Aligoria from iNation
When I started writing my book I envisioned a flash-bang-wallop start that shook the reader up. You know, throw the reader into the middle of noisy mayhem. (and I still like the idea of doing that).
All the advice given to writers is to grab the reader by the lapels on the first page. But as I redrafted the book and reworked and reworked the first chapters I decided to wind the readers in to the story by slightly devious means. In the finished version, the story starts with a retired German policeman watching a group of people in a coffee shop. They’re a weird looking crew and he worries in case they’ll cause trouble for the cafe and its owner. He’s quietly in love with Elise, the owner, but she’s been playing it cool. The way women do.
The story opens in Munich in Germany. In a cafe styled like a Starbucks, because the owner likes to keep up with current trends. The windows stream with rain and Max, the policeman, is in his favourite chair keeping an eye on things. He knows from experience what people will do next. Usually.
I read the chapter over recently while I sorted the book out for upload to CreateSpace. Every time I do an edit or look at the book for any reason I get engrossed in the story and a part of me wonders what will come next. Which strikes me as an odd thing for the writer of the book to think.
So, reading it again I was struck by how the chapter had changed since its first outing. As it was rewritten again and again the basic structure stayed the same but more and more detail crept in. Text was layered on text but the chapter never increased in size, its still one and a half pages long. But the slight touches to the descriptions and some nuances to the sentences have created (pardon me saying this since I’m the author) a depth that the reader can wander through.
At one point Elise finds that Max is carrying a gun and she flashes with anger touched with concern.The sentence also embeds a memory in the readers’ minds for a significant event in the next chapter. The gun is there to tell the reader that it’s not a lightweight story, there’s violence to come. The trick was to show all of that to the reader in one short burst using as few words as possible.
Reading it struck me that I’d fallen upon one of the secrets of writing, to rewrite and keep adding to the story but to use the same number of words or thereabouts. To keep enriching the experience of the reader with touches that they might not consciously see, until they feel as if they were sitting beside the retired policeman watching the scene. But without making the prose dense or confusing.
I also paint (portraits mainly) and the analogy of starting with the basic outline then working and working at a face to put layers and layers on the canvas to give the image depth, is the same process as writing. The reader doesn’t realise that they’re looking at the work of days and nights to make every small detail just the way the writer intended. But they enjoy the experience even though they may not understand why.
And it doesn’t matter, because they should be concerned with what happens to the characters next and not about how the writer transported them to that place and time.
WordPress is overwhelmingly Western orientated and from some comments I’ve seen, people can assume that everyone lives in America or Britain. You know, ‘our tax system is hopeless’ kind of note, with the author not explaining what tax system they’re talking about.
It’s not a serious flaw but amongst our numbers there are people who live in places vastly different from ‘The West’. Their experiences in writing then publishing a book is very different from what people in the West might imagine.
I’d like to take you on a short tour of my writing experiences in the Middle East to shine a faint glimmer of light on what it’s like. Not just the mechanics but also how it affects the way you think and by extension the way you write.
A bit of background. I describe myself as Scottish by birth, European by nature and Middle East resident by choice. I travel around the region from Kurdistan to Oman and places in between. I’ve lived for extended periods of time in Iraq, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Although I’ve been in the region for 12 years this time round I hardly speak a word of Arabic (Jim hangs his head in shame).
On writing. I currently live in Dubai and you can sit here in a hotel lobby and you could write a thousand novels based on an evening’s observations. The mix of people, cultures, dress, habits never cease to amaze. At present the number of people from the Former Soviet Union is expanding – lots of hotel staff are now from that area. The other noticable change is the number of Chinese and Koreans. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a vast bazaar, a massive souk where people come to live, do business, holiday and stop-over on their way somewhere else. Most International Oil Companies have regional hub offices in Dubai, mainly to service their operations in Iraq. But for British people its a home from home. You can actually get deep fried Mars bars here (a Scottish delicacy if longevity is not your aim in life).
