Rewriting The Ooning

I’ve decided to rewrite The Ooning from scratch. The entire project’s been bothering me since I announced I was going to publish it. Having gone through the pages for a final sub towards the end of last year, it’s obvious it’s not indicative of my current style; “editing” isn’t going to change that. Almost ten years have passed since I first started writing it, and if it’s going to be the first public example of what I can do with long form, it has to be in line with me now. And that means I have the bin the existing draft.

Going back over The Ooning’s story wasn’t the only option. I’ve been thinking about writing something entirely new for about a year. I do have some solid ideas for the next book, but starting from zero would mean a first draft probably wouldn’t emerge until 2013, and it would probably kill The Ooning for good.

I don’t want to just consign it to the “failed” pile. I spent a great deal of time and effort making sure the story worked, and I believe it has legs. While the writing itself is naive and there’s a swathe of superfluity in both the structure and prose, I’m sure I can rewrite it into a much tighter piece. There’s been a good amount of interest in it – certainly enough to make it worthwhile – so to simply can it would be dumb. I’ll start again. It’s not as if I have anything better to do.

I’m actually excited about it. The current draft is comic book in its vision; the idea at the time was to create something fantastical and over-the-top. Since I wrote it, my general creative direction has become more realistic, and I think it’s darkened considerably. As soon as I made the decision to rewrite the entire thing, I started looking back at the characters and imagining how they could be if I stripped away the childishness and “wonder”. Grimness is a hobby of mine, so applying it wholesale should give something interesting.

It’s also given me the opportunity to re-work the structure. I sketched out the bones of it this week, and it’s far leaner than the current draft. A few of the “colour” characters were dropped immediately: I found this liberating. Of course the baker doesn’t make sense. And of course there needs to be a longer introductory period to flesh out the protagonist. I thought I’d be fearful of going back to square one, but it’s clear now it’s a necessary part of my creative process.

As well as trimming away character fat, I’ve taken out some awkward plot devices. There was some stuff I shoehorned in to make everything “work,” but with fresh eyes I can see things that simply aren’t needed. I had tendency to “what if” absolutely everything at the time, but I don’t think the people in the book would ever be as meticulous. I doubt any of them had a plan b.

The current draft’s at about 56,000 words. If I’m diligent I should have a new version at some point in the summer. I’m very busy with work – as ever – but it’s only a short book and I don’t see any reason why it can’t happen quickly. I know the story so well that forming the new chapter structure took less than an hour, and I’m now using my ceiling-in-the-night moments to plan style and instances. It’s coming. And it’ll be better for the wait.

How to market a crime novel, by Simon Spurrier

Someone once told me good writing always sells. I haven’t read Simon Spurrier’s A Serpent Uncoiled, but others believe it’s a fine piece. It hasn’t sold. See why below. Via Gillen.

Fiddling with Hunter S Thompson’s lighthouse after work

I fiddled about with Misery Guts’ design, and even updated my profile shot. We’re so pretty.

I’ve been getting on decently with the short story, but I think I’m going to enter it into a competition rather than posting it here straight away. It’s probably the most I’ve worked at setting a piece of fiction, so it’ll worth seeing if it gets anywhere. I’m going to put it into the Bridport Prize. Not really sure why I shouldn’t.

I’m writing a lot more at work at the moment, which is pleasing. I looked back at Metro 2033 and Darksiders yesterday, and put in two opinion pieces last week, one on the likelihood on new consoles being announced this year and one on Apple’s place in gaming. I’m working on a feature based on a trip I attended just before the Christmas break, which I’m hoping to get completely cleared up next week, and I’ve started on a much larger VG247 project we’re keeping under wraps for the time being.

I also had some exciting news this week about a release we’re making in the middle of February; more on that soon. And, finally, I did some freelance for T3 magazine yesterday, talking about Vita’s chances. Fiona has to take a new headshot of me for that, hence the picture change.

