Justin Cawthorne dot com

read, write, ramble

Page 4 of 54

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 …

pavlova

Week 51: Christmas is coming …

(December 17 – 23)

This week is all about that final run up to Christmas: that day that always lurks right near the end of the year, and then suddenly appears around the corner even when you think you’ve been watching out for it.

This time around I’ve mostly had two things on my mind: have I bought all the presents I need to get? And how long till my Christmas break starts? Preston buying this year has been a fluid and organic process. I’ve mostly been on top of it, but there’s constantly just ‘a few more presents’ to buy. Even when those presents are bought, there’s the wait for the last few deliveries to come. And when all the presents have come, then there’s the wrapping. But it all eventually leads to the giving, which is the really fun part.

Meanwhile, this week is also the last week of work for the year, and I feel more ready for a break than ever. I believe this is mostly because of what the break offers, than for any particular work-related sentiment. Not only do I get a weekend with my New Favourite Person, but I get to catch up with most of my friends, I have the traditional Christmas Eve viewing of Die Hard, I have Christmas Day, and then I have the best part of a week where I don’t have to get up and go to work. It’s one of my favourite weeks of the year; where normal routine is dropped and you can just do whatever you want.

Watching

After failing to keep up with The Good Place for several weeks, I sat down with the Elderbeast at the start of this week to wrap up series three … only to find that we’re still three episodes away from the end. Oh well, it was good to get caught up and I’m constantly impressed at the way the show manages to reinvent and reinterpret its premise.

I’m also continuing to make my way through The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina which, while filling a Buffy-shaped hole in my life, is very much its own thing and very enjoyable for it. I remain intrigued by the blurry camera effect. All I’ve been able to learn about it so far is that it bugs the hell out of a whole bunch of people on the internet. I don’t mind the effect too much myself, but I’m keen to understand the rationale behind it. It’s most obvious during scenes that involve magic, but then also appears during other, completely everyday scenes.

For Fridate we watched Bird Box (thanks, Netflix). As you’ll see below I also finished the book. Overall I found the film did a better job with the story than the book did. It’s fascinating to compare the two: the plot is broadly the same, a lot of the same beats are in there. However, the film has tweaked a few things, changed characters, moved a few plot points around, and general told a more satisfying story with a lot of the same pieces. Perhaps the most effective change is to add in

Reading

I managed to finish Bird Box this week, as I set out to do. It was a perfectly fine book, but probably not one I’ll be recommending to anyone. While the premise was intriguing, there was an overall lack of substance and the ‘interesting idea’ behind the story remained nothing more than an interesting idea.

lego diner

Week 50: Who?

(December 10 – 16)

I’ve written a huge amount in the ‘Watching’ section this week, so I’ll keep the weekly update to this: how come, when I’ve been buying presents for the last several weeks, I still seem to have so many left to buy? It’s endless …

Watching

The final Doctor Who episode of the new season (“The Battle of Pretentiously Unpronounceable”) landed this week, and it confirms my very mixed feelings about the new series.

Let me start by reaffirming that I love the new Doctor, and I love that the series is, once again, totally different to what it was before (and, yet, still Doctor Who). I say this because it’s increasingly hard to pick between those who have valid criticism of the show, and those who need to be ignored because they can’t handle that the Doctor is a woman now, or that she has companions with non-white skin, or that it’s not ‘their’ show any more. (And let’s also ignore those supposed ‘fans’ who simply love to dump on Doctor Who whatever the era or showrunner—God knows we’ve had enough of them over the last few years).

In almost every way, this season has been exemplary. The show looks and sounds incredible, the acting is top-notch, and the focus on character has added a degree of substance that the show has previously lacked.

That doesn’t, however, mean that it’s been perfect.

My one, solitary, single concern about the new season was that Chris Chibnall has written some of the show’s weakest stories in the past. And, unfortunately, this is exactly where the show has suffered this year. We’ve had one outstanding episode (“Rosa”), no stinkers (for a change), and nine other episodes that have levelled out at merely competent or, perhaps worse, have failed to achieve their potential. In short, this season has been full of episodes that are perfectly good, but almost completely forgettable.

There’s been an occasional tendency to throw enough good ideas at the screen to fill two or three episodes, but then fail to properly develop any of them (“It Takes You Away”). Meanwhile, several episodes have started off strongly, only to introduce alien foes that have largely distracted from the proceedings (“The Witchfinders”). There have been other stories that have been fun on the surface, but on a rewatch prove to be riddled head-scratching inconsistencies (“Arachnids In The UK”)

Overall, the most damning complaint about the new season is that it has been … unexciting.

My impression is of a slight lack of confidence and a desire to play it safe, as if Chris Chibnall has gone all out to make the show his own, but then faltered at the last hurdle and decided that you can’t do a Doctor Who stories without aliens, or that throwing ideas at the screen would mask the routine plot holes or occasional character inconsistencies. This was most apparent during the first half of the season, where we saw a run of episodes work through the main Doctor Who tropes and story settings; while the latter half of the season never really escaped from that to find its own feet, nor did it really escalate or build towards anything (except for, perhaps, Ryan and Graham’s fistbump).

I once read (I think) that being a Doctor Who fan was an exercise in preparing for disappointment. This is largely true. The innate charm of the show is what we tune in for. The times when it manages to bring everything together are the moments we wait for. The show is never unequivocally good; there are always strengths, but there are always concomitant weaknesses. Russell T Davies delivered emotion at the expense of consistency; Stephen Moffat stretched the fictional bounds of the show’s concept at the expense of character; now Chibnall is giving us character at the expense of strong storytelling.