So the UAE is a comfortable place for someone like me to live. BUT. And that’s a big big BUT. I never forget that I’m a guest in someone else’s country. The law here is not based on English law (like so many other countries), the law here is Sharia and woe betide anyone who thinks differently. Its all to easy for people to imagine somehow that ‘probably things are much the same here as back home’.
And how is this of significance to writers? Well, you can’t just find a publisher here and knock a few thousand copies out then get them into the shops. You have to obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the government (I’ll not go into the process – it’s lengthy but not complicated). If the book contains anything deemed to be blasphemous or would offend local family values then its unlikely to get a NOC.
I’m going through the process right now and my book does contain harsh criticism of the Catholic Church – it may be a factor that stops me publishing here because the Ministry of Culture protects all religions not just Islam. There may be other factors but I couldn’t even guess what they might be. Like everything else in the Middle East your best companions are Patience, Good Humour and an engrossing book to read.
Going back to the process of writing. I wrote the outline for my book iNation when I lived in Baghdad in 2003. I was in the Sheraton Hotel, situated on the roundabout where Saddam Hussein’s statue was pulled down. I had a great view from my room overlooking the Tigris. I could see everything in the Green Zone (Saddam Hussein’s palace and other government buildings). I ate often at the palace and wandered through the grounds. I even swam in his pool. Despite what was said in the media at the time the palace. pool, etc were no bigger nor more opulent than a million other houses in this region. The scurrilous hype about Saddam living in grand luxury while his people lived in hovels conveniently forgot to mention how the President of the United States lives in the White House v people in shotgun shacks in some States. Ps, this is not an anti-American rant – I love America and I count many Americans amongst my friends. The media across Europe did hatchet jobs on Saddam every bit at vitriolic as Fox News.
Anyway it was these experiences that planted the seed in my mind. America runs the world now but what if there was a much bigger yet hidden country just around the corner. A country that holds no territory, a country that lives in the world wide web? What would it do, how would it work, could it change the world? Would the change be for good or would it produce a world dictatorship?
When the phenomenon of Facebook burst upon us the book practically wrote itself. I also took the opportunity to give some other global organisations that should be making the world a better place, but are not, a right good Glasgow kicking. A Glasgow kicking is considered by thugs around the world to be the very pinnacle of ‘a kicking’.
Returning once again to writing (I know, I ramble), the act of observing ones country and others from a distance and from within a different culture adds (IMHO) depth and gives a twist to how things are written. You’re less influenced by the propaganda pushed out in those countries, you more likely to see a bigger picture than a local election or the rise in the price of petrol. As many writers have observed, people who live on the margins of society, people who are ‘different’ and people who are from different cultures are often the sharpest observers. Gore Vidal and Jerzy Kozinsky spring to mind. The Middle Eastern culture is so pervasive and different it would be a miracle if your approach to writing didn’t change.
Apart from that, writing here is the same as anywhere else. Sitting at a computer in solitude bashing the keys and hoping something worthwhile will fall out and start reaching for the light.
Even as I write this, the call to prayer from the mosque next door reminds me that I’m a legal alien in Dubai. Humdalala!
Somewhere between Burrough’s squat in Tangier and Dublin’s night alley where Joyce drunkenly urinates against a wall a rubbish bin lies overturned by Mailer hustling to take a whore to the big fight only to be cut by Hunter S as he hobbles to Valetta.
Passing you stumble on the trash street spewed a book lays on the cobbled filth its front page creased open by rotten cabbage and Gravity’s Rainbow shows through as you pick it up another book is underneath with the letter V on front to be put in your coat pocket and hurry away as the knife carrying policeman at the souk wanders by for the book is carried along talking to your hip as it’s regularly squashed by your uneven gait.
Benny Profane wants you to know that he knows you know he knows and he doesn’t care who knows it as the story leaks into your vein twisting your mitochondrial dna in a mobius loop of death sickness depair wondering how to handle the hope the hope the vortex of despair spun by Welsh’s filthiness the story of V drags you down where the genius lies where the darkness watches as you search for faith in humankind the growl of the alligator making you hard to the wall you await the sound of Henry Miller’s quill on Kerouac’s scourged back painting Brooklyn’s final exit strategy.
