2016 in retrospect

Yeah, I know; it’s almost February and I still want to talk about 2016. We’ve had enough of that monstrous year, I get it. But I want to ignore the political clusterfuck still smouldering in the UK and US, the hideous terrorist attacks in Paris, Berlin, Istanbul and the rest of the world, the rise of the alt-right (read: actual fucking Nazis), the permeation of fake news via social media, the gradual dissolution of political opposition in the UK, and the ever-increasing inequality our populace continues to vote for, like foxes voting Tory.

No – I want to talk about 2016 on a personal level. Because I’m a jabbering narcissist and assume I’m more important than our crumbling civilisation. It’s probably that narcissism that’s got us in this mess in the first place, but I’m a “Millennial” so I’ll do what I like, thanks.

So – 2016 was pretty mental.

For a start, I got married. I know, right?! I mean, who does that? Crazy stuff – but I have to say, it is rather nice. Actually, it’s almost exactly the same as before, but every now and then I mention “My wife” and I wonder whose brain I’ve taken control of, because that surely can’t be me, can it? With a wife? Like, I actually tricked someone into marrying me? And she PROMISED to stay with me, with no returns, and no backsies? Astonishing.

This is a bit greedy, I know, but, we had two honeymoons – one rather more successful than the other.

20160405_160714For the first – a so-called “mini-moon” – we spent a week in Sicily, in the beautiful hillside town of Taormina. Our hotel apartment’s balcony had a view of smoking Mount Etna, streets full of Vespas, and tree-lined slopes down to a distant sandy beach. We spent our days drinking delicious white wine, eating bruschetta and arancini, and checking out cool old things, like ancient hill-top theatres and a freaking volcano.

It’s bloody lovely over there, and in mid-April, pretty quiet too. Not the best for swimming, and some of the restaurants are yet to open for the season, but that’s how I like it, frankly. Quiet walks, local buses around mountain roads, little bars with breath-taking views. Altamente raccomandato.

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Travel bug

Our Honeymoon-proper was supposed to be two weeks in Costa Rica, travelling around the jungles and down the Pacific coast, playing with butterflies and eating fried plantain. Unfortunately, we chickened out quite last minute due to the Zika virus spreading through Central America. Problem was, our flights had been booked through lastminute.com, whose mantra apparently doesn’t involve decisions made on the spur of the moment. For three days we tried to change our flights, and for three days they told us conflicting messages about whether it was possible or not. In the end, it turned out to be the latter.

So, we kicked up a fuss on Twitter with the slightly melodramatic hashtag #nohoneymoon,  with accompanying photos of us wanly drowning our sorrows in pints of cider.

And that shit works, yo. I got a phone call a few hours later from their PR team saying they were looking into our case. A few days later, we got the flights refunded. By that point, though, we’d picked the closest, cheapest place to fly to in Europe for a week.

Ibiza.

More locally known as “BEEFA BEEFA”, the island in August is pretty rammed, and the only place we could find to stay was a large hotel near Cala Tarida. We had our niggling doubts as we passed the swimming pool aerobics amid pounding Euro pop music, but when we reached our dingy ground-floor room with a view of a chain-link fence and some bracken, the absence of a fridge and the fact we had two separate single beds made it a little too much budget and not enough honeymoon.

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They changed our room to the top floor, but we had to wait three hours for the privilege, so we took a drink by the bar and watched the hotel reps flirt, joke and cajole the fun out of the Spanish, German and Italian guests. I don’t know about you, but I prefer a hotel where they don’t employ people to enforce FUN ACTIVITIES, and the maddeningly loud disco-house doesn’t start until the evening.

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Beach near Cala Tarida, only accessible by sea

Still, hire a car and you can get out to visit less visited beaches (though, to be honest, if you want real solitude, you need to hire a boat and head round the coast until you find a spot inaccessible by land). Also, they have incredible green olives in Ibiza, and I can get used to bread with aioli as a starter for every meal. Delicious.

In a happy coincidence, my friend Roost was in Ibiza Town, where he’d been working the clubs as a VJ (video jockey, I think?), texture-mapping animations projected onto stages to create mind-juddering images for tripping ravers. He took us to one of the best restaurants I’d ever been to, and a couple of clubs to get a feel for the nightlife vibe. Fun times all round.

The music’s not for me, I’m afraid – I believe it would be categorised as progressive house, but there’s not enough meat to it, like you find in drum’n’bass or dubstep, or as much funky joy as the breakbeat I partied to in my uni days. Still, people seemed to like it, so who am I to judge?

Pen monkey

So, what about the writing, Tim? How did you get on with those author goals?

Well, I did finish the second draft of Citadel, which essentially meant rewriting the whole thing. But it still isn’t structurally quite right.

The funny thing with editing is, it might take you six months to a year to do something, but by the end, you’ve improved as a writer to such a degree you return to the beginning to find a load of garbage you no longer feel cuts the mustard.

A lot of that improvement has come from joining Scribophile, where I trade critique with the writers there. Having people you don’t know read your work is both slightly petrifying, but also incredibly valuable, because for the most part they are frank, honest and unforgiving (without being cruel). You need that kind of input.

cynwx4awiaasr5d-jpg-largeI wrote a number of short stories last year that I uploaded to that site, in the hope I could polish one or two of them enough to gain my first publication. Though I’ve not yet been accepted in a paid market, I do have a short story in the upcoming horror anthology, The Infernal Clock, which should be released in February. That’s quite exciting.

And I came very close to selling a story to a magazine in the US, but having passed the slush pile, I was ultimately rejected. That story, however, has been lengthened, improved and returned to the submissions grinder.

divine-allianceRegular readers will also know I took part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November, the 50,000-word 30-day story challenge. And I only went and hit the target!

It was insane – writing 1,667 words every single day for 30 days. A proper slog. And don’t expect to get much done in December – burnout is a common after-effect.

All in all, quite a lot, right? Well, I can tell you empirically how much work that is, because I keep work journals. I am a data freak. Oddly, graphs and tables make me MORE creative. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 69,000 words on Citadel draft 2
  • 45,000 words in short stories
  • 50,000 words for #NaNoWriMo
  • 33,000 words in this here blog
  • 52,000 words of critique on Scribophile

That’s a little over 250,000 words of creative thought for the year. Or 683 words per day. I think that’s not bad, considering I’ve a full-time job.

2017 goals

Aside from breaking some pro-paying literary markets, I want to finish Citadel, so it’s polished and ready to send. I think it’s possible, now. I think I’m ready for the final push. Hopefully, I’ll have this novel-writing lark nailed when I come to my second book, and it won’t take another decade to finish.

With my NaNoWriMo project The Divine Alliance, and my post-sea-rising sci-fi The Plainface both bubbling away in the background, I feel I’ve got enough projects to keep me busy for the foreseeable.

Meanwhile, I’ll be fighting fascism where I find it, because it’s 2017 now, and that’s where we are.

Thanks for reading! And good luck with all your creative endeavours…

Disintegration – Richard Thomas [Book Review]

I came across Richard Thomas through his column on Lit Reactor. The strength of his writing advice and his authoritative tone persuaded me to have a nose at his published works. Fortunately, Thomas ends his articles with a link to one of his many stories – yup, that’s called marketing, folks. And sometimes it works.disintegration_rtBut I have to admit, when I started reading Disintegration, I thought it was a parody. It read like Raymond Chandler had woken up in the 80s, boshed an ounce of coke and angrily smashed out this thriller while punching himself in the face. It was so stylised, it felt like a fan fiction story pumped full of steroids.

The basic premise involves an alcoholic depressive who comes under the employ of a mysterious Russian gangster, Vlad, who instructs our narrator to murder his enemies. Of course, our man wasn’t always a tattooed thug (he gets a new tat every time he kills, natch). No, he used to be a cop, with a family, but grief pickled in booze left him soulless and alone, except for his pet cat.

Continue reading Disintegration – Richard Thomas [Book Review]

#NaNoWriMo taught me how to pummel the page full of words

Yeah, that’s right Inner Demons – you were wrong about me. All that hopelessness and doubt you whispered in my ear was baseless baloney. You’re like the Breitbart of my mind – telling me everything is awful and finding people to blame other than myself.

Well eat this, you Pessimistic Pixies!

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Read it and weep, you Imps of Uncertainty. I came at this challenge unprepared and you told me to quit at every turn, telling me “You didn’t have time to prepare!” – “Sack it off and do it properly next year!” – “50,000 words is impossible with a full-time job!”

Continue reading #NaNoWriMo taught me how to pummel the page full of words

15 lessons learned from my 1st #NaNoWriMo

I decided to have a crack at the National Novel Writing Month challenge this November. I’ve written 13,400 words in seven days. And like every other writer with a blog, I felt compelled to regale my experience in a jovial list format. So, buckle up, list fans. It’s time to get jovial.

1.) Holy fucking jeebus, trying to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days is A LOT BLOODY HARDER THAN IT SOUNDS. I’m serious, break it down: 1,667 words each day… every day… for 30 days. Even on my most productive days writing Citadel, I was hitting 1,500 in a day, once every couple of months. Now I have to pull that out of my arse EVERY SINGLE DAY, with no respite, lest I need to play catch-up.

2.) For all that is good and holy, plan your bastard project with more than 24 hours’ notice. I committed to NaNoWriMo on the 31st October, and whipped up the most cursory plot to a book that’s been hibernating in my mind for some time. At least twice I’ve come up against a wall of incongruity, which might well have been avoided had I given the bloody thing more than two thoughts.

Continue reading 15 lessons learned from my 1st #NaNoWriMo

Another arbitrary milestone! Gadzooks!

“Chuffed” – that’s a good word. It’s informal British slang for feeling rather pleased with yourself, thank you very much.

I’m well chuffed, me.

You see? Nice, isn’t it? Just saying it makes you puff out your chest, a hearty smile creeping across your face. It’s warming and confident, and makes you think of toasting some small victory with a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Chuffed.

