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February schmebruary

(Week 9: February 24 – March 2)

writtenedited
Feb 1 – 8603295
Feb 10 – 15506644
Feb 17 – 22396470
Feb 24 – 287980
Total: 3,7122,3031,409

The good news is that the New Morning Routine is so far working out pretty well—or it least it would be if I hadn’t gotten sick halfway through the week. I managed an average of 400 words (written) for each of Monday and Tuesday (not my best, but not my worst either) and then used Wednesday to catch up on my blogs (for which I don’t bother counting words any more). Then I got sick and declined to get out of bed on Thursday and Friday.

The also good news is that the short story ideas are starting to flow again, and plot points and scenes for my novella are coalescing nicely; a sign that my brain is on board with this new routine.

I’ve put my February stats up above. As predicted, they’re a whole lot lower than January. No commentary required here: February was all about getting back into the new getting-the-kids-ready-for-school routine and working out what (and when) time was going to be left over for my writing. No surprise that there wasn’t much time left over for writing, or much writing. Fingers crossed for March!

Watching

I watched bits and pieces of Star Trek: Discovery and Russian Doll this week, but I’ll save writing about them for a later post.

Consequently the main viewing report for this week is Night Of The Comet (which was my choice for Fridate horror this week). Firstly, this isn’t really the ‘horror’ film I remember—I remembered lots and lots of zombies, and in the end there are about one and a half zombies (ah, the Two And A Half Men spin-off we never knew we needed unit now! Three Men And A Zombie, anyone…?).

Anyway, the fact that Night Of The Comet isn’t really a horror film doesn’t reduce any of its charm. It’s an eighties movie through and through, but with a solid core of the kind of dystopian science-fiction conspiracy stuff that was more common in the seventies. It’s also potentially the world’s only apocalyptic thriller with an upbeat shopping montage right in the middle.

Night Of The Comet is fondly remembered in cult circles, but never quite broke out. I suspect this is for two reasons. Firstly, the budget doesn’t quite match the ambitious vision (which might explain the limited zombies)—that being said, the film looks incredible for the most part. Secondly, it’s not horrific enough to be a horror film, nor sci-fi enough to be a sci-fi film, and it’s a touch too grim to be sold as a classic eighties teen movie—in short, it’s a bit on the unclassifiable side, which makes it hard to market.

Overall, a good watch, with enough style and substance to make up for any rough edges that remain.

Reading

This week I finished a book, which is always a momentous occasion. It was a novel called The Chalk Man, which I friend of mine recommended last year, and which I only got around to starting a few weeks ago.

Overall I enjoyed it. On the plus side, the plot steered off in a few directions that I didn’t expect, and avoided a few potential cliches on the way that would have had me tempted to put the book right back down. I also enjoyed that the plot was split across two times (1986 and 2016). It was good to see this working, given that my sci-fi novella adopts a similar structure. It was also mildly nostalgic, given that I was a teenager in the UK in 1986, which was exactly the case for the novel’s main characters.

There were, however, some things I found distracting. The book was marketed as being ‘in the style of Stephen King’. In the end I found it too self-consciously Kingesque—a bit like It-lite. The dialogue scenes were often completely tag-free as well, which removed a fair bit of detail from those scenes. Both of these issues will be things I’ll start scrutinising my own work for, as I suspect I’m just as guilty of them.

Finally, while I enjoyed the plot, I came away thinking that it was more of classic thriller with a few horror scenes bolted on. In fact, you could remove all elements of horror from this novel and it wouldn’t affect it one tiny bit.

Ultimately, a book I’m glad to have read (and the fact that I finished it is a pretty good compliment these days), but could probably been a truly great read with a teeny bit more focus.


The wheels on the bus go …

(Week 8: February 17-23)

This week, just as I was starting to get into my new routine, everything changed up again!

I wholeheartedly blame the Elderbeast, who is at last starting to take the bus to school—the delay being caused by waiting for his Smartrider card to arrive, and endured because his bus fare drops from $4.80 to $0.70 once he has the damn card.

Anyway, if you can recall as far back as last week, I was working on getting up around 6ish so that I could exercise/write/drink coffee until around 7:15am, at which time I would have to rouse said beast from his slumber and prepare him to be picked up at 7:45 and driven to school.

Now that he’s catching the bus, he needs to leave the house at around 7:15am instead, so that’s my schedule completely out of the window. However, I have a new plan and it’s very promising!

  • 6:03am – turn off ludicrously ambitious first alarm;
  • 6:19am – get up following far more acceptable second alarm;
  • 6:20am – cancel third alarm;
  • 6:30am – brief workout on the cross trainer;
  • 6:40am – start the process of extracting the Elderbeast from his bed;
  • 6:45am – present the Elderbeast with his morning kill (breakfast);
  • 6:45am to 7:15am – this time is now used for showering, checking emails, and general pottering about;
  • 7:15am – take the Elderbeast to the bus stop;
  • 7:20am – give the Kinderbeast breakfast;
  • 7:30am to 8:10am – writing time!!
  • 8:20am – leave the house.

