derek des anges

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noises from my head and projects from my mighty fists

We sink and we rise: Happy New Year to those within the M25

Here are some facts about London: it is old, and it is new. It is disgusting, and it is powerful. These truths are interlinked; foul industries, dirty water, a shambling stream of corpses and fire-halted epidemics give rich foundation to the quasi-religious veneration of our one true God, the golden god, and our old and all-conquering vice: Avarice. Bawd and ideal may be plentiful but the muddy, bloody swamp of a city sinks or swims on its venal lawlessness and nearly two millennia of proof can be dredged up for it.

London creates cultures like a loaf of damp bread. It generates saints. In Camden Town the long, sorrowful face of Amy Winehouse appears in smeared black on buildings like the Madonna on American toast; sheer will supersedes finger-wagging press to create her a modern, Jewish saint; “Don’t venerate an addict” and dire warnings of her moral character fall short and miss the point – Amy is an icon because of her flaws, not in spite of them or in their ignorance. Like Marilyn and Billie Holiday before her, the locality bears witness to struggle and pain paired with eloquence and skill, and raises a broken woman to the status of a divinity. It is a black paint backlash against the madonna/whore dichotomy; let her be both, let her be both.

We have hopes for George Michael, but it’s early days yet.

London makes saints of the ordinary, too; not far from my home there is a shrine. A man, 22, whose name I know but won’t share, died violently in the street in November. In a turbulent time these things go unremarked, but the shop across the street remembers, and his loved ones replenish flowers, candles, photographs, empty whisky bottles. Offerings to somewhere or something, to keep him from fraying in their minds. Devoured by the city, he becomes part of it.

Do the rules of urban sainthood cover the man I saw die this week, his vast white belly unthinkingly exposed as he lay surrounded by green-clad paramedics

and stony-faced on-lookers, spread-eagled by an unsuccessful defibrillator on a cold station floor? If he is canonised by the fleck-marks among the grey, how long for?

But it is a morbid time; it is Dead Winter. The time of year when I am quite grateful to find mould growing on my sandwiches because it proves that something can still grow in this hellish twilight. Past the dimple of midwinter and the instinctive bonfires, this frozen endless coda between the solstice and spring equinox is the time I give real and visceral consideration to the possibility of human sacrifice. At 3pm, already dark, on a night-shift week, I drag myself to he gym to treadmill the black despair into aches via the media of glowing orange numbers and participation in a nationwide detoxification – purificiation – fast-and-atonement ritual as we try to apologise the spring into happening. And I think, yeah, I’d kill a child to bring the sun back right now. Why not? Shit, let’s kill ten and have a nice summer this year.

London is a ritual city. It has no pomp nor splendour, no matter how much gilt we pour on the remaining high traditions or crenellated and NeoGothic excesses we defer to – the rituals are modern in age and pre-Enlightenment in character, private or primal: the weird, carved fish of Guild processions, the prescient and personal libations to a Bacchus tossed in the Fleet in the fourth Century, the roadkill funerals, the furtive wishing coins, knuckles to the window of the London Stone and prayers to the known monsters travelling in the eternal dark beneath the city. From the dank earth we came and shall return; we are filth, stains lapping at the feet of our unsecured glass skyscrapers – we are ugly, and let us remain pox-disfigured grasping mollies, roaring over newsprint…

One could weep for all the histories lost in the foundations of raw progress – the temples destroyed by railways, the birthplaces by bombs, the memories by meretricious, mercantile greed, but London does not stand still and it does not stop – a fossil city is a dead city. Better to build on top of our own sinking rooftops, lay roads over

rivers, and let future archaeologists marvel at our litter as we now paw over the plague-pits Pepys and Defoe’s peers did their best to cover.

Buddleia reaches for the sky, whole trees hanging out of brick cracks the size of a thumb; black mould marches over my bedroom ceiling; five mice quarrel in hypersonic territorial fury between the rails of the train to Cockfosters and somewhere in those miles of 19°C subterranean veins, rippling through clay like bands of a new composite mineral, we are evolving a new species of mosquito at light speed. The Tube Parasite. Our very own blood-sucker —

— London is a ritual city. We revisit our haunts. We pay our respects. We set our habits like heartbeats, not clockwork. Environment rules apply: the same man who moved me gently out of his path in a crowded, convivial nightclub in Vauxhall by placing the tips of his fingers on the angel tattooed on my neck kept to the etiquette of the Night Tube afterward, hunched up at the far end of a carriage with his eyes locked to his phone, a dozen empty, newspapered seats between us. Courtesy in both worlds: in the sweat and strobes the pressure of his cock on the waistband of my jeans is simple and unimpeachable neutral manners, too.

