Distraction and Apps…Where I went wrong


I love apps. There’s no getting away from it, I love apps. The reason for this is twofold; firstly I am a nerd (or is it geek?) and have totally bought in to all the tech associated with iphones, macs, and so on, so I love this stuff. Secondly, and more important, is that, for the aspiring author, they are a distraction. That is the key.

If I were to list the apps that have crossed my path, sheltered under the umbrella of ‘writing workflow’, it would be embarrassingly large. So here goes…

  • Scrivener
  • Byword
  • Ullyses
  • Storyist
  • Adobe Story
  • Textilus
  • Word
  • Google Docs
  • nValt

So that’s just *some* of the writing apps. Associated with those are the myriad note-taking apps…

  • Simplenote
  • nValt
  • OneNote
  • Evernote
  • Pocket

And in further association, there are the general apps that become wired into all the rest…

  • Dropbox
  • OneDrive
  • Google Drive
  • iCloud Drive
  • Box
  • Mindnode
  • Aeon Timeline
  • Photoshop CC
  • Illustrator CC
  • Lightoom CC
  • IFTTT
  • Workflow
  • duet

And these are the ones that I have currently. I have acquired and discarded about the same amount, though I struggle to remember them so I won’t bother listing them here.

So, a lot of distraction going on. You have to realise that most of these apps require some significant investigation to get used to, and I have put in the learning time on nearly all of them, under the misguided assumption that ‘It will help me be more productive’.

Hundreds of YouTube tutorials and a thousand ‘How To…’ websites later I can confirm…they did not. Don’t get me wrong, I still use a lot of these apps (such as Byword and markdown, with which this blog post is written) but–and here is the rub–I don’t really need to.

If I have a message to get across about all this, it is that there is too much emphasis on workflow and organisation. If you want to write, just WRITE and stop thinking you need a bundle of digital assistants to do so. If you feel the urge for an app, read a book.

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The drudge bit cometh…


searchI’ve recently found myself increasing annoyed by people starting a sentence with a “So”. It irks the bits of me in which the grammar nazi resides… And like Starling asked Hannibal Lector, “But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself, Doctor Lector?”

The answer in no. That is why I need beta-readers…

So…

I’ve finished a sixty-thousand word first draft of a contemporary little mystery novel, barely more than a novella, and a radical change in genre from what I’ve been toiling with for the last two years. Set in Yorkshire too, I call it…hesitantly…The Foxy tale, and it’s about a treasure hunt.

So (!) I need beta-readers. Hence this whimsical appeal, which is part of a larger campaign to get my progeny critically read.

All I ask is that you are willing to try to read it, voluntarily if possible, and offer any impressions, ideas, suggestions, confusions, incongruities, or just tell me you didn’t (or did) like it. I am trawling for objective analysis by someone with the chutzpa to help a fella out.

PDF, MS Word, Kindle etc, any format you please (thank you Scrivener)

Wow…appealing does NOT come naturally to me…

So as a tempter, here is an excerpt for your consideration. The intro passage, in fact. If you think you could read something like this (but nearly two-hundred pages), then let me know. I’m not precious about it…!

Paul “Foxy” Foxe sees himself as a man for whom being cynical isn’t so much a point of view as a religion. His best defences against the many injustices of life were his stoic indifference, a belief in Karma, and a tendency to bury his head in the sand at the first sign of confrontation. If you want to witness sparkling discourse or the product of a keen literary mind you are best served  going to the library and persuading a librarian to swear at you in Polish, but if you want a quiet life and predictability, Foxy is your man.

In most of life Foxy is average. He is twenty five years old, just short of six foot with a rash of spiky black hair, scarily piercing blue eyes and the sort of beard that looks like he’s forgotten to shave for a week. He has a girlfriend named Nat. At three months the relationship is still new, but there are musings that she wants to move in. This means that she still has this belief that she can “change” him, as her mother and sisters tell her she is honour-bound to try and do. But she is only a month or two away from the crushing realisation that Foxy is a force of nature. There is nothing on this Earth that can change Foxy, at least short of CIA behavioural modification, and there’s little of that in rural Yorkshire.

Nat is bright, breezy, light, loving and bubbly. She likes rubbish pop music, romantic thrillers and TV soaps. She believes in God, which Foxy has wisely said nothing about. She appreciates artwork and real literature – the Jane Eyre kind too, not the Stephen King kind.  That she is going out with Foxy is one in the eye to logic and common sense, and is a keen affirmation of the truism that opposites attract.