As you can see, I’ve carved out at least half an hour for my writing. The big difference is that I’m now writing later in the morning, after I’ve done most of the annoying stuff. It’s only been in play for two days, but so far seems to be working well. I shall report back in further detail in a subsequent post.

Watching

Three fairly interesting films this week. Firstly, the long awaited (well, by the Elderbeast, at least) viewing of Predator 2. I remember this being a reasonably fun film, but it’s really, really not very good. Not painfully–or even entertainingly–bad, just disappointing. There are a lot of elements that should work, but the signs of a rushed production are far too apparent.

Also, as much as I enjoy seeing Danny Glover scrapping with aliens, the lead role should really have been rewritten to suit him a little better: he just doesn’t quite work as the sort of macho, flout-the-rules type character they’re trying to play him as. Also, he wears a range of perplexingly baggy clothes during the course of the movie.

Next up, this time for Friday horror, was Gerald’s Game: a film that’s been on my list for quite some time. This really was superb—a concept that I couldn’t quite convince myself would work as a movie, but proves to have plenty of mileage. And, this might be the first Friday horror film to contain a scene that I literally had to shield my eyes from. Let’s just say: degloving.

Finally, having recently read Northern Lights, I checked out the 2007 movie adaptation, The Golden Compass. As the reviews and lukewarm reception had suggested, this wasn’t an outright disaster, but was nevertheless a pale substitute for the book. To my mind it suffered from two critical flaws: they gave away pretty much the entire driving mystery of the book in the opening monologue (doh!); and the movie was edited so brutally that it came off as little more than a whistle-stop tour of scenes from the book. I don’t know if the original director’s cut would have solved that, but I’m left more with a sense of a missed opportunity than an outright disaster.

Still, at least I have the BBC adaptation to look forward to.

Reading

Bit of a reading lull at the moment, so you can take this week off 😉

The crack of the dawn whip

(Week 7: February 10-16)

Until very recently, my morning writing routine has been pretty simple: get up at 6:30am; make coffee; write until 7:30am; then get the kids ready for school while getting myself ready for work.

Unfortunately, the Elderbeast is now at a high school which, inconveniently, is somewhat further than a walk down the road away. This means I have to have him out of bed by about 7:15am to have any hope of him getting out of the house for 7:45am. Also, because he is apparently a high-functioning buffoon, I have to spend that entire half hour constantly reminding him of what he needs to do next in order to finish getting ready.

To further complicate matters, I’ve started using my cross trainer in the mornings. I’m only doing 5-10 minutes each day (my goal here is for it to become a habit; not for me to immediately do my 20 minutes a day). If you’ve done your calculations right, you’ll realise that this now leaves me with about 10-15 minutes of quality writing time.

The obvious answer—other than to give up on everything!!—is to start getting up earlier. Accordingly, I’ve started moving my alarms forward by 5 mins to ease me into an earlier start (I have three morning alarms, set at various intervals … though I typically get up on the first one). I’m currently managing a reasonable 20-25 minute writing session, but I am craving the return of my old 45 minute window. In promising news, I’m finding that I’m starting to wake up naturally just before 6am.

The struggle continues.

Watching

At the Elderbeast’s request we took in a rewatch of Edge Of Tomorrow at the weekend. I really like this film: it’s comfortably settled into the Good Fun category for me, but I’m always pleasantly surprised to remember that it also belongs in the Really Good Film category. On this rewatch, I ended up paying closer attention to Tom Cruise’s performance, and the way his character basically evolves from arsehole to hero. I can easily buy him as both/either, but the way Cruise manages to convincingly transition from one to the other is one of the reasons I find myself giving him a lot more credit these days than I would a few decades ago.

At the weekend, thanks to the dubious magic of Foxtel, I was able to catch the end of The Matrix and the beginning of a second film that looked like the Matrix, had a lot of the same characters and actors in, but can’t have been a Matrix film because it was terrible.

All joking aside, the catastrophic cliff-drop in storytelling competence between The Matrix and its two sequels is one of those things that will endlessly fascinate me. It’s (probably) what happens when you get carte blanche to do whatever you want and no one is prepared to tell you otherwise. With The Matrix, the Wachowskis had no choice but to hone the script to perfection in order to sell it. Then, it becomes a huge hit and they’re given all the money they want by the studio to make, well, more money (a.k.a sequels). Thing is, when you’re not challenged as a storyteller, you get lazy: you take shortcuts and you forget that the rules are typically there because they work.

I’ve always figured this is what happened with George Lucas. With A New Hope he faced an uphill battle to get the film made at all. With Empire, he still had to prove that he could sustain a franchise. By the time the prequels came around he had a licence to print money, and no one was going to say no to any of his terrible scripts or dubious ideas.

