Thursday, 8 November 2012

On Apologies and the Fantastic Mr Lynch

Hi All,

So I must apologise most profusely to all four of you that have read this blog and noticed my recent silence of the last 3 months or so.  I am sorry. Life got on top of me, moping around in a sort of depressed laziness, and hopelessness (amongst other things) got in the way.  Additionally, more recently, I got a job.
(Or my real-person alter-ego did at least.)  This means that while some good things, such as a sort of substantial financial income, are being offset with bad things, like working exhausting hours and having little social life.  Things have begun to stabilise a bit here and there so I'm going to try and write this post before the idea escapes me completely.  (Also: yes, Internet, you're right; Tom Hid is amazing. Well done for noticing.)

Anyway, moving on slightly, I also haven't been writing much on this blog for a slightly bigger reason - that being that I haven't really been writing outside of it, or practicing, or anything for the past few months either.  And so, if anything, the only subject matter I should be able to present you with today is the quandary "Argh, I have a real-life job/live in the real world, how am I supposed to find time to write?!"  To which I have no good answer.  All I can say is what I keep trying to say to myself (if fruitlessly) - Don't waste the free time you have; and if you can use it to write, get on with it! 

So, not feeling much the pretentious Fount of All KnowledgeTM that I usually seem to when I write these posts, here's something completely different.
A REVIEW!!  Or an attempt at one at any rate.  So let's get on with it, shall we?

Title: The Lies of Locke Lamora
Author: Scott Lynch
Publisher: Gollancz
Length: 530 pp.
Price: Worth it!
The few other short reviews I've read of The Lies of Locke Lamora seemed all intent on describing as being similar to a certain run of films starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Al Pacino, et. al.  (You know the one I mean)  Well I don't really think that's fair as The Lies... goes some way to simply being a class of its own.  The titular character is thrust upon us from the opening pages.  Locke is an orphan-thief who is a bit of a handful (to say the least)  and his current master wants to pass the buck on before he does any more damage.  So on Locke goes to the Eyeless Priest of Perelandro who takes him in and gives him a good and thorough education, leading him on to become the best thief around, with the best gang around: 'The Gentleman Bastards.'  

The action takes place in Camorr, a city not unlike Renaissance-era Venice, to my reckoning.  Though where my understanding of real-life Italian provinces some 600ish years ago is laughable, Scott Lynch's is hugely praiseworthy.  There is detail and texture to every literary flourish he weaves into the narrative and you come away feeling like you've witnessed an Olympic-level Fencing duel.  Precision, motion, retreat, a parry of expectations, a thrust of unexpectation, a couple of stabs at the heart and, finally, a flurry of blows to knock you down and left staring at the victor.  It's not just good prose, it's damn good prose.  

The narrative shifts expertly (if sometimes frustratingly because you're desperate for more 'today') between different time-lines of the characters' lives; and while sometimes this seems a sudden juxtaposition, it's usually followed up with a thoroughly appropriate or pleasurably relevant note.  Lynch doesn't spoon-feed you his story but instead gives you a treasure map indicating where the nibbles are and where you need to go before you can go to the next main course.  Critical metaphors aside, Lynch has made every sentence worth the reading and, especially if you trust in the author to take you where you need to go, you often find yourself understanding a little more of the characters or how things work in Lynch's world of Camorr and it's all worthwhile.  The instance that comes to mind is perhaps a little spoilerish but in one instance a grievous wrong has been done to the Gentlemen Bastards but then the narrative is then interrupted and we are immediately given a look at Camorr's people's favourite sport - handball.  The sudden shift at first warrants a double take but then you look twice and discover that it isn't just an interlude about handball, it's a revelation of just what happens when you wrong a Camorri.

The gang itself works perfectly too.  The young newcomer, Bug, stands well next to the more experienced Sanza twins who provide good comic relief; plus the clever muscle - Jean - is complemented by the unfortunately-built but infinitely-crafty Locke.  And Lynch does exceedingly well with his characters who are all just what they need to be - the Thiefmaker 'saves' orphans from cruelty and turns them out into the streets under his care; Father Chains is firm, enriching, disciplined and experienced; the grand Capa Barsavi watches and reigns over the city in a way the legitimate ruler, the Duke, cannot; the Grey King is a mysterious and shadowy figure to be feared.  All in all, while it never feels like too many people, Lynch has drafted together a great dramatis personae to play out the many schemes of Camorr.  And I use this theatrical terminology for good reason because Locke, well, Locke is the best actor going.  He slips into a character at the drop of a hat and, though fairly sleight himself, carries a commanding presence about him.  When Locke is low on resources and hunted by every other gang in the city, he immediately goes back out to craftily win himself some new clothes and some more money, getting what he went for.