Or, rather, that is only one reality. In the other he is going to ruin her innocence and leave her the husky, dried out shell of bitterness and regret that she will inevitably become, no matter how hard he tries to stop himself. Of this he is depressingly certain. It has happened before.

Nat is has been away, visiting her parents in Ireland for a couple of weeks, and is due to return tomorrow. Foxy would have gone too but for a number of puerile, vapid excuses why he had to remain at home and not spend two weeks with a bunch of strangers for whom the fact he was English was seen as a punishable crime. These last weeks of freedom from obligation were bliss –  a state of mind that had left Foxy as belligerent, unapproachable and grumpy as usual. He would hate to admit it, but he is better when Nat is around.

Let the torrents of help-wielding commenters come….

It’s not like me not to post for months, but there you go…


It’s nearly two years since I set out to bloody well write something, and I did. A quarter of a million words of a story that was not very good. Still, at least I did it. The plan was to carry on and try to write something better. That’s the part I’m struggling with. The header of this blog stated my intentions to post about how hard it is to write a book. The answer to this is two-fold. First, it’s not very hard. Just keep typing and eventually you’ll have something. Second, it’s f****ing unbelievably hard, so long as you realise how far you have to go and just how talented these published bastards are. It’s galling. Yet I am nothing if not persistent, and so I have not let it go. I write every day. Just not a lot of it is any good.

But that’s the point. Every day I think I get a little bit better. By the time I’m, say, a hundred years old, I will have written something I can finally be proud of. Hopefully.

Aaaanyway, the last few months have been pretty damned awful, but I’m attempting to put all that behind me because I suddenly feel the urge to blog again. Not that I was ever very productive.

 

Here you go. Simple post. Fin.

Gilbert Egg-Hound’s bendy tale – Part One


Brisbane-city-by-night-mt-coot-tha

‘…orrow morning, you scum-sucking, vilely useless piece of infected, foul-smelling discharge!’

Gilbert Egg-Hound was not a patient man.  Having slammed the phone down with the sort of force normally employed by officers of the West Yorkshire Police Force during ‘extended questioning of coloured gentlemen’ during the 1970s, he less-than-calmly walked to his chair.  On reclining and gazing out of the window, Gilbert’s mood began to lift.  From his office by the canal, Gilbert had one of the best views in the city – to the right rose the Corn Exchange (which couldn’t help but to remind him of a majestic single breast nestled amongst the largely phallic skyline) while the building sites, shops and alehouses of Briggate and beyond disappeared straight ahead.  Over to the left, in the distance was the Town Hall, mercifully obscured by the offices and suits of Park Row.

The Town Hall occupied a very particular place in Gilbert’s heart.  Fully to understand this, first requires you to accept the fact that, despite appearances, hearsay and reams of evidence to the contrary, Gilbert Egg-Hound is a man of heart.  A well-hidden heart, yes.  A dysfunctional heart, almost certainly, but a heart nonetheless.  Alongside the hate for his former wife, an obsession with pastry products and the unlikely, unrequited love for She Who Must Never Be Named, sat in Gilbert’s heart a fear and distaste for the Town Hall and its staff, rivalled only by the fear and distaste displayed by the citizens of Lincolnshire when presented with evidence of electricity.

As you may have surmised (correctly, I might add) by this point, Gilbert Egg-Hound is not the sort of man to fear anyone; he was much more the sort of man to be feared.

The Town Hall however, put the shits up Gilbert like nothing else.

It was 1986 and the World Cup was being hosted by Mexico. England was in the grip of its usual deluded, fervent hope that they were going to win, just like twenty years before.  While he wouldn’t call himself a football fan – and while he’d never willingly admit to getting carried away with the ecstasy of an assembled partisan throng – Gilbert was as susceptible as anyone to World Cup fever.  Having followed the matches at arm’s length so as not to appear interested, Gilbert’s reserve finally broke during the Argentina game.

He locked up his office and headed to the pub. The landlord had managed to appropriate, from somewhere, a television the size of a fridge, and had, with faith alone,  hoisted it high up the wall with a length of rope. Literally dozens of people sat and stood beneath it, peering at the action.  No-one had seen a television of this size before, nor have they done so since, a fact that is merely a matter of background.

Gilbert arrived in time to see a slo-mo Peter Reid being thoroughly embarrassed by a dwarf with a perm, so set to drinking.  Heavily.  Unable to get comfortable and watching England get, for want of a better phrase, done over by the Argies, Gilbert began to feel unbalanced.  After a few more tetchy minutes, it happened: The Hand of God.

