This ever-changing site

You may have noticed that this site has been changing a bit lately. I’ve just been trying out different themes to make the place look a bit fresher and lighter. All that brown was getting a bit old, for me anyway.

So, please bear with me and any pain will be over very soon and all will be back to normal, only better. You know what I mean.

Cheers,

Marc.

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Something inspiring from Neil Gaiman

Whether you’re starting out, at whatever age, this 2012 speech from Neil Gaiman fills the heart, and may make you laugh a little.

The message that’s easy to forget in a life of worrying how others will judge you – is be honest and do what is in you, take a chance. Your naked soul exposed may give heart to someone who feels the same but is afraid.

Does mood affect your writing?

Do you write differently depending on your mood? Will a low mood produce sombre stories or can you rise above how you feel and write comedy in the depths of sadness, or tragedy in the heights of joy?

Common wisdom goes that if you approach your craft professionally mood should not be a factor. ‘Check your self at the door. What you write is not about you, it is about the writing.’

Me, I am often profoundly affected by how I feel when I write. Maybe it’s because I’m a relative newcomer. With time it could change. I don’t think so but it might. It seems that who you are and how you react to the world around you affects how you write.

How do get in the mood to write? Do you sit down, take a breath and begin? Do you listen to some music first? Do you read back a few pages or more to get ‘in the zone’ then start?

For me, it varies. Most often it’s music. I can’t write with music on but if I listen to music before writing it ‘primes’ me for the mood I want. Recently I was feeling a little tired but good and raring to go. Then I listened to Eric Satie’s Gymnopedie No.1, a low-key piano piece, and my mood dropped, within seconds, through the floor. I felt down, sad. And I couldn’t face writing the brighter piece of fiction I had prepared to begin on. Sure, I can have extreme reactions to certain music, up or down, but there are times when a piece of music takes you completely out of the space you were in moments before.

Music can be a cleanser. You’ve had a difficult day but you play something and you feel a little better. Does this happen to you? Do you use music this way? Or do you have some other activity like walking, running, reading a favourite poem, or chatting to a friend?

Some people say that they can write with kids shouting all around them. Others can write with bombs dropping nearby. Some need quiet.

I am one of those who needs quiet, to begin at least. Once I begin and the story has me, when it is using me to tell itself, then I am hard to disturb. But that starting point, those first moments, are crucial to crossing from the world around me into the fiction world where stories live to be borne forth by the writer’s hands. Like moving from wakefulness into sleep, going from this world into the writing world can be difficult or easy. It so often depends on how you feel right before.

Writing is so often an isolated process it must vary with every personality, influence, or issue.

Are you the cool pragmatist who can treat the process of writing as work, creative work but work even so? Or are you one who desires or needs certain conditions?

Does mood affect your writing?

Welcome to the Doldrums

This is that time between sleep and wakefulness. It probably has a name but I call it the doldrums. Four-forty in the morning, most of the world asleep, you lie with your eyes open in bed while you partner dreams of travel or shopping or things more exotic, beside you.

In the doldrums you want to sleep. You are tired, certainly tired enough to sleep. But it will not come back. You are too tired to think properly and to get out of bed is to admit defeat. So you sit up and try to go back to sleep.

After sitting for long, long minutes you begin to realise that sleep is not coming back, your slowly waking brain has decided you have had enough sleep for now. Now, the gentlest of battles begins but do not be fooled, this is a battle for domination of your mind and you are just there for the ride at this point.

Thoughts pop up, random at first then bit-by-bit, more connected. The conscious begins to win the battle and now you see what you do not want to see, you are awake and sleep is gone.

What to do? Stay in bed, sat up and thinking, knowing that your partner, while deeply asleep, senses that your states are not in sync? Her voice drifts out of sleep, “Are you ok?” You reply as softly as you can, “Yes, just can’t sleep. Don’t worry.” “OK”, she says, her voice drifting off.

Now, there is nothing else to do. You get up.

Everything is dark and so quiet. Bird sounds drift in and that eerie, doppler effect of occasional car sounds coming and going by on the road twenty-one floors below.