Why am I waxing lyrical about this particular word?

Simple: Because I am, in fact, feeling rather chuffed. For you see, dear readers (note the plural), Right Place Right Tim has reached its second milestone in its two years of existence.

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Two hundred WordPress followers!

Continue reading Another arbitrary milestone! Gadzooks!

How The Walking Dead finally lost me

This analysis contains spoilers!

When a friend first introduced me to The Walking Dead, I was hooked from the first episode – nay, the first five minutes. Its abrupt 28 Days Later-style beginning leant mystery to the zombie apocalypse ordeal, as gun-slinging cop Rick sought to fill in the gaps of how the world turned to shit, and find his family.

There’s a tremendous amount of agency and conflict in the early seasons, fuelled by human drama and complicated relationships. The awkward love triangle between Rick, his grieving wife Lori and his best friend and romantic usurper, Shane – the head-scratching hick – carried the show for the first two years.

That glorious first season gave our intrepid survivors something to do, besides staying alive; namely, seek out possibilities of a cure, or find a military base to hole up in. But when those elements were dropped with the destruction of the research bunker, events began to lose their pace and urgency.

Continue reading How The Walking Dead finally lost me

9 computer games that shaped this wizened Millennial

I was born thirty-four years ago, dear readers, in 1982. You know those flattering requests for ID when buying booze? They are increasingly rare. Sometimes my back hurts. The hour of the morning at which it is no longer tolerable to lie in bed without needing to piss ebbs further and further from dawn with each passing year.

I am old.

I am but a child of nostalgia.

And yet, sociologists classify those born as early as the late 1970s as “Millennials”.

I am an old Millennial, then – but by golly there’s quite a difference between the decades.

Say what you like about the questionable music, fashion, politics and hair-dos of the 1980s, it won’t detract from my generation’s wonder in witnessing the exponential progress of technology, specifically in computer games.

Conversely, if you were born just a little later, in the 90s, games appeared before your doe eyes in the 2000s with seamless graphics and epic scale as standard, without any hint of how they reached such quality. With the 8-bit retro revolution making an aesthetic comeback among older gamers, you 90s babies must look upon them and frown – “But it looks all blocky and shit?”

Well, yes, you’re right. Games did look shit, in comparison. But, well… just fuck off, will you?

These are the games that influenced me during my formative years. And each and every one of them is beautiful in its own special way.

Continue reading 9 computer games that shaped this wizened Millennial

What a writing journal can teach you about productivity

This week, I reached 115,000 words on my novel. I’m three and a half chapters from the end, on the home stretch, and already dreading the editing.Since October 2015, I’ve been tracking my progress with a writing journal, in which I record the time of each session, its duration, the number of words written and what chapter I was working on. A year later, I’m up to my eyeballs in data, and can draw some enlightening conclusions therein.

But first, a graph! Gadzooks!

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As you can see, there are a number of lulls in productivity, loosely matching life events: Christmas in December, getting married and going on honeymoon in April, and being on holiday in August. Oddly, it is my holiday time that I’m at my least productive.

Continue reading What a writing journal can teach you about productivity

A Game of Thrones – George R R Martin – [Book Review]

Before you start, I know I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but I bought a copy of Game of Thrones because I’m a fan of the show and wanted to read the original work from which it sprang. I’d been told about its narrative structure, too, and wanted to see how it was handled, as multi-viewpoint third-person is how I’ve set my own work.

For those unaware, each chapter in Game of Thrones bears the name of the character it follows (which results in a contents page that looks like a goldfish trying to name all the protagonists).

The problem with coming back to evaluate a story having seen the TV series is, all the characters already have faces – Peter Dinklage will always be Tyrion in my head, Sean Bean will always play Eddard. There’s no imagination involved because those roles have already been filled by HBO.

Similarly, there are no surprises. The first series followed the first book down to the last scene. My friend tells me the show diverts from the books more in later seasons, and outright cuts many characters from the narrative, but this first book is practically the first season’s screenplay. Apart from, of course, this page of differences, which includes nerd-facts like:

  • In the book, Jaime pushes Bran from the window with his right hand. In the show he uses his left hand.

Right. I can’t believe the filmmakers took such liberties.

Continue reading A Game of Thrones – George R R Martin – [Book Review]

#Meanwhile… Choosing Which Criticism To Ignore

One of the crucial phases a writer goes through is garnering criticism from peers and beta readers, but when you’re putting your work out there, some degree of cynicism is essential.

Indeed, it is crucial for a writer to identify what advice to take and what advice to take with thanks as you slowly back away, holding their notes to your chest, before bidding them farewell, closing the door, and shoving the toxic lot in the bin. And setting it on fire.

Seriously though, it’s a skill. Every writer needs to master it, else you’ll either disregard everything and never improve, or end up writing by committee – and NOBODY wants that.

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LE Henderson has an excellent post on her blog Passionate Reason about the Seven Types of Writing Criticism to Ignore.

Enjoy.

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