At this point, nobody was one hundred percent sure what had happened.  That is to say, nobody was prepared to say what exactly had happened – a key distinction.  What is known for certain is that on the evening of 22 June 1986, four men were admitted to Leeds General Infirmary with wounds that seemed consistent with ‘being beaten by a large, blunt instrument wielded by someone with the strength of a bear’, according to melodramatic neurosurgeon Dr Noray Parmalat.  The other definite in this murky expanse of half-truths and fabrications was that on the morning of 23 June 1986, Gilbert Egg-Hound was released from the Central Police Station without charge, without his possessions, and with a hangover that would wake the dead then immediately kill them again.

An uncharacteristically chastened Egg-Hound shuffled towards his home, under the non-existent cover of dawn, the streets pulsating with the rhythm of his pounding head.  Luckily for Gilbert, the streets were as good as empty at this time of the morning, so he was able to theatrically vomit into a drain with relative anonymity.  Having walked what seemed like the the thousand miles to his house, Gilbert entered, locked the door and went to bed to sleep the sleep of traitors, whores and criminals.

The Ballad of Star-Streets Tony – A Cautionary Tale


street-lightsWell, enough of the bleating on about word counts and other guff, it’s time to embrace the whimsy.

Bob F, my compadre of creative gubbins (on occasion), had an awesome idea about an alien called Star-Streets Tony who shat stars. I know. Awesome. This, friends, is the start of his tale. In rhyme. Not very good rhyme, either. And remember, THIS COULD HAPPEN. Enjoy!

The Ballad of Star-Streets Tony

Oh, the world it was breaking, no more fuel for to take
The future uncertain, for everyone’s sake
As the lights slowly flickered, and started to die
The people of Earth sat, and started to cry

The future was bleak, but that was until,
Simply Red started playing, on a charity bill
Somehow this music called from on high
An alien being, who fell from the sky.

Yes, Star-Streets Tony – he fell to the earth
As Mick Hucknall sang for all he was worth
This mystical being, as welsh as can be,
Shat stars of power to light up the streets

The council of Rhyl, they harnessed these stars
To run all their street lights, and even their cars
They powered all the tv’s and radios too,
It could even run Rhyl’s famous portable loo.

Slowly did Tony give to the planet
The gift of his star poo – his electrical winnet
Nations had to swallow that bitterest pill
As they were suddenly ruled by the Council of Rhyl.

For many a year Star-Streets Tony did good
Shatting stars as only an alien could
But the council was shrewd and it kept his leash short
And they exploited him without so much as a thought.

But Tony became such an unhappy creature,
All needs were fulfilled, though his own didn’t feature
He grew tired and depressed at the futility
Of being used for his star-shatting ability.

He was old now, and wished for it simply to end,
This existence as a being, heavenly sent
But there was no way this immortal could just up and die
Except the council knew better, but kept up the lie

They refused to let Tony have his final hour,
The refused to let Tony take back all that power,
So angry as only a mystical being can be
Star-Streets Tony set about making himself free.

I know. Brilliant. Well, thanks for allowing me to put that in your brains.

Pip-pip, for now.

Fudgemella and the delusion-teaching Knight


“Once upon a time there was a dusky maiden named Fudgemella. Her super-power was astro-physics, which in medieval Poland was not much use. The gods had dealt a joker there.”

What? Where am I? Did you say Fudgemella?

il_fullxfull.238657111“Caught in a downward fiscal spiral, she began to toy with the idea of branching out, maybe learning a new skill, like Badger-baiting, or popery, which was all the rage.”

Hello? What are you talking about? What’s going on?

“As she traipsed through the streets of the generic proto-germanic settlement, she swung her hips seductively, perhaps hoping for some kind of monetary reward. Her gods had done something right with those hips, so the scales appeared balanced. She considered going to Denmark where her super-power might be more useful”

Oh God, am I trapped in the consciousness of a bad writer? Wait, was that a Tycho Brahe reference?

“As she passed a group of travelling diplomats (whose employer was in no way related to the events that surrounded Fudgemella’s eventual disappearance, rescue and vindication), she arched her brow, or her eyebrow – it is quite difficult to see from here.”

I am trapped in the mind of a bad writer. Hang on, did you just give away the ending?  And you’re referencing the writer’s perspective? Are you mad?