The good news is that the ratings have been good, so there’s clearly a lot that’s right about the show. I truly hope that the fact that team is taking a year off (which still seems a bit rich after just one year in the job) means they’ll have the chance to really focus on the storytelling and deliver some scripts that match the quality of everything else about the show.

In other viewing news, I started watching The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina on Netflix this week, which I’ve been meaning to do for a while. So far it’s pretty awesome, but I’ll have more to say when I’ve seen more of the series.

I also laughed through a few more episodes of The Haunting Of Hill House, which continues to be excellent but is almost relentlessly grim. I’m equal parts relieved and disappointed that I only have four episodes left.

For Fridate horror we watched Child’s Play—I fancied a classic eighties horror, and realised that I’d never seen this one. It was fun, and I think it was the sense of humour that’s carried it through the years as I found it a bit threadbare otherwise. Even Chris Sarandon, who captivates the screen in Fright Night, comes across as hokey and uncharismatic here.

On Saturday the Elderbeast was at a sleepover, so I was able to choose my own viewing. Accordingly, I picked the superbly violent Indonesian thriller The Night Comes For Us. I was hoping this would be a spiritual successor to The Raid, and I wasn’t disappointed. The plotting and pacing were a bit shambolic, but the action scenes were magnificent, not to mention insanely gruesome in parts. I’m not, by default a fan of violent movies, but there’s a particular art and choreography in doing fight scenes and outrageous violence well, and this movie delivered that in exemplary fashion.

Reading

The movie adaption of Bird Box hits Netflix next week, so I’ve set myself that as a deadline for finishing the book. It’s been easy, relatively enjoyable reading so far—I’ve just not carved out much actual reading time over the last couple of weeks.

I’m approaching halfway though Leviathan Wakes and, again, mostly enjoying it. It’s, perhaps, moving a bit more slowly than I’d like but the characters and scenario are engaging enough to keep me listening.

I’ve got a huge backlog of stuff on my Spotify account. Between the few things I’ve purchased, the two Audible Originals I get each month, and the handful of items I’ve just bought in the end of year sale, I’ve probably got enough to keep me going through next year. I’ll have to work out how to get more listening time in!

Oh, and I’m also finding that I’m missing It, so I’ll probably go back and finish that next, which will take another several weeks …

please don't sign

Week 49: Snake demons not invited

(December 3 – 9)

The big occasion this week was the Elderbeast’s primary school graduation. I’ve been reflecting a lot on this.

On the one hand it’s simply leaving one school and starting another. There are no exams, qualifications, or specific achievements involved. On the other hand, it’s a pretty major life change for the Elderbeast. He’s been at his school for about 7 years now, he’s had several ups and downs, and he’s made a bunch of friends. Now he has to leave all of that behind, go to a completely different place each day and start to make brand new friends. Put it in those terms and it seems like quite a big ask for a 12 year old.

I’ll admit I started to feel a little emotional during the ceremony; thinking about how the Elderbeast is growing up, and thinking about how well he’s come through the various challenges of the last couple of years. It would have been nice to see him get one of the million or so awards and certificates that were given out as the main part of the assembly, but not every achievement can be marked by a piece of paper and I take a lot of satisfaction from knowing that that Elderbeast has, above all, had a happy year.

It was very sweet, after the ceremony, to see all the kids crying and hugging each other. There must have been a whirlwind of emotions for these kids, being placed front and center for the assembly, then realising that this day marks the start of a week that will end with some of them never seeing each other again. It was also good to see the tears quickly replaced by a form of elation, as the kids spent the ensuring morning tea hanging out and getting photos taken with each other.

Watching

The penultimate episode of Doctor Who this week (“It Takes You Away”), and I’m still not completely sure what to make of it. It started off firmly in horror territory—one of the Doctor Who tropes that, I think, the new series hasn’t really tackled yet. However, it then diverted into something closer to dark fantasy, before jumping head first into some sort of cosmic philosophy.

I like that we’ve had at least one episode where they took off the brakes a little and just ran with what they had. However, with at least three different stories going on in this one, I feel that neither was really done justice—and I definitely feel cheated out of a full on horror episode of Doctor Who.

And then (minor spoiler) we also need to talk about the frog …

A significant part of me loves that the show runners decided to represent a sentient alternate universe as a talking frog. However, I’m still wondering what the thinking was behind doing it with a particularly unconvincing frog puppet. It was so obviously bad that there has to be a rationale for it.

I caught up on another few episodes of The Haunting Of Hill House, which is truly excellent but almost overbearingly grim.

Fridate horror this week was a Netflix offering called Yesterday. For a short time I was baffled at its absence on IMDB, until I realised its original title was Yesterday, but it’s more commonly known as the The Blackcoat’s Daughter. It’s helmed by the same director as I Am The Pretty Thing … and has a very similar mood to it. I really enjoyed it, although the soporific tone did nearly send me to sleep!

The weekend also brought repeat viewings of Godzilla, Fright Night and The Shawshank Redemption, all of which are great.

Reading

I’ve been continuing to listen to Leviathan Wakes, and enjoying it. I’ve settled a bit more into the relatively flat narration, and am fully into the story. I’m intrigued by the way I’m getting drawn into it this time, while the TV adaptation left me a bit flat. I will write more on that later.

I’m also catching up with Bird Box when I can. It’s a relatively quick read, and I’m definitely hooked enough to want to see it through. Hopefully I can find time to finish it next week (ideally before the film hits Netflix).

Page 4 of 54

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén