Another day at the keyboard

After a few days doubting if the project was worth continuing with, doubts sown partly by a less than enjoyable Writers’ Group meeting, I managed to return to the laptop today. I’ve decided to finish the edit and then either self-publish or maybe send off the idea to a couple of publishers who list novellas among their output.

I also determined to write something different today. Usually I have just taken my next episode of my novella into meetings but I thought I would have a go at one of the prompts on the agenda. Something without a single made-up hyphenated word! I had tried a couple of times last week but ended up staring at the screen and then giving up. This time I managed to get started, a sort of a streaming of the consciousness piece of writing. The prompt was about trying to remember something you’d forgotten. My take was to have Satan, finally defeated, trying to remember the one word he had to utter in order to save himself. The word was ‘sorry’. It needs more work but it will do for the next meeting and it was very satisfying to produce something unrelated to my ‘writing project’. I must try some more over the next week.

In order to keep focused when writing today I started with BBC Radio 2 then switched later to a collection of Frank Sinatra songs from the 1950s. The latter are excellent when writing my story set in the late ’50s and are such a relaxing background sound at any time.

Having been out for a lengthy walk this morning I then found I had to go up the road again as the postman delivered a package meant for the same numbered house several streets away. Twit. The receiver will probably pick up the package tonight after work and praise the postal service for their rapid service. They’ll never know…

 

500 Days of Hope

This is a piece I wrote in the run up to developing the hyphenated style of writing. It was inspired by the movie ‘500 Days Of Summer’ which has become one of my favourite films.

500 Days Of Hope

I could tell by her face that the answer would be no. And yet for two hundred and fifty days I was so sure she would say yes. From here on in it went downhill like a slalom skier travelling in slow motion. Sideways, down, sideways, down. Never up.

It had started so well all those days ago. Hands brushing across the new greetings card verses stacked in the out-tray, me not looking as I fumbled to check if my momentarily inspiration for words had already arrived earlier that morning, she intrigued by how anyone could waste their day creating sugary couplets for couples. Nervous apologies led to coffee for two and, for me, the beginning of the rest of my life.

The fluttering pages of the bookshop on day seventeen and hearts leapt, a rush to find childhood favourites, arguments to convince worthiness of Harry P against Alex Ryder, taunts given and taken as a tennis game, 15-love, 30-love, 40-love, it was all about love then. Strange eyes regarding me and her sniffing the newness of books, higher than cocaine, demented indecisiveness at selecting just one to purchase, giggling snorts at a straitlaced assistant dreaming of a meal for one at home, arms handcuffed on departure as the literary inmates sought to find among the shelves the closeness we displayed.

Day fifty broke in a twisted duvet of passion, ignoring the ringing alarm as we played God with time, interlocking fingers playfully threatening to interlock lives. Breakfast became lunch became dinner became supper. How many ways can cereal sustain the energy of love, how many ways can the crumbs of toasted bread irritate the itch of desire, how many times can coffee-stimulated intimacy satiate the soul without the crash and burn of caffeine overload. By dusk the duvet capitulated and lay defeated and deflated.

The art gallery of day ninety-two found two opinions contesting divergent tastes. I chose a Cézanne, she a Caravaggio. The dissertation of the debate brought whispered hushes from po-faced assistants and eye-widened glances from over-wealthy, under-educated voyeurs. We sat cross-legged in front of a Degas; I wanted it in the front room, she argued for the light-flooded landing. We gestured, we shaped viewers with our hands, we cut and pasted on imaginary screens. The Magritte saved the gallery, uniting lovers with love, and admiration, and silent appreciation.

A warm, sunny summer evening overlooking the building blocks of the high-rise horizon brought to closure the weekend of days one hundred and fifty-one and two. The comfortable quietness of closeness merged two contented smiles into one as the setting sun dipped in recognition of perfect peaceful unison. As I kissed the fourth finger of her left hand the question first escaped across my mind, the timing was all though, this perfect evening was too perfect, everyone would yes on such a time. Wait for the unexpected, imperfect occasion.

Eyes played games on day two hundred and five. Twelve diners consumed and laughed and teased and exclaimed but our eyes spoke more than any multitude could. Glances connecting across wine-filled glasses, we were lost together, the conversations of friends passing high overhead even as our mouths mouthed appropriate sentences and laughed the right laughs at the right times. Never were two people so alone in a crowd. Blissfully alone together.

