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A New Direction

So, I haven’t touched this blog in a while. Like, a while. And this is why: It used to be my writing blog. I would write about my education, my craft, what I was reading, writing tips, the book industry, and so on. But I’m now writing about that stuff in a more professionally focused way over on my business blog: Playle Editorial Services.

I haven’t journaled for a while, either. Not online, or on paper. And I’m getting the urge to do so again. I used to write so freely, and over the past couple of years I’ve been experiencing a resistance to writing. I’ve written about this before, but the truth is it is still something I’m struggling with. I’ve been doing some deep exploration on this, and it seems I have some strangely deep-rooted fears of judgement, which are causing me to seize up. I’ll write more about that another day.

For now, though, I just want to say that I’m ready to start taking some tentative steps in journalling out my thoughts. I have no idea why I feel compelled, like so many people, to do this on a public blogging platform. Perhaps it’s because I know that on the other side of the coin (the one that has harsh judgement and criticism on one side), there is an opportunity for powerful connection on the other.

I’ve always had an ‘if you want a job done properly, you’d better do it yourself’ kind of attitude. I seem to have an issue with high expectations – mostly of myself. Over the past few weeks, I’ve reached out to people for their assistance, skills, insights, opinions – and I’m really starting to feel the value in this. I’ve been impressed with the generous spirit in which people are willing to give,  and how inspiring they can be.

In light of this website’s rebirth, bear with me while I update the design and content. But whoever you are, nosy reader, you can expect more from me in the future.

Checking In – And an Exploration of Character Superobjectives

Once again, time is flying by. After a quiet (and stressful) few months before Christmas, work has really picked up. This is brilliant insofar as my business is growing – but it also means I don’t have a lot of time to focus on myself or my own writing goals. I’m working with more writers (and doing slightly less copywriting) at the moment, so it’s difficult to immerse myself in someone else’s literary work, and then try to immerse myself in my own. An excuse? No, I don’t think so. Though I’m still feeling guilty about abandoning my novel for so long.

I’ve been reading a lot. Outside of reading manuscripts for work, I’ve been continuing to read Monkeys with Typewriters by Scarlet Thomas, and have started reading Blog Design for Dummies by Melissa Culbertson (I don’t like the ‘For Dummies’ brand, but I follow Melissa’s blog, Blog Clarity, and really like her stuff), and for my fiction fix I’m reading Orkney by Amy Sackville, recommended to me by fellow creative Sam Russell (and I’m finding the writing absolutely breath-taking).

Monkeys with Typewriters is really insightful. I’ve just read the chapter on characterisation, and think it might be the most useful section yet. Thomas talks about superobjectives, and this is something I’ve been vaguely aware of for my own characters, but have struggled to figure out. Thomas says:

A character’s superobjective is their prime motivating desire. It’s what he or she wants more than anything else. (p280)

More than one character means more than one superobjective, and drama is created from having two (or more) superobjectives in competition or conflict with each other. (p284)

Good superonjectives don’t just help us to understand our characters and make them act – they connect out fictional characters with the bigger themes of our plots and, if we do it right, with wider concerns outside the plot. (p287)

The superobjective goes beyond the character’s surface desire, the one that moves the plot forwards, to the single universal (often unobtainable) desire that motivates their very existence.

For example, in my own novel, the main character Hetti has had her arm replaced with a mechanical one after being in an accident in the engine room of an airship. The decision was not her own – it was inflicted upon her by her mother, who thought it would give her the best chance in a dangerous world. Hetti resents the mechanical arm (she uses this resentment as a means of not having to deal with the fact she is now disfigured), and she resents her mother for inflicting it upon her (she cannot see her mother’s point-of-view in the matter). Her objective throughout the novel is to seek out the surgeon who grafted the arm onto her, and have him remove it.

On it’s own, this objective felt weak to me. I knew Hetti needed something else to drive her, to make her a three-dimensional character. It has only been after months of thought and character exploration that I have reliased a few more things about Hetti and her motivations.