The Lies... is astonishingly good and for a crime novel gets it dead on.  "What sort of setting's a good one for a semi-political crime thriller with scheming, potential scandal and a scattering of sex?" you might well ask.  Lynch is ready with the answer - mid-Renaissance not-Venice.  A city delicately balanced with some people ready to push it over the edge and watch it burn.  As for a fantasy genre-piece, the set-up is finely done.  Lynch has designed a world with history and legend with a good twist of magic.  The city of Camorr is built around the remnants of 'Elderglass' structures left behind by the mysterious race known as the Eldren, lending the whole place a borrowed, or stolen feel.  The Duke and the Capa can claim Camorr as their own but the foundations of the city were laid long, long ago by someone else entirely.  It's great and Lynch has expertly wrought it all together.  
Lastly, it was just really fun to read and I spent far too long not sleeping just so I could read this book.  Before I started it I had just finished another that I had sort of enjoyed but it had been lacking and I was beginning to wonder about writers who I had begun to esteem based on a limited reading of their work but this book, this writing by Scott Lynch, was great.  I enjoyed it immensely and it was worth every penny to buy it, every unslept hour to read it and every word Lynch used.  I won't score it out of five or anything but I will say that, so long as you're ok with swearing, a bit of violence and you love a really good fantasy/crime novel, then I heartily recommend it.  

That's it for now.  I'm told Tuesdays and Thursdays are good days to be online so I may change updates to those days but, well, I can't say for certain how good I'm going to be about posts.  Fingers are being crossed; we'll see.

Bye for now,
Neil

Friday, 22 June 2012

On Influences on Writing

Hello again, dear readers!
What's that? It's a little late for a Friday update? Well I suppose you're right but I'm the writer and you're the anonymous audience that doesn't get to have an opinion so there!

Today I wanted to look at influences.  One of the key things I've repeatedly heard during my life is that you've got to read before you can write - that reading is crucial to understanding literature (no matter how unconsciously) to the end of writing it.  This being the case, it follows then that what we read will influence what we write (probably because it's a favourite genre/style/etc.) Now, of course, one of the first things that comes off of this idea is the thought that you might just end up rewriting what you've read; or even just go along the lines of 'there are no new stories being told, just reinvented ones - (which a part of me is still rebelling hugely against.)  The thing of it is - yes, of course you could just end up becoming a regurgitator for stories but the fact is that imitation is a) a form of flattery - it emphasises how we appreciate the original; b) a practice of our own skills, no matter if the main ideas are just copied; and c) a potential gateway to creating your own works - through that work over someone else's.  I'd need to verify this and give you a quote to back this up but I remember hearing that the way Raymond Chandler got into writing crime fiction was by reading earlier crime fiction and then rewriting them as he would have done it.  It was mere imitation but it was good enough that he could go on to become one of the greats of crime fiction today (and a personal favourite for that matter.)

The important thing though is still that there is a progression past that first point of imitation.  Not to knock the entire 'genre' of fan-fiction but it is a prime example of how we take what we love and add our own spin on it.  However, fan-fiction, by definition, can only go so far; and writers have to go further to realise the potential they have.  You have to (to put it a particular way) deconstruct what it is you really love or love about the original, then, once you've realised that, go on to play around and off that idea to create something born from real, true passion/love.  If you love science fiction - why?  Do you love astronomy in general, technological progress, robots, speculative history, or do you just plain like spaceships?  Say you like technological progression, spaceships and robots, (which, yeah, I guess could all be put under the same term but shush) then there you could have freedom to play around with a universe that has spaceships with robots constantly running up and down it all the time.  Perhaps onboard is a science lab working on prosthetics, maybe that work hits a breakthrough and so it's first used on humans, maybe that first use goes horribly wrong and the ship and the crew are all threatened by the malfunctioning prosthetics - etc. etc.  Because of what you love you can create something you will also love.  It's a little like people; (in the old model) because you liked the person you were with you had a child with them because there was more to love; a child that is the product of yourself and the person you loved, that has been genetically crafted by the you and your partner, will be shaped by you, but is still essentially a separate creation altogether.

