NaPoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo looms once more…

Oops. It appears I have not blogged in nearly six weeks, which is pretty bad even for me. BUT I do have a very good reason that I will be able to share with you all in a couple more weeks’ time. Until then, however, I shall keep my lips sealed (although some of you know already what it is and long-time followers could probably take an educated guess at what my news is).

This important event of which I cannot speak has sapped my time elsewhere too – I have barely read anything these past weeks (luckily I have some long flights coming up soonish that will give me time to knock out a few books). I have been working hard on my diet, playing with new recipes and working out as much as possible, but otherwise my mind and energy has been entirely focused elsewhere. I’ve considered blogging about all sorts of things, and the second half of that story that I said I would published “next week” I did begin the next week, but it sits half finished in my drafts folder.

napo2015button2Despite all of this, I know I still seem to work with deadlines for some reason. So, I am probably at the very last minute going to commit myself to NaPoWriMo (the poetry writing month thing where you write a poem a day) AND Camp NaNoWriMo (the smaller, flexible Camp-Participant-2015-Square-Buttonversion of National Novel Writing Month where you can write whatever you darn well please in a month and choose your own word count). The month of April is going to be a month filled with lots of different emotions, and it is such a beautiful month up here in Sweden, so writing poetry will be easy as inspiration abounds. As for Camp NaNoWriMo, I think I will return to short stories but I will keep the word goal much lower this time – no more than 20 000 I think.

I will try to blog a little during April, but my responses and things might be a little slow. But once you know of my news you will probably also understand why – I hope so at least. I can say that somewhere around late May my life will return to some sense of normality (only a better normality) and my blogging may regain an actual routine. Or it won’t. We’ll see.

Anyway, who among you, dear readers, is attempting either of these two writing events? I’d love to know so we can annoy encourage one another during this time – I’m always very active on Twitter during these crazy writing months and am always happy to add fellow writers.

If you’d like to know more about either event, visit their websites here:

Camp NaNoWriMo
NaPoWriMo

My Writing Process: A Blog Hop Stop

Regardless of what I say, this is essentially my writing process. Coffee. Lots of coffee.

Regardless of what I say, this is essentially my writing process. Coffee. Lots of coffee.

Blog hops are great ways to connect readers and writers to each other through an ongoing and detailed thread that reveals something about each contributor to the blog hop. This particular one focuses on writing processes, which should be fun because I often think about my writing processes but rarely do I try and pin them down and examine them thoroughly.

I have to thank Dominic Giuliani from Eternal Domnation for throwing the Blog Hop my way. He’s a brilliant writer who is currently working on two novels (and his third project, life, in his own words) but who has always swept me away with his blog posts since I first started blogging way back in early 2012. He writes passionately, with an emotional rawness that is very authentic and touching – you are drawn into it from the first sentence. To put it simply, he is somebody I have always looked up to a lot in the blogging world, and will continue to do so. Just read his post on this blog hop here and you’ll see what I mean!

Now, onto the questions. And for once, I won’t promise I’ll be brief. But I’ll try to be honest and am taking my time to answer these the best I can. And I’ll only sometimes be silly, I swear.

What am I working on?

Much like in most areas of my life, in my writing life I have several writing projects going at the same time. The main one right this minute I suppose is what I’ve been focusing on in both Camp NaNoWriMos this year in April and now in July – funny short stories. I have pledged for both months to write 30 000 words of short stories in the humour genre, and April was a big success as I wrote a bunch of children’s stories for adults, essentially. The general premise was that a cat (of course it had to be a cat) had decided it was sick of being mistreated by humans (mostly its neighbour) and so it educated itself and slowly designed an elaborate system to help educate all the other animals around the world in the way of the humans, including, most notably, language and communication. So the stories had a cute feel to them because of the animals, but the humour was more adult (and quite silly). Bizarrely, what started out as a desperate idea turned into a lot of fun, and I will return to write more stories on this collection. This month I am trying to write completely disconnected short stories that have nothing to do with each other, just to see how I go with it when I have to think up a new premise each time. So far the main characters of each separate story include a cat lady (not quite what you think), a candle, a leaf, and an ant. I wonder what I’m putting in my coffee every morning… (EDIT: I took so long to finish this post it’s now August and the verdict is in – the short stories got even weirder. But there were some okay ones in there too).