The book whispers its the only read you’ll ever need trust me I’m a liar in waiting…Benny Profane knows you know he knows.
Ever sat and talked over how the world could be changed? Ever thought of how it would be great to hit out at all those people who turned the world into a rubbish heap for unemployed people? The guys who roller-coast the world’s economy to sell high and buy low. The guys who own presidents and appoint dictators? The people who don’t give a shit about anybody else but themselves?
Have you really thought on what it would take to protect the people of the world, to improve their lives and to dry the tears of a billion children?
An old rock n’ roller, a geek and 19 year old girl take them all on, here’s how.
Available at Kindle for $7.
A cheap way to learn how to change the world.
I struggle as all writers do. To write. To write something of significance. Something that resonates in the minds and hearts of others. Something that adds to the world.
Difficult isn’t the word, perhaps no word can describe the sheer effort required to produce a book. If you find it easy? You are truly blessed.
I am not.
After writing for a while I fell into a pattern that seemed to fit me. Writing alone in a room, in the morning or late at night. In the silence of a house where others slept. In an empty house, an hotel room, a deserted office. It worked. For a a while.
The main problem was that it took too long for for my subconscious to kick in and start writing. By ‘subbie’ as i called it. The real author that lays hidden between the DNA and the brain. Ever present, all knowing, the heart of the matter. But invisible to most.
So I experimented on myself. What could kick ‘subbie’ in early and save me from throwing away the first 20 minutes of writing every time I wrote. The first 20 minutes that ‘I’ wrote before ‘subbie’ turned up.
After many false starts I hit on the routine, or should I say a range of routines. They are dependant on location.
For writing in an hotel room – in the evening I eat early then take a long shower, put on a bath robe and sit comfortably at a desk (no laying in bed allowed). Then I put on some music. The selection of music depends on the scene to be written. This could fill an entire blog in its own right, as does selecting what the ‘feel’ of the scene is, its texture. Is it an exposition to dump information on the reader (without them realising that of course)? Is it an ‘emotional’ scene to get the readers tears/ laughter/ thrill on stand by? Is it a battle scene, a love scene, an ending? All to be considered when picking the music. Here are a few of my favourites.
Intense heartrending scene – White Night by Ludovico Einaudi (make you cry for a week)
Battle scene – Heart of Courage or Protector of the Earth by Two Steps From Hell (awesome, highly recommended)
Losing someone dear – Slipping Through My Fingers by Abba (remembrance)
Pensive – Blue and Black by Jackson Browne (reflective)
Love – I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing by Aerosmith (Ahhh)
Death – The Prayer by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion (heartbreaking)
Get up and go – Dancing In the Dark by Bruce Springsteen (go baby, go!)
Foreign Scenes – depends on where it is eg – Heroe (in Italian) by Enrique Inglesias (OMG)
And so on, a series of songs and tunes to set the mood. I start writing then (as I call it), I ‘co-synth’. The sense of place, music, writing and imagination meld into one experience, and up comes ‘subbie’.
BUT, there is a weird side to this. A really really weird side.
I often don’t remember too much of what is written. OK, I actually pressed the laptop keys and put punctuation in, but the detail of what’s written? I don’t remember it much. The next day, at noon, I have a cup of green tea (pomegranate flavoured) and I review what subbie has written. It’s often surprising and miles better than my clunky prose.
So far so good right up until last week. I opened the piece and started reading – only to find subbie had inserted a message for me, highlighted using red text. In fairly graphic words. For example, on a piece I’d written before finding how to co-synth – ‘this writing is f*cking rubbish needs a massive rewrite in fact throw it away’. Another ‘flesh this out and make it more emotional blow the f*cking readers synapses out’. Another ‘brilliant stuff you big (whole word deleted) of a genius you’. Another ‘this character died two chapters ago lol’. There’s a few WTF?s scattered around as well.
If there is a psychiatrist out there who wants to tell me something about psychosis? Please don’t. I know I’m madder than a March hare.
