Couch to 80k Week 7 Day 3

I won’t apologies for missing days (as much as I want to) you may well be enjoying the breaks.

A recap of Day 2 : Recall we’ve started a novel (I mean, it was right there in the blurb of the podcast that this is the whole point of the thing, but it still surprised me to be asked) and day 1 was a bunch of “Maybe’s” about what that novel could be about. Well, day 2 was “let’s write the cover blub”. This felt like torture for me, especially since I hadn’t really settled on a novel, though it feels like I’m basically – from my maybe’s and blurb – rewriting John Carter. Except my John Carter is an accountant, and this is probably going to be a(n attempt at a) funny novel. (Though fair warning: my heart isn’t in this chunk of the podcast, since my focus is and remains with writing comics, so I’m trying not to get too worried about the large amount of cliched plots I’m going to regurgitate).

So, recap down, day 3 is … let’s take the climactic end sequence and write it. Can’t know where to start without knowing where we’re ending, right?

I only decided today it might be a funny story, yesterday it was serious, I really am making this up as I go along – can’t you tell?

So, that said, usual caveats apply, there’s stupid repetition, it’s appallingly unoriginal, and wears its influences on all eight of it’s sleeves, here’s the climactic battle scene in “The Call” (or, possibly, “Called to Account”) and it tapers off since my 10 minutes were up, and there’s no way I’m working past the bell…

Peter stood, finally, in the great hall. The obsidian columns lined the marbled flooring. Above him the stars of an unfamiliar galaxy. Home was nothing but a distant memory now. He stood, white shirt, shredded. Power surging through him from the Galoga Root, in his hand he held the Sword of Antimon. He took off his broken glasses. The root not only gave him incredible power, but increased his senses, he no longer needed his reading glasses, so tossed them aside.

Prince Astoria held her breath near the doorway, in the corner of his eye he could see her chest raise and fall slowly, channeling her psionic energy through him.

Gone now, where the memories of working in the Accounts Department of Flemming, Flemming and Fulton.

Gone too, was Peter Aaronovitch.

Now there was only Peter The Great.

Peter The Great, and the Monster.

“Hahaha! You pathetic Worm, so you’ve tasted the root of power, at last, and you think you can best me”

Its voice grated through him. The creatures eight arms bulged and crackled with energy. Each held a sword and it raised itself to full ten feet tall. Stretching the arms out, holding the swords at length, bristling and ready to fight.

“I can’t best you…”

“Not on my own”

Behind Peter the swelled ranks of the armies of the Avalon Guard poured out from doorways lining the hall. Surrounded Peter and the Creature.

The princess continued to concentrated, Peter bowed his head slightly before snapping his head up, and blasting the thing with beams of pure energy from his eyes

“THIS ENDS NOW!”

The creature stumbled back, the army stepped forward ready to attack, waiting for Peter’s word.

Then, suddenly, the creature expanded it’s arms out, the energy swirled around him and poured out to the crowd, blasting through them, exploding people left and right, he’d been tricked. The creature was using Peter’s own power against them all.

He tried to stop, he thrust his arm in front of his face, hoping it would stop the energy, but just as he did so, the Princess collapsed, exhausted. It had been too much for her. And too much for the allies that Peter had spent the last year building up.

Dead. All dead.

Except for Peter and the Monster.

It relaxed, and walked towards him. Still towering over him, this thing with tusks, and arms.

Couch to 80k Week 7 Day 1 Gaze on my Works ye Mighty

(I promise this title is less a brag and much more a “oh look, is there any way I can slip the word “might” in to some sort of pun based title)

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.

Glad your still with me, if you are, and if you’re one of the few people I’ve chatted to tempted to do this bootcamp too, tell me how you’re doing!

Ok, this week we finally take off the training wheels and begin the nitty gritty of actually writing a novel. NOW… I’m not that interested in writing a novel, I don’t feel I have any great big long form work in me (maybe we all have one book in us, I don’t feel like that – I do feel like I’ve hundreds of stupid stories in me, well, mostly stupid, and that’s fine by me).