It is too early to begin work, to write the final draft you really must write. You know you must but you are at that crucial, difficult point between doing and done. But this requires critical thought and now, at this time, at four-forty in the morning, this is not that time.

And this is the result. A little piece, a quick four hundred words or so about being awake when you don’t want to be awake. It’s funny, the instinct of the writer is to write even when writing is the last thing you feel like doing. And the perversity of the writer is to want to share it, to inflict it on others, in the sure and certain belief that someone will identify with this poor, sleepless, individual, all alone in the still darkness. Maybe they will. Maybe you do. Maybe you have been in exactly this situation and you are smiling a wry smile and thinking, “yeah, I’ve been there.”

It is now 5:17am, I am sleepy without the prospect of sleep, birds without any knowledge of or irony for social media, and  in anticipation of the new day, are twittering, and the light is coming up.

So. Welcome to the doldrums.

 

 

 

All-consuming lust – for books

I fall in love a lot and I mean A LOT! Not with women though there are plenty of reasons to, (insert deity) knows.

No, I fall in love a lot with books.

As an expatriate, an expat, no no, start again. As a part of the Australian diaspora (better) I feel a certain distance from my country and from the culture in which I grew up. And one way to reel in the world I knew, and trust me, Australia, like America, can live very much in a world of its own, is to read.

But what to read? How does a person choose what to read when living in Hong Kong, integrated as I chose to be from the start, into the local culture? Sadly, I have never been one to learn languages easily and to begin to learn, at a certain age, Cantonese, is a mountain far too steep to climb. Bugger the base camp, the foothills are challenge enough. So here I was on the flatland, immersed in Hong Kong culture, away from most of my ilk on the ‘shiny island to the South’, alone with my culture, though loving/hating as only a long-term resident can be the culture in which I find myself.

But what about the reading? Yes, yes, I’m getting to that. Here’s me trying to be eloquent and sprawling with lots of commas to manage the flow, and you just want me to get to the point. Alright, you win.

Sorry about that guy. He’s the grouchy one, he’s tucked away with some tea and Hobnobs. So, yes, on to point.

But what to read? Well, a point of contact with both books and my culture, and culture generally, is the podcast. Most of you of diasporas various will probably know what a podcast is. And for those who don’t it is a sort of downloadable, post-broadcast, radio show, that you can listen to on your portable device of choice.

Specifically, (Finally!, I hear you huff) I listen to Australia’s ABC Radio National (or RN in this age of shortcuts) and a show called Books and Arts Daily. And there are others. Books and Arts though is my first point of contact. As it says on the tin, it is a show that discusses books and arts. It is where I hear of interesting, and not always ‘blockbuster’ books. There are writer interviews and reviews. There is also a small section, from time to time, called Top Shelf in which a writer or artist or musician will list five pieces of writing, art, or music, that they particularly love.

OK, it’s not all there is, there are many more and not only from Australia. Something about living in a place like Hong Kong is that it is a place that lies in the middle of the world in a sense. I draw from all over the world, though I must admit to being English (language) centric. I can’t read texts in the original Farsi or Japanese or Icelandic so I rely on translation and hope that it’s a good one.

This ability to draw from such an enormous source of stories and knowledge is wonderful. And as I buy e-books almost exclusively now (our homes in Hong Kong tend towards the tiny) I now have a vast array to choose from that I never could in a bricks and mortar bookshop, gorgeously booky though they are.

The downside is with so much inspiration from so many sources, I buy far too many books. Why is that a downside? It’s an upside for authors, surely. That much is true. However, I find that my reading habits have changed. Never a fast reader, I prefer the luxuriant feast to the grab-a-bite snack, I always had a book on the nightstand and feasted until sleep dragged me into its arms. Now, I have an iPad with myriad books on it and I find that I dip in and out of different books at different times and seldom finish one in anything like a timely way. It disconnects you from that one delicious treat.

So, what to do with this lust? Be like the lothario who finds his one true love and settles down, always feeling the tug of temptation? Be Teutonic and disciplined and choose one, sticking rigidly until the end, only then moving on to the next?