Randomly, Bloomsbury’s started sending me review copies of books. This is incredibly cool. Not a million percent sure how it happened, but a copy of William Stephenson’s Gonzo Republic: Hunter S Thompson’s America is winging its way over from the UK. It’s out on February 20, the seventh anniversary of Thompson’s suicide. I’ll put a verdict up here soon.

It’ll have to wait until I finish Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse. I know I’m redefining the term, “Late to the party,” but it’s just staggering. Such a beautiful book. It’s quite something to feel as though you’re drowning when you read. Inspirational in absolutely the best way.

All of this isn’t helping my fiction production too much, but I get to write for a living and someone’s sending me a free book; I doubt I could be luckier.

Short story’s back broken, Ooning coming next

Happy New Year. I’ve spent the break soldiering on with the female serial killer. I think I’ve finally got the handle of her, but it’s been a pain. There’s been more fact involved than in the previous stories and none of it’s come easily. Research aside, I was genuinely exhausted when I finished work in December, and that’s likely to have played a role in making things difficult. She’ll be done in the next week, even so.

I’m laying myself a few ground rules for 2012. I like New Year resolutions. They can help progress a lot if they’re put together sensibly and you don’t overreach. One of my biggest problems with writing right now is distraction. I’m putting a limit on Twitter and Facebook this year. I spend far too much time browsing status updates about football scores and whether or not Sherlock was any good. There’s no future in it. I can’t drop social media altogether for obvious reasons, but I’m going to pull back on the personal stuff. Ultimately, it doesn’t help.

I’m going to make sure I do half an hour of personal writing work every day, as I said previously. It’s achievable. The Ooning’s got a way to go and it’s not going to fix itself, so that’s first on the list. I will get it out this year. I’m going to stick with the short stories, too. But even if the 30 minutes is taken writing blog updates here, it’s still a valuable use of time.

I’ve been reading a lot over the holiday, which I’ve enjoyed hugely. Since the start of the break I finished a second read of Nausea and I’m nearly done with The Journey Home, an Icelandic novel that’s been sitting on my shelf for years. Reading more, clichéd as it is, is another resolution I will keep up. Since we started our family I’ve read frighteningly little; for the past five years I doubt I’ve read more than two or three books a year. I stumbled across in December thanks to lady called Brenna, the author of reading blog LitMusings. Goodreads is a fantastic way to get back into books if you’ve lapsed. You can catalogue books you’ve read, rate and review, get recommendations from friends, browse genre lists and all the rest. I’m late to the party here; it has nearly 7 million members. I can see why. I’m addicted to it already. There are some fantastic reference lists on there (check Best French Literature for fun). It seems better to be hooked on reading and books than coma-refreshing Twitter, especially since my goal is to be read and write books. And not coma-refresh Twitter.

Create an account and friend me up, if you like. Here I am.

So. Short story in the next week. Work on Ooning to restart after that. I do have other personal writing plans for this year, but we’ll see how progress goes with current work before thinking further.

Grow some balls: stop rotting your children with TV

I’m reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Meredith at the moment. She’s on the verge of tears in parts, so completely is she transported by the vision. It’s amazing. This is the first book I’ve read to her as a “big girl” that’s shocked her imagination. I can see it in her eyes. She’s now desperate to read English, and tries harder than ever to make out the words. She’s only five. It makes my chest feel as though it’s bursting.

It’s impossible to see the book’s messages as a child – all you’re thinking of is sugar – but what’s surprised me is how heavily it’s aimed at parents. We’ve just finished reading the chapter where Mike Teavee miniaturises himself out of love for the gogglebox. The Oompa-Loompas’ finger-wagging song as they drag his parents away to attempt the stretch the brat back to normality is just as relevant now as it was in 1964.

It resonated with me particularly as we’re about to remove “television” completely from our family. We’ve let the kids watch TV up to now, but the boys are nearly three and still at home; they need to be stimulated, not sedated. At the New Year, it’s goodbye square nanny.