Aside from this, I have an old novel (a psychological thriller) I am trying to rewrite from a few years ago. I have quite a lot of other half finished novel drafts, some of which are deserving of more attention, some of which I might just let sink away. Then I also have this blog, which I am trying to write more for this year than I did last year, and my second blog (see my side menu) which is another place for me to indulge my silliness by writing silly lists of things. I’m sure there’s some other project I’m forgetting here, but maybe that says something in itself.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Well, this isn’t a simple question to answer considering I have never really committed myself to any one genre. But I guess lately I’ve been focusing more on comedy, and I take my inspiration from a lot of places – several hundred DVDs of comedies and stand up comedians, goodness knows how much comedy on CD, countless novels and other books by comic writers, and to top it all off I’m a silly person. I guess there is that old idea about how all comedians have some sort of underlying issue that makes them turn to comedy, like something eating away at them from inside, or, as my mum once put it “they have a hole in their heart”.  It’s an interesting idea but I don’t think it’s true in every single case, and I know for me I love comedy and love trying (key word trying) to be funny because I like laughing and making other people laugh. I just think people in the world don’t laugh enough, simple as that. I have no real problems in my life. I face similar hardships to everybody else, but really my comedy isn’t trying to patch some hole in me. So maybe that makes it different? I don’t know.

But even when I’m trying to write seriously, my silliness and sarcasm sneak into my work. I can’t help it. It just happens. And the very few people who have read any of my fictional work often comment on how much of me is in my work, even though the voice does seem distinctly different from the voice I use to talk to them normally.

I guess eventually I’ll publish something and see what the people say about what separates my work from others in the genre. Might turn out it’s just too much coffee.

Why do I write what I do?

Oops I kind of just answered that, about the whole thing of wanting to make people laugh. Well, that’s part of it anyway. I think I always have a lot of stories floating around in my head. Even when I sit there sometimes and say to myself “I can’t think of anything to write a story about”, it always turns out I’m lying to myself because within a couple of minutes I’ll be writing a story. For me it really is a compulsion to write, something that I’ve had since I was a very young boy (my imagination was a bit too wild when I was very young and my earliest teachers struggled to figure out what was going on in my head. It took until I was about 8 or 9 years old before I started to tame some of my ideas slightly by writing them down into stories). When I don’t write for a while, because life gets in the way sometimes, I find myself missing writing. I find myself thinking about all the stories I’m going to write when I get a chance. Even if I do write a lot in a few massive bursts each year, the resting time between each writing burst is still spent pondering things I can turn into stories. Yesterday, for example, when I was exploring the history of a fairly big city in Sweden which was fought over with Denmark a few hundred years ago, I couldn’t help but think of all the stories hiding in that period of time.

I guess I write because I have to write, but also because I want to write. My experiences and who I am just change the direction of my writing at different points in my life, that’s all.

How does my writing process work?

I got ahead of myself again. Oh well. So yeah I write in short sharp bursts. NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo help encourage this, but probably I write 4 or 5 times a year for a month or maybe a few weeks each time, then I go back to the drawing board to come up with new ideas, hone old ones, spend more time reading to find new inspirations, stuff like that. My blogging is nonstop really, but I do have months where I write 3 or 4 times a week and then months where I write once a week if I’m lucky. I find with blogging I have to sit down and have a chat with myself and make me promise me that I’ll stick to a routine of it. Without that promise, I slack off. Weird, I know.

When I write, I write fast. Really fast. Apparently at full speed I write close to 100 words a minute which is really quite insane when I think about it. I think when I first write a story I just have to pin it down and write the whole thing from start to finish and see what will happen, before I go back and do anything to it. Maybe this comes from not planning often (and when I do plan it often doesn’t work out – last year I planned for months on a novel, writing maybe 40 pages of notes as preparation, and then the story sucked. Taught me a thing or two).

I write with music but when I edit or read over my work increasingly I am turning the music off. I have long been interesting in how music influences the writing – whether I pick music to match the scene I’m going to write, or if the music directs the scene subconsciously, I haven’t quite figured out. But I tend to not have too many other distractions. I usually write at home, except for poetry which I write anywhere and everywhere (I am trying more and more to write poetry outside).

At the end of the day, I’m my own worst critic and I’m only happy and hopeful about a small number of things I have written. But I do know I’m getting better, after some 20 years of story writing. I know that as long as I keep pushing myself, as long as I don’t take no for an answer when I challenge myself to some crazy writing challenge, as long as I keep expanding my ideas more with both my writing and reading, I’ll keep improving and will one day publish something. Heck, I might even get a few readers of my fiction. We’ll see.

Who’s next?