What is Hetti’s superobjective? Working backwards: Hetti wants to remove the mechanical arm because she resents that her mother has made yet another huge decision about the course of her life. In making yet another decision for her, her mother has once again sought to shelter Hetti from the dangers of the world. In sheltering her, her mother has refused to consider that Hetti can look after herself. In deciding that Hetti can’t look after herself, her mother has essentially declared that Hetti is weak.

Hetti doesn’t want to feel weak. If Hetti is weak, she has no hope of survival. It would be impossible for her to rely on the strength of others for the rest of her life. With her mechanical arm, Hetti feels weak – because it is the embodiment of her mother’s feelings about her. Without her mechanical arm, Hetti will feel weak, because she is more vulnerable. She’s in a situation that she seemingly can’t win. And this makes her angry. Angry at her mother, at herself, and at the world she is in.

On the surface, it seems Hetti’s superobjective is: ‘I want to be strong.’ But why does she want to be strong? Because she wants to survive. Because she wants not to be a burden. Because she wants her mother’s approval. Because it will make her feel powerful. She is a slight, young woman in a world of violence and disorder. She doesn’t have much chance of power. But that makes her want - need - it more than ever.

Hetti’s superobjective is: ‘I want to be powerful.’

See, even though I’m not actively writing at the moment, my novel is still in my head. I’m still thinking about it. I’m hoping that I can set aside a good chunk of solid time this year to spend writing it (wish list: Arvon retreat), but at the moment, I’ll keep developing it in my head.

 

 

Creating a Work Space

A word of advice: never order stuff from IKEA. I know, I know – a little bit of my soul died when we ordered our office furniture from their website. But we’d seen these desks elsewhere, and they were minimalist, sturdy, and very reasonably priced. So we gave our hard-earned money to IKEA, smashed up our old furniture (seriously, we couldn’t get the old desk down the stairs) and waited patiently…

The first desk just wasn’t suitable. We’d ordered a corner desk, but the dimensions on the website failed to mention that one end was narrower than the other. I think that would have been pretty simple stuff to tell people. But no. So we sent it back and exchanged it for two separate desks.

In the mean time, we put together the two filing cabinets (very nice) and wardrobe we’d also had delivered. This took a while. And oh, the wardrobe didn’t come with handles or a rail. Yeah, you had to order that separately. Fantastic. A warning on their online wardrobe builder would have been nice.

Another phone call to IKEA, with a fifteen minute on-hold time.

A week passed and I made sure I was at home for the delivery of our new desks. The delivery men brought in the frames, the legs. ‘Sign here.’ ‘Where are the desk tops?’ ‘Ah, we don’t have them. They weren’t on the paperwork.’

Great. Just what I always wanted: a desk frame.

And they nearly didn’t take the old desk back because of messed up paperwork, too.

Another phone call to IKEA. More waiting on hold.

‘Er… Not sure what happedn. We’ll phone you back.’

Five days later, no phone call.

So I call them up again. Another fifteen minutes on hold.

They still have no idea and say they will phone me back.

They don’t phone me back.

I phone them back. I start to get dizzy with all the back-and-forth. Dizzy and very angry.

I finally speak to someone who seems to know things. Oh, and the thing he knows is that our desk tops are out of stock. Except in Ireland. Would I like to go to Ireland to pick them up? That would be a no.

Great. So they sold us something out of stock. And they’re not coming back in stock because it’s a discontinued line. Okay, fine, we’ll have a different colour. We just want some bloody desks!

I get a phone call the next day. ‘Don’t know what that last guy told you, but we can get you your original desk tops, no problem. We just have to order them from our distribution centre.

I get the email confirmation for the delivery in a week’s time. On the day of the delivery I get a text message updating the delivery day – for another week’s time.