It may well be worth your while then, is all I'm saying, to look at what you read, what you really love to read, and to examine it a bit in order to create something you truly enjoy.  Of course we are all more than the sum of our parts but that is where we begin.  Human beings aren't just cells but we begin as cells that go to make up bones and muscle and flesh.  Science-fiction isn't merely spaceships and robots, but it can begin with technology that becomes robots and spaceships and artificial intelligence and the concept of humanity and the idea of a soul.  And so on and so forth.  Passion, love, enthusiasm, leads us to eagerly create more of what we love.  Consciously looking at what we really have a passion for is just good sense, then; and, in my opinion, being aware is a good thing.

Until the next time I rush something out to damage your eyeballs with,
I've been Neil.
Thanks for reading.

Friday, 15 June 2012

On Books

Dear readers, I must apologise for my shocking absence of late.  As usual I have no great excuse but that I have been inattentive and just generally useless.  I am especially sorry to have missed updating this blog last week as I very much wished to take a moment in commemoration.  But some failures are given second chances so let's try again with today, shall we?

I would like to say hail and farewell to one of mankind's great writers; not just of Science Fiction but of literature at large - the most estimable Ray Bradbury.  Whenever I thought of the great SF/Fan writers of the 20th Century - Mr. Bradbury was a dead cert. for the list.  Whenever I was afraid of the way of the world and of us falling into a dystopian future, his name came up.  Whenever I thought about books, the importance of reading, of learning, of putting hard work into writing - his was one of the names personified, standing over my shoulder as I wrote my essays.  Ray Bradbury was awesome and an inspiration.  Mr. Bradbury, may you rest in peace.

In light of my finding this out last week, I embarked upon making up for lost ground in reading Ray Bradbury's work that I had missed in the past, (not through wilful ignorance but through missed opportunities).  Ironically enough, when you think about how Ray B. spent most of his time, I couldn't find his books in the library at first but the clerk was obliging enough to make sure I left with a couple of his books.  And so began the immersion into the wonderful imagination of the Illinois-born wonder.  Needless to say it wasn't long before I realised how wronged I had been by no one forcing me to read his work when I was younger.  Even at school, after coming away having read To Kill a Mockingbird, I thought I'd had a good if modest start to a literary education - if only I had known what I'd missed.  But anyway, enough sycophancy and regret, on with it.

"...Do you know why books like this are so important?  Because they have quality... texture... pores... The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more 'literary' you are... The good writers touch life often.  The mediocre ones run a hand over her..." (Fahrenheit 451)
 My point today? One that I've already spoken on to be honest with you - that good literature is full of life.  Essentially: you have to live life to write well, I guess.  Through experience we can be inspired.  Which, in an odd way, just makes sense, really - the Romantics (I think my personal favourite 'group' of poets) all wrote poetry based on the what they felt, what they say - what they experienced. 'Upon Westminster Bridge' only exists for goodness' sake because Wordsworth was sat in a carriage in London, in the morning, seeing the city in that particular way; he experienced London. And not in a touristy kind of way.  Experience gives us something to work with: emotions to reflect on, actions to describe, places to go back to and moments to relive.  To me, that was the crux of what Ray Bradbury was saying there.  Maybe in ten or twenty years I'll look back on this and go 'Oh no, I had it so wrong' but I guess that will be the point - I had to live those ten/twenty years to come to that realisation/revelation.


Live life because, apparently, sometimes it's simply the best thing we can do.


