Couch to 80k Week 4 Day 2 – turning facts to fiction

Couch to 80k podcast is a writer’s bootcamp with daily exercises by Tim Clare and is part of his Death by 1000 paper cuts blog.

Yesterday Tim commanded we scour memories for something that sticks, something with a sensory component. We wrote out a list, then picked one and wrote it up as a paragraph of notes. (I sort of wrote it as a story, which was a mistake) you can read it from yesterday’s blog post.

Today was about taking that paragraph of notes and trying to give it a sense of being a story, by giving fictionalising it as first person narrative. I actually wrote yesterday’s notes almost as a first person narrative (maybe I ballsed up the brief yesterday? Maybe it’s just how I feel comfortable writing anything, really – so used to the blog and how it needs to be written)

So I tried to pump it up a bit, give it something more specific – people say and do things that, honestly, I don’t remember them saying or doing. But nobody wants to read a story full of hedged language (“I think they said something like” is much weaker than “they said”)

Anyway, that’s today’s task. We’ve to keep this til tomorrow, so I’m guessing we’re gonna play around with it. I’m fairly pleased there’s a narrative arc going on even in this small thing (Me “This will be easy!” *thing happens* Me “that was awful and I’m an idiot for thinking it would be easy” – this, btw, is largely the story of my life)

Here’s the snippet:

There was nothing about the letter that made me nervous. There was nothing about the day that made me nervous. Even, eventually arriving in the waiting area, sitting down in the pure white room, with the orderlies moving people in and out, still nothing to worry about.

“Mr Holden, Mr Holden, to room 3”

Ah, ok. Maybe some apprehension then. I knew what was supposed to happen. But the words, the words didn’t really have a meaning. Not then.


Obviously I’d googled it, I’m not a fool. It recommended you bring someone with you and you can’t drive if you’re knocked out with a general anaesthetic. Well, firstly I’m the family driver so I had no standbys and secondly, who wants to wipe out two days for recovery for a quick procedure? Not me. No sir. No thank YOU. Nope.

What a idiot.

There were brief introductions, I changed, behind closed curtains, into a robe that covered about 80% of my circumference, not quite the whole of the moon, as it were.

I lay down on my sides, the recovery position, says the nurse. Not that I’m recovering, no need to. Not at this point.

From my prone position, I see the doctor walk in passes pleasantries with the staff, mask up and says nothing to me. I don’t suppose he’s used to too many people wanting to be awake for this bit.

The tube goes in.

It doesn’t sound like much “the tube goes in”, but it goes in and it keeps going and going. It feels like this will never end, like somehow I’m swallowing a python longer than my body, one end sitting in my stomach the other out of my open mouth and across the table.

I felt the corrugated ribbing of the sides of it as it goes further and further down, and then I start gagging. And don’t stop.

At some point the doctor tells me what’s going on, points to the small tv that was showing BBC Intestines, beamed directly from my stomach to your living room.

I blink tears out of my eyes, try to nod between gags and hoped he doesn’t ask me anything.

Please just let this be over.

Finally, “We’re withdrawing”. I can feel the camera leave me, like running your hands along railings as a child, I can feel it gliding and bumping along the side of my throat as it goes.

“And there we are, if you’d just like to go through next door”

Gladly. I fake-smile, mumble a thank you. Moving slowly in to the next room and wondering exactly what I just thanked them for.

Within minutes I was ready to leave. My throat feels a little horse, but I’m no worse the wear.

I’m glad I didn’t get the anaesthetic, I’d’ve been here for several more hours.

“if there’s ever a next time,” I tell the nurse as I leave “knock me the fuck out”

(Hey, if you got this far, well done, I honestly am surprised if any one is reading this. Sorry about the swears. Tried to do it without, I actually went in an edited the story as best I could, but that ending just felt like the right sort of punch)

Couch to 80k Week 4 Day 1

Yay! Made it to week 4. Now it gets real. I think.

Couch to 80k podcast is a writer’s bootcamp with daily exercises by Tim Clare and is part of his Death by 1000 paper cuts blog.

So week 4 is titled “Elements of Style” (from the William Strunk, jnr, book – as recommend by Steven King in On Writing)

Day 1 though I think is more about getting a start point. Write a list of memories tied to a sense, then write a paragraph of notes about that. And, I assume the rest of the week will be about tidying this up and applying stylistic choices to it.

So, you know, not much to report. It was short podcast. I wrote a bunch of memories/senses (for whatever reason it was hard to pull out single strong memories, I mean, the smell of bread is incredibly strong – and I miss the taste of it being gluten free – but it’s not tied to a single moment) in the end, the list contained a bunch of general memories, and a couple of stand out strong memories. The strong memory I went with was the time I had a gastroscopy (camera down the throat) without anaesthetic, so it left an impression.

Now, the paragraph I wrote is a bit shonky, but that’s ok, I think it’s gonna be used for playing with later on (like getting out the right lego bricks so you can make a house) but so you can see where I start and where I end, for the scientific value of it, here’s the full paragraph.

I was in my thirties. Not worried, not even apprehensive. Actually a little excited. A biopsy of my stomach. “Other people get knocked out”. Slightly annoyed I had to drive myself, everyone else can rely on me for a lift, but I can rely on no-one. Lay down on my side, still not worried. The tube goes in my throat. I can feel the ribbing as it travels down my throat then… then it just sort of sits there for the next 45 minutes. It’s horrible. Horrible. I gag several times, in fact I never seem to stop gagging through the whole experience, the doctor is talking and I feel like I should answer, but it’s impossible. Even in the dentist you can talk, here, with a tube down your throat I can barely nod or shake my head, and the ribbing and feeling intruded is horrible. And yet I feel like I should talk. After who-knows-how-long the camera starts withdrawing, I’m aware, I think I can see the camera at the side of me. There’s relief that it’s over, there’s tears streaming down my face. Well done, doctor will get the results. And off I go, there’s no pain or general discomfort, I think, more than anything I’m annoyed that I was so unaware of what was going to happen. I’d disconnected myself from it before it had happened, but once the tube was done I was intimately connected in the worst way possible. Around me there are a few people, it’s all a bit of a blur. I’m conscious they’re not focusing on me but on the TV

Couch to 80k Week 3 Day 6

Couch to 80k podcast is a writer’s bootcamp with daily exercises by Tim Clare and is part of his Death by 1000 paper cuts blog.

Today nearly didn’t happen. After yesterday’s little farrago, where I attempted the channeling of a chirpy chippy, and fell flat on my face, I wasn’t hopeful for today. Then time was really running away from me – kids started their easter holiday today and some work cropped up so, where I normally get the bootcamp done first thing in the morning (sometimes 7am) tonight it was 9pm.

Anyway, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it since I knew I’d have to resurrect yesterdays character for something today, using them to talk about meeting someone. Location undetermined, person undetermined.

I realise the Couch to 80k podcast was recorded a couple of years ago, but it certainly felt he was talking directly to me when he said not to worry about yesterday, not every day is gonna be a winner (and it’d be amazing if at least one day wasn’t a total stinker).

And it turns out, I really enjoyed today’s. Maybe you’ll not enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it, (though you’re welcome to judge this, as the snippet is attached, but fun for me). I took my jolly joiner off to meet his dad. In a dank fixer-upper basement base inside a volcano. Cus it turns out his dad was a Bond Villain who wanted him, like his sister to go in to the family business, and now he’s called him for a meeting… now read on (or don’t, your call!)

It smells musty here. Could do with a decent clean up. Dark too, they’d probably need some better lighting. Some sort of strip light would work. Ah, the door clicked. Someone’s coming.

“This way”

“Ta very much! You know this place could do with a spot of …” stern look. That’s a stern look. I’m not sure this chap is too worried about the place. Long corridor, lots of empty, unused space. I mean you could get shelving up here. Just above that, that’d be a good spot for a nice bookcase. Over there, good spot for desk. Oh. Oh, he’s getting ahead of me. Wait up, chap.

“Through there”. Door slides open. I suppose I should go first, the old duffer will never turn round otherwise.

“Hello dad”

Wait for it. Wait for it. Wait …

“Jonathan, hello”

Jon. Everyone calls me Jon. Except dad. He’s never called me much else.

“It’s uhm… a nice place. Little fixer upper. Unusual location” he cuts me off

“Jonathan, you’re hear because I want you to be … safe.”

Safe? I mean, I work in london, so that’s pretty ropey. But safe? I’m safe where I am, is what I want to say, but my dad – he’s always just been able to crush me down.

“I’m… I’m not sure what you mean, da… Father”

“Safe for what’s coming next Jonathan. I’m pleased to see that as much as you wasted that expensive education I gave you, you’ve at least turned your hands to something useful”

I think he means joinery. Though I can also do plastering, and wallpapering. Really anything where you use your hands.

“We will need people… like you. And your sister”

Gah! My sister is here too? NOOOOO! This is turning into one of those awful family reuinion comedy things that always star Vince Vaugn. Except this isn’t funny. Well, neither are they. But this isn’t funny ON PURPOSE.

“Is … is she … well?” God, what do you ask? The last time I saw here she was trying to kill her boyfriend, and I was trying to escape out a back window. She’s mental.


SHIT! She’s here! What the f*** is she wearing? What is that? It’s like something from Dolce & Gibani’s spring dom collection.

“Hello sis. You well?” Nothing. She’s a weird one. “How’s Steven?” That was the ex.

“Oh don’t worry about Steven, his future is… bright”.

Bright? What a weird way to say “Bright”. It was like it was loaded with meaning – I don’t think she meant good. Why wouldn’t she just say “He has a bright future”?

Look, there’s a reason I never entered the family business, and it’s not just because I couldn’t really stand the oppresive dark rooms they used to conduct business in.

Couch to 80k Week 3 Day 5 – It’s getting emotional

Couch to 80k podcast is a writer’s bootcamp with daily exercises by Tim Clare and is part of his Death by 1000 paper cuts blog.

This week is all maskwork – wearing the mask of a character in order to channel their voice. This feels like the first really tough week for me. Call if my casual disregard for other humans, or undiagnosed ASD or just a general ignorance, but I’ve found it difficult.

Today’s in particular was hard, and, I think – as much as it’s possible in this – I failed.

Tim’s task today was to wear the emotional clothing of a character, someone different for yourself. So instantly my mind is groping around for emotional states I haven’t felt. Angry? Yes, been there. Sad? Yup, check. Happy? Oh Yeah, most of the time. Stupid? Often. Smart? I feel like I am, yes. Conceited? Frequently. Humble? Well, I wouldn’t like to say.

Maybe, as ever, I’m over thinking, and the task was about finding an emotional state that isn’t your default. But even that was tough, I think I’m a cheery happy go lucky sort, but I’m given to morbid thinking on mortality (as my free writes have all attested to). So, as I’m in the middle of – unsuccessfully – doing something with my studio, I thought “builder, who loves chaos”.

As well as wearing those emotions, the exercise was to look around and describe the room your in. And, since my room is chaos and I’m trying to think like someone who sees chaos and loves to bring order to it (don’t get me wrong: I love choas becoming order, but I’m rubbish at it and hate the doing of it, but I love order) so it just sort of turned into a list of things I need to do to the house.

I mean, I wrote it as though as I was happy-go-lucky builder seeing potential everywhere (instead of me sitting in a pile of rubble and thinking ‘I wish my wife were home-because she’s really good at this stuff and I’m not’

I think this explains my problem with dialogue and writing people – I think I struggle to inhabit other people. I think I can bash out a good fun plot, with things happening in it, but people leave me baffled. It’s a real weak spot.

What I’m really dreading though, is that Tim’s asked that we keep this character in mind for tomorrow, so we’ll be revisiting them, and frankly, I found this dude exhausting.

Here’s the snippet, it really is just a description of things I’d like to do to my own house, though.

I look around. And all I can see is potential. This room, this house, everything. The things I could do.

Maybe, I could knock a wall through. The whole house needs rewired, that would be a full day. I have all the tools. I should sit and do the electrics in one go. Add extra plugs, every where. All the shelving will have to come down. This crazy 70s inspired window in the hall, has to go. I could replace it with an LED light Panel, one on each side, wired in to the light switch, that’d be awesome. It would flood the back of the room with light AND the hall way.