*Head explodes*

I call IKEA again. I’m on hold for twenty-five minutes. They tell me there is an error with their system and all their deliveries got messed up for that day. I can see that their famous, global company runs like a well-oiled machine.

desk

A week later and we’re not holding our breath. But alas, there is a knock at the door – and our delivery is DELIVERED!

And now I have a place to work. Instead of sitting in bed with my burning laptop on my thighs during a heatwave, or slouching over the coffee table sitting in a way that makes my leg goes numb, I can actually sit at a desk, a real desk, with my laptop and everything else I need, and write, write, write!

Last night we had a thunderstorm, and we sat in our new home office until late into the evening, simply enjoying the fact that we finally had a work space after SIX WEEKS OF WAITING.

Let this be a lesson to us all! IKEA suck.

Today, though, I’m off to town and I’m going to be working on my iPad. ‘Cause I’m ironic like that.

sympathetic zombie

The Sympathetic Zombie

Zombies are monsters. They will hunt you down. In packs. Tear you apart with blunt fingers. And eat your flesh.

Zombies are the stuff of nightmares. Powered by an unknowable force from the darkest of places, somewhere beyond human comprehension. They don’t stop. Even when their bones are crushed and their flesh is torn away. They don’t even flinch. You can’t reason with them or appeal to their emotions. They are empty vessels of insatiable hunger. You will lose.

The most interesting thing about zombies in fiction is how their mythos changes to reflect the fear of the times. The zombie myth addresses fears that are both inherent to the human condition and specific to the time of their resurrection.

On a basic level, zombies represent our fear of infectious disease, loss of the self, and death. On a cultural level, zombies reflect current social anxieties. It’s also interesting to note how much of this commentary is intended, and how much is interpreted.

Romero denied that he made his Living Dead films with any agenda, whether as a critique on war, or a commentary on racism or consumerist culture.  On the other hand, Boyle spoke explicitly about his inspiration for 28 Days Later (2002): the exploding, inevitable rage we are all capable of when the promises of the media constantly fall dramatically short of the reality we are presented with in an overpopulated world.

The zombie as representative of an infectious disease in a globally accessible, over-populated world is probably most relatable in recent years. However, as survivalism is championed and fetishized to the point that many people now welcome such an apocalypse – to break free of modern social constraints and the inherent rage associated with them, to become a hero or champion in their own lives, to prove to themselves and the (surviving) world what they are made of, that they too can be strong – I think there is a new shift emerging in zombie fictions.

Glorification of the Zombie Apocalypse and a Reversal of Roles

By creating stronger heroes in the zombie-apocalypse world, there is a shift in roles. Instead of the humans being the victims of the zombies, the zombies are now the victims of the humans. They showered in bullets and ripped to pieces. Their skulls are crushed beneath the boot of the hero.

And slowly we are seeing the emergence of the sympathetic zombie.

Because – poor guys – zombies are people too!

Or at least they were. 

And as the sympathetic zombie emerges, I think part of the true horror of the zombie myth comes back into focus, and turns full circle:

We are the monsters. Not in the moral way – the way our human evils are laid bare when the constructs of the world break down.

We are the zombies. That’s your mother, your husband, your little sister trying to eat your leg. In a moment, that could be you. You could be a rotting, mindless vessel of evil. That could be your body, with the flaps of bloodless grey skin hanging from your grinding, fractured bones as you throw yourself indiscriminately at the intoxicating pull of living flesh. Those are your fingers pulling the intestines out of that child’s belly and chewing the rubbery tissues slowly with your blunt teeth.

So what if there is a spark of consciousness inside the zombie? What if there is a cure, and the person who re-emerges remembers all the horrors they have been through? What if they are fully conscious?