Day two hundred and fifty-one dawned with trembling fingers mismatching buttons and spilling carton milk. The dry mouth practised the moment ten million times as the world passed its day in ignorance. Ring of sapphire burnt a slow hole in my jacket. Unbeknown to me, a hole to escape through. We sat, knees up, on the worn sofa where dreams and plans had gestated so many times over so many weeks. Her cheeks flushed in candlelight, her eyes half closed by the low beating music. My fingers flicked the box lid open, my mouth flicked its lips open to emit the most important four words of my life. Her first one in answer ended my life.

“No. Never. There’s no such thing as love ever after, just passing relationships, enjoying the moments before floating on to the next. And the next. And the next.”

I only heard the ‘no’ word. My head replayed the rest later as the bottle grazed my lips for the first of many times.

“You’re such a romantic. Love at first sight, and forever, and all that. It doesn’t happen in the real world. Don’t spoil our friendship. It’s all it is, it’s all there ever is, nothing can ever be more.”

Days continued counting as time interminably moved on. Less and less we smiled, more and more we turned away, my eyes unable to accept her words of decline. I played the Earth to her Sun, orbiting but never growing closer, waiting for her heart to turn – as it always did, in my dreams, and in my daydreams. The quietness began to kill, and one day, numbered five hundred, she went.

And days too many to record floated by. Till I sat, demented upon that hill overlooking our once uniting view. By Fate she wandered by, a ring tight on her fourth finger. The final dagger to my dying heart. The oft remembered smile creased her glowing face.

‘You were right after all,’ she whispered. ‘I found my life-long love. It just wasn’t you. Time to move on, for you, to pick yourself up.’

 

And I did. And I stand here, tremulously waiting for the interview call, a more rewarding career beckoning. Another contender seats herself opposite. My heart awakes from its days of past aches. We talk, my smile returns in mirror to the beautiful one across the table. Called for by a secretary with knowing glances, I stand and hesitate. Time to say goodbye to Hope, the one who I thought was the one, but wasn’t, not for me.

‘Maybe we can meet up after the interviews, in the coffee bar below? I’m Tom.’

‘Sure, I’d love to. I’m Destiny.’

And Day One begins.

 

 

 

Editing the story

I am now within three or four chapters of finishing the editing of this story about the American PI written with these hyphenated words. It’s been a slow process due to time being taken up elsewhere and my enthusiasm drying up quickly when I have to go back over a story. I had hoped to cut the word count down by several thousand but it hasn’t worked out that way. If anything I have added a few hundred words. This either means I have left in far too much waffle and unnecessary diversions or my original story was well nigh word perfect. I think I know which it is.

It’s always fascinating to go back over work you wrote some time ago. Much makes you cringe but occasionally you get a chapter where you think ‘I really nailed that piece’ and just rarely you get tears in your eyes when a scene really comes off. There’s one chapter where our protagonist meets a woman who is destined to play a significant part in the story yet I remember at the time I just brought her in because I needed someone for the main character to bounce off. The words I put into the woman’s mouth can sound quite prescient now.

Once the edit is complete I can’t face going through it again as I suppose one should. I will probably try and find a few publishers who might take novellas and send off the necessary bits and pieces. After a couple of months I will put it up on Kindle and probably as a paperback too and see if anyone is interested in it. Hopefully at least the members of the writers’ group will buy the e-book!

After I had completed the initial draft around Christmas 2016 I began a sequel. I had got this character and setting so stuck in my head I couldn’t think about writing anything else. In about mid February I finished this story. It came in at around 26,000 words. It was a struggle in places to keep the plot going and I did crawl over the finishing line with the last three chapters. With the story being shorter than the first tale I will probably need to fill in a few chapters to bring it nearer to the 35,000-40,000 word count. The  bad guy characters definitely need some work.

So, on with the editing…

How the story began

As my previous posts have mentioned, I was trying to play around with my writing and had used commas, alliteration and hyphens to make my writing more poetical and flowing in its style. In the lead up to Christmas 2015 I had a few days spare and with no writers group meetings scheduled until January I decided to use a few black and white photos from Google as stimuli for short pieces of writing. With these I continued to experiment with the writing style. One piece was based on a photo of a man, dressed in a 1950s suit, walking away from the camera down an American street with snow flakes fluttering down. I wrote about the man going into a bar, described the atmosphere and setting and then threw in the idea that the man was having an affair with one of the waitresses and ended with him leaving the bar having made up his mind about something and fumbling with his gun in his pocket.