A recap of what the bootcamp has covered so far…

Week 1 lists (enjoyed this)

Week 2 Timed free writes (enjoyed this)

Week 3 Using Personas / Masks can unlock content (struggled with this)

Week 4 Stylistic Choices (struggled with this)

Week 5 Emotions (ho boy, this was tough)

Week 6 Metaphors and Similes (struggled with this)

If you know me, you’ll know, my long term aim is comic writing, and I started this bootcamp simply to build the confidence that I could do that. I’ve currently laid out the plot of a 40 page Bondian adventure that I’m chipping away at (I’ll either pitch this to Dynamite or turn it into my own super spy adventure)

But a novel? Nope, no interest.

That said, it’d be a bit of a cheat to get this far in the bootcamp and abandon ship now (though I have form on this).

So today Tim asked us to type up a bunch of things that we might consider our novel about and if you don’t already have a novel, maybe some things a novel could be about. Prefacing each statement with the words “it might be…” so we don’t end up too fixed in our ideas. We want the flexibility to move and change as the writing progresses and to be open to other, potentially contradictory possibilities.

I hard to start with something… and so I began with what I know

(And feel free to ignore the rest, but these are my novel notes… lame, unimaginative, idiotic and raw and ready to be abandoned at a moment’s notice)

It might be a novel about a man whose life is very like mine who goes through an extraordinary adventure and ends with him realising that he has the best life already.

He might work a dull job, as an office clerk, in accounts. Possibly he’ll find something or something that shouldn’t happen will happen to him. Something that suggests the world is deeper and more complex than he assumes (maybe despite his longing for a more interesting life he’s long since settled into assuming it’s never going to get that interesting). He might be a game player, someone whose day time is spend dealing with numbers, he may well keep fantasy figures at his desk. He might be single. Or separated. He may be 30, He may be a virgin.

He might open a doorway to another dimension, or unexpectedly find himself the nexus of some great prophecy, a hero to an entire universe.

He might be required to save the kingdom, the girl, and become king.

He might return to his own world, changed, but glad that things aren’t just as nuts.

His name might be Peter.

He might love a work collegue called Carol-Anne or Caroline, or Carol or Carrie. (Maybe carrie, which he likes because it’s the same as Carrie Anne Moss from The Matrix)

Maybe creatures arrive on earth as he’s walking to work and he has to help them.

He might be an engineer, and maybe this skill will be what saves them?

He might reject the princess. He might sweep Carrie off her feet.

He might have a mild stammer.

He might be glad that the universe is simpler where he’s from.

He might have to fight the mighty villain. (this might be, basically the plot of He Man)

He might say something like “Jesus, what the hell am I supposed to do, I’m just an accountant. I’m not even sure how the coffee machine works!”

And the princess might respond “No, my name is not “Jesus”, nor do I know what a coffee machine is, but you are aCountANT! Hero of my people”

He may be part of a propecy, he may have accidentally altered their future, he may have accidentally altered their past.

Couch to 80k Week 6 Day 6 a Writer’s Manifesto

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’s Couch to 80k Podcast episode Week 6 day 6 is about creating your own writer’s manifesto, done primarily as a way for you to get to know what it is you’re doing this for. Tim suggests this, like all other entries, really doesn’t need to be thought of as something others will ever see – but me being an oversharing drama queen is sharing mine here.

I have a clear idea of why I want to write, it’s maybe not as fancy as I’ve written it in the manifesto (such as it is, remember it’s simply a 10 minute free write on why you want to write, so it will veer and contradict itself and sound rambly or nonsensical, I’m ok with all of that).

Basically I want to write because I have ideas that I want to see finished. That’s it. They bounce round my head, year after year every so often popping up and saying “OH HAI PAUL – remember me! I’m that idea you wrote down slightly differently every two months of 2012 but never actually finished”. The only ideas that I’ve had that feel “at peace” (as it were) are ones where I’ve handed them off to a writer and we’ve either co-written them, or the writer has done a better job than I ever would. I just want the voices to stop, man!

Anyway, I have plenty of other things to do today that are unrelated to writing (I’ve got two scripts right now that need read, both by very accomplished writers, so figured best to get my scabby efforts out of the way before seeing what they have ahead of me)

Here’s my personal writers manifesto (warning: it’s probably a bit wanky, as all such manifestos are…)

Personal writing Manifesto.

1. What am I trying to achieve

2. What do I want it to do.

Measure a circle starting anywhere.