Condensed, London is a highly-charged space. Widely-spread souls mistake this hyperreal interaction for hostility instead of the hallucinogenic endgame of compressed human interaction. In the countryside I grew up in, friendliness is a two-hour chat with a grinning death’s head stranger; in this hive it is the quick smile to a bus driver from a passenger who has been on this route a decade. It is the small rituals with speed-ravaged 4am shopkeepers. It is catching the eye of the tired passenger who is watching the same pigeon fight that you are. In each of these seconds a week of intimacies unfolds in its own sweet time.

Do not be so quick to hate the ‘bubbles’ in which we dwell. They are beautiful and we have chosen them for a good reason.

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A Suitable Birthday Present: Off With His Tits

On the 19th of October 2016 I kissed goodbye to some moderate nuisances which have dogged my life since around 1994, and my internal life has settled from boiling discomfort to “mild simmer” for about the first time since then.

Over the course of the twin hells of bureaucracy and second-puberty that make up transition (see here for the heartfelt story of this nonsense), which has also involved an almost too-late-in-life conversion to the notion of Actually Exercising after building a firm and stroppy identity around Never Exercising Because The Sooner Death Comes The Better, I’ve had several unpleasant revelations.

One of which, as the testosterone began to take effect this summer, is that other people got to feel like this all their lives. That is, while there is nothing to envy in having a sex drive that requires continual policing for fear of becoming immediately distracted (sympathies to any and all teenage boys currently experiencing this hell), the previous situation wherein I was less a person and more a balloon of despairing thoughts trying its utmost to distract itself from an unwanted and fairly revolting physical neighbour was not the norm. I’d just assumed it wasn’t actually possible to be not so much happy with your body as even in it at all, and that everyone else was just being stubborn and dictatorial as they chirped at me to love myself and maybe, possibly, exercise some kind of caution rather than leaping with carefree abandon into the path of oncoming buses.

Other people, it seems, just kind of naturally recognise the face in the mirror as their own rather than squinting at it for a minute in the mornings and then, halfway through a cup of tea, accepting that it is very unlikely to be their mum. It’s not really a question of being happy with the way you look so much as that being you that looks that way. There has been a definite diminution in how clumsy I am since I started actually inhabiting a body that feels like it’s mine, rather than piloting a scribble with no proprioception and the vague sense that I’ve been left in charge of something I’m not really meant to have. I’m bordering on coordinated now, although I appreciate some of the people I have landed on at Duckie might not see it that way.

Now, some time after the demise of the breasts, a little after the removal of the post-surgical binder (yes, security guard at White Mischief Halloween Ball who got incessant about searching me for drugs I quite clearly didn’t have; that is what you were fiddling with. A surgical garment), I’m carefully realigning myself to two old realities made new by the intervening 22 years:

  1. No one is going to consider it obscene if I take off my top in public.
  2. It’s bloody cold with just a t-shirt on.

This wild and fantastic world where I can just throw on a t-shirt and not have to spend time wrestling with either a bra or a binder is going to take a little adjusting to, but it is the adjustment of absolute ecstasy. I can’t move my arms properly yet: I seem to have lost a lot of flexibility, fitness, and much of the upper body strength I’d built up before the surgery. I’m hilariously scarred, puckered, still a little distended from internal bleeding, and prone to criticising the outcome as being terrible – locked in the moment where I can’t lift weights, do press-ups, or raise my arms directly above my head without running the risk of messing myself up, and convinced as always that this will last forever.

And then I remember that what had once seemed impossible is already daily reality: everyone calls me “sir” or “mate”. I sound like my own Dad. There’s some pathetic approximation of a beard beginning, sporadically, across my face. Most important of all, in a few days I get to hurl a pair of comedy tits at the ceiling of a pub in joyous symbolic celebration of the departure of the real thing: so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, fuck off.

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Winter Cometh

Hello, I hope we all had a productive NaNoWriMo this year. I certainly did: I wrote 195,000 words, which is almost certainly my new record, and while part of me wants to try for the nice round 200,000 next year, a largely part of me is reminding me of how few of those 195,000 from this year have really pleased me in terms of quality. 195,000 words, and about 5 of them worth reading!

