To write, to edit – at the same time

Yeah, a crazy idea, to edit one book while writing another but hey, after a few weeks of this it’s not that bad a deal. To edit you need reasonably quiet surrondings and the ability to research online or offline, which isn’t easy to do unless you’re based in a library. And when you’re in a coffee shop or a bar that’s not going to be feasible. But you can scribble down ideas, even string together sentences of an idea. That’s my take on it anyhow.

So, at home I edit the third novella I’ve written using a character named ‘Bobby Olsen’, a guy who comes from a dark background but who now acts on the right side of the law as a private investigator (no, it’s not hardboiled Mike Hammer stuff…) in late 1950s, early 1960s New York. The writing has developed over the three books and has, I think, become less quirky and more straight forward. Not sure that’s for the best but I guess I find it hard to write in one way as the protagonist all the time. and Bobby’s quirky manner of narrating and talking can annoy even me at times. Hopefully it’s readable, light and makes some kind of sense.

The hardest part has been developing or even maintaining the relationship he has with his sidekick in work and life. It’s easy when they were first acquainted, when she might have lasted only one chapter, and it was fun with the ‘jousting’ of words when they were in the ‘are they/aren’t they’ stage of friendship/lovers. Now they are an item it’s tricky not to make them sound bland, sound the same in their speech, or to continue the ‘banter’ of earlier dialogues for too long. It’s very tempting to write ‘her’ out, with a baby, and leave Bobby to pursue storylines by himself, along with any new sidekicks, male or female, I feel like bringing in female ones might cause problems as it would be so easy to make them sound like possible lovers and so ruin the happy family life in place. So this might be the last ‘Olsen’ story for a while. Or, I’ll sit in a coffee house with nothing to write and fall back on yet another tale involving the guy.

By the by, anyone else have the problem of catching the ‘Num Lock’ key when aiming for the Backspace key? I keep doing it and the blasted icon comes up on the screen telling me the lock’s on. It’s like hitting the \ key when I’m trying to get the Shift key for a capital. As you can tell, I’m not a trained typist!

The new story I’m attempting while coffeeing most days is a homage to or a rip off of, depending on your view, of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It’s set around the same time, same location, with a similar single woman as the centre of the story which is told by an admiring guy who flits in and out of her life. Or rather, she flits in and out of his life. I wanted to keep it to the same length as B. at T., around 100 pages/30,000 words and I’m at around 25,000 right now and closing in on the final scenes. I’ve no idea how it hangs together as I’ve only read short passages each day after I’ve written them. It was quite straightforward to write the early scenes as the woman appears in the first two ‘Bobby Olsen’ stories I wrote so I was able to ‘lift’ her appearances from those and retell them from this other guy’s point of view. The final scenes have proved more problematic. And the ending still hangs in the balance. Do I go for the movie’s happy-ever-after-ending? Or the novella’s she’s-disappeared-could-be-anywhere-ending? Or something more dramatic; a death? a wounded-we’ll-never-know-if-she-survived-ending? a walkout which leaves a broken-hearted guy behind? I’m still not sure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dialogue-narrative bust-up

Well, I got a few hyphens in there anyway.

As I progress with my fourth novella, the third using the character Bobby Olsen, I find I am using more dialogue in this latest piece of writing. Or that should be ‘dialog’ as my story is set in America with American characters.

Before I wrote the first book I used very little dialogue in my writing, it was all description or narrative. Then in my third book, not about Bobby Olsen, I determined to try and tell as much of the story in speech as possible. It made the tale speed along, and the word count to mount quickly. Now in my current novella I find I am incorporating a lot more dialogue. Again the number of words is climbing, 53,000 so far compared to 43,000 and 35,000 for the other two stories involving Bobby Olsen. Of course, does this mean the story is better? Or is it all waffle?