That’s the thing with lust. It consumes. It pleases and tempts and promises. I can be faithful and honest and true with my partner, why not with a book? Because it’s not my partner, it’s a book. And the parade never ends. New ones come along all the time and, despite what the press may say about the internet ruining writing, the quality is outstanding, as outstanding as ever, but the volume is increasing. If choice was limited it would force choice. But it is not.

I have endless respect for those who can read quickly and still appreciate the words and ideas. Those who can read a book a week astound me. Alright, I have an excuse with ADHD, thoughts spin around in my mind and ideas for stories come thick and fast all the time, writer’s block does not exist for me – ever, but that peaceful time when you sit down with some tea or a whisky or whatever you may have; that is the dream and I envy it.

Lust, love, and a deep appreciation for the art we choose as writers to do, is a beautiful thing. It drives us. We are generous lovers. We nurture that which we love then send it out into the world to be loved by others. We are not jealous lovers. If tens or thousands or millions love what we have made with our love, we rejoice in it.

We, in turn, love what others have loved.

So, does it matter how we enjoy the love we feel? Whether it is a grand affair, one that consumes us for some time, or some sneaky slap and tickle under the stairs, over and over again. Does it matter really?

From flash fiction to the short story to the novel to the epic, sprawling series, it is all love, or at least lust.

I have no solution to this problem because, in the end, no problem exists.

I may agonise and complain but I am in love, constantly.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, “If writing be the food of love, read on”.

Struggling – with what though?

Here it is. There is a piece of fiction I have committed myself to write. I struggle. Yes, I know, every writer struggles, that’s what it is to be a writer. But why struggle?

This particular piece of writing I refer to is a short piece of fiction. The brief in the beginning is to produce a first draft to be reviewed by peers with a view, following peer review and critique, to polishing and finally having it published, with luck, in an anthology.

What is a first draft for?

The common wisdom seems to be that a first draft is an outpouring of ideas into something of a beginning-to-end narrative, without too much analysis and over-judgement. Just get it down, and as they say in the film industry, fix it in post – in the case of writing, ‘post’ is the second and subsequent drafts.

Then why struggle with it?

Everyone is different. Some will plough through with a plan and when the piece is done, throw it out to whomever will review it, then do whatever is needed to redeem it, phoenix-like, from the ashes of its own funeral pyre.

Others, and I am one of these, want to have it sufficiently polished to be less of an embarrassment when it is read. Something like when you’re a teenager and you throw on some clothes and your mother stops you and says, “You’re not going out in that are you?”. Or when you engage a cleaner for a particular day then spend the entire day before tidying up because you don’t want the cleaner to think you’re untidy.

Which is better?

In theory, the first I suppose, but life is not theory, life is messy and minds, especially the minds of certain writers – my hand is up for this – struggle with a sort of need for perfection.

You can read all about how other, very accomplished, writers go through many drafts before their work reaches a point at which they feel comfortable to set it free. You know, no not kind of but you know, that if you are a halfway decent writer you should be able to nail it on the first draft. And you know you’re wrong in thinking it. But, it doesn’t stop you thinking it.

What is the solution? Is there a solution?

I don’t believe there is one solution at all. Because everyone is different and has a different way of working and thinking, you just need to find the way that works best for you. I can only speak for me.

This is about first drafts though.

If the purpose of a peer-driven critique is to find holes then, with a first draft, holes the size of a harbour tunnel will be found and highlighted. But isn’t that a good thing? Perhaps it goes back to the basic insecurity that most writers feel. “What is they think this is the best I can do?” “What if they think I’m no good at this?” “What if the others did much better than me?”

What is my solution?

The first draft I have finished is rough. If it was a diamond you would have your work cut out to see it shine in the end. But shine it will, the part of me that isn’t shouting “stop fooling yourself” knows that it will shine in the end.

So, this is my plan, this is the mechanics of the thing.

I know the story is roughly what it will eventually be. I will print it out, read it through, makes notes on the paper, then fix the most embarrassing bits, and submit it for the critique to come.

