I'm covered in flour - it would take too long to explain...

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Why I get annoyed by Game of Thrones.

I don’t have a problem with the sex in Game of Thrones, I just find it……oh, you know, really? I guess my real problem with it is not that it’s in the show, it is what it is I suppose, but that it’s just so predictable. Bloodthirsty gang of killers hold up in an ale house and, along with not paying for said ale, plan to ravish the tavern keepers daughters, who fortunately for them are all nubile teenagers who clearly had the choice between working as a tavern slattern, or a career as Miss Teen America. Gosh, isn’t it lucky that none of them are dog ugly, or they’d have had to ravish them, wouldn’t they, and that wouldn’t be nearly so photogenic?

Then of course there’s the almost obligatory brothel scene where again, a line up of slender eighteen year olds get to go naked, but it’s ok because there’s another woman being as unpleasant as the men, only she’s not in a position of power either, she’d another, superannuated mistress who is performing for the will of her royal lover - oh well, better luck next time.
But there are strong women, the cry goes up - yes, some of them have to get married when they don’t want to, or have their hearts broken by Jon Snow,or moon after the one who had his hand cut off and act as the butt of jokes about how big she is, because, goodness, every other woman there isn’t - oh, and what about the one with the dragons, she’s pretty cool, right? Yes, the one who was sold into marriage by her brother and just happens to have some dragons, without which she’d  have no power, and who half the time is mooning after all the various men who are vying for her attention - and isn’t it lucky she’s impossibly beautiful, because otherwise she’d not have been able to command nearly as much male attention as she has, now would she?

Alright, you spoil sport, this is just how it would be, how it was throughout the history of the human race - it’s always been like that and GOT is just being true to life.

But that’s why it annoys me.

Because, and I hate to break this to you, but GOT is a fantasy. That means it’s not actually confined by anything other than the limits of the imagination of the writer. In a fantasy book, you can do what you like, you can gift people with powers they wouldn’t have in the real world, you can re-adjust relationships and traditions - and this just has not happened. Goodness me, even the accent Greeks could conceive of a race of warrior women, even if they were basically terrified of them - but, you know this world of GOT could be a bit different because, well, it could be. What if only women could inherit the throne, as their blood line is the only one that could be guaranteed? What if the society practiced polyandry, like they do in Tibet? What if woman had rights and respect and a different set of outlooks than wife or slave or whore, or had a jobs, or were skilled crafts people, or scholars, you know, like they have been throughout history?

And yes, I’ll keep watching it I expect, not that I can remember who everyone is and who they’re related to, because after a while one nubile girl being made to get her tits out kind of looks like another, but it will still niggle at me that this is, in my less than humble opinion, a bit of a waste and actually, could have been a lot more interesting. Thank God for Diana Rig.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Z.A.S - do you suffer?

Marrying my husband has brought me several benefits, one of which is that I have now seen pretty much all the zombie movies ever made. I’ve spent time with the Evil dead, the annoyed dead, the plain down right pissed off dead, even the dead who really can’t be bothered and are just there because, well, being dead doesn’t give you a lot of scope for hobbies. Now, I’m walking with them, which is a sight more invigorating than Clare Balding on radio four.
I have also developed what we call ‘Zombie Apocalypse Syndrome’ Z.A.S, which means that pretty much wherever I am, in idle moments I find myself wondering just what would happen if the zombie apocalypse were to happen there and then. In a cafe I imagine leaping across the counter for the bread knife and taking out two or three with the sandwich toaster, or find I’m eyeing up the fellow passengers on the train, wondering which will be trampled under foot and allow me and a plucky few to make it out alive.
The appeal of the zombie scenario seems to be remarkably enduring, and sometimes I wonder why, along with where the nearest weapon might be. You have a group of misfits, which allows for some wonderful tension and inner strife, and an implacable foe, which knits the most unlikely of teams together. The foe look like people, but aren’t, and so one can stab, shoot and decapitate them with a clear conscious, which is nice - no troublesome side issues around morality and ‘are we in fact as bad as they are’ sub-plots. There’s nothing like a ravaging horde of the undead to concentrate the mind, to trim away all the nagging issues around childcare, tax returns, redecorating, what did she/he mean when they said that about my shoes - drastic, sure, but it works. 

And, when life is throwing you up against the kind of harsh reality there’s no fighting against, none what so ever, not with a bread knife or a sandwich toaster, the sort of reality which comes to us all and from which there really is no coming back - well, it’s a nice bit of escapism. That, and I have a bit of a thing for Daryl Dixon….

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The airship of the mind.

How do you see your writing process? No, I don’t mean in terms of ‘it’s my life’ or ‘when I write I do my research first’ sort of thing. I mean if you were to visualise your self and the thinking and editing you do, what would that look like?
This is what I see. 

When I write, I build this huge machine. It looks something like a steam driven chariot with a lot of type-writer/air ship/fighter plane in the mix. There’s certainly a seat, possibly a cockpit, definitely an engine which either purrs like a sports car or wheezes like a lawn mower. There’s a great number of levers and pulleys and pedals ones has to push to get it to do anything, and often the same sequence of moves – pull red lever, stamp on third brake, flick first five switches on the left – results in a different action each time. It’s constantly springing oil leaks, bleaches steam or shedding vital parts, I’m forever having to stamp on one of the fifty seven brakes and leap from the cockpit, dangling at impossible angles with complicated tool to make fine adjustments in the teeth of a gale. Other times we hit smooth road, and for a brief, wonderful time we cruise along and the miles flick past, only to discover I’ve taken a wrong turn and have to reverse. Then the big end goes.