Consciousness – The True Horror of the Zombie

More and more, these issues are being raised in zombie media. In Zombies Anonymous (2005), the dead retain their consciousness and are attacked as a minority group. In Colin (2008), the zombified title character wanders around violent and brain dead until he makes his way back to his girlfriend’s house (driven by ritual or a retained emotion?). Warm Bodies (novel 2010, film 2013) has a zombie protagonist who slowly regains his consciousness – thoughts, language and emotions such as love. In the Flesh (2013) is a BBC Three mini series that takes place after a cure has been issued, and follows the ordeal of conscious – yet still undead – humans being reintegrated into society. I could go on.

So what does the sympathetic zombie say about our cultural fears? 

I think zombie fiction is moving more away from global horrors and focusing more on personal horrors and issues of the self. How do we define our humanity? How should we act when society breaks down? Should we always prioritise survival over morality? What happens to our morality when predefined boundaries shift? How do we treat minority groups in our own society?

These are questions we face in everyday life, to some extent. In an overpopulated, commercialised world full of deep-rooted dissatisfaction in which happiness is dangled in front of us in exchange for a fifty pound note we have no means to earn or spare; in a world where the worth of education is weighed up in pounds, and its expected prospects continuously fall short; and a world of failed democracy of corrupt leaders whose promises are as empty as our expectations; where communication and friendship is digitalised and stratigised and centred around the self rather than the true worth of an authentic connection… Questions about who we are and how we relate and respond to the world are becoming more and more complex.

So perhaps modern zombie mythos has re-focused on the fear of the loss of the self. But also, as an extension of that, the regaining of the self. How we redefine ourselves after the unimaginable happens.

So perhaps the real question is:

How do we deal with the truth of who we are?

Finishing The Vampire Chronicles After a 7 Year Hiatus

The worst Vampire Chronicles book cover I've ever seen...

The worst Vampire Chronicles book cover I’ve ever seen…

Yesterday, I finished reading Blood Canticle, the tenth and final book in Ann Rice’s Vampire Chronicles series. It had been about seven years since I read the penultimate book in the series. As a teenager, I was in love with the series. For some reason, I put off reading the last book. It sat on my shelf, pages yellowing. I picked it up a few times, read the first chapter, put it back down…

I had a feeling something terrible was going to befall my beloved protagonist, Lestat. I wasn’t ready for that. Not only that, but the first chapter failed to grip me. And I was worried that my tastes had changed and the writing would fail to impress me.

But I decided recently that I wanted to lay this ghost to rest. To finish the series. I used to love the books so much. It was time.

It took me a little while to get into the novel. Lestat, who had not narrated since the fifth in the series, was rambling and self-obsessed as always. Yet instead of charming me, it annoyed me. Much of the book seemed incoherent and steam-of-consciousness. I couldn’t decide if it was fitting to the character or messy writing.

There wasn’t much of a hook at the beginning. It wasn’t until a third of the way through and the revelation of the mysterious Taltos creatures that my interest was piqued. However, much of the most interesting parts of the plot were relayed through epic discussions between characters, so I felt a lot of the interesting stuff was happening ‘off screen’.

Rice does have many moments of beautiful prose. As always, she’s brilliant inventing imaginative stories and vivid characters. Indeed, the series is incredibly character-driven. In this novel, some of the minor characters are more interesting than Lestat’s supporting cast of Mona (one-dimensional brat) and Quinn (bland and passive) – such as Tante Oscar, who is over a hundred years old and wears three dresses layered on top of each other, and keeps the telephone in the fridge.

In all, however, I felt this book was a bit of a mess. I enjoyed being immersed in Rice’s vampire world and spending time with some treasured characters, but I often found myself bored with the story or frustrated at the tone of the book. I’m sure Rice had done better. I’m sure, despite not having read the other books since I was a teenager, other novels in the series are much superior to this one.

As the last in the series, I was hoping for something more dramatic. Lestat, who has lived through the ages, survived the wrath of the sun, conversed with angels and literally traveled to hell and back… deserved a better series end. In fact, Rice leaves the plot open for a further story, one I suspect she might explore in the Mayfair Witches series (which I’ve not read).

Overall, I love the series, but Blood Canticle deserved to be better.