Anyway, I’ll park this discussion with two links for you. The first offers up Syd Field, screenwriting guru, explaining why he likes the script for The Matrix so much. The second is written by Carson Reeves, accidental script guru, and gives ten basic storytelling errors that The Matrix Reloaded makes (and which help explain why it’s such an unsatisfying film).

Reading

This week I started a new audiobook: a full-cast adaptation of Dracula. I was mostly drawn by the overwhelmingly positive reviews, but it also slotted in nicely alongside my rewatching of the Hammer Dracula films. Obviously this is a very different beast.

I’ve read the novel of Dracula precisely once, which is about the right number for the majority of novels, but seems a bit on the low side for something as noteworthy as Dracula. Either way, this is already proving a pretty good way to revisit the novel. At this point I’m spending most of my time in Castle Dracula with Jonathan Harker (performed by my new favourite narrator: Simon Vance). Despite the epistolary format of the novel, Vance also takes the opportunity to perform as Dracula (in scenes where Harker is recounting his encounters with the Count … sorry). Vance gives Dracula a voice reminiscent of the classic Trahn-sill-vahy-nyan Draculas gone by but also manages to reflect the fact that at this point in the story the Count is an old man. It’s a performance that enlivens an already engrossing listen no end.

This one is 15 hours long, so we’ll be on this journey for a few weeks yet. Sure, I know the story, but it’s good to rediscover it all over again.

January stats

(Week 6: February 3 – 9)

This marks the first week back at school for the Kinderbesten, and the first week of high school for the Elderbeast. Unsurprisingly, my morning routine has taken quite a hit. However, I’m going to talk a bit more about that in next week’s post; for now, let’s take a look at those January stats.

As previously covered, I stuck with two writing projects in January: a short, M.R. James inspired horror story; followed by a return to my sci-fi novella. January is typically a pretty strong month for me, and those word counts you see up there are only slightly higher than my figures for last year. One of the things that contributed to this was having a solid concept to help me power through my short story, which you’ll see reflected in the figures for weeks 1 to 3. As for the rest of the month, a relatively energetic editing spree on my novella kept the numbers flowing. I suspect the stats for February won’t be nearly as impressive.

Looking back at previous years, I do tend to start the year with a reasonable level of motivation and, often, a specific project in mind. It’s good to start on a high. One thing I’m particularly pleased with this month is that I’ve missed very few writing days; and the days that I have missed were typically ones where I had other things going on, so writing wasn’t on the cards anyway.

Something I can take away from this—other than January being an atypically productive month—is that having a well defined short story project is clearly good for my productivity. Nothing, after all, demotivates me more than floundering around wondering where the next words need to go. I think I’ll see if I can carry that approach over to my novella, and try working on each chapter as a short story project.

writtenedited
(Week 1) Jan 1 – 4 1284
0
(Week 2) Jan 6 – 11 12021911
(Week 3) Jan 13 – 1811635873
(Week 4) Jan 20 – 2506105
(Week 5) Jan 28 – 3104148
Total: 21,6863,64918,037

Watching

This week’s viewing highlight was the next entry in my unofficial rewatch of the Hammer Dracula movies: Taste The Blood Of Dracula.

These films are often less than good, but never less than fascinating. This was the fourth movie in the series, and by this time Christopher Lee’s reluctance to reprise the role was such that a replacement character was created—and even plays a significant role in the film—only for Lee to finally don the cape again.

I can really begin to understand Lee’s reticence. Despite the title, Dracula is no longer the star. He’s reduced to a macguffin in his own movie, literally skulking in the shadows and emerging for the occasional cameo appearance. He is the plot function around which all the other characters move—rarely, in fact, serving to move the plot forward in any meaningful way. In this movie, particularly, he often stands back while his minions get to do the dirty work.

Also, I’m now fascinated by the poor quality of Lee’s teeth, given the inevitable prominence they receive in numerous scenes.

Anyway: not a great movie by any means, but still a fun and rewarding experience. I’m already, perhaps masochistically, looking forward to the next one.

Reading

I finished the audiobook of Leviathan Wakes this week and ended up really enjoying it. It’s quite clearly a story in two halves, and I can see now why the first series of the TV only covered the first half of the first book. I found the second half a lot more engaging, and I’m a little tempted to return to the TV series now to see how it all comes out on screen.

While I had given consideration towards returning to IT, I eventually filled my audiobook gap with a full cast adaptation of Dracula—of which more next week.

In the ‘actually reading words with my eyes’ department, I’ve started reading a novel called The Chalk Man, which was recommended to me. So far I’m really into it—not in the least because it’s partly set in England in 1986, which is bringing back some memories of my own teen years.

The Dreaded Blank Page

(Week 5: January 27 – February 2)

Towards the end of this week, I hit a brick wall: the point where the words I was editing in my sci-fi novella ran out, and the dreaded blank page came slamming out of the darkness.

I’ll confess, it took me a bit by surprise. My memory had deceived me and led me to believe I had more words to chew on. I didn’t realise I was taking a running jump into the deep end. Obviously the goal of doing an editing session from chapter one (if you recall last week’s blog post) was to get the momentum going so I could fly right into those new words when the time came.