We’re still going to be keeping a screen downstairs so we can watch films and I can play games, but our TV connection will be no more. We’re getting rid of it because television is brain-rotting, life-stealing shit, and please don’t lie to yourself that it isn’t: why don’t you make your existence infinitely less stupid by getting rid of the fucking thing? I promise you: you’ll miss nothing.

Take heed of the little people, courtesy of RoaldDahlFans.

The most important thing we’ve learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set–
Or better still, just don’t install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we’ve been,
We’ve watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone’s place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they’re hypnotised by it,
Until they’re absolutely drunk
With all the shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don’t climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink–
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
‘All right!’ you’ll cry. ‘All right!’ you’ll say,
‘But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!’
We’ll answer this by asking you,
‘What used the darling ones to do?
‘How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?’
Have you forgotten? Don’t you know?
We’ll say it very loud and slow:
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic takes
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching ’round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it’s Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy–Winkle and–
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How The Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There’s Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole–
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks–
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They’ll now begin to feel the need
Of having something good to read.
And once they start–oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hears. They’ll grow so keen
They’ll wonder what they’d ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.
P.S. Regarding Mike Teavee,
We very much regret that we
Shall simply have to wait and see
If we can get him back his height.
But if we can’t–it serves him right.

Writing time management, researching female serial killers

I’m not doing a great deal of work outside of VG247 at the moment, so I’ve been forced to go back to the “30-minute rule”.

I inflicted this on myself when I was writing the Ooning. It’s simple: you work for a minimum of 30 minutes a day on your writing project. I’m a chronic procrastinator, so weeks and months can drift passed with no progress unless I impose some daily regulation. Half an hour is enough to write at least 500 words once planning’s complete, and it quickly tallies up if you’re focused enough to stick to the plan.

I never am, of course. The fail-safe is “the grid”. This is a calendar I stick on the wall next to my computer. Every day that passes gets struck out diagonally; if the 500 words are written, the other diagonal’s drawn to form a cross. If I get behind – this isn’t always my fault; if I travel, or inadvertently spawn three children, or whatever else, sometimes I can’t do the work – then I end up with a bunch of half-cross dates I have to make up with 1,000-word days and weekend pushing. If I write 300 words in half an hour, then I stop. If I’m feeling good about it, I write more. Some days I can’t stop. Some days I can barely start.

It’s sad I have to trick myself with such a stupid system instead of just doing the writing, but, as any flump will tell you, the greatest enemy of production is inertia. The first few words, my brain believes, are the hardest. The 30-minute rule makes me start; you can’t continue unless you begin.

I need to get back to daily writing because I’ve got two projects on the go and I’m determined to get them done. The first is a continuation. The Chair drew a fair amount of attention thanks, I assume, to its level of violence. My mother read it and called me a “nasty boy”. The idea was never to shock with that piece, but to explore what is, in fact, a relatively common scenario for male serial killers. Around half of all serial killing by men is sexually motivated, and some perpetrators find it impossible to achieve gratification unless they commit certain acts. The man in the story was doing what he felt compelled to do.

That’s not to say these crimes are defensible, obviously, and it seemed to me that some found it uncomfortable to read because it portrayed violence against a woman. I was talking about it with Brenna, VG247’s resident Australian, and she suggested I might look at writing something similar from a female perspective, with a woman as the murderer.

I started researching this a few weeks ago. Female serial killers are rare, and their modi operandi, in general, revolve around poisoning. When we think of serial killers in the main, we tend to summon images of men because their acts can be gruesome, rage-filled events involving rape and butchery; the majority of female serial killers murder for profit, and tend to kill in either the home or in specific, indoor locations such as hospitals or nursing facilities.

The term “serial killer” is actually not especially accurate for most women guilty of multiple murders. Very few female serial murderers kill in the sadistic or sexually-motivated ways associated with their male counterparts, but rather choose relatives or other people they know well as victims in domestic situations. Probably the two most famous types of female serial killers are the “Black Widow” – a woman that secures husbands specifically to kill them for profit – and the nurse.