In addition to writing another novel, my “shamefully not updating my blog at all” time has been spent attending a variety of parties, including my own 34th birthday: I also went to the Last Ever White Mischief Halloween Ball (I went to the first: it seems appropriate that I attend the last, too) and met some lizards; attended a ghost walk on Halloween which ended in the prison cells below the Viaduct Tavern in Holborn; I went to the last Hunterian Museum Late before refurbishment, which featured the opportunity to drink gin while pickling a plasticine penis (not a sentence easily uttered after the gin), and cheerfully ghoulish lecture on the anatomical effects of hanging; visited an absolutely splendid bar in an air raid shelter, called Cahoots, which sells incredible cocktails and contains a converted Tube carriage; went to the stunning Museum of Last Parties for cocktails, a Cockney knees-up, a 1920s disco, a Morris dancing demonstration, a conga line featuring a guru with light-up shoes, and the opportunity to cover myself in so much glitter that my dry cleaner complained about it later; shot down to Brighton for a half-remembered night of dancing which has left me covered in mystery bruises; had brunch at Dishoom with the latest Ben Aaronovitch book, and tried, on the whole, to ignore the fact that the world is burning down around my ears.

As a recent dining companion said, if we’re going to have the last days of the Weimar Republic, we shall have to have the parties, too.

In addition to all this riotous behaviour I have been recovering from surgery, but that really does require its own post.

In the meanwhile, as a placeholder, please feel free to watch me and m’companion Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool reviewing Dr Strange back in October, sitting outside Balans Cafe in Soho and occasionally making new friends while I slag off Marvel’s most recent movie offering and Rich tries to be slightly more positive about a film neither of us paid to see.

It’s my face, and voice, together at last!

Filed under: content: real life, content: review, films, , , , , , , , , , , ,

30 Days Of Original Fiction

I’ll be honest, this year’s NaNoWriMo outline is kicking my ass. I am feeling the deadline somewhat. And in that confession I’m pretty sure I’m scared a few people who are already nervous of the whole concept of NaNo, so I kind of considered maybe letting anyone who doesn’t feel confident enough to do the whole “write An Book in a month” thing or who remains flummoxed by writing original fiction have a go at basically whipping up an outline over the course of that month instead, with this Helpful Selection of 30 exercises (one per day).

Days 1-10 are for exploration. This is when you begin to discover who you’re writing about. It might not stick, but that’s okay. You can always do it again if you need to.

1. Make your protagonist.

Or the person you think is going to be your protagonist. This can always change! Write about three paragraphs giving a vague idea of what they’re like – how they look, sort of, what they want, what they fear, where they’re from, what kind of person they are, really. This can and will be added to later.

2. Make a place.

Chuck down three paragraphs about a location, making it up as you go. Where is it, what kind of function does it have? How does it relate to the world? Is it a room, is it a business, is it a place in the wilderness? How do people get there?

3. Put your protagonist in the place.

Get them to explore. Maybe four paragraphs this time, or as much as you need; what emotions does the place arouse for them – have they been there before? What does it remind them of? What does it smell like? Feel like? Are they comfortable there or ill-at-ease? How do they move around the space?

4. Make a second character.

Same process as 1.

5. Put that character in the space, and have the two characters interact.

Give yourself a side of A4, and write their interaction. Pick whose point of view you want to represent, and try to consider how they’re going to convey the interaction – how do they perceive it in their own head, how much attention do they pay to what they’re doing vs what the other character is doing.

6. Write the same interaction from the perspective of the other character.

What is different? What is the same? How clear is it that their experience of the situation differs? What is suggested about their relationship as people? How does the other character’s narrative voice – their way of conveying themselves and the situation to the reader – differ?

7. Reflection.

Write a few paragraphs outlining the additional things you have learnt about the space, and each of the characters, based on their interactions with each other. Is there some hint of a struggle, quest, or unresolved issue that needs exploring? What is missing? What are they avoiding?

8. Create another location

You will want to write more than the first time you did this. This location is to be explored in the context of how it differs and relates to the first, and to your two characters. You will want to people it, and think about its use and function in a narrative: what kind of things might happen here? How would they effect your nascent characters?

9. One more character.

This character is hiding something from one or both of your characters, and wants something from one or both of them. When you write your description of this character you need to consider all of the previous days of writing: how do they relate to the two locations, and to the two characters, especially? What deeds have they committed in those locations, and how were the other characters – including the people you placed in the second location – involved?

10. Answers.

Today is for answering any questions that you have found arising in the Reflection section or any of the previous days of writing. Can you answer questions about your characters and locations that you couldn’t answer before?

Days 11-20 are for interlocking narrative and planning. Some people find it easier to write if they know where they are going; others find it easier to work out where they are going by writing. The following exercises should give you the opportunity to work out which you are by alternating between both.

Feel free to loop back round and do days 1-10 again if you were unsatisfied with the characters, before moving on. Strictly speaking, there isn’t actually a time limit on any of this.

11. Blind writing.

Take your two locations, your three characters, and all that you have learned about them in the ten days so far. Pick an object at random from the room you are writing in, and write a short scene – no more than 400 words, no less than 200 – with dialogue and descriptions of action/place, in which the item is a source of conflict or tension between the characters. This can be as silly or as trivial or as deep and meaningful as you like; trivial conflict can often be mined for much more profound plot and character development than you first realise.

12. Unpicking.

Today, draw a flow diagram or similar chart – whichever you find works best with your way of thinking – showing how the conflict over the random object evolved from the past interactions of the characters, however minor, and how you think it is likely to affect their future interactions and behaviour.

13. Planning.

Referring to your scene, and to your flow diagram, write three paragraphs about how the conflict might be resolved favourably, unfavourably, and to whom, and how likely you think each outcome is based on what you know of these characters.

14. Pathfinding.

Pick the most likely outcome and write a scene describing how it comes about. If the outcome is complex or takes a while to reach fruition, resist the temptation to try a different outcome or return to the drawing-board. Instead, write a series of one-to-two sentence snapshots of how you think the progression takes place. These will constitute an outline. You do not have to write these sentences in order if you get stuck. If you know where you think the scene is going but not how to get there, start at the end and work backwards.

And congratulations, you’ve made it a fortnight. You’re doing well!

15. Elaboration.

Look at the conflict and potential resolutions you’ve just described, and the one you chose to follow as most likely. What could happen next? Think about the situation as it has come about, and the world you’ve created (it’s often a good idea to do this thinking while you’re engaged in something else, like exercise or chores, sometimes that helps the brain tick over things differently), then write a list of the following circumstances:

A.  Something that could realistically happen which would improve the situation for the protagonist.

B. Something that could realistically happen which would improve the situation for the antagonist.

C. Something that could realistically happen which would cause a temporary collaboration between the antagonist and protagonist, or the foundations of a more lasting one.

16. Twists and turns.

Pick one of the circumstances above and, without a set limit on how long the piece should be, write it out as prose narrative. If this becomes unwieldy, or threatens to take up more of the day than you can reasonably afford, remember the outlining technique from Day 14.

17. Return to the start.

By now you have a reasonable understanding of your protagonist and antagonist, and a decent selection of characters who surround their conflict, interact with them. With this in mind, make a list of reasons that their opposition might have begun, and what formed the relationship between the protagonist and one of the other characters. Try to bear in mind that it’s rare in reality for a single, defining event to create a strong opposition without some kind of underlying pressure, be that pressure social (prejudice, disparity), historic (prior interactions, family feud), or psychological (own past, suppressed attraction).

18. Deprive your protagonist

This should reasonably form the beginning of a narrative. Bearing in mind what you know about your protagonist as a person and how they respond, prior to any developments you have explored following on from your introduction of the objective they are in conflict over, write at most one page of an outline, using the short, linked sentences approach, in which the protagonist has something taken away from them (this can be an item, a person, a state of being, social status, certainty…) which leads to their pursuit and conflict as previously described.

19. Map the power balance swings.

Look back over all the narrative and outlines you have of character interactions so far, including those between secondary and side characters. Make a list of all the characters who are present or mentioned in the story and outlines. Next to each character, write down a short summary of all the moments when things appear to be in their favour. You may also wish to write down what action of theirs or inaction of their led to them gaining or losing the upper hand.

This will help you to visualise the shift in power balance throughout the narrative; it is usually good for a story to take the protagonist through losing and gaining the upper hand in a situation, no matter how trivial, in order to keep the reader interested, and traditionally a protagonist (or indeed any character) should cause at least some of these power exchanges through their own actions.

However, like most narrative rules, this can be broken intelligently and to great effect!

20. Winning.

Write a short scene in which the balance of power between the protagonist and an antagonist – it doesn’t have to be the antagonist – starts out in favour of the antagonist and shifts to the protagonist. Read over it: how does the power shift occur? What does the protagonist do to make it happen? Remember that in a good story, the protagonist is active, and causes – if not always directly – the plot to progress through their behaviour and responses. Things can’t just keep happening to them.