Unfortunately, that did not happen. I went from morning sessions where I’d edit a 1200 word chunk of work, to mornings where I could barely crack a word count of 300 (new words). Pretty frustrating.

There were a couple of external factors. It was the end of the week, it’s been hot, I’ve not been sleeping well. All of these things make my brain sluggish, and slow down the pumping out of new words. I’m also wondering if the shift from editing to writing is a bit jarring in this case, given that I’m typically used to writing a first draft, and then editing it.

My response to this is the same as always. 300 words is still better than zero words. However, if I find myself just sitting there facing a brick wall then I simply shift aside and work on something else (such as this blog post).

Watching

The Elderbeast fancied watching Predator 2 over the weekend. This. Did. Not. Happen. Mostly for reasons of tech fail. As an alternative we ended up watching the Star Trek Discovery ‘Short Treks’ which had recently arrived on Netflix. I loved both the concept and execution of these: brief tales that have no tangible impact on the main narrative, but give you a broader glimpse into the universe.

My favourite was Calypso. This takes place on the USS Discovery itself, but many hundreds of years into the future. It tells a beautiful story in its own right, but in the background there’s the funereal setting of a completely abandoned starship and all the questions that remain unanswered. Where did the crew go? Why has the ship been left to lurk, hidden inside a nebula? What has happened rat humanity in the intervening centuries?

(I was also delighted to see that this one was written by Michael Chabon, who’s not only an awesome author, but is also one of the writers on the new Picard series.)

For the record, the other three shorts are pretty good as well, particularly the Harry Mudd one, which is hilarious. Well worth 15 to 18 minutes of your time per episode.

Reading

Northern Lights book cover

I finished Northern Lights this week, which might be my fastest read in a long, long time. Being fifteen years or so since my first read of the book, it’s probably not surprising that there were very few details I remembered. It is, however, interesting to come to the story with a fairly fresh perspective and with the knowledge that there’s a TV adaptation in works (I was frequently trying to envisage how various scenes would work on-screen).

I’m keen to plough straight into the next book in the series, but I’ve decided I’ll space them out and pick up something else from my to-read pile in the interim.

rainy window

Back to the Forge

(Week 4: January 20 – 26)

Having completed my first short story of the year, I elected to return to the sci-fi novella I started last year (and got about halfway through before either running out of steam or getting briefly distracted by other ideas). Given that it had been a while, I reasoned that it would be smart to kick off with a fresh edit from chapter one so I could get back into the right frame of mind.

This gave me the perfect chance to implement a change I’ve been planning for a while now. The story is split between two narrative strands, following different characters at different points in the timeline of the plot. The first of these strands follows a single person (which already introduces a number of challenges, as well as opportunities).

A writer friend of mine read an early draft of the first chapter last year and suggested that it was the perfect chance to use the ‘deep POV’ style of writing. I wasn’t immediately familiar with the term, so I did some research into it and quickly decided that my friend was absolutely right.

I won’t go into what deep POV is here, as there are plenty of articles already out there, but I’ll do want to talk a little bit about how I went about adapting what I’d written so far.

Firstly, I went through each chapter and highlighted any elements that might take the reader out of the character’s POV. These include constructions like ‘she thought’, ‘she saw’, ‘she said’–in short, all the observational third person tags that give away the fact that there’s a writer at work here. These all had to go.

The next step was the most interesting. This was where I had to replace all of those tags with deep POV. This was surprisingly hard. We naturally write in either the third person or the first person. Writing deep POV is a blend of the two: it’s a third person narrative, but almost indistinct from first person in parts. I’m sure I’ll get into the swing of it in time, but my writer-brain doesn’t intuitively write this way. Yet.

I don’t have any decent samples from my own text to share, but by way of an illustration I’d be looking for something like this:

She heard a sound. She thought it was creepy. She decided to run away.

(And, for the record: no, I don’t write that badly even in my first drafts!) Having identified the offending text, I’d then change it to something like:

The sound was like a thousand dirty nails raking across her spine. Her skin tightened. Her blood begged to freeze in her veins. The terror drove her legs, taking her anywhere but closer to where the sound had come from.

The changes can be more subtle than that, but the why limit yourself when the opportunity to completely immerse yourself in the character’s head is there? It might be tricky, but it’s a rewarding process for a writer: right inside my character’s head is exactly where I want to be.

And now I have five more chapters of this to go through …

Watching

Dunkirk movie poster

Myself and the Elderbeast found ourselves in the mood for watching something on Monday night, and disappointingly bereft of any specific choices. After a relatively brief trawl through my Netflix list, the Elderbeast picked out Dunkirk. We saw this together at the cinema together last year, and both really enjoyed it, so I was certainly keen to revisit it.