I’m passing this blog hop on to Amanda from Storyteller In The Digital Age. I think Amanda was one of the first bloggers I met back in 2012, and her blog focuses mostly on the life of an aspiring writer in these modern times. On top of her own writing experiences and book discussions, her blog also makes her love for both Stephen King and cats (especially her cat, it is a cutie too!) abundantly clear, and that’s no bad thing. She’s an awesome person and an awesome writer, and definitely somebody I look up to in the blogging and writing world, so go check her out if you haven’t already discovered her on your travels through the blogosphere!

Now, I have a few hundred photos to sort out from this Swedish road trip and then I can get to work on the biggest series of travel posts I have ever written on this blog (which, as I have promised, will be wordy and picture…y….indeed).

Day 28 – Favourite title (30 Day Book Challenge #2)

Book titles have an alarming influence over me, far more than they should. I have read many books just because they have a good title, but I suppose as far as I see it if an author can think of a really clever title, chances are I’ll like their writing. So here are a few of my favourites:

  • The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared
  • The Elegance Of The Hedgehog
  • Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall
  • An Anthropologist On Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales
  • The Ode Less Travelled
  • The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul
  • Calcium Made Interesting
  • Sunday Morning At The Centre Of The World
  • The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob de Zoet
  • An Arsonist’s Guide To Writers’ Homes In New England
  • The War Of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts
  • The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat
  • A Short History Of Tractors in Ukrainian
  • An Utterly Impartial History of Britain or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots In Charge
  • The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time
  • 1000 Years of Annoying The French

What are some of your favourite book titles? Do they influence your decision to buy or read a book at all?

The Prisoner of Heaven – Zafón takes us back to The Cemetery Of Forgotten Books

The Prisoner Of HeavenIt was a few years ago now that I was first pulled into the world of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s imagination with his internationally bestselling book, The Shadow Of The Wind. In this post-war Barcelona set book, we met such brilliant characters as Daniel Sempere, Fermin Romero de Torres, and every book nerd’s dream paradise in the form of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. After this Zafón released The Angel’s Game, set in Barcelona again but slightly earlier, and revolving around the writer David Martin.

In The Prisoner of Heaven, Zafón starts to connect the pieces of what, at first, seemed like two entirely different books. We return to about a year after the events of The Shadow of the Wind, and while Daniel is getting used to being a father and a husband, Fermin is preparing for his own wedding. However, there is a dark secret lurking in Fermin’s past, and he spends a good part of the novel telling Daniel of his experiences in prison (for espionage) following the civil war (which is alluded to briefly in the earlier books). Through all of this David Martin is brought back into the story, though I won’t explain how as I don’t want to give too much away. But I will say that if you read The Angel’s Game and at the end, like me, thought “what in the world just happened”, I’d recommend reading this novel as it clears some things up. By the end of the story, a lot of older storylines are at least explained, if not fully tied up, a villain is revealed who connects all the characters so far, and the ending makes it very clear there’s a fourth part coming (which Zafón himself has previously mentioned).

At under 300 pages this story is barely half the length of the first two books. But it is effective, and a lot of the imagery used is so strong it will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading – something I’ve always liked about the way Zafón writes his novels. However, he claims he wanted each of these stories to function as independent stories that happened to be connected to the others through various characters and settings, and I just don’t think that’s the case here – if you haven’t read the first two novels in this cycle (as he prefers to call it, instead of a series), you just won’t be able to appreciate this as much. What grabbed me about this was the attachment I already had to the characters – my fondness for Fermin made his story all the more moving, and my bewilderment by the oddity that is David Martin was only increased by the revelations in this book. I can’t help but feel that without these already existing feelings for the characters, this book would fall a little flat.

Ruiz Zafón photoAlthough this book struggles to stand alone as an independent story (especially with its somewhat cliffhanger ending), it does have a lot of positive points. The villain, a character named Valls, is a talentless aspiring writer who sadistically climbs the political ladder through his life, ever hungry for power and recognition of a talent and intellect he at least thinks he possesses. For much of the story, he is the director of the prison housing Fermin and David Martin, and when the novel returns to present tense more slowly is revealed of what became of him in the intervening decades. Through Valls, Zafón cleverly takes a swipe at Spanish literary circles, at history and at the politics of the time, but through his sometimes over dramatic story manages to keep it clearly fictional and not aimed at anybody in particular. Zafón’s descriptions of Barcelona, as well, are simply magic – even if you don’t like the story it is hard not to be magnetised by his use of language to paint such a vivid and dark image of this city. Lastly, inspiration is drawn from another classic work, The Count of Monte Cristo, which is referenced directly at numerous points throughout in a way that serves as both testament to the literary work and to Zafón’s writing and storytelling skills.