See you later, 
Neil

Friday, 11 May 2012

On Using Quotes to Hide a Lack of Material

Hiya folks, 

So we're back round to Friday again and I'm playing the same track again and again here with another quote for your consideration and gibberish for you to ponder on.
This one comes from the legendary Kurt Vonnegut - someone I have to admit I've not read half as much of as I would like, unfortunately.
"The arts are not a way to make a living.  They are a very human way of making life more bearable.  Practising an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake.  Sing in the shower.  Dance to the radio.  Tell stories.  Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem.  Do it as well as you possibly can.  You will get an enormous reward.  You will have created something."
 Now, if I may, I want to pull out a few points from this - the first being that this is a sound piece of encouragement - practice and trying things out is a great, and sometimes even better than a didactic one, approach to learning how things work and how we can play about with forms and genres.  Whilst I still hold out some hope I can one day make my living off of books and stories, Mr. V is right here - the arts are not about business and industry - they are, and should always be, about expression.  Expression of emotion, experience, ideas and dreams.  This is why, though I won't go on blog-record naming names, I hate with a passion all the regurgitated crap that is pumped into our libraries and, eventually, our cinemas and TV screens that sells because it panders to a skewed and apparently majority market-group through a particular kind of aesthetics and stylings.  
Now, I can see where the argument falls down, and, believe me, I want to stay away from the Daily Mail-reader stereotype that is borderline fascism and elitism, but where the arts are concerned, where our 'human' expression is concerned, we have to preserve our attitudes a little.  Everyone deserves the right to express themselves uniquely, I think this is something fundamental to what the majority of the world holds as human rights.  That uniqueness, though, in my opinion comes out best through a self-expressive kind of experimentation.  Through just playing around with words on a screen, or colours on a canvas, or crayons on a wall.  They're not going to always be the best they could be, or be transferrable so that others will appreciate them as well but that's the key - they don't have to be.  If something was true for you then it has, in itself, something of its own universal truth.


Now, maybe I get too carried away with the sound of my own pretentious typing here, I want to present you with a quick idea where some of this comes from.  I now give you a choice: you can be patient, read over the ideas to come, and weigh and test whether you agree with them or not and, if not, then we call it ok and we just move on with our lives.  Or you can skip this next paragraph and cut to the outro and I'll see you next week.  You have the right and power of choice in this, exercise it.
Still reading? Then I'll get on with it.  I wanted to show you an idea that is not, unfortunately, original; many have had it before me and given it in much better ways but here is me going on record with it too.  There's, in some cultures, in some faiths, in some minds, a belief in a Creator.  A Creator who kick-started things into motion and has their signature on the fabric of the universe, (don't worry physicists - you'll see it, you just need a reeeeeally good microscope to see it...)  I, and quite a few others believe that the Creator's skill and art was also imparted into nature and human beings - people - us.  The thinking goes on that, as we also create, we are imitating, and fulfilling something of our own design that the original Creator made us with.  I personally believe it's so ingrained in us that, even for people who aren't/don't think of themselves as particularly creative or expressive, it can manifest itself unconsciously and instinctively.  I believe it's for all men and women everywhere, that there aren't necessarily age restrictions beyond normal limitations (i.e. a baby can't hold a pen and write with it) and there should be the least-possible restrictions or guidelines placed around it.  Yes, I believe something like this could offend people but I also believe that it's their right to be offended, and to hold an opposing opinion.  It's also in my thinking that Mr. V was edging up to this kind of expression - a natural, inborn, instinctive kind of experimentation that reflected our fundamental natures.  It's already in us to be expressive, to try things out to do things others don't; or do but not as we do.  As, then, with Mr. Vonnegut, I encourage you, dear readers, to try things out that maybe aren't perfect but are fulfilling and enriching.
I'd like to state that the thoughts and opinions of Neil Faarid are not necessarily those of Elsewhen Press or any other publication group I have or will become associated with.  This is my personal blog, what I write here should not affect or reflect them in any way.

Ok, folks, it's safe to come back again.  I'm winding up here.
These were my thoughts today and you can agree, disagree or not care at all.
Until next time, folks.  Be well, most excellent to each other, and try things out.

All the best, 
Neil 

Saturday, 5 May 2012

On Coming Up with Something in a Rush

Hey folks, 
So I'm on a bit of a rush to just about get something before 12 (ack, didn't quite make it!) so I can just get in with a Friday update.  I don't really have that much to talk about so I may come back to this post and edit it a bit later on.  Watch this space. (Ugh that sounds so cheesy!)

So I've been enjoying reading and stuff lately you might be interested in but I don't really have that much by way of writing to talk about this week.  I've recently fallen for Garrison Keillor's amazing storytelling capabilities, maybe more specifically his radio monologues and scripts but I'm also reading Wobegon Boy.  