Persona Writing Manifesto.

From a purely selfish point of view, and most acts of creation are purely selfish – arguably, the very best are, I want to write to bring different worlds to life. I don’t want to write a kitchen sink drama and have that define who I am as a writer, I want to write a kitchen sink drama, then a sci-fi epic, then a short comedy, then a James Bond story, then a quiet introspective piece.

I want to exercise all the different storytelling muscles in side me. I want to take the joy of telling an anecdote to two or three people in a small group and expand that to a much bigger audience and a much bigger anecdote that builds and builds to be a proper story.

I want to never feel bored of a genre, I want to dip in and out of different stories. I want to sit and think about a story, immerse myself in it, and enjoy the telling of it – to laugh at how ridiculous some of the ideas are, maybe for their scale, maybe for their silliness, maybe for how just-so-perfect they are and obvious in hindsight that, of course, this was always the way this should be, but still surprise people in the telling.

I would like an audience to hold their breath as I control exactly what point the hero saves the day.

I want thrill power, I want to be up-lifted as a writer, and a reader of the work. I want to write stories that I want to read. I want to find the gaps in the work that other writers leave and fill them with my imagination, expanding new worlds out from those in between places.

I want to finish things. I want to put my fingers on a keyboard, type “in the beginning” and not finish until I write “the end” and everything in between makes perfect sense and is, in it’s own way, a little parcel of perfection, telling one story that is complete and moving on to the next one.

It would be nice to make money doing this, but I’m not doing this for money, I’m doing it for me.

On the plus side that means I really can write what I want to write, no concession to editors, no concession to publishers, no concession to readers.

On the other hand, my natural instinct is to make things that I hope people will wildly enjoy. An audience who come out punching the air.

I want to write Alien, I want to write The Seven Voyages of Sinbad, I want to write Hellboy, I want to write the fantastic and I want it to be fantastic.

And I want to sit down and draw it.

Couch to 80k Week 6 Day 5

Yes, I fell off the wagon. Back on it now though.

Week 5 broke me a little, and I discovered it’s ok to cheat and miss and episode (since Tim isn’t likely to come round my house and demand I get back on that horse) so, of course, week 6 got tough – I find it nice and easy to just play with freewriting – just fill 10 minutes of my brain vomiting out nonsense to see where it goes. Of course, that’s only part of writing (probably the best part). There’s also making things make sense, stylistic choices, metaphor, similie, opening sentances, you know… actual work.

And that brings us to Week 6.

This has largely been writing things then rewriting them with specific stylistic choices (week 1: write a couple of minutes about something you’ve done, make it as straightforward as possible. NOW! Make it as flowery as possible, filled with metaphor, etc)

Today was take a first sentence from a novel and rewrite it, keeping the same basic structure but making it about anything else, really.

I do love a first line of a novel, when I was a student a Queen’s University Belfast, in the hallway of the student Union, where I’d sit while waiting on a rehearsal room to free up for whatever play it was I was doing at the time, the wall was festooned with first lines of novels, and I loved reading them. So many clever ways in.

(Here’s a brilliant list of them http://americanbookreview.org/100BestLines.asp)

As it happened, I grabbed a big old copy of the HP Lovecraft book Necronomicon for no other reason than it was the first novel I could see beside my drawing board (where I’m currently typing) and picked one story at random (truth to tell I wasn’t sure what the exercise was gonna be about, so didn’t seem like any choice would be a bad choice) and ended up with The Lurking Fear.

Here’s the first line of it:

There was a thunder in the air on the night I went to the deserted mansion atop Tempest Mountain to find the lurking fear.

(I’m now half convinced I played a Choose Your Own Adventure Game like this)

Anyway, the mission was to take the structure of this sentance, and replace all the nouns/verbs/adverbs/whatever with new ones to get a sentance with the same structure, but different things happening in it, so, for example:

There was a crackle in the fridge on the afternoon I went to the empty pizza place beside Macdonalds to find the ominous smell.

(That’s a terrible example, but you get my drift).

Now, I’ll be honest here, part of me is thinking “no! I want to write comics, not prose, and this is all about prose” so my brain slightly checking out – but that’s just me going “also this is HARD and I wanted this to be easy”.