There were two noticeable differences for me on this second viewing. Firstly, I was fully clued up on the film’s somewhat eccentric narrative structure this time around (in short: one of the narrative threads takes place over an hour; the second over a day; and the third over a with all three eventually coinciding near the end of the film). This meant I was no longer forced to wonder such things as whether I’d imagined seeing Cillian Murphy in two seemingly different roles or not.

The second difference was the sound. Now, the sound design is a fundamental part of this movie. Hans Zimmer’s soundscape is calculated to increase tension at key points; the distinctive sound of the fighter jets is meant to inspire the same fear in the audience as it would have for the soldiers on the ground–Dunkirk is as much an auditory experience as a visual one. All of this still jumped right out, but even with my half-decent surround system there was nowhere near the same sensory impact that the cinema offered. This is definitely one of those rare films that is absolutely designed to be seen on the big screen and truly provides a worthwhile experience if you do so.

Halloween 2018 movie poster

Towards the end of the week I spotted that the reboot/remake/sequel of Halloween was out on bluray, which made our Fridate horror viewing a pretty easy choice. I’ve been keen to see this for a while, but given that it was out for about two minutes in the cinemas, I missed my chance first time around. While I still don’t quiiiiite think this quite matches up to the original, I’m pretty comfortable saying that it’s easily the best of the sequels and makes for a very worthy follow up to the original (and best).

A few comments on this one. First, the body count is significantly greater than in the original film—not sure if the filmmakers felt this was a necessary escalation, or if it was a logical extension of the narrative. I don’t believe it was for gratuitous horror reasons as there were some other interesting choices made. For one, many of the deaths either happen either offscreen or just out of shot. There are plenty of appropriately gory moments, but it’s interesting to note that the filmmakers appear to be actively rejecting any torture-porn opportunities.

Second comment is that, while the movie has numerous truly impressive shots, there’s an almost deliberately unstyled approach. It’s as if the filmmakers are avoiding the obvious visual cues that this is a horror movie, which makes some sense given the emphasis on psychology and family.

Definitely one that’s already demanding a repeat viewing.

Reading

Northern Lights book cover

My Awesome Partner is currently reading Northern Lights (aka The Golden Compass; aka the first part of Philip Pullman’s excellent His Dark Materials series). Given that this happened on my recommendation, and I’ve been meaning to give the series a reread pretty much since I first read the book, I decided to give it a go myself

I shouldn’t have been surprised, given how much I enjoyed it first time around, but I sat down to try out the first chapter and ended up three chapters in before I was ready to put it down. I’ll have more to say on the book in the next post or two, but it’s always such an excellent experience to pick up a book that you genuinely don’t want to put down. I suspect this one won’t take me too long to finish.

eggs

Moar ghosts in the machine

(Week 3: January 13 – 19)

I’ve been working on just one story since the start of the year: an M.R. James inspired Christmas ghost story (the idea for which clearly arrived at least two months too late). It’s not an especially original tale, but I often enjoying writing to a particular style as a mini challenge.

I typically think of my writing process as one of adding layers of detail and texture. The first draft is there to get the bare bones of the story down. The second draft fixes up the plot and refines the characterisation. The third (and sometimes final) draft, finesses the flow of the story: tidying up the language, smoothing out rough edges and inconsistencies, making sure the characters are convincing.

With this particular story, I realised, as I started the second draft, that the structure wasn’t quite right. A good horror story needs a few things to work: it needs an escalation of fear (you don’t, after all, want to make things less scary), but it also needs a good hook to grab the reader’s interest in the first place. In this instance, I’d written a pretty good hook, but it came at the start of the second act.

Fixing this wasn’t too tricky as the story had a fairly simple structure. I moved the hook to the start of the first act, and then found an even better lead-in to the second act (one that appropriately escalated things). Otherwise, much of the plotting and dialogue remained largely as it was.

I did still have a small problem with escalation: in this new version, the story begins with one character in a clear state of terror (as opposed to being mildly disturbed). This means that the ‘range of terror’ I have to play with is reduced: I have less capacity to escalate. I have (hopefully) resolved this by spending a bit more time on the relationship between the characters, and adding in just enough background texture to make the setting subtly, but increasingly oppressive.

This is one of the reasons why I often enjoy the editing process more than the initial writing. Sometimes you might get the story more or less right in the first draft, but more often than not it’s the reading of that first draft that truly starts to reveal the possibilities of a story to you.

Watching

poster for dracula has risen from the grave

Fridate Horror this week was the next instalment in our unofficial/occasional rewatch of the Hammer Dracula films; bringing us to Dracula Has Risen From The Grave. Spoiler: Dracula rises from the grave and kills people. Remarkably few people, actually.

Following on from the surprising, and very welcome, viciousness of Dracula Prince Of Darkness, this entry was relatively tame but sets the formula of an imperilled damsel and a dashing hero which, I think, gets recycled over the next few films.

The main point of interest remains Christopher Lee. In some respects I find his performance almost comical at times–laughably unthreatening, and occasionally gangly and graceless. However, I recall various other actors who have tried to bring menace and undead life to the Count, and it becomes clear how effortlessly Lee manages it. He only needs to stand there, and maybe snarl a bit, and he’s already nailed it. It remains a bit of a tragedy that he was never given a really, really good Dracula film to, ahem, sink his teeth into.

Reading

book cover for doctor who tales of terror

I finished Doctor Who: Tales Of Terror this week and, while it may not have been the meatiest or most chilling of reads, it was definitely a whole lot of fun. Several stories had the seed of some really horrific material in them, and it was always interesting seeing how well (or otherwise) the writers managed to capture the personality of their particular Doctor.

My summary of the last six stories goes something like this:

  • The Seventh Doctor and Ace visit Victorian London, and find something terrible lurking beneath the surface of a tortured painter’s latest work;
  • The Eighth Doctor battles a genetically engineered monster on a cruise ship (this was fun, but also laughably terrible—like a high school fiction assignment);
  • The Ninth Doctor unmasks a ghostly Pierrot haunting an travelling carnival in what is easily the most horrific story in the collection;
  • The Tenth Doctor and Martha encounter the Family of Blood one last time;
  • The Eleventh Doctor saves a family from the weeping angels;
  • The Twelfth Doctor helps a brother and sister fight off an army of creepy, baby-faced dolls (yes, they’re Autons)

Overall the second half of the book seemed much stronger than the first, with most of the stories working well in their own right, as opposed to feeling like part of a themed collection. I would probably pick the Ninth Doctor story as my favourite, purely because the concept was so appealingly grotesque.

However, kudos go to the Eleventh Doctor story for managing to draw some fresh mileage from the weeping angels, and the Twelfth Doctor tale for brilliantly capturing that Doctor’s personality.

pretty sunset

2018 in words and numbers

(Week 2: January 6 – 12)

Having looked at my annual totals in last week’s post, this week I want to focus specifically (and briefly) on my stats for 2018.

Writtenavg.EditedTotal
Totals:91,589640
93,770185,359
Jan17,603
103511,31328,916
Feb7,9865321,4439,429
Mar5,84941810,69116,540
Apr9,8015452,81512,616
May9,70374610,16519,868
Jun2,15553915,46115,461
Jul10,9349119,5519,551
Aug3,3196648904,209
Sep9,0675677,2007,200
Oct9,6335075,8205,820
Nov9,63361512,10712,107
Dec 1,231 4106,3147,545

Having looked at my annual totals in last week’s post, this week I want to focus specifically (and briefly) on my stats for 2018.

Overall last year was pretty good writing-wise; far more consistent than the preceding few years. Thanks, in part, to my cosy writing corner (which I set up in my bedroom halfway through 2017) I managed to more or less avoid the winter slump that has hit me in previous years. I suspect those low August figures are more to do with me being particularly poor at recording my daily word counts during that month than anything else. In fact, if there has been any single ongoing issue during last year, it’s my lax attitude to properly recording my writing output. That’s something I plan to improve on this year.

Going briefly through the rest of the year … the high word count in January is down to two things: some fairly chunky blog posts, and a couple of epic sessions on a story that I was clearly very motivated to write. I did a further draft of that same story in March, partly accounting for that month’s high editing count, but also started work on a sci-fi novella; progress on which helped keep my word counts healthy over much of the year. November saw me revisiting a few stories I’d started earlier in the year, with some bumper editing sessions. December, perhaps predictably, ended up being largely overtaken by Christmas.

In total, I started ten new stories in 2018; 7 of those are now complete, and 3 still need work. I wrote 52 blog posts, of varying length. I also managed to write somewhere in the region 30,000 words towards a sci-fi novella (which, given I’m only halfway though, may well end up being a novel).

So, yeah, pretty happy with 2018.

Watching

I watched little of note this week, so let’s skip ahead to the next section.

Reading

i am legend graphic novel cover

Just before Christmas I bought an anthology of Richard Matheson adaptations from ComiXology. For some reason, I Am Legend had been on my mind over the last month, so I started with that story. It turned out to be an immensely detailed—and very lengthy—adaptation. I haven’t read the original novel, but I get the feeling this retelling crams as many of the original words in as possible. It was very similar, in fact, to the graphic novel of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? which I read last year, and which very much felt like the novel being retold with imagery (as opposed to the rushed Cliff’s Notes version which many adaptations end up being).

It took me several nights to read, and left me with the sense that I’d been on a journey with the main character—which is exactly what you want from a novel. The stark black and white design conveyed the desolation of the story beautifully, without ever distracting from it.

Overall, definitely recommended; though I’m highly tempted to read to novel now to see if it really does compare as closely as I suspect.

black and white cat sleeping on sofa

The words that count

(Week 1: Jan 1 – 5)

I’m going to start this year’s posts by looking back at my writing stats for the last four years. It seems like a crazy long time ago now, but it was in late 2014 that I made the decision to start getting up early in the mornings to do my writing (instead of struggling through the evenings). At the same time, I began recording my daily word counts so I could see if this new strategy was actually working.