As it is a critique between peers we will all be bringing our hopes and insecurities, carefully masked behind smiles and pleasant banter, while all the while we may all be quaking and hoping the knives do not cut too deeply into the beloved offspring that our imaginations have produced.

Is it always like this? I don’t know, this is my first go at this.

Like anything in life, what happens will happen. It’s a first draft after all.

Camp NaNoWriMo – April begins

Back in November I took part in NaNoWriMo and enjoyed (almost) every minute of it. It was a spur to beat procrastination and it worked.

Now, it’s April and there’s Camp NaNoWriMo.

For this month you set your own target. It’s hard to know what to aim for. Should I just copy the 50,000 word target of the November project or be more conservative? Should I go fully manic and aim for double that? The beauty of this project is you do what suits you.

Camp NaNoWriMo can be many things to many people. To me, the purpose is to set a realistic target that I believe I can achieve. Too high and I get de-motivated by mid-month when I realise I might not make the 50,000. Too low and I leave it to the last second then rush it and feel down on myself for being so lazy.

I do have kind of an excuse in that I suffer with ADHD and anyone who knows about how it works, anything taking commitment over any length of time is a huge mountain to climb for people like me. In this way Camp NaNoWriMo is the perfect vehicle. I set my target – 26,000 words for the month in case you wondered – and i know that each day I have a certain number of words to write as a minimum.

Also the beauty of it is that if, on one day, I get hyper-focused – also a function of ADHD – and I write two or three thousand words, then I have the luxury of taking a day off. It’s not ideal and it’s best to avoid missing a day because, as many who write know, one day easily drifts into two then three then..

Today I feel excited and at the same time I feel the pull of distraction. Tea to make, oh I have to read the article I meant to read, oh I have to mop the floor (I live in Hong Kong, not a prison by the way – we don’t have carpet), and a thousand other things. But write I will and by the end of this month I’ll have a piece of writing I won’t be ashamed to call mine.

Here’s my plan to avoid the dreaded procrastination:

– Each night, list the things I have to do the next day (work, washing, etc) and set a time to write and stick to that time.

– Set the mobile to vibrate rather than ring – come on, admit it, you can’t really turn it off, right?

– Get whatever drink, snack, etc, I need so I don’t need to get up

– And this is the crucial part, for me, DO NOT GET UP OR DO ANYTHING ELSE UNTIL THE ALLOTTED TIME IS OVER

– When the time is up, do something completely away from anything to do with writing. Do not edit (it’s a first draft), do not go back to write “just a little more i just thought of” for at least an hour

That’s my plan. It might not work for you but after I write, in that zone you get into, you writers know how that is and what it feels like, I am drained and need to get right away and walk it off as they say.

To anyone who may happen upon this, and who is committed to Camp NaNoWriMo, I’m with you all the way in this.

Morning Dream

Early Monday morning. My lover has left before the light of the day has come into our bedroom. Six-thirty am. Breakfast meeting. Urgent. Lips on mine then gone. Perfume. Kenzo. Flowers. Pretty.

The door of our apartment. Click. Locked.

Return to my dream.

Gliding in the sky. I float on my back. It is morningtime and all of the clouds are fluffy and white and the light is soft on my body. Far below is the end of the city. The forest begins here. Trees are tall and dark green like swaying giants with the breeze. But even they are far below and small under the limitless sky of pale and pretty blue.

I breathe. Even and low. My mind is empty of thought and my eyes are filled with the beauty of the vast azure umbrella above. Winds, so light, move me up and down. I am an infant carried in tender arms, stroked all over first by tiny wafts then sudden flurries and the feintest of caresses.

This feeling of freedom without limit, carried without fear or care, brings many different sensations all at once. I glide deeper into sleep while my body feels excited. Tears roll along and down my face now that I understand truly what wonder is like. Now I understand what perfection feels like. I cry as I float so high above the forest. It is not a cry of joy or pain or sadness. It is all of these and more that I cannot give words to. I gasp for breath in the arms of the most beauty I have ever known. I grow hot. My whole body flushes. And I cry. If this is paradise then I want it to be with me forever. It must never end.