Anyway, getting back on the horse means getting up early again and doing this stuff while everyone is asleep; that seems to be the best way to go.

What is writing?

I have no answers here. Don’t be looking for them.

Here’s what I think though. I think – as a comic artist – when I talk about writing, I really mean coming up with an idea and carrying that through to a script. Maybe the dialogue is finished, but certainly the story is just the opener for an artist to take and run with.

Now, some writers will write feature-complete scripts, laying everything out just-so. But even then, many writers will give an artist free reign to go and do their thing – as long as they hit the beats then they’re good.

I think I do a lot of writing without realising, every tweet (and man, there’s a lot of those) every joke, anecdote, bit of stupidity that blog about. But there’s even more stuff going on that isn’t called writing but has writerly features – anecdotes, jokes, relay conversations. Conversation. This is the sort of writing I can do in my sleep at this point.

Despite doing this Couch to 80k Challenge, I’m not really interested in prose. I’m interested in taking some of the ideas I have and writing a comic script that is complete – has an engaging beginning, a middle that’s not a muddle and an end that’s both climatic and satisfying. This is the sort of thing I struggle with.

Committing to a single idea and carrying it through to an end point is hard. It’s double hard when you realise this idea you’ve fallen in love with, and have expanded to be something that resembles a story, will now take you several months to draw.

Christ, maybe I should be thinking of prose.

In the time I’ve been doing the Couch to 80k, so far the ideas I’ve had that have reached a sort of “ooh wouldn’t that be fun” have included (but aren’t limited to)

A sci-fi detective yarn called “Curiosity Inc” about disillusioned rich-kid turned PI Curiosity Vanderbilt whose parents both set up her detective agency (just to keep her busy) and are probably the greatest crime family in the entire galaxy. She’s dogged by one of her staff who happens to be a great detective, but somewhat smitten with her – despite her being entirely disinterested – MacFergus Tracker (he would prefer if no-one used his first name).

Stories set in that world would be cool. There was also:

Galaxy FC. Aliens arrive demanding Earth send them champions to battle for the future of the World. Based on what the aliens know of Earth, they’ve decided Soccer is the way to go. Earth fields a team of best players in the world. Accompenied by their alien coach, they play the first game, barely scraping a win, only to discover that it was never about one match, they’d have to play several leagues. The aliens, of course, have been doing stuff like this forever, and much of their empire is made up of conquered worlds. Thanks to the plucky humans though, these fellow abductees rise up.

Which was something I kicked around (see what I did there?) with my youngest son, Thomas (9) while we were playing football (because I was bored playing football and needed something to entertain myself).

I’ve laid out a couple of storylines for that. Nothing big, about a page and a half of notes. But still.

Then there’s Q13 (working title). A British take on the X-Files, except despite many of the strange weird and bizarre apparitions the team will face, nothing is alien – except in the sense that it’s unknown to mankind. It’s all stone circles, ancient sentient plants, ghost husbands and uncanny spookiness. (dammit, it should be called spooks) – we follow our three field team specialists, Tom Wellard – ex-SAS, weapons, Beatrix Tolliver – ex MI6, intelligence specialist, and newest recruit, Xavier Jones, a botanist. We join them as they’re about to explore a clump of land that no-one has accessed for at least three centuries, maybe more. At its heart we discover that .. well.. I’m not telling you, I may still write one of these things.

And finally, a James Bond story called White Rabbit. I mean, there’s no way on earth I’d get an opportunity to write a James Bond story, (scratch that, there’s no way on earth, I CAN SEE NOW, where I’d get to write a James Bond story. Honestly, who knows, life has a way of surprising you) but that’s ok, I can still play in that world. We cold open on Bond, about to escape from a maximum security prison, unarmed, standing in manacles, hands aloft at the edge of a sheer cliff drop, and from there we kick off a Bond Adventure (really it’s me trying to figure a way to get James Bond to run through a large Orange Parade…)

So there’s four worlds, each you can play with an explore, and keep you(me) occupied for weeks writing, then years drawing. But there’s no way to do all of that – it’s just not possible. I think I need to have hard thing about this.

There was a fifth story, a murder mystery RPG I wrote for me and Thomas to play – and it, weirdly, represents a closing of the circle. I came up with an idea, made up a middle and found a way to end it, that we both enjoyed. So it counts. Right?