I find in particular that there are scenes where I could easily just have the narrator, Bobby, tell us what happened but I am finding I am writing these out as dialogue. Yes, the answer is to strike the right balance. Too many conversations and they must run the risk of repeating phrases from earlier dialogues, or prolonging the action too much. Too many characters, particularly minor ones, might start to sound the same, trying to make peoples’ speeches sound different is hard work. And you have to include more details about the characters such as mannerisms and just general descriptions such as what they’re doing with their hands or how they are standing. More and more words. A good thing?

One particular difficulty is the relationship between Bobby and his sidekick and partner, Carol. With more dialogue between them I am having to really think about how their relationship must be developing and avoid them sounding too much like each other. It was easy when they first met and the dialogues were sort of ‘jousts’ between them, those sort of ‘will they/won’t they?’ scenes. Now they are an item it’s tricky to move their relationship forward. Or does it need to?

And there’s the action sequences which in the type of stories I am writing do tend to occur. If you have two good guys chasing one bad guy, how much dialogue can you have between the two good ones? People don’t talk much when running, yet the reader needs to know where the narrator’s buddy is. Yes, it’s question of balance again but by including more dialogue overall I find I naturally start adding more in every scene. It’ll be much easier when the books are made into movies – you can see where everyone is!

The conclusion is, there is no conclusion. You need a balance of dialogue and narrative. Poor dialogue is as bad as poor narrative. Overlong dialogue is as bad as overlong narrative. Strike the balance and you’ll be a good writer, my son/daughter…

 

 

 

 

Sequel

Well, I’m not sure if anyone still visits here as I haven’t written anything for some time. But I have at last got around to publishing the sequel to my novella ‘Bobby Olsen’. That was uploaded in June 2017 and the sequel was actually finished way before that, in February 2017. It has sat in a folder on my computer ever since. A house move, a relocation to within a five minute walk of several coffee houses, and the distraction of writing another novella, unconnected with the Olsen ones, has led to this delay. Anyway, it is now edited as best I can and available.

What next? I have about 25,000 words of a third Bobby Olsen story on my tablet and a couple of thousand words of another story set in the present day. I’m not sure if either or both will develop further. There is a limit to the quality you can produce just sat in a coffee house so I would need to dedicate time to writing at home, something I have found quite hard to do over the last year. We’ll see what happens.

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Hung Words

(another oldie, from early last year)

There is something I need to remember.

There is something I need to remember, something that keeps slipping away from the cliff edge of my mind, toppling away into the depths below, crashing down among all the other lost forgotten words.

It is nudging me again, a letter here, a syllable there, never quite shape-shifting into a complete word. My mouth starts to form the sound, gags on the unemitted gasp, swallows the crumbling letters, and the word tumbles away again over the yawning fall.

Down there with all the broken neglected words are the broken neglected people, the ones who made mistakes, never learned their lessons, never considered they had done wrong, and a few who tried to find the word before it trailed away, the same one I am losing all the time.

Once, very long ago, so long ago there is no known segment of Time to describe it, I knew the word. That, I can recall. I did used to know it, could utter it, could give myself a second chance.

Never taken, of course.

Of course.

That would have changed everything, would it not? Maybe for the better, maybe not, strange as that may seem. Would He have survived so long, if I had remembered the word, or would He have gone the way of all the others, cast aside once His diatribes grated once too often in minds fast becoming equals to His.

It is in here somewhere, flitting around, hiding behind the longer words, the ones which have many meanings, unclear, confusing, misread and miscued, and easy, so easy, to deceive with. Many of those I have used throughout the ages of my time. To mystify, to trick, to ensnare. This elusive word is smaller, difficult to catch among the multitude of letters strung together into the many syllable definitions of deceptive ideas and motives.

For a moment there I thought I glimpsed it, trying to inch forward, to let its first sound sneak onto my tongue. Once there I am sure I could catch it, speak its name, before it slips away. Or is it being pulled back? Is that the problem? Is something tug of warring with me, pulling the word away, jerking on its long tail, flinging it over that precipice, down again into the pit of churning bones and burning vocabulary, from whence it starts the long struggle back up, fingernails scratching holds on blood-rinsed rocks, weak muscles hauling upwards over shredded tissue and deleted sounds, its eyes ever locked up high at the prospect of rebirth.