Also, I've just finished a book by Chris Wooding which I absolutely loved! The book is Retribution Falls which had great characterisation and a wonderful twisty plot.  One moment you're happy with them, then you're wondering what they're playing at; hating that one then seeing things totally from their point of view.  It's fits nicely into the other-world steampunk fantasy which is heavily stylised towards the ariship/pirates more than inventors, etc.  Anyway it's great and you should go check it out!

Right that's me for now, enjoy life, folks! 

Neil

Friday, 20 April 2012

On Using Your Noodle

Dear Readers, -or, you know, Pete-
I must apologise for not having posted in a while.  I have, of course, been inundated with mail crying out for the return of A Niche for Neil and there has even been reports over the tears at the prospect of my no longer blogging.*cough*liar*cough* Well, reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated - I am still here, alive and well.  I've just been, erm, well, busy. Last Friday there was a party and the week before was Good Friday, (and Easter really snook up on me this year.) Now of course I could've updated in the middle of the week but I'm a stickler for consistency... and I had nothing decent enough to post with... Anyway, apologies over, enough excuses, let's just move on, shall we? Please?

Here, dear readers do we now begin with this week's topic: *ridiculous, unnecessary fanfare* Writing What You Know
This week's topic was actually inspired by stalking people on Twitter a comment I read, somewhere online, that was written by the most estimable Aaron Diaz, (of hit webcomic Dresden Codak fame): 
"It's bad form to have protagonists who are just carbon copies of yourself. Part of good writing is putting yourself in someone else's shoes." 
Now, it occurs to me that there's also a very similar line in the good ol' book To Kill a Mockingbird where Atticus Finch gives advice to the tune of 'walk a day in someone else's shoes, then you'll get to know them.'  The point I want to look at though, is not just plain empathy, which I encourage people to try out as the philanthrope I am, *cough* but I want to look briefly at the call that there is on writers to go that step further in understanding people, and then in turn creating believable characters.  

You see it's all well and good to have a really great plot to your narratives but if your characters are vain, vacuous, whiny, and inconsistent, you're likely to lose a lot of readers; or the ones who care about good writing at least.  And yes we could debate character-driven plots over plot-driven characters until the cows come home, (perhaps someday I will) but the point is, if your characters aren't decent enough to begin with, there's no point using them in anything.  
 (As a quick interlude I want make a couple of quick side-points:
1. Me and Aaron Diaz aren't bros, he doesn't even know I exist, I just wanted to quote him. I'm not trying to claim a connection or name-drop.
2. With all this talk of horrible characters you might well think I'm attacking something in particular. Well, that person/book/series you're thinking of, you know the one I mean, I'm not. Maybe some day I will thoroughly rip it a new one as I would like to but right here and now: no. I don't need the flamers and I don't even have the publicity to make it worthwhile...)
Right, now, where was I? 

There is a call on every writer to go beyond 1D, plain, boring, or stupid characters and create people who are functional, usable and perhaps even likeable so their writing can really feel like a success. I, of course, can't claim to be perfect on this point but I do try.  As the quote says, it's bad form to copy yourself into your work - it's even one of the cardinal sins of fan-fiction, that wonderful land of self-indulgence! (Unless you're actually going for true-to-life, semi/autobiographical stuff, of course.)  Copy-pasting yourself isn't going to get you anywhere because, well, you're you and I'm me.  We go to fiction for slightly unreal, perhaps larger-than-life people who we probably won't find in our day-to-day lives.  And besides which - if you're writing a universe where your protagonist is the hero who fights an evil wizard/alien/pirate/ninja, etc. then you have to be real and be stuck with your own limitations on how to wield a sword/blaster gun/cutlass/katana, etc. Be honest, how many of you out there have received a full lifetime's worth of training in all of these things?  So if you're own life is limited, then how can you use you?  You've got to go that step further in thinking about other people and how they live. breathe, behave.