Rewrite the scene to show the balance of power shifting through a different action of the protagonist. Can either version of the scene be placed within the narrative you are building?

Congratulations, you’re two-thirds of the way through this list!

Days 21 to 30 – the last stretch of these exercises – will be about refining your ideas and introducing subplots. Always remember, please, it’s okay to change your mind at any point, or decide to pursue a different part of the story. You’re exploring, all the way through this, and no “false start” is a waste of your time – it’s a valuable decision made, because you find out what it is you want to be writing.

At this point it’s worth making an overall note: share your ideas with people. Don’t get locked into the idea of the ivory-tower creator or feel that you must remain aloof until the finished work is available and perfect; that makes the business of writing unnecessarily difficult. Instead, describe your story and lament your blind spots to those willing to listen – even if they have no solution, you may find often that explaining it to other people helps you to straighten things out in your own head. Often, someone will ask a question you haven’t considered, and set the story off on a new course. Talk to people. Remember that writing is a communicative art!

21. Reflection: What unanswered questions and new characters and places have you acquired?

You don’t need to answer them! Just make a note of them when you think you’ve come up with all of them. If the answers and profiles for these new characters come up while you’re making a note of them, though, feel free to note them down. This would be a good time to talk about what you’re doing with someone else, to see if they have any questions you might not have considered before, too.

22. Take a side character for a walk.

Get the protagonist and antagonist to stop hogging the limelight. Take one of the side characters in any given scene you have so far, and write the interaction from their point of view. What are they thinking? How are they responding? How do they see what is going down? Is their interpretation radically different to those of the main actors? How important is it to them? What else is on their mind? Where did they come from? Where are they going?

23. Follow the thread

Review what you’ve written on day 22. Make a list, or mind-map, or whatever other method you like, of how you think this character’s story touches on the main story, and where it diverges. What are they likely to do in the same timespan as the main story which has an effect on the main story? What else are they doing? What questions about their life and their goals do you want to see answered?

24. Take another side character for a walk.

This character should be someone who both appears in a scene you have written previously, with the main characters (the protagonist and antagonist) and also someone who has a connection – personal, or professional, but quite strong – with the character you wrote about on day 22. In addition to sketching out how they see the scene they appear in, write about their prior/future interactions with Character From Day 22. How does this progress/impede either of their agendas?

25. Map your threads

Time to draw or write out how you think the two (or even three) plots you now have relate to each other. Pay special attention to how they drive each other: what would happen if one of the people involved wanted something different, or behaved differently? If it alters the entire way the story is going, do you prefer that direction? Is it still in keeping with what you would expect of that character?

26. Alright in the end.

Taking as long as you want and as many words as it needs, write the climatic scene. This is not the same as the final scene, as many stories close with a coda, or a rebalancing – a tying up of the remaining loose ends, a series of scenes dealing with some of the remaining consequences, or cementing what has already been hinted at. Quite frequently in a story with a romantic subplot, the conclusion of the romance occurs after the conclusion of the main plot. It’s up to you to decide (And re-decide) when the subplot will come to its conclusion, or whether its conclusion is bound up in the main plot’s end.

Today, though, take into account everything you have so far, everything you know about the story so far, and write the flashpoint, the part of the story in which evil is finally defeated/good finally defeated, or the goal achieved/irretrievably lost/judged to be not worth achieving.

27. How did we end up here?

Today, write the two short scenes immediately preceding that ending. It’s possible one may be part of the subplot; it’s also possible they may both be from the main plot, but whatever happens in them should see the characters and the narrative progress from the state they were in, driven by the events and their own actions, to the state in which the story reaches its climax, which you wrote on day 26. Remember that even if they are reacting to external events, the characters have to drive some part of the story themselves. Even people trying to survive an inevitable extinction-event-causing meteor impact still have other obstacles that can be altered or exacerbated aside from the incoming space rock, for example.

28. Reflection.

Take today out to look over all of your work so far. Arrange what you have, narratively, in a chronological order (when you come to write the story it needn’t be presented in that order, but it can help to get a grip on what’s going on). Read through it. Does anything leap out at you as unanswered? Is there a nagging question which has arisen as a result of what you’ve come up with? Are there conflicts which haven’t been resolved? Make notes of them. Don’t attempt to answer or resolve them, just note what they are.

29. Loose Ends #1

You saw this coming: pick one of the loose ends, and write about how it can be resolved. This can be done either exploratively – by jumping into the scene and following it to its conclusion – or descriptively – by sitting down and making notes on what a likely or desirable course of events within the narrative would be to see this thing resolved one way or another.