Time is short now. He will not wait much longer. This is the final time.

I know.

He knows.

He has won.

But he is waiting to see if the word can be remembered. If my blackened lips can form the two syllables they have never pronounced together. At least not since the Beginning, when I broke one way, and He broke the other. Will my mind still be able to format the two sounds into the one word? Or will it fry my being like sunlight on a mythical vampire?

Wait. Wait. I see it. Crouched behind a concept hidden in the very darkest of the dark quarters of my dark mind.

I have it! It is trapped there, a mistake made, left itself no way out but toward me.

That concept, lying never used, irrelevant to me, a false god to worship if ever there was one. Until now. Yes, I have the word. It cannot back away. It sits, naked, exposed, fearful now of rebirth, scared of its implications. But I have it. My tongue snakes around the concept named Truth, pincers the shivering syllables, swallows first that notion to ease the speaking of the word.

I gorge on the feeling, warmth streaming throughout me. The word follows it, up into my mouth, rolling around between my red-dripped teeth, and is spat forth with the conviction of one realising rebirth can be.

‘Sor-ry.’

 

 

 

The Meeting

(written some time ago, almost cringeworthy to reread but there’s a good idea hiding in here somewhere.)

I met the girl at the market near the church, the one off Rosemund Street.

The moment I saw her I knew she was special: black hair blanketing shoulders and cascading dark caresses over a slender spine, mascara-rimmed Cleopatra eyes magnifying her magnetism. When our stares reflected, cherub-chiselled lips split into a shy smile. Her washed out black dress shimmied in the breeze, too thin in the November air.

I often gazed at the girls around the market, the ones about my age, longing to talk, to fracture my monotonous loneliness. Complications would arise however, if we became friends, revealing revelations shattering the glass-thin sheen of new acquaintance.

This girl though I couldn’t turn away from. I gazed down at my shoes and blushed. When I looked up, she was there: finger-tipping close, skin a pale-white contrast to that bleak outfit , heart-capturing eyes burrowing, reading my mind, perceiving a pandemonium  of confusion.

‘Hello,’ she said.

I wanted to turn and run. But her eyes impaled me on Love’s unrelinquishing barb.

‘Hi?’ she said. ‘Not seen you here before. You new to the town?’

I unearthed my voice.

‘No, been here quite a while. You?’
‘Same.’

I stuffed my hands into my jacket for fear of appearing the fool with twitching fingers. For an eternity-lasting ten minutes we created conversation, my monosyllabic replies to numerous questions seeming to dishearten her not at all.

We wandered around the tables, her pointing at objects she liked, I nodding mutely. Only fingers jangled in my pockets, no coin to purchase with, and cursing the absurdity of my situation, I made nods and smiles my currency of devotion.

The sun lowered in the sky, the stall holders packed away, we agreed to meet the following day, although I said I wasn’t sure I could make it.

The market being for one day only, we named places we both might know.

She suggested the graveyard nearby. I sighed acceptance.

She suggested the large headstone in the middle. I said I knew it well, it had the name ‘Moore’ engraved on one side.

She said we should walk past now just to be sure. And we did. We stood by the pillar of stone, a cold monument to a once warm human. She smiled and my heart smiled back.

‘Bye, then’, she whispered, ‘See you tomorrow.’

I watched her dwindle and disappear into the distance, swallowed up on the horizon by trees lining the footpath. Turning back past the headstone, I walked along to the neighbouring grave, onto the grey-gravelled rectangle, laid down, and faded back into my eternal rest.

 

I was late. I wasn’t going to show at all, trepidation threatening victory over yearning.

She was there before me, drifting dreamily among dismantled bouquets for the deceased.

I looked down, embarrassed by my tardiness. Her hands, encased in lace mittens, ephemerally traced nearby engraved epitaphs. A black scarf lay snaked around her shoulders, barrier to the decaying air of grey, autumnal days.