But slowly, bit by bit, it wheezes less, the rumbling, burbling engine is stripped and oiled and starts to tick over; the paintwork is primed and ready and the wings take shape. One day I shall be able to don my goggles, lock down the windshield and build up enough speed to take off into the wide, blue yonder. But not yet, there’s a suspicious ticking noise in the left compression chamber.

My first published novel 'My crooked little sister' a dark and twisty thriller set in the swamps around New Orleans, is out now published by Not So Noble Books - if you'd like to see how well that particular creation flies.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

The self assessment grid.

I had my professional assessment in my course the other day. I’m studying to be an antenatal teacher with the NCT, and in the January before you graduate, you have to fill out an assessment grid all about yourself. If you get all seven or above, and you want to start your teaching career, then they book your first ever course in July. I mention this because of the assessment grid we have to use - twelve points we reflect then mark ourselves on out of ten. My tutor marked all my grades up from 7’s and 8’s to 9’s and 10’s and I’m set to teach my first course in July.
However, looking at the self assessment grid I got to wondering if it might throw some light on the whole writing lark. Seeing as I’m in reflective mood, let’s take a look at them-


Or when writing, what is motivating your characters. You have to know, the reader doesn’t. Or rather, they need to find out, and it might not be what you or they think it is when you start. It’s so much more fun when what we think is the motivation turns out not to be, or rather that the character start off thinking they want A, then discovering they actually want B, and perhaps even that it is A after all. 
You could also tick the box here for actually doing some bloody writing. There are a billion unfinished books out there, but who cares about them? A writer who doesn’t write is a bit like a dancer who doesn’t dance, you kind of have to do it to be it.


How well do your characters know themselves? How well does the reader know them, and how? You can have a character who likes to think that they’re respectable, dependable and reliable - but who goes on to prove that they’re anything but - especially if they’re maintaining their innocence all the while - the classic unreliable narrator. Or, have your character know the truth of their nature and try all the way through to hide it because the world demands it of them - until one slip is their down fall. They key is that you as the writer must know your character absolutely, every beat of their heart and every inch of their dreams - then decide how much of it you choose to share with them, or the reader.

Respect for colleagues 

This means other writers. They’ve all done it before you, you are standing on the shoulders of giants so do them the courtesy of treating the craft with respect. 

Reception of feedback

Ah-ha! You will get feed back. Some of it will be good, some of it will be bad, but all of it should be considered. Everyone wants someone to pick up their first book and say ‘why, this is wonderful, please collect your booker from the bran tub outside the door.’ They’re not going to. What might appear to be bad feedback, or hard feedback, is hard to hear, but once you’ve got over the pain, use it. Pain is there for a reason, pain is there to tell us we need to do something. You may decide that all you need to do is ignore it, you may decide that you need to jump six feet sideways - but think of it as something to use. Better you spend another twelve months working on it, than get another twelve rejections.

Ability to work as a team member 

This I’m going to use to say that you have to get all your team players working toward the same goal, your book. You need to be up on the plot, you need the characters to work, you need to paint the scene, you need to keep up the pace - think of all these things as your team and don’t let one take over from the others.


If you have a deadline, meet it. A deadline is a gift, not a burden. Just be glad you’ve got one, if you ever do.


You’re creating a world, whether or not it’s a fantasy epic or Guilford in January, so do right by it. If the rain in your world is purple, it’s purple - so make sure it’s purple all the way through.


You are getting into the minds and hearts of your readers, I hope. Just be careful what you leave there.

Time keeping and punctuality 

Ok - stretching the point a little but timing is everything in writing as much as comedy. Always be aware of it, when building tension, when wrong footing the reader, especially when telling a joke. If I might load a second point onto this one, I’d also underline the importance here of reading things out loud. Everything, every word of what you think is your final draft must be read out loud to ensure that it is readable at all. You’ll hear at once if the timing is off or out, especially when it comes to dialogue - and yes, you have to do the accents and the voices and walk around the room in the guise of your characters.

Professional appearance 

How you present your work is crucial. There is a professional form you should follow when submitting. It’s not a question of people being awkward, it’s not a question of them nit-picking - it’s the way things are done. If you don’t do it, they will simply have an easy reason to throw your manuscript into the slush pile. There are lots of good books on the subject of submissions which are worth the read.


Don’t give things away lightly. This is going to be my exposition rant. You need to know everything about everyone in your book and everything in the world of your book, then write as if your reader does also. Don’t explain anything, don’t take a moment to set the scene - just be in the world of your book. As your characters walk through it, they will cause ripples in it which will turn into waves which will rock boats - and that’s your story. You know what I’m saying here, don’t you? Show, don’t tell.

Social media
There’s lots out there, some of it good, some of it bad. When you’re writing, turn it off. When you’re promoting, turn it on.

Now, how does your writing stack up, from one to ten? Go on, give it a go, and hopefully someone will come and mark you up as well.