“Quite by chance, a knightly knight by the name of Sir Deus arrived. ‘Madam,” he said unto her, forcing the words ‘twixt cup and manly lip, ‘I am Sir Deus. Deus X Machina. The X stands for, er, Ex. I am here to teach you the art of delusion.'”

Oh, come on! You’re saying that you actually have a character named –

“Fudgemella, startled by the knight’s abrupt/surprising appearance, laughed with gentle admonishment. ‘Sir knight, I have no such need for your teaching, for I have already mastered that particular skill.’ She flicked a bead of sweat from her brow with the last two centimetres of a stiffened digit.

If I promise not to criticise will you let me leave? Please…no more…

“The knight, pushed to a rage beyond compare – like that other fellow that got just as angry when someone broke his pencil – charged his mighty steed into the watching diplomats, piercing, quite by happenstance, their hearts with his lance, like a diplomatic kebab. Although that probably shouldn’t be a reference in a period piece. Unless kebabs existed in medieval Poland. Make it a – what do they have in Poland? Sausages? Yes, pierced their hearts like a mighty polish sausage.”

Not sure about the imagery in this – very suspect… 

“Thus the dusky maiden’s refusal to bow down to masculine domination caused the world to explode into war that lasted eight years, with a hiatus in the middle when one of the knight’s friends got lost in a copse. The End.”

So…a sexist morality nonsense tale? Didn’t know what to write for a blog post, eh?

“Can you tell?”

Calling all readers!


There! No, there, next to the lamp. No, to the left. See it? Is it how you remembered?

No. Because I’m talking utter rubbish. There is a lesson to be learned in this.

Lacking the wherewithal to post anything of relevance, interest or merit, I (your author) find myself poking the keyboard, hoping my unutterably complex brain will dredge up something inspirational. Perhaps under some vast self-delusion, I consider that my meaningless jabber is providing the previously bored reader with what they need – the nourishing, mineral-rich essence of entertainment, wrapped in comfy, fluffy words.

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What I don’t consider is that the reader (who is wise, considerate – a learned person of discretion) is not fooled by this.  “This person,” the reader opines, “has no idea what he is writing about. This is a waste of my valuable and tax-deductible time.”

That reader is right, of course.

Suitably chastened, I (your author) am both shamed and enervated by the realisation that I am engaging in foolery.

The wise author lays down (stops typing on) his pen (the keyboard) and reassesses his life, becoming a wandering doer of good, giving of himself that he might regain the self-respect the reader had driven from him in that devastating judgement.

But there are no wise authors, only stupid ones who write pithy posts with a desperate yearning to be loved. We are ineffably flawed.

The stupid author, caught in ever-decreasing circles of self-loathing and substance abuse, and the peculiar type of self-hate that comes from watching too many episodes of Star Trek – The Next Generation,is physically, emotionally and spiritually reduced. He turns to drink, self-flagellation and collecting ceramic frogs, to the detriment of humankind.

Do you, revered reader, want that on your conscience?

No, and thrice no. For you are, as had been said previously, wise, considerate and learned. You say, instead, to yourself, “Ha! Good post!” in the comments section, like the blog, tell your friends, give them your dedicated support and love, and then the world is a better place.

Is it too much to ask? You have a responsibility, dear reader. Validate this cheap-shot.

Scene 4: The post-modern face-off


Fade in. The music is maudlin, the colour leeched and the video grainy. Cue our hero, sat in a cafe in Dusseldorf…

The attempt to save Belgium, and by extension the world itself, is underway. It’s only slightly spoiled by the fact I got on the wrong train and ended up in Germany. Damn both my poor knowledge of european languages, and a ticket-agency convinced it knows my destination better than I.

espressoI only just escaped from a trap. Romaine Badger, the erstwhile benefactor of Sir Kenneth’s legacy and vast personal wealth, has her minions seeking me throughout the continent. Only last week I savagely resisted a young Badger’s attempt on my life when he tried to re-enact a scene from The Omen, only to realise that chasing me on a child’s tricycle had only minimal chances of making me fall to my doom over a balcony.

And what’s more, the staff of this cafe insist upon smiling at me in a friendly manner, which is crippling me emotionally. I cannot cope with the kindly and prompt service. I am English, and such efficiency and pleasance makes me suspicious.

I sip at my espresso. I really must find a train to Belgium. I feel waffles and other traditional images of Belgian culture nagging at me. When one is assailed by images of Hercule Poirot, you know you have a job to do.