We can't use 'carbon-copies' of ourselves because we're not all we want to be, so then we have to find someone who could do that job.  I'm not necessarily talking about going out there and finding a wizard and asking about doing your work-experience with them or anything but a little bit of research, the right comprehensive kind, can go a long way.  (Though the image tickles me a little.)  If we take that step to understand the world we've created, and the kind of people that inhabit it, then we'll find that the characters, effectively the tools we've got to work with on whatever we're writing, are of a much better quality.  They apply themselves to the world around them better, they say things that you wouldn't, they have strengths and weaknesses that are right for themselves.  
Now my advice on this point is to hit the books.  Where you can and it's necessary, do the homework on your world and what people can be like in those situations.  (Or maybe just people in general if that'd be more help.)  The other thing to is to sit down, as part of your planning, or your editing process, and sketch/diagram/work out who these people are that you're subjecting to your whim.  Because, let's face it, you're still calling the shots on the whole thing; you're just doing it better.

But there are dangers, 'cons' if you'd prefer, to this angle.  Too much research can make your writing horrible and can create 'cold genius' narratives.  By this I mean: you know the theory and details of your world or the characters but you don't feel them or how things should work.  A few months back I started a book that was supposed to be the novelisation of a videogame.  Of course I'm not stupid enough to actually name the author or the series of game here because I don't want to be sued for what I'm about to say.  Namely that the book was just plain awful.  There was backstory to the characters that the game had not previously provided but there was no real connection on their actual thoughts/feelings.  Or if there was, it was done really badly and in a way that didn't live up the promised excellence that the author's reputation seemed to describe.  Additionally, the novel and game covered certain details of geography and history that I think most people would definitely have to research and boy did it show.  I came away from reading the first couple of chapters, which I had placed a lot of hopeful expectation on, with the feeling that the author had simply had a sheet of historical crib-notes in one hand and a brief description of the characters in the other while he dictated the narrative to his PA.  He knew his facts, but he had, in my opinion, no feel for his characters or their world.  
'Cold genius' pieces are horrible and yes they're probably written to a slightly higher quality than their opposite - the 'Unconsidered zealot' works that may have lots of enthusiasm but have had so little actual work put into them that their characters are vacuous and one-dimensional.  The former tend to just feel like textbooks that didn't quite get picked up by proper, academic publishers while the latter just read like trashy mush that the publisher was high when they read them.

So, of course, we come again to the middle-ground.  Truly the most horrific position on the battlefield but very much where things get done.  Someone quite wise once said "everything in moderation" and I think trying to keep the balance on these things is the right thing to do.  We need to go beyond our own experience and characters, but we don't want to stray and get lost under mountains of cold facts either.  
Now, before I finish, let me say that of course the unique quality of our own personal, individual lives has some worth; and yes, by all means, if you can tap into something wonderful and insightful that no one else could give a little of that in your writing and let that shine through, but you cannot be the whole matter with which you write, you have to make your worlds, your characters something else.  Love them, cherish them, but don't forget that they can't simply be you.  Listen to the call to create something else, something different from yourself, to go beyond normal, familiar, personal.  Try things out.

Until next time, 
Best,

Neil F

Friday, 30 March 2012

On the Significance of Days

Hi all!
This week's post may be a bit self-centred and less about writing than this blog should be but, eh, isn't that what blogs are for...?

So today is my super secret alter-ego's birthday and so March 30th has that bit more significance when I wake up in the morning.  It's one of those, 'what could happen today, will it be really interesting?' feelings, (unless you just oversleep as I did).  Well, it was interesting in that I went out to S-bucks and got some really cool cards and all but mostly today was just calm, quiet, not very eventful.  How it all started though, oh boy was that fun - at 12 o'clock this morning I was elbow-deep in horrible, greasy water trying to unblock the drain so I could finally walk the hour's journey home.  My non-writer life was going on in full force - a late shift at the venue in town that I'm on the hospitality team for - and it wall thanks to Ed Balls and the Labour Party having some sort of dinner which required me and the five or six others that work late.  But it was all awesome because at the stroke of 12 my beautiful dress began to fade and my friends reverted back to mice my friends gave me a rousing Happy Birthday chorus, we wrapped up the washing, and all the pressure of Arghdon'tspillcurryonEdBalls! was lifted.  We finished up, went home and I got up late today and didn't feel guilty.  That's as cool as my other-life can get right now. 