A couple of months later I decided to read this out at a meeting. As it was only about 500 words long I wrote another 500 words describing the man going home, arguing with his girlfriend and then shooting her. When I read this complete piece out it garnered quite a reaction, some people liking the use of language, others not so sure. The fact that the writing had caused such a lively discussion rather than the usual platitudes, no one liking to be too critical of others’ writing, I was encouraged to continue both with the style and the story. In fact I continued the story for about another 40,000 words spread over the rest of the year. It turned out the story was begun about a third of the way through so I didn’t go back and fill in the first third until around December 2016 when I was nearing the end of reading out the rest of the story at the writers group meetings.

One aspect that changed over time was the importance of making the plot more evident and driving that plot forward. The early pieces were quite dense in description and with the hyphens etc could become heavy going. Gradually I brought the plot, hastily put together, to the fore and filtered out the unnecessary elaboration. The main character, who was narrating the story, spoke in the hyphenated style and narrated in it too. He also began to adopt particular characteristics, such as making references to Greek mythology and issuing laconic asides. These began to replace the edited out words.

The importance of getting feedback from people was very evident in the story’s development. If I had been writing this all by myself at home I think it would have ended up a very dense, unreadable text. I cannot speak too highly of the input from the group members who kept my attention on the plot when it was so tempting for me to see how many clever hyphenated words I could create and insert in a sentence. Some people wanted me to remove more such words and phrases but I was concerned the writing would end up like my uninspired previous style and the story just another tale about a PI in America in the 1950s. On average I reckon I use hyphens in every four out of five sentences. Sometimes there are two such words in a sentence which I think I can get away with most times. As I have begun editing the story I have removed some of the phrases, especially if the meaning is obscure or not helpful.

Around Christmas 2016 I started on a sequel, in the same style. In fact I now find it very hard to write in any other style.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hyphenation

The last two posts explained how my writing began to change, using more commas to elongate sentences and make the writing more ‘poetical’, and the introduction of alliteration. A couple of writers group meetings after I presented my ‘On The Road’ piece I wrote a flash fiction extract  in which I included a hyphenated word and it turned out to revolutionize my writing. Since that piece just about everything I have written has been centered around this use of hyphens and inventing new words by using hyphens.

One particular hyphenated word drew much discussion at the meeting when I presented the writing and encouraged me to continue developing the idea. The fact that it was causing such a discussion, with people arguing fervently for and against the use of such made-up words, made writing much more exciting for me. It certainly was a change from getting the usual platitudes that fill up so many writers’ groups meetings. The word was ‘tyre-roared’, or since the story made more sense to be set in America, ‘tire-roared’. The two characters in the story were a modern day Bonnie and Clyde and I had them ‘tyre-roar’ away from their latest crime. As people said, and I realized too, the use of two words joined with a hyphen drew a picture which otherwise might require a whole sentence to create in the reader’s mind.

I also used ‘cry-laughing’, again the idea being to create in one word a complete image of what the two people were doing. The word also helped to create an idea of a poetical edge to the writing.’Dead-dropped’ was another – this time simply by reversing the word order I was trying to add interest and something unusual to the reading experience. The phrases were beginning to become as important as the plot of the story – maybe a good thing, maybe not.

This writing was read out at the last meeting before Christmas 2015 and during our break I wrote a series of short pieces based around black and white photographs I found on Google. Each saw me experimenting with using longer sentences with commas, alliteration and hyphens. One of these pieces was, in a couple of months time when read out at a meeting, the stimulus for a writing project which is still going on today. More about that in another post.

On The Road

This is the piece I referred to in my last post.

‘In the rear view mirror I saw Marylou touch the envelope in her pocket, her mouth replaying my last words instructing her not to read this letter until she sees my car turn right and disappear from sight.

“Dearest M,

Watching the leaves fall from the trees late yesterday afternoon made me realise I have to move on. What is the point of staying together; any memories, any experiences we build up, will become like the dried up confetti leaves drifting on the wind from the ash and the oak. Only so long as one of us remains in existence will those moments continue to be played out, somewhere, sometime. But when we are both no longer here, those recollections of love, hate, desire, hope, success, failure, expectation, life and death, will cease to be, and cease to matter.