‘So, you came?’

‘Sorry I wasn’t here. I was distracted, by decisions.’

‘Shall we walk together?’

We strolled back to where the bustling market existed yesterday. Now it was quiet; infrequent individuals entering the diminishing row of dimly-lit shops, with listless lights whispering in dirt-smudged windows, desperate to dispel the inveigling gloom.

Meandering like congruent rivers round narrow streets, we talked, or she did, while I muttered plain replies, overcome by her beatified beauty, and her earthly friendliness. Once more my lack of discourse seemingly troubled her nought and as I glimpsed her eyes, her lips, her face, her soul, my heart craved to speak apposite phrases of affection.

By happenstance we found ourselves returned to the graveyard, and the monument.

She faced me.

‘Maybe we can do this again. Soon?’

‘Yes. That would be…nice.’

‘So, maybe tomorrow. The same time, the same place?’

‘Huh ah.’

The girl turned and wandered away towards the tall tremulous trees at the far extreme of the graveyard. I watched her slight shape disappearing, my aching heart wishing to wander beside hers.

 

We met again. And a multitude of agains. Each walk longer, each conversation an embryonic dialogue. I became settled in her company, comfortable in her presence. And each time, as I sank back into my resting place, I wished death did not have to be so lonely.

 

One frosty morning the girl did not appear.

I was distraught. I searched around the graveyard, retraced my steps countless times, yet no sign was there of the black dressed vision.

As dusk descended I trudged towards my grave. A figure moved out from behind  Moore’s headstone. My heart leapt alive.

‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘I had a choice to make.’

‘Oh.’

‘I’ve made it now. Would you like to come and visit my home?’

Her reappearance had created me lightheaded and giddy. Yet now, should I go with her? Uncomfortable situations would arise; her parents inquisitive, my answers inadequate.

‘Yes, of course,’ I said.

So we walked along the path, towards the trees where I heartbreakingly lost  her each day. On we went, nearly to the gates at the end of the cemetery where my world must surely come tumbling down.

I found I was walking by myself. I stopped and turned. The girl was stood motionless, looking at me.

‘I know about you,’ she said.

I didn’t know what to say. What could I say?

‘Eternity is a lonely place, don’t you think?’ she said.

She raised her right hand and offered it to me.

‘Come.’

Our hands held, the girl stepped back onto a grave, gazing at my questioning eyes.

‘Be with me.’

Her legs faded into the earth.

And we lay back, growing fainter, smiling together.

Together for eternity.

 

 

 

Decaf scribble

(again, long time no write here, too busy with life and trying to edit two short novels, but here’s something written today, encouraged only by a decaffeinated latte…)

THE COFFEE HOUSE

Friday morning early, a coffee house faking Italian charm in a fake seaside town, historical fame long lost with the rising tide and crumbling cliffs.

Three sit with eyes fixated on screens, fingers tapping messages to no-one and blogging viewpoints to a readership only clicked through for reciprocated likes.

A barista chatters nonsense to a line of young women, eager for quick takeaways and even quicker getaways from chat up patter outdated in an age of legal minefields.

Older gentlemen sit, beige-coated, staring at passersby, remembering themselves long gone, chances not chanced, decisions wrong decided; pretty women bring a resurgence of desires with no hope of satisfaction.

A rush retreats, the room sits quiet, each seat an island of discontented content, preferred loneliness here to sat alone in a home no longer homely. A loud voiced conversation begins, phone to ear, private exchanges made public with deliberate intent, a proof they live a life unlike the other lost souls adrift in this coffee ship. Machinery hisses and spurts, milk tops pop, dregs disappear drained, one shot, two shots, extra shots, sprinkles and caramel, a vocabulary voiced across a counter stacked with packaged snacks rated red and red and red, all sold unwarned and unwary.

Classical strings harmonise a background, ill-fitted to a clientele dressed for pubs and clubs, layering the atmosphere warm with the unseasoned heating system soft hummed.