Just need to pile these crates up here and move them out of the room then I could move the furniture out, have to hire a skip. The place smells musty, nothing better than the smell of fresh paint. I’ll need paint. Of course I will. Bright! Bold! Fresh colours, the entire room bathed in yellow, maybe with a contrasting colour on another wall. Drill bits at the ready and… no, need to gut the room first, clean it out, shift the boxes, until I can get a great little empty room. Why not just dump everything in a skip? Like seriously, does he read any of these books? Would he notice if I took the insides out of all of them and threw those bits in a skip leaving just the covers? I bet he wouldn’t. I mean who keeps books for 20 years then buys another copy and another and then, finally, when you think there’s no way to buy any more copies of this … BOOM! An oversized edition lands in – so preposterously large that it’s actually impossible to read.

I’ll make a start in this studio space. Wire in new plug sockets, two for each wall, maybe one flush to the floor? That would need drilled in to, but that’s no problem, just have to avoid any pipework – I have a machine here for checking. Electrics all flush in.

Once that’s done I can tackle that insane bathroom, it’s just… ugh. I’ll replace the bit of wood on the bath, make it more of a door than anything, yank out that incredibly stupid shower curtain and put in a lovely glass door. I’ll have to make it one that can close over though, there’s not much room in there. Ideally I’d turn this small studio into a bathroom and knock the kitchen right in to the bathroom, but client wants three rooms. Stupid client.

Next step that kitchen. So much potential in there, I’ll add glass windows to the balcony. Turn the balcony in to a sun room, even the ground up, fill in that bin hole, put some flooring down, add some electrics, wired into the mains. Washing machine, and dishwasher can go there. Kitchen for storage.

Now, what I could do to the client’s father’s house. Level up the backyard, get rid of the ‘potato patch’ he’s been growing (come on, grandad, wwii was over a long time ago!) build an extension – extend the back room and the upper bedroom, could be AMAZING.

Do you know what you want?

Do you? Really?

I was chatting to Will Sliney, an interview we’ll hopefully include on the Sunnyside Podcast Show, and we got chatting to what he wanted. For him spider-man was the dream. And Lo! It’s where he ended up. For me, the height of my ambition was drawing Judge Dredd. And it’s where I ended up.

Talking to other irish writers/artists and it feels like, very often, like more than just “I want to draw comics” – “I want to draw this character” became their goal and they went about it, whether they realise or not, with a sort of singular purpose. I mean, it often doesn’t feel like it, because the time-frame from thinking “I want to draw Judge Dredd” (for example) to actually doing can be 20 years. (It’s a lot faster for others, though).

What happens is, though, you make positive choices. You choose to do fan art in one location, choose to draw a strip for a certain kind of fanzine, push towards a certain editor/artist/writer strongly associated with the character, and this cumulative build up of positive steps, if you’re lucky, have a following wind and have the stamina, patience, pure-luck ends with you doing the job you wanted. Or at least, getting close enough to smell victory.

What happens next is the tougher question, and here on in I’m only speaking for myself, but you get the thing you’ve spent decades building towards and suddenly you’re left… fulfilled, I guess.

The target, previously utterly unattainable, becomes within easy reach and whatever driving ambition, whatever decision making animus pushed you to choose certain projects dies a little. Now, maybe that’s not a problem. Maybe the trajectory of your career is such that … whoosh, off you go – Neil Armstrong, strapped to the most powerful rocket mankind had ever built on a trajectory to another planet. (You git).

But I think it’s beholden on you to find other goals. It can take you a long time to figure this out, though. And it may well be those other goals have to be more… abstract – success defined less by a single objective “Drawing Dredd” and more by a less-easy to define goal “Pay my bills, get to draw comics, work with creators I like”. Harder to really quantify how to achieve that though, isn’t it?

I think what I’m saying is… breaking in is easy – it’s just, for many of us, a long game. What happens next is really the thing you need to think about.

Couch to 80k week 3 day 4 – letter to the anti-muse

Couch to 80k podcast is a writer’s bootcamp with daily exercises by Tim Clare and is part of his Death by 1000 paper cuts blog.

Ok, today’s podcast episode opened with a reading from the Screwtape Letters – CS Lewis’ series of letters to a little demon torturing a human to prise him away from God, and towards … well, probably Atheism (I myself am an atheist, so this little guy doesn’t even need to bother me). And the exercise was to write a letter to your own personal anti-muse demon from their boss.