So, I am off, to the next road, the next journey, the next sleep curled up in some motel close to Nowhere. The hours of endless driving, straight and undeviating, hypnotising in their unreachable horizons, teasing with their mirage of a meaningful destination, will sustain my life. Somewhere the car will coast to a halt and deposit me in a single room, with the necessities of life – bed, window, table and chair, a temporary family awaiting in the nearest bar or saloon, the blood ties of rye and malt as thick as any household bonds, the erratic beat of improvised music echoing through the heads of assembled jigging masses, lost from their, and my, responsibilities and relationships and obligations, living the moment which has no past and no future. I will find consolation there, new brothers and sisters and lovers, discussing the non-meaning of life across a cigarette-induced smoke, thoughts spiked by bennies whose cracked containers are scattering across table tops and littering the floor, pages from the Diamond Sutra and Ulysses fluttering back and forth, fingers searching for relevance as self-consciousness surfaces and drowns.

And so how can we settle for house, family and convention when they are but a dream, an illusion, a shadow. To let four walls determine my existence, to constrain my mind like a prison stockade, is no option. You have the children, the centre of your universe, there is no need for me. Every gurgle, every step unaided, every word half- spoken conveys a reason for your being; to me they remind of limitedness and responsibility. The dinners of smiling faces, small talk from small minds, salary and automobile comparisons outdated as the moment they are spoken, the latest kitchen technology purred over like a newborn, encircle me like chains. One drag and release and I hide behind a veil of cloud, positioned on the outside gazing down on this phony entourage of normality.

The office drudgery, dictated by morning alarms and static moments of food consumption, deadlines and contractual obligations, looms like a marriage in shape and form, empty egos always hopeful of moving up, moving on, ambition limited by levels of remuneration, dead men’s shoes a stepping stone to promotion and reputation, profit the new god to serve in a godless society, no time to disagree, object or offer alternative reasoning, correctly shaped handshakes the only bond allowed.

Fear not for me; the road will carry me away, east to west, west to east, Damascus tantalisingly just out of sight day and night, companions hitchhiked like new drugs to fuel and burn my thoughts, lost souls joining the meandering caravan, to be digested and spat out; motels the staging posts of life, the knowing stare of righteous receptionists recognising another pilgrim looking for a religion, her rooms the temporary holding pattern for travellers wishing never to arrive anywhere; a Purgatory of freedom.”‘

 

(Inspired by On The Road, 2012 movie based on 1957 book of same name by Jack Kerouac)

 

Changing writing styles

In 2015 I joined a local writers’ group. It had been several years since I had done any serious writing and I had just begun getting back into the swing of writing something each day when I noticed an advert for the group in a free magazine. For the first year I took along short pieces which I had written over the years and sometimes wrote about one of the suggested topics listed for a meeting. It was a really excellent set of writers, with a range of abilities although fairly close in ages. It became the highlight of my fortnights.

After a while I began to feel my writing was becoming a little staid, especially when I attempted to write longer pieces, say up to 1500 or 2000 words. Grammatically my writing was fine, but the sentences seemed very ordinary to me. I was fine writing 500 words with an unexpected twist at the end but trying to develop ideas and characters further seemed to be beyond me.

The turning point was when I watched the movie ‘On The Road’, only made a few years ago but based on Jack Kerouac’s book from the 1950s. I wanted to write a piece about the movie for the writers’ group and initially I was quite pleased with my attempt. I had put in a lot of the ideas and atmosphere I’d seen in the film and yet it didn’t seem to flow like the movie did. The film was about a group of young people driving backwards and forwards across America looking for a reason to their lives, my writing seemed to lose that sense of movement.

So, I began to play around with the sentences. I removed many full-stops and inserted commas instead in an attempt to increase the sense of flow to the writing. As I did this I realised the writing was becoming more poetical in its form. I had been impressed by one of my fellow writers at the group who used alliteration so effectively in her poems so I began to add similar words in my writing about the movie.

When I presented the piece at the next group meeting I was very pleased with the reaction. And I felt I had written something different, something in a style which was mine, something more than just stitching a stream of words together into conventional sentences. I continued adapting and developing the style in the next few pieces I produced for the meetings, some worked well, others less so. There was one more change to take place, and it occurred in the last piece I wrote before Christmas 2015. It would change my writing life and lead to two novellas being written about a subject and a location I could never have foreseen.