But if we go back a day, as my most estimable internet BFF colleague stalking-victim Tealin did, then we have a much more substantially significant and profound day.  Tealin has been following R.F.Scott's journey with her One Hundred Years Ago Today series but today I look back to the Antarctic and that sorrowful day that Scott completed his last diary entry.  I'm no expert but I've gleaned that at this point, 100 years ago, Scott must have been as low as he could be: depressed, exhausted, bereft, with dwindling supplies and having missed his shot at being the first to conquer the South Pole.  Scott and his team achieved and went through so much but ultimately it came to this point - Scott's end.  I want to say profound, appreciative things but all I can think of is, with reverence, a line from Joss Whedon's Firefly - "They did the impossible, and that made them mighty."   It's a day late but here's my tuppence-worth - take a moment to consider what they did, what they were and what they became because they were mighty men that went through so much in the name of science and, I guess, eternal glory.  Well, "Scott of the Antarctic" is how we remember him, and I'll leave you with some words from his last letters:
(To Oriana Wilson, about husband Edward Wilson, there with Scott)
 I should like you to know how splendid he was at the end – everlastingly cheerful and ready to sacrifice himself for others, never a word of blame to me for leading him into this mess. He is not suffering, luckily, at least only minor discomforts.

His eyes have a comfortable blue look of hope and his mind is peaceful with the satisfaction of his faith in regarding himself as part of the great scheme of the Almighty. I can do no more to comfort you than to tell you he died as he lived, a brave, true man – the best of comrades and the staunchest of friends.
  (And to Mrs. Bowers, on her son Henry Robertson Bowers, also there)
I write when we are very near the end of our journey, and I am finishing it in company with two gallant, noble gentlemen. One of these is your son. He had come to be one of my closest and soundest friends, and I appreciate his wonderful upright nature, his ability and energy. As the troubles have thickened his dauntless spirit shone ever brighter and he has remained cheerful, hopeful, and indomitable to the end.

The ways of Providence are inscrutable, but there must be some reason why such a young, vigorous and promising life is taken.
 If you're inclined to look their journey up, you should; it's amazing and inspiring - to keep going and seek out your dreams.

Until next time, folks,
Neil 

Friday, 23 March 2012

On Getting Stuck In A Rut

Hi folks, 

So this will be one of those posts that outright fails is a bit lower down the scale of insight and intrigue because, frankly, I got nothing this week. 
The thing about my life up to now, (and yes my marketing advisor would probably kill me for this,) is that it's not choc-full of interesting tour dates, book-signings, many kinds of events, or even just the normal everyday mundanity of work. Graduating last July means there's no Uni-motivated stuff going on and, well, if you've not actually got a rolling publishing contract for books you can reeeeeally easily slip into the Plughole Loop of Inaction, (that glorious Catch-22 of inevitable self-condemnation that may well have held back many a would-be writer).  Anything you do write tends not to feel as good because it's not purpose-driven or intended for anything.  As depressing as it sounds writing can become just another thing you're not fulfilling.  Get stuck in that state of mind and things'll grind right to a halt.

So let's do a quick look at that then. How do you combat getting stuck in a mind-loop of 'Oh I haven't written anything, I'm a bad writer, I should really write more, *Guilt*, I feel bad I don't like writing, I can't write, I haven't written anything...'  Well, and let's say now that I'm no expert and I go through all this too, there is the purely mental approach of thinking yourself out of it.  And, well, yeah, that's not really so easy, is it? So more practically, here a couple of things to maybe try: 

The Pavlov/Behavioural Method - Pavlov, for those who've never heard of him, studied Stimulus and Response and it's a fairly easy method based loosely on his theory, though it varies in effect depending on will-power, etc. The set-up: Find something easily measured out and that you enjoy, e.g. a chocolate bar, break it up into chunks and only reward yourself with a piece if you've completed the parameters of a task, e.g. write 1000 words, finish editing a specific chapter.  The idea is that you'll eventually associate the work - the writing/editing - with the good feeling - the tasty chocolate, and hopefully get more done.
Or there's this, an inverted idea I once used to get my dissertation written:
 The 'Accountability' Approach - Simple threat mechanism - if you haven't written enough or finished your task, a friend gets to do something - look disapprovingly, slap you round the face, take £10, whatever.  The point is gain enough momentum to get further than your friend's swing.  If it works, your friend will get bored and will leave you alone and you might well have a book written by the end of the week.