30. Loose Ends #2

What you wrote yesterday will almost certainly have created a cascade of new possibilities. As we are at the end! THE END! Of our planning, all you need to do now is make a note of these possibilities. Diagram out how you think they’re most likely to connect into what you have already, what you think they’re likely to change, and then put your pen down.

31. Put this in a drawer for six months and think about something else!

None of these techniques will magic a book into being. You still have to write it (yes, I know, how annoying). But hopefully these will provide you with an adequate selection of tools to get to grips with your own imagination and wrestle the narrative to the ground. Even if you’re tremendously experienced, there’s always some new method or problem left to tussle with.


If there’s an overall piece of advice I have, based on the questions I get asked a lot and the tension I see in people, it’s release your fear of fucking up.

You’re going to fuck up. It’s a necessary part of getting it right. You have to write wrongs before you can write right. That’s part of the process, and needs to be embraced that way. Charge in demanding to know which piece you’re going to end up throwing out the window. Produce too much. Fill the garden of words with gibberish and weed it until you’re left with glory.

When I was learning to stilt-walk – there are less weird examples from dancing and so on but it was stilt-walking that I learnt it in so I am giving you the advice from there – the first, first thing we learnt, after “how to put stilts on”, was how to fall. Not how to avoid falling, but how to fall safely. How to land on your padded knees, not your painful and underpadded butt. You had to unlearn putting your hands down to save yourself (this leads to fractured wrists); we practiced falling all day. Fall, fall, and fall again.

Artists fill sketchbook after sketchbook with pictures that aren’t quite right. Musicians play ten thousand scales, bum notes, and god alone knows what else. Imperfections, wrong directions, and a draft where you lob everything out of the window barring the secondary main villain and an interesting question about the role of animal passion in shaping fear or something are part of the process.

Henceforth address it as “whee, fucked that up” not “oh god this is terrible I have ruined this story and now the story can never be told properly”. They’re adaptable fuckers, and every story has a thousand iterations; you just have to find the one that works for you. Knock it back, pick a different cast, and try again.

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New short story: The Renaka Device

Exclusively on Amazon Kindle, on every Amazon Kindle site (I will link to UK | US but trust me: every site), a short story rather unlike any of my others in content and in style, The Renaka Device is fairly strongly-influenced by Ray Bradbury, I think.

My name is Potsve Revolution Renaka.

I was born a month after the fall of the old order. In celebration, my parents named me Potsve Revolution.

I can’t say much more without spoiling the story for you; feel free to pick up your copy (UK | US); Text-to-speech is available on this book for anyone who has difficulty reading from screens or is simply too busy to read but can listen.


Currently I’m plugging away at another sci-fi short story, The Grandmother Virus (which is giving me a headache, I won’t lie); other short fiction of mine you can treat yourself to in the meantime includes: Hannah Matchmaker’s New Skates (a rollerderby fable), Vessel 151-B (classic sci-fic take on the Pygmalion story), and Saint Grimbald’s Men (bodyhorror bildungsroman. Possibly).

Stay tuned this November for regular updates on how awful it is trying to pull an entire manuscript out of your face in one sitting.

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Writing Advice: Pulling Answers From My Bum Part 2.

Another ask from the Website Where Askboxes Live:

what’s your advice on creating interesting, likable and realistic characters? And creating strong, emotional bonds between two or more characters?

And one long, windy, incoherent reply:

Realistic characters are super easy, you just have to know, y’know, people. Stalk people! — there is possibly a less creepy way of putting that but I still have the Weird Plague so I’m not searching for it right now. Listen to people. If you’re already the therapist/confidante for your group of friends this helps, because you will get to hear how people talk about themselves. Read people’s personal blogs. Read published diaries. Read email transcripts. Read published collections of letters, the more mundane the better. Eavesdrop on people in cafes, bars, on public transport. Sit silent in chat rooms. Wander onto forums as a guest. And talk to people, if you can stomach it and if you feel safe. Listen to how people talk about each other in their absence, too.

This fills you up with other people’s language and other people’s fears, desires, griefs, triumphs, and their facades (always worth remembering that everything people communicate consciously is something they choose, to a degree, to demonstrate, and sometimes/often it’s intended to give a specific effect).

Personally I also read a lot of (popular, since I’m not especially smart) books from the holy trinity of People Understanding Sciences: sociology