This number crunching ended up serving a few purposes. Firstly, it gave me a reasonable idea of my average rate, so I now know how much I can expect to write per week/month. Secondly, it gave me a picture of which times of year I tended to write more or less. This is particularly valuable for the latter, as it helps me to work on strategies for beating those slumps (such as finding a warmer place to write on winter mornings).

Finally, it continues to offer a very simple reward strategy: the more words I write, the better I feel. And, if I have a frustrating day when I only manage to write a hundred words, I can console myself by looking at all the other days when I’ve written well above my average.

Writing

Total words writtenTotal days of writingAverage words per day
201891,589143640
201734,67965534
201646,71772649
201585,548118725

So, I’m already feeling pretty good about that word count for 2018. It felt like a pretty productive year at the time, and those numbers prove the case. Sure, my average is a little down on some previous years, but I’ve been working on an assumed average of around 640 words per day for a while now so I’m very happy to be sticking with that.

Looking through the other years … 2017 is the same year that my marriage ended, so it’s not really surprising that there were a good few months in there that I didn’t get much done. 2016 found me writing a bunch of new stories, but I spent almost twice as many days editing that year as writing (and you’ll see those figures below). 2015 is still the year to beat: it’s the year I began working on a novel, which gave me a fairly consistent and disciplined workflow. For a while, at least …

Editing

Total words editedTotal days of editingAverage words per day
201893,770
97967
201791,50897943
2016147,5471421,039
2015130,8651031,271

I record my editing word counts quite simply: it’s the number of words in whichever chunk of whatever story I’ve edited that day. Sometimes this involves writing new words, or changing existing words, or just rereading what’s there. I usually do at least three drafts of any story, which means my editing word count would typically be at least twice that of my writing word count.

Clearly I’ve left 2018 with a slight editing backlog. The word count for 2016 is particularly high as I put serious effort into submitting my stories that year; so, naturally, I put a lot of time and effort into making them as good as they could be. 2015, meanwhile, is slightly lower due to me only getting to second draft stage on several chapters of the novel.

Days (and Totals)

Total words crunchedTotal Days’ crunchingDays missed
2018185,359240125
2017126,187162203
2016194,264214161
2015216,413221144

For this stat, I simply total up the number of days on which I did any writing or editing (for days missed, I then subtract that from the total number of days in the year). I take every Saturday off, so I’m automatically down by 52 before I even start. Then there’ll be days where I’m sick, or overslept, or something else comes up.

I’m pretty happy with my stats for 2018, but if there’s one stat I’d like to improve in 2019, it’s this one: I’d really like to see it nudge a lot closer to 300 days for this year.

Targets

So, based on all of the above, I reckon my targets for 2019 could look something like:

  • Writing total: 64,000 words (100 days @ 640 words/day)
  • Editing total: 200,000 words (200 days @ 1,000 words/day)

Let’s see how I do.

(Author’s note: so, although my 2019 posts are going to be primarily writing focused, I have decided to keep my Watching and Reading sections. This is mostly because I enjoy writing these bits, but also because it gives me the opportunity to talk about stories that other people are telling!)

Watching

poster for doctor who resolution

January 2 saw the debut of the first ever New Year’s Day Doctor Who special (“Resolution”). It proved to be a perfectly entertaining episode that’s packed so full of stupid that it’s hard not to loathe yourself a little for enjoying it once you start scratching below the surface. While there was undeniably a lot of fun to be had, I could go on for way too long about the simple flaws and inconsistencies that could have easily been ironed out had someone taken another pass over the script. Rather than pick through them myself, I’ll pass this one over to Andrew Ellard and his always excellent Tweetnotes on the episode.

poster for The ABC Murders on BBC

I also watched The ABC Murders, the latest BBC/Sarsah Phelps/Agatha Christie adaptation. I’d checked out Ordeal By Innocence (the previous year’s offering) a week earlier, and found myself far less engaged by this Poirot-based follow up. It was perfectly good, but somehow lacked the compelling sense of mystery and personal drama that has driven the other Phelps/Christie adaptations.

poster for the babysitter movie

My final notable viewing of the week was The Babysitter, one of Netflix’s horror movie offerings. This was awesome. It was as if John Hughes, Quentin Tarantino and Sam Raimi had decided to make a horror movie together. Given the freshness and energy on display, it’s all the more surprising to note that it’s directed by McG; someone you’d expect to be a bit jaded after being chewed up and spat out by the Hollywood machine. I won’t say much more about it, for fear of spoiling a few surprises, but there’s a lot of fun to be had with this one.

Reading

book cover for doctor who tales of terror

Main reading this week is a short story collection called Doctor Who: Tales Of Terror, which my awesome partner bought me for Christmas. As you might deduce, it’s a collection of short, horror-themed Doctor Who stories. Excellent! Of course, Doctor Who is traditionally tinged with terror, but most of these tales still manage to do something with the theme. That said, they are clearly written with an all-ages audience in mind, so there’s only so far they can go.