Now, of course, these ideas aren't going to work if you've not a mindset ready to write. And so here's a tip:
Relax. No, seriously, stop what you're doing, stop reading the paper, stop listening to your favourite radio show/watching that tv show, forget about the goldfish/cat/kids for a moment and just relax. 
It also helps if you have your very own environment around to work in too but if not then here's a thing: customise yourself. One of the things I do before writing is to get my silly hat and plastic pipe and wear clothes that I feel good in.  This works around the idea that if I'm feeling relaxed/comfortable/like myself, then I'm probably going to find it easier to tap into my own style and enthusiasm for writing.

After all, ultimately, unless you're writing to a contract, your writing is probably just for you, at least for the time being; and if you're writing for yourself, then make it easy on yourself.  Find out what helps you to think up ideas and produce plots and generate characters.  I've heard it suggested that you can imitate another's writing style to help develop your own but, honestly, especially if you're just starting out, stick to yourself.  It'll feel much more satisfying to look at your, e.g. short story, and say "Yeah, that was me. That was all me. I did that." And when you're trying to fight your way out of a paper bag Plughole Loop, a little self-confidence boost can go a long way.  As much as you can make writing enjoyable and, dare I say it, fun; because then, even if it's not being published or read by anyone else, or even again by you, it was at least fun.

I was Neil Faarid and this was the first 'I'm struggling, let's write about that struggling!' fail post.
'Til next time. 
Thanks for reading.

Also: Sorry about this being so late in the week. I'll try and keep Friday as the regular update-day, with occasionally interesting stuff in the rest of the week, but I got a bit lost this week.

Monday, 12 March 2012

On Introductions

Hello, Internet!
Ah, but of course we are old friends, are we not?

My name is Neil Faarid and you, poor, unfortunate, lost soul as you are, have stumbled across my blog!
Abandon all hope...

With all the pretense I can muster I claim to be a writer and thanks to the tremendous work of the team at Elsewhen Press, here in the UK, that's apparently true.  My first short story ever-in-the-history-of-the-world-no-really-since-then-yes-ever was published by them in their widely-available anthology of new speculative fiction [RE]Awakenings.  I am, of course, immensely thrilled, humbled, honoured, and the tiniest bit smug.

But, what's that I hear? You've come here to hear about me? Oh you poor, lovesick things. Alright then.

As my bio on Amazon will tell you, I was born in the North of the UK; in a smallish town where the local library supplied me tons of SciFi books for a good long while before anyone noticed how young I was.  I threw in the odd Fantasy for good measure and before long a dedicated fan was born.
English was, as you might imagine, always my favourite subject at school and so I followed that up in University when I took a degree in English and Writing in Leeds.
I graduated from that in 2011 and then I had The Choice to make: go Home, go Somewhere Else, go Elevator.
I went Elevator.
And so here I am now in Oxford... I'm still not quite sure how I ended up here but I am and if you squint as you walk through town and ignore the colleges, then it's not really so bad a place.
As my bio will also tell you I am still unmarried and I still do not have any pets.

And now on to the blog! This place is going to be where I try things out, where I talk to people, where I share stuff about writing or SciFi I found or is just generally somewhere where I can do stupid stuff like this:
<engage pompous voice>
Writing is all about the self, so we must ask: what is in the self that is trying to write, how does it express itself, how does the self view the self, how can writing discuss that and still be about writing too?
<disengage>

I won't be doing that. I may however be doing stuff like this:
<engage less pompous but still slightly pretentious voice>
What advice could anyone give to a budding writer like myself?
Work at it.
Bad writing is awful. 
Publishers don't want it, the public don't want it, you shouldn't want it. 
You and your public deserve better, so try to be as good a writer as you can.
<disengage>

This being the deal: I want to be a writer, I like discussing writing, (I did run the Writing Soc at my Uni,) I like to read good writing.  However, I know that if I don't try, I can't expect anyone else to.  And boy do some people really need to try harder.  
I don't think of myself as a top writer, I do think I'm trying so when I do talk about writing on here, it'll be about improving, it'll be about trying to get it right, and anything I post will go out with the understanding that I'm not perfect and neither is my writing. I'll accept fair criticism. I may also awkwardly accept compliments but here's the thing: I won't pretend everything I churn out is a solid, literary gold brick.

And so I leave my readers and fellow writers with this thought: Are you trying?

Until next time, I was Neil Faarid.  Thanks for reading.