The hour hand stretches up straight, feet shuffle from different corners, timings timed to reach platforms as trains slide home and doors slide open.

Outside hot hand held cups are carried across a precinct still quiet as offices buzz alive with phones and bright screens, elderly women drag two-wheeled trolleys to catch the market full fruited and full bloomed, children toddle coat-clung to cigarette smoking mothers, too young for schooling, too old for early morning sleeps. Retired singles wander life lost, companions lost too early or never found among the rush of chasing money and reputations, shops and malls the only workplaces for them now.

The loud-voiced barista conducts his audience, half appreciated, half detested, a last day employed doubling his volume of adrenaline. Queues ebb and flow, each wave wavered in decisions of beverage and seating, no desire to share a stranger’s life, no wish to change their routined day, for better or for worse; no risk of failure brings no risk of success.

The coffee house churns out another day, another latte, another mocha, another another.

 

A day of new beginnings

The story I’m writing at present, the one I’m working on predominately in local coffee shops, started after a brief conversation with a sales assistant. I used our chat as the first few lines of the story. Yesterday I had three incidents, in coffee shops by coincidence, all of which could be used, and might be used, as openings for new stories or novels.

The first was a silent one. I sat with my coffee around 8.45 in the morning, trying to get my tablet computer to start up and I looked up and saw a woman staring at me. She was seated at a table across the way,  mid thirties, coat still on, coffee steaming in front of her. I recognised her from a few days previous when she had been standing in front of me in the queue for coffees. The barista had seen me and said ‘Your usual?’ The woman looked at me as if surprised someone like me (as old as me?) bought their coffee so often in this place that the assistants knew my order by memory. And there she was, looking my way a few days later. I continued battling with my tablet (see yesterday’s post) and when I glanced her way again a few minutes later she was looking my way again. Now, I know I bear an uncanny resemblance to George Clooney…(that’s humour by the way). With further comings and goings she must have exited quite soon after as the next time I peered her way the seat was empty. But…what a story could develop from this…she comes over and says hello, asks me what I’m typing, or whatever. The beginning of a romance story? A murder mystery? Could be taken anywhere.

About fifteen minutes later I’m head down tapping away now that my tablet is working properly when suddenly a woman waves her hand in front of my face saying ‘Hi, how are you? I didn’t see you there!’ I looked up. I’d never seen the woman before in my life. Once she saw me face on she quickly said ‘Oh sorry, I thought you were someone else…’ etc. A very pleasant mid thirties lady, very apologetic. Now, where might that incident go? Mistaken identities? Her way of forcing an introduction with this handsome guy working mysteriously on his computer? Could be a good start of something.

Then, in the afternoon, in a different coffee shop, actually the cafe area of a local bookshop, I’m tapping away again on the tablet (I had a free coffee on my loyalty card at this establishment) and on the next table was a very attractive young woman in her mid to late twenties, no ring on her finger, computer open, books and folders all over her table. I heard her make a phone call, something about ’10 gigabytes’ I think. Ordering internet connection? It’s a very pleasant seat I’ve got, watching this woman, close to the counter so seeing all the new customers coming in, and next to a window overlooking the inside of the small shopping mall. Suddenly the young woman gets up, comes to my table and says ‘I need to pop to the toilet. Can you keep an eye on my things while I’m gone?’ Of course I say yes. She returns a few minutes later and says ‘thanks’. We go on working until I have to leave. So what might that have led to? Suppose she hadn’t returned? I would be left with a computer. What might I find on it? Or she might come back and offer to buy me a coffee to say thanks. Our conversation would start and ..? Could be another interesting opening.

You can see that February 7th was quite a day one way or another. Considering I’d been going to these coffee shops for near three months and nothing had happened, I’m wondering how much longer I have to go before I have more interesting incidents occurring! Now, do I go back to that book shop cafe this afternoon, at the same time? Will she be there? Would I dare sit near her..?