The best part is that each of the twelve stories features one each of the twelve Doctors (as of the time of publication), which gives a satisfying sense of progression to the collection.

For now, have a quick summary of the first six stories:

  • The First Doctor, Stephen and Dodo find themselves in the midst of a particularly creepy Halloween party, and run into an old foe. A fun way to start the collection: suitably themed, and with some nice fan service;
  • The Second Doctor is forced to come to the rescue when Ben, Polly and Jamie try out a ouija board they find in the secondary control room. This felt like the horror angle had been forced in somewhat, but was still an enjoyable romp;
  • The Third Doctor and Jo Grant encounter a stranded dalek hiding in the woods. It was funny reading this one so soon after the New Year’s Special (Resolution) given the obvious similarities. This one could have easily ramped up the horror, so there’s a small feeling that there’s a missed opportunity here, but it was a pretty well rounded story and felt very authentic to the era;
  • The Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry fend off witches trying to invade the TARDIS. This wasn’t perhaps the most memorable story, but had some nice links to specific Ninth and Tenth Doctor stories, and also earns marks for giving Harry Sullivan a bit more time on board the TARDIS;
  • The Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough have an unexpected reunion with a familiar adversary. This one was actually pretty dark, and did a nice job of using the little-seen, oft-derided Kamelion;
  • The Sixth Doctor has to contend with some mysterious trick or treaters, in a tale which turns out–quite nicely–to be a sequel to the first tale in this collection.

If I had to choose only one of the above to read again, it would probably be the Third Doctor one (though I particularly enjoyed the Sixth Doctor story too).

cosmic command toy

Week 52: The end

(December 24- 31)

It’s the first day of 2019 as I write this, and this will be the last post for 2018. It will also be the last ‘diary style’ post that I do on this blog. I began this slightly crazy project exactly two years ago, with a vague idea in the back of my head that I should document my experiences during 2017. That instinct turned out, absurdly, to be right: 2017 ended up being a pretty crazy year.

Ending these diary posts at this point in my life brings a nice circularity to things. I started 2017 married to someone I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with. That relationship ended a few short months into the year. Now, I end 2018 in a relationship with someone I met a few short months ago, and who I’m already certain I will be spending the rest of my life with.

But, through the course of the last year–and from these two years of journaling–what have I learned?

Perhaps the most important lesson is that things turn around. Balance will return if you’re patient and tenacious enough–and, most importantly, if you’re lucky enough. 2017 was tumultuous, to say the least. It wasn’t quite a downward spiral, but it was a time when my life was thrown up in the air and I didn’t necessarily end the year finding out how all of those pieces were all going to land.

2018, in contrast, felt more like the recovery. It was purposefully unambitious. Things ambled along steadily and securely. Life carried on. My family and I learned, together, that things could continue working perfectly well. The most important outcome is that my kids are happy, which is one of the best things I could ask for–that’s not just down to me; it’s taken both parents, the rest of the family, and a lot of friends to make that happen, and I’m grateful to everyone who’s had a part in that.

After the events of 2017, I was quite happy with having a relatively unspectacular 2017. For a time the biggest highlight was the Elderbeast getting into the Gifted & Talented program (and he ends this year having graduated from primary school, and ready to start his first year at high school). I did spend a lot of time reflecting on the end of my marriage and my unplanned single status. For the most part I found myself at peace with it all.

Sometime around the middle of the year a friend asked me if I was dating yet. That simple question unearthed a whole cacophony of conflicting thoughts. There was the very real possibility that I might have remained single for the rest of my life, and I was prepared to accept that. Then again, the one thing I was consistently missing was a sense of companionship. Above all else, I assumed I’d already had my shot, and that I had no chance of meeting someone who would be perfectly right for me. I assumed that if I ever did meet someone there would be some element of compromise, and maybe, if that was the case, then it simply wasn’t to be.

After a while, I stopped worrying about it all and figured things would happen if they were meant to happen.

And then I met someone. And she was absolutely perfect.

And that’s all you get about that on this blog 😉

Getting back on point, throughout all of this–the last two years–I’ve learned that journaling has been a big help to me, even when I’ve been at my most vague, or my most trivial. The act of writing all this crap down inevitably moved beyond any irrational need to share the minutiae of my life and has become an essential exercise for me. It’s become a chance to reflect on my recent past and a regular opportunity to clear the cobwebs with a bit of [almost] free writing. It’s a chance to get something written even when I don’t have a story in play.

For those reasons, I won’t be completely abandoning this blog or my journaling habits. One of my not-resolutions for 2019 is to focus a bit more on my writing–I wrote plenty during 2018, but with little corresponding effort towards getting anything published.

I also want to write more about writing than I have done to date; so my blog in 2019 will be some form of writing diary. I’ll probably keep up the watching/reading sections, but my posts will otherwise be an update on what I’ve been writing each week and will, hopefully, include some useful reflections and lessons learned for any other budding writers out there who happen to be reading.

Let’s see how that goes …

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