I’m not sure I captured the voice, but I sure did nail all the things that I do/don’t do that stop me getting writing done. Though, almost certainly because I’ve been trying to have an iron-like will to sit down early in the morning to do the podcast (there were two occasions where I didn’t do it in the morning and it was 10 times harder) starting writing has felt easy, but I know my weakness. Starting is always easy, it’s carrying it through to completion. I have pieces in scraps of paper, bits written in books, digital documents littered liberally around every file system I’ve ever used and not a lot finished. Decades of noodling ideas and-aside from two or three ideas that I’ve had co-writers on, nothing you’d call finished.

So this letter is more personal to me than anything else I’ve written (though I could feel myself peel away from things that I know are sort of my worst feelings on the matter, it’s NOT written by me, rather written by that little demon that wants me to not write.)

You’re welcome to read it, you’re also welcome to skip it, one thing I’m pretty sure of is my personal little anti-muse is more than happy that I’m hoping you do though.

Dearest Mugblud,

I hope you’re doing well. I realise it’s been a disappointing few weeks. The Holden creature, while previously incapable of carrying through with the long held threat of “starting writing” appears to have stuck this writing habit out.

It’s a disappointment. One which I should hold you responsible for, but I will not. It’s easy to understand that you’ve grown accustomed to the easy life of not needing to do anything to prevent him from writing since he’d seemed so keen on preventing it himself.

And yet, here we are.

I’m glad to see that you’ve managed to stop him reading the books on writing – I’m not sure how you did, so clever it was. It’s been reported to me that you’ve been working through the vessel of Twitter – every day something new and pointless! A Sugery treat of zero goodness, most excellent.

It’s a shame that he’s already read three books on the subject, but at least we’re keeping that at bay.

I hope you’ve been making sure that, at every moment, there’s some new and dazlling interruption to his thoughts when he begins? I suggest getting him to feel guilty about ignoring his family, this seems a good weak point to work on – have him feel sorry for his youngest son. He’ll quickly forget that the writing, at only 10 minutes a day, is really nothing and start blaming it for why he never plays with his children (though, no matter how much time he does, as a parent, he will always feel guilt over not playing with his children – boring as they are).

Now, on to the next steps. The habit is established, though I think it’ll not be too hard to get him to stop – unfortunately he’s very comfortable with donning headphones and just typing (though good job on making his mind wander as Clare talks – very smart move to make him listen to a lot of the podcast until he could no longer read his own voice, just Clare’s).

What is absolutely vital is that we prevent him carrying through on the writing. Let’s assume he will continue to spend the 10 minutes a day (that said, don’t miss the opportunity to make that feel like effort, let’s not give it up too easily!) He seems very content to simply write something, think “that’ll do” post it on a file on his ipad, or on his blog (making sure the blog remains uncommented on is vital too, I enjoy seeing that he’s been checking his stats, as though that should make a difference on whether he should write or not)

We absolutely don’t want him editing anything, nor finishing anything. And, though this is a long way off, I think, the idea that he’d create an idea, write a story, edit it, polish it and write it up in script form and then draw it is anathema to us here in anti-muse department.

If someone sees this lazy layabout could do it, they too, in turn, can be persuaded.

Sincerly Yogwai.

Couch to 80k Week 3 Day 3

The Couch to 80k podcast by Tim Clare is part of his Death by 1000 paper cuts blog/podcast and is a writers bootcamp.

More channeling, this week is all about “Mask Work” – essentially speaking in a character’s voice.

It feels a little uncomfortable to me.

I use to love acting, decades ago, as a student I did a whole bunch of student plays (and a little bit of improve scenario) and so you’d think it’d be a fairly natural thing to just let go and BE someone else. But around the same time I knew a bunch of people into Role Playing Games and I thought “oh yeah, that’s for me”. But man, oh man. It turns out somethings I’m good at and some things just instantly hit my self-conscious button in a big way – Role Playing was one of those things (if you’re keeping score, the other things that make me instantly conscious of every thing I’m saying and doing are: dancing and singing to myself and then someone else -FOR SOME REASON- joining in, though if I’m totally honest, even someone seeing me sing to myself activates that redner* button).

