Yakking Around the World and Ian Peebles' Batter's Castle. The first is one of those wonderfully silly diaries of a club cricket season that manages to be meaningful partly because this stupid stuff happens to everyone and partly because it's written by one of the best cricket writers alive. The second is a decent account of the former Middlesex fast bowler's attempts to avoid English winters by playing the game in every southern hemisphere country he could find. It makes for an entertaining, if rather out of date, travellogue. The third is the oldest of the books, and is one of those ephemeral things that probably wouldn't be half as good if it didn't provide a window on sport as it was played eighty years ago.

It's about the best preparation I'm going to get, because it turns out my local club has forgotten to book any nets this season.