The idea of a woman murdering people in her care or trust with theoretically undetectable methods such as poison and suffocation has a disquieting element missing from the man hunting strangers on the street. The female serial killer is no less psychopathic than her male equivalent, but her usual methods may mean she’s able to maintain a facade of normality, and avoid detection, for far greater time periods. She’s also able to kill in situations where other people can be very close by, potentially even in the same room, injecting drugs into drips in hospitals or smothering old people on night shifts. There’s no sound, and people die in hospitals and care homes. If there are no suspicious circumstances, why perform an autopsy?

I’ll start writing soon. The plan’s there, but I still have some stuff to do. I’m a visual writer, in that it helps me a great deal to physically see things and record detail, and I tend to find inspiration in experience. Walking in the woods helps me write about woods. Watching the sea helps me write about the sea. Some people can gloss over smells and colour, but without experience I can find it difficult to describe. There are some locations I need to visit before I get going.

The other project, obviously, is the Ooning. I have to be honest; I’m a little concerned about releasing it at all. It was written a long time ago and it feels naive. Maybe there’s an endearing quality to that, but it may just be bad. I’m going to make the rewrites and finish the final edit and I’ll see where it stands.

All of this adds up to a fair amount of work. Nothing half an hour a day won’t cure, I’m sure.

The Ooning – release delayed

Inevitable. I finished editing the book, then gave it to a few trusted friends to read. They immediately came back with some fundamental criticism, making it clear it’s not finished. I need to rewrite the first two chapters at least, so I’m not planning on releasing it any time soon. I think it’s unlikely I’ll be putting it out this year.

This is a good thing. I’m under no time pressure, and I’ve got a good publisher for the non-Kindle version, so releasing it in a rough state would be stupid. I’m sorry if you’re waiting to read it, but I’m sure the world will keep turning and I’ll look less stupid as a result of delaying.

It was the eighth copy edit this time, but when I reached the end I wasn’t happy. I know some chunky rewrites and another proof will either finish it or get close to it. I have to be anal about it: if I’m not, who will be?

To quote Michael Crichton: “Books aren’t written – they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”

In other me-writing news, I’m doing the prep work for a second story based on serial killing. I’m hoping to have this out relatively quickly; you’ll be able to read it here.

Pushing for the win

October has been and gone, but I’m over 160 pages into the final edit and down to 206 in total. It’s going to happen this week, as I’m on holiday and not back to work until Monday. Determined to get it done before returning. I now understand why everything slips.

Announcing my first novel – The Ooning

My first novel is called The Ooning. Eurogamer’s Martin Taylor has made its promotional site, which includes first details of the plot:

“AFTER A TEENAGE drugs binge ends in disaster, Christopher Coal spends the next decade burying self-hate in fear and drink. Forced to face his past, he finds himself in a Welsh village full of idiots, killers and occultism, struggling to solve a riddle destined to either absolve or destroy him.”

I’m well into the final proof now; I’ve completed nearly 120 pages of just over 200. I will get this through the door this month. You will then buy it for £0.99 on digital platforms, or for a soon-to-be-determined price as a paper copy. You’ll be please to hear it involves wanking, so breathe easy. I should have a firm release date soon.

The grind

I’m now 89 pages through the book’s final edit, and fully remembering what a debilitating fucking grind working on a piece this large can be. I’m aiming to get it live in October now, and I’m working on it every night. Between 5-10 pages are completed each day. I have to do it once the kids are in bed, and by 10pm I’m cross-eyed, so there’s a limit to what can happen. I’m going to start setting aside time at weekends, or it’s going to be tough to get it out before November.

As annoying as it is, though, I’ve been pleased with the last sections. I feel I’m best when I let myself run, rather than forcing myself into a structure, and I enjoy surrealism. It winds up towards the end, and ensuring the story didn’t leak nearly drove me insane at the time; I’m fairly sure it stands up. I’m very much looking forward to people reading it. I’m not worried about it any more, to be honest.

I’ve reserved a domain, so I need to sort out a site in the next week. As I said in the last post, I’ll start talking about the name and premise when I hit 100 pages edited.