Overall this is a great book – not Zafón’s best, but still very good. If you enjoyed his other work I would definitely recommend this one to you, and if you haven’t read anything by this master of the gothic tale, I strongly recommend starting with The Shadow Of The Wind first and working your way towards this one. As for me, I can’t wait until the next part of this cycle comes along and I can find out what happens next!

Have you read this book, or any other books by Zafón? What are your thoughts on them? How do you compare them to other books of the genre?

Sunday Sounds

This post marks the return of my weekly music feature, but I’m going to keep these shorter and sweeter, with just a quick blurb about each album that has been on rotation that week, and probably only doing a maximum of three or four each time too. I’ll include clips as I go for you to listen to the artists.

Beacon album coverBeacon by Two Door Cinema Club

The second album by Two Door Cinema Club, Beacon was released back in September to an overall positive reception critically and commercially. The band hasn’t varied greatly in sound from their indie-rock/synthpop feel of their first album, but as far as I’m concerned this is a good thing. The album is light, upbeat, catchy, and solid – there’s no dud songs to be heard here. The second single, Sun, is one of my favourite songs, which is why I’ve included it here:

Gathering MercuryGathering Mercury by Colin Hay

Scottish born California dweller Colin Hay was the front-man for much loved 1980s Australian band Men At Work, who’s song “Down Under” is considered by many Aussies to be an unofficial anthem. But while Men At Work only released three albums, Hay’s solo career has been a lot more illustrious, with quite a number of very good albums under his belt. This is his latest, about a year or two old now, and is one of his stronger albums overall, with some great song writing and of course that inimitable voice of his. Make sure you watch the clip the whole way through – the ending is kind of cute.

Songs In The Key Of LifeSongs In The Key Of Life by Stevie Wonder

Considered to be the greatest of his albums, and the culmination of his most successful period on the back of two other Grammy award winning albums, this double album released in 1976 has become one of the most successful and influential records of all time. It’s funky, it’s soulful, it’s perfectly catchy, and if the songs on this don’t get your feet moving, there is something seriously wrong with you. The clip I’ve included is the jazzy Sir Duke, the second of four singles released from this album.

Other albums I’ve been listening to this last week include Tame Impala’s newer album Lonerism, the double live album Celebration Day capturing Led Zeppelin’s one off reunion show from 2007, and the second album by Metric, Synthetica.

What have you been listening to this last week?

30 Day Music Challenge Day 11: Most overrated band/artist

So I’m going to keep this one quite brief. In my opinion, the most overrated band is…

…MUSE!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they’re bad, because they’re not. They’re quite talented. It’s just that they’re pretentious, and seem to be becoming more so with the passage of time. And to top this off, the Queen influence on their last album and, by the sounds of it, their upcoming album, is about as subtle as The Great Wall Of China, or The Great Pyramids. I love bands that are influenced by the greats of rock and roll, but surely when you’re at the point of having half a dozen albums, you’d be trying to establish your own sound more, not less?

Anyway, as I said, they’re not bad. I have all of their albums so far, and particularly like their first three or four albums, but am losing interest in them as time goes on. And their last album was played so much on the radio here I never want to hear again.

The song I have included is their song “Survival” which is being used as the official song of the 2012 London Olympic Games.

What do you think of Muse? Good, bad, or okay but overrated?

What bands do you think are overrated?

30 Day Music Challenge Day 10: Most underrated band/artist

This one is difficult to decide, because there are just so many underrated bands and songwriters out there. But if I pick eleventy artists for each topic of this challenge, my goal of keeping the posts relatively brief will slip ever further from the realms of possibility.

So after whittling it down to a few artists, I have chosen Matt Costa for this one (though really I wouldn’t say he is the most underrated, just one of many who all share this description). I first discovered his music through Jack Johnson, as he has sung with JJ before (I think I first heard him on the Curious George soundtrack), and he has also toured with JJ many times and is signed to JJ’s label, Brushfire Records. I know that in some parts of the world he might not be underrated, but I feel he is underrated at least here because whenever I have mentioned him most people simply reply with “Matt who?”

He has released three albums on this record label, with a fourth one supposedly coming out later this year. The first album, Songs We Sing, was essentially a collection of songs he had previously released independently on EPs, while his second album Unfamiliar Faces was similar in sound to the first, but taking his songwriting skills a bit further. But it was his third album, Mobile Chateau, which really caught my attention, having a more retro feel which I guess just appealed to the nostalgic in me.

The first song here is “Mr Pitiful”, the first single off his second album, while the second song is “Drive” off his third album, so you can get a feel for how his sound differs.

Have you heard of Matt Costa before? If not, what are your thoughts of his music so far?

What bands/artists do YOU think are underrated?