This is a mixture. A little of the feeling I have when I look into my lover’s eyes. A little of the feeling of my favorite ice cream on my tongue. A tiny bit of the feeling I have when I pee, that thrill and tickle. A little of the feeling of standing on a mountain with the world spread out below. It is so many things this feeling. It is a thing you cannot say. You can only feel it. And when you do you will cry too.

When I wake the light in the room is stronger. Only thirty minutes have passed. It feels like I was flying for many hours or many days. Time was not there in the sky of my dream. No covers are on the bed now. I am a little sweaty, just a very little. One hand is across my belly and the other lies, open with fingers curled on the cooling sheet.

Such a beautiful dream is sad when it ends. I stay there and I do not move for many minutes more. I do not sleep again but I close my eyes and see a little of that glorious blue. Tonight I will seek that blue once more.

On being a writer – a personal view

How do you call yourself a writer? And when? Are you a writer just because you say you are? Do you have to be published first?

As a person starting out in what some call ‘the writing life’ it’s hard to take the scary step into claiming the epithet ‘writer’.

This is not any sort of advice column. I am not in a position to give advice, this is new to me too.

What this is is a collection of thoughts I have on what it is to be a writer, whatever title you may give yourself. Writer, scribbler, scrivener, chronicler, and on and on. These are entirely my personal feelings.

You may agree or disagree, it’s up to you, share if you feel inclined. Maybe we share some common ground.

– Ideas come at the oddest times, sometimes easily, in a flood or a trickle. I have to note them down to use later or not. But if I don’t I will forget them!

– It’s hard to be ‘authentic’, to write as you like without trying to be someone you’re not, a clone of someone you admire. Most people start out being derivative, it’s how you learn. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, unless you’re really trying to copy and continue that way in the long term.

– It’s scary to write how you want to. There’s often the fear that readers may think you’re writing from experience, or that a character is really you. For me, characters are an amalgam of people I’ve met, closely or peripherally, friends, enemies, aspects of characters from films, all sorts. Overall though, they are not copies of real people. Where’s the fun in that?

– I wrote a blog under a pseudonym for a while. The pseudonym was that of a Japanese-Australian woman of indeterminate sexuality and, in my mind, late twenties. Why write as a woman? Why not just write as myself? Go here where I write about that, if you’d like.

For me, I needed to claim my writing as my own whatever others might think of me. Having mused on it I believe that a big part of choosing to write as a woman was that I felt people might not accept my writing as a man, the sort of writing I did there anyway. Also I guess I worried that people who knew me might question my own sexuality, from the subject matter of the stories I wrote there.

Do you know what? In the end I decided that it doesn’t matter what others might think of me, the writing speaks for itself and me, as the writer, should be invisible to the stories.

– I don’t think you have any control over how people will receive a story, long or short.

– If you try to write to make everyone happy nobody will be, especially yourself.

– If people judge you on the fiction you write, so be it.

– Finding your ‘voice’ is hard particularly if you write in various genres. It comes with time I suppose.

– Can you bring your own life into your work? Of course you can. You bring whatever makes your story, your story. If it serves your narrative, use it.

– This is getting long!

– I reckon to write in a way that really satisfies you, you can’t be afraid. If you have to take a risk, a chance, to write something that makes you sit back and think, “did I write that?” and mean it in a tiny-bit smug way, you have to do it.

– Whatever you do somebody’s going to find fault in it, even if it’s genius. If you believe in it and it feels right to you, screw ’em, it’s your precious expression. Enjoy the beauty of your independent spirit.

– A big thing I’m trying real hard to fight is separating process from outcome. You know the sort of thing, you start something and think if it’s good I might get published, then all the publicity, how do I find an agent?, how do I find a publisher?, etc, etc. As Ray Bradbury said, “Do what you love, love what you do.”

Write without expectations or pressure. Write because you love it. If it becomes something bigger, good. If not, you’ve had the best time. And it never has to end. What could be better than that?

That’s more than I expected to write and it probably needs a ton of editing but this section of the site is my thoughts so let chaos reign!

Thanks for making it this far,

Marc.

Thanks to hisks‘ for the use of their image – ‘Fastest writer on the world’