(*redner: Northern Ireland phrase to mean “go bright red with embarrassment” – eg “he hit a redner” see also “beamer”)

So any, Tim chatted a little bit about how much of the point of the exercises have been to get you to to silence that little voice in your head that insists you can’t do writing (by showing you that you can) and then gave us a rough character idea “this person is dead and they’re standing on your right and a little behind you” and a little writing prompt, todays prompt was : “Let me tell you what I did”

Now, in this instance, I found myself instantly thinking about a man I used to work for – when I was 14 in 1984 – I started working in a computer shop – called Botanic Computer Centre. It had been set up in the late 40s by two brothers and was originally called “Ideal Radio” – the brothers were on boats in the Merchant Navy. I never really asked them anything about that period despite being fascinated by WWII (and remember in 1984 WWII had ended only 39 years previously, for context, Star Wars came out – at the time of this writing 41 years ago, in fact for truly mind blowing, when Star Wars came out WWII had only been over 32 years anyway, I digress). SO I think Davy worked as a stoker and Bert worked on radios. But I honestly have no idea. So, that brings me to my story – it WASN’T about Bert and Davie, it did seem to be about Naval ammo loader during WWII though. One of the struggles I have with the channeling is as soon as I hit a contradiction in what I’m doing or find myself groping for a word I know a character would know instantly but I just lack the research to know it, then I’m totally conscious this is all artifice and it crumbles around me. So, if you’re going to read the extract I wrote, please keep that in mind. I suspect channelling characters is best done when you’re so familiar with the things they’re familiar with that it WILL feel totally natural to through that jargon in. Maybe it’s why writing sci-fi is so much more attractive.

Anyway, from here, it’s today’s 10 minute freewrite, contradictions, incorrect terms, typos, warts n’ all. Read if you wish, but there’s no need to feel beholden to do so (though if I can write rubbish like this, maybe it’ll not be so daunting to give it a go, eh?)

Let me tell you what I did, on that stormy night in November, 1943.

We were at sea. Leading a convoy, I was a gunner. And while the water roiled and boiled around us, the skies, at least, seemed clear – yes, there was rain, there was thunder, there were clouds. But there were no planes. Nothing could be seen for the distance you could see.

I was at my station. And the ammunition loader was beside me. We were friends. We’d known each other as boys, and joined up in 1939 at the start of the war. We’d fought together and saved each other’s lives.

We were married to our girls, and were able to spend the night in absolute silence, nothing but the sound of waves crashing against the side of the ship.

Occasionally a bell would ring out.

“‘Ere Alf, you want a bite of this?” John was always eating. I’m not sure how, but he always seemed to have squirreled away something from the mess hall. Later, I’d find a stack of rations under the bunk we shared. Later.

“No thanks, John, I ain’t hungry”. I wasn’t. I wasn’t quesy, the I had me sea legs, alright.

I wish I hadn’t done what I’d done, but it was time.

“John, look, I have something to tell you” I wish I could take those words back, those words were the door opening to so many mistakes.

But I can’t.

After that I poured out everything. Last time we were in Port, John’s wife and I were together, and, well, we’ve known each other almost as long as me and John. John was on ship.

I told him. He got angry.

And at that moment, a faint unnoticable buzzing sound grew louder and around us, the ground lit up with fire. There was a staccato ratatatatata as bullets rained down on us. The training, and years of working together kicked in and we were one, but I could tell. I could see in his eyes, this was it. If John could’ve turned our gun round to me that’d be it over.

I’m not sure why I told him. Guilt, maybe? Some need to boast? Get one over on him? Of the two of us, he was the one that always seemed to do alright for himself. Won every race, fought every fight, came out on top all the time.

Not so with me. Shirl though, John’s girl. Shirl was so different to John. Honestly I’m not sure how the ended up together. We went on a double date, with Shirl and her sister. But where John and Shirl lasted me and her sis were one date wonders.

I always fancied her, mind.

God, I wish I hadn’t told John. Maybe we’d’ve got through that night ok if I hadn’t.

The planes buzzed us several times, me loading, John firing, the ammo ran out.