Anyway, I have no good answers. I think though, I think exploring the question is still interesting.

Couch to 50k Week 5 Complete

I finished up Week 5 and it was difficult. Tim pre-recorded podcast assures me this is the worst of it. Deep diving into a emotional trauma and resurfacing it to write was easy the first time -, because … well… because I hadn’t anticipated how much of a kick it would be. This is a skill I have – I just don’t connect to the full emotional impact of a thing prior to it happening, because if I did I’d be a wreck.

So the first of the dives was difficult, but felt worth doing. The second I really struggled to approach it in the same way, preferring to talk around it, talk about the aftermath, be a cooler head. The third time I just couldn’t face it at all, wrote about something else and deleted the entire thing. I’d say I wasted my time, but I don’t think you can ever do that with something like writing. Sometimes you need to excise the rubbish so you know what you don’t want to do. (You measure a circle, as I frequently tell people, by starting anywhere).

The final day I went back in and tried doing it again, and it was just as emotionally wrecking as the first time I wrote about it (abeit I approached it from a different angle)

It can be hard to write/talk about really deeply affecting stuff. I mean, look how far in to this blog I’ve come without even saying what my writing this week was about. It was about the death of my mum, some 14 years ago, and how much it impacted me.

Anyway. I did it. I’m glad I did that first bit of writing on it, and I’m ready to move on to something new.

Looking forward to week 6.

Couch to 80k Week 5 Day 4

I blame my sort of hazy-looking-out-of-the-window-like-I’m-still-in-secondary-school lack of attention for not realising this week’s writing workshops would be all about strong emotional exploration, revolving around a single traumatic event. I’m not sure I would have done anything differently, but certainly I’d’ve been more prepared for it.

Today was diving into the same subject as yesterday and writing more on the topic, could be a rewrite, could be an exploration of specific bits, could be really whatever you want (including avoidance if that was too difficult).

I’ll be honest, the best thing about yesterday’s writing was finishing it and knowing I’ll never have to do that again, then turns out that wasn’t the case.

I went back to my mum’s death and wrote about the aftermath, really. It wasn’t my plan, it’s what happened. I also felt like I wanted to keep it distant, turns out I can grab that nettle once, but not twice. It’s not that the writing was so perfect it couldn’t be re-written, more than it was drawn from my own feelings so deeply that… well, I didn’t want to cry again. Simple as that really.

And thank you to everyone who commented yesterday, both on the blog and on twitter. I think appreciate both as a connection to me us all as humans who have more in common than not, and -I’ve chosen to take it- as a nod, that I’m going in the right general direction as a writer (DON’T DISABUSE ME OF THIS! IT’S ALL I’VE GOT)

So here’s today. A calmer, more reflective meditation on the aftermath of my mum’s death.


It’s been years. I still sometimes feel hollow. After mum died, I went off the rails, not oh-my-god-Paul-is-drunk-it’s-only-10am off the rails, but off the rails for me. I was angry. I was angry at my youngest brother, who was seven years old at the time. I was so angry at him. Why wasn’t he as upset as me? Why wasn’t he crying every day? How the hell could he get up and play football and not give a passing thought to the fact his mum had died?

I was angry with myself, I was angry with my wife, my parents, my family, my work, my entire world.

Mostly I was angry with my mum.

She knew. She knew she wouldn’t wake up. She knew something had happened. But she didn’t tell anyone. Instead she wrote a note, and went to sleep content not to wake up.

The pain of death is felt by everyone left behind.

It’s been years. I’ve forgiven myself for being angry, and I’ve come to understand why she didn’t phone anyone, or go to the doctors, and just … let go.

Mum was 50, she’d raised five boys, had her first -me- at age 16 and the next at age 17. I can understand that tiredness now. I want to say I forgive her, but really, there’s nothing to forgive. In my heart, I think of my mum as both my mother, and the 16 year old girl who never had a chance to grow up into adulthood and sometimes, I remember a photo she showed me of her at age 6 and I think of her as that little girl too.

She was like a force of nature, until she was spent.

Looking at her in the tiny box they put her in, I could see, at last that she needed the rest. Even storms have to stop and mum was a storm.