I look at my vintage timepiece, given to me by the rotted corpse of H G Wells himself, and realise the time is approaching for action. Rising, I note with some alarm that a face I recognise appears around the corner. Romaine Badger herself. The face of a withered deer, an expression that curdled milk aspires to, and armed to the teeth with every manner of projectile weapon.

“______,” she says, calling out to me with her voice like a badly maintained Volkswagon Passat. “Don’t Push it. Don’t push it, or I’ll give you war you won’t believe. Let it go. Let it go!”

A quote from Rambo – First Blood. Damn she’s good. I respond in the only way possible, setting my thighs to inscrutable. I postured up as Romaine Badger approached, and said “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”

She visibly flinched. I’d dug up that Dumbledore quote as if from nowhere. She quailed, turning and running when she saw I was preparing a quote from The Lion King.

She’d be back, armed with better quotes – probably from Rocky or, perhaps, a bland Jennifer Aniston rom-com.

But I’d be ready.

Fade to ineffably ginger and with the words, “To be continued,” written, bizarrely, in Comic Sans font.

Scene 3: The Badgers threaten.


Cue some jazzy intro music. Perhaps – no, definitely – a saxophone solo. And some maracas. Yes…that’s about right. Actually, the maracas are rubbish. Lose the maracas. Marimba? Surprisingly nice.

Mood funky – check, panning camera panning – check. Fade into…

mannekenpis-brussels-belgium-filipfuxa-shutterstock_39608626-600…The man sits at the desk, staring at the piece of paper in front of him, anguish writ large upon his face. Suddenly he wonders why he has started the scene in the third person.

Irritated, he gives a terse shake of his head. That should sort it, he thinks.

I stood up, crumpling the paper angrily, and threw it with the abandon of an overtly sensual basketball player throwing a ball whilst dead. It missed the basket.

I paced, my mind a whirl, or a whorl or something.

The paper I had discarded had printed upon it (with some sort of typeface and ink magic) a telegram. It said the following:

Sir stop Sir Kenneth Badger is dead stop Now we will have our revenge upon you stop

I’d known Sir Kenneth for thirty years. His death had shaken me to my rabid and infertile core. And on top of that, suddenly they were after me.

If I’d been any sort of a man I would have thrust out my chin, found some cloth and girded my loins, then stood with my noble feet apart and a grisly look in my eyes.

But I wasn’t just any sort of man. I was the man who brought the world to it’s knees after the interview of the century. Sigh…THE INTERVIEW OF THE CENTURY. So long ago it haunts me yet. With Kenneth’s passing I was the only one left who could stop the inevitable. But I was old. So old.

But age changed nothing. I needed to save Belgium or the world would end and it’d be my fault. And the Badgers were after me.

Cue pause for melodramatic sting and fade to a justly vapid green.

 

Scene 2…!


Five years have passed. A small amount of continental-drift has occurred. The first ever Frisbee floats across a patch of grass in the United States of America, as Sputnik prepares for liftoff. That is literally all that has happened. Everything else is imagined.

That is, except for Sir Kenneth Badger, the British ambassador in Belgium.

The place? Bruges. The location within the place? A hotel foyer. A good one. Not one with towels you could carve.

Today Sir Kenneth, his rampart chin thrust out accordingly, stands by my side, his smile broad and unflinching as the cameras flash. Caught, for posterity, in this thirty second charade of a handshake, I stare at the cameras, my smile a rictus of humiliation. Always with the pictures. Is there no end to it?

You see, it all changed five years ago when I inadvertently gave the interview of the century. Sorry, I mean, THE INTERVIEW OF THE CENTURY.

“Turn to the left a bit, Sir Kenneth,” says one of the photographers, his Belgian, or possible Flemish words translating in the air for the sake of continuity. Sir Kenneth does so. His hand in mine feels clammy, like the insides of a mango.

Within my capacious mind I continue the self-flagellation that has bestridden me for the last half-a-decade. If I hadn’t given the interv…hang on…THE INTERVIEW OF THE CENTURY, then perhaps I’d be able to be like a normal person, and live quietly, being positive to my swarms of locusts and painting my pictures of young swans.

But no, I haven’t painted a decent cygnet in ages, and, quite frankly, the locusts are acting all depressed. If that doesn’t say ‘sort it out’ I don’t know what does.

Fade to a kind of putty colour.

Fin.

PS, Don’t make me get surreal on your collective behinds.