The actual book? On the rundown to completion – thanks to subbie and his rude notes.
Jim tips his hat to the subconscious and gazes at the walls of his padded room.
OK, my book is stuffed full of references to dead actors, real restaurants, real places and it contained lots of Klingon with a smattering of Vulcan.
On the first big rewrite I took out the Klingon and inserted a language I invented (Xhovain) because Klingon and Vulcan are copyrighted.
But there were other issues.
So, what did Jambo learn today?
On using real people, names and places
You can use the names of dead actors (like Alan Ladd) but you should refrain from having them do anything bad or disrespectful. There will be the family of Alan still around to sue you, they may not be able to do so legally but have you got the money to defend a case in America? Me neither. In my book dead actors are used to make Retro-Movies – since this is actually starting to happen (is someone hacking my manuscript?) it may not be long before dead-actors names are copyrighted.
You can use real locations, like Starbucks, because the name is in common usage. Always use it capitalised as Starbucks and not starbucks. For years the Hoover Company had a team who trawled the media making sure Hoover was always capitalised. If you use a real location do not be derogatory in any way. if you have a lot of action in a specific real place (I have a whole scene set in Georgia Brown’s in Washington – the best southern style cooking north of the Mason-Dixon line) try and get their permission and assure them that your work will be like an advert for their place.
You can reference main landscape points, like The Empire State Building, but there is an ambiguity around whether you can murder a character in there. Since many movies show mayhem in public places it might be OK, but then again the movie producer might have cleared it with management first. Remember that Donald Trump, like all rich people, can be litigious (and rightly so – said Jambo covering his a*se).
I got this information from my friends at Critique Circle. That is a fantastic place for writers – the depth of knowledge about all things written is astonishing. I could have gone to a lawyer but all the ones I know have 3 hands – left hand, right hand and ‘on the other hand’.
So on with the final rewrite and I can keep some of my best scenes thanks to the advice received.
I had a lovely dream this morning. I was saving the world. My ship was attacking Bela Lugosi’s Tyranno and the heroic rips in my t-shirt showed my abs rippling. I needed to pee. The Tyranno dropped it’s cloaking device as I readied the Photon Torped……hold on? I need to pee?
I got up and had the said ‘pee’. I was still smiling from the dream, it all seemed so familiar, so wonderful. Then i realised why it was familiar. It was my book. I had written that script. What the…??
I had been dreaming that I was a character in my own book. Did Melville attack a giant whale in his sleep? Did Scott F Fitzgerald buy a diamond as big a the Ritz in his sleep? Do Androids dream of electric sheep?
Is this normal or am I so immersed in the plot that I’ve become a character?
It’s just as well i didn’t write Fifty Shades of Grey….or then again…
My fascinating work of staggeringly imaginative otherworldiness got the s**t kicked out of it last week. I’m sitting at home waiting on the professional critiquer to send me a missive telling me he can’t speak any more because he’s so choked up with my phenomenal erudition.
But no, still the same comment on the novel’s basic flaw – quote,amazing piece of work that had me laughing and crying at the same time – but it isn’t a novel, more a series of scenes’.
Well that’s me well and truly burst. Plans to publish the book out of the window, ‘ball up on the slates’
I’m not sure I can face another rewrite – number 3 in my case. And those rewrites were not ‘a touch on the tiller’, those were full blown, turn the story upside down rewrites.
If anybody out there is thinking of writing a book – here’s a top tip. Do not launch into it and write and write. Yes you will end up with 80,000 words, but it will not be a book.
My advice? Write out a storyboard showing how the story will go – remember the ‘hero’s arc’ and make sure the story follows that, even if it’s a childrens’ book. Especially if it’s a book for children.
Once you have the story plotted and an ‘arc’ in place, write the last chapter first – then get moving.
It’s a tedious, frustrating, boring way to do something that should be fun – but if you do not, you will end up with a load of clever writing. A very long essay. An unpublishable book. Something to light the fire with.
Well now that’s off my chest? Where is that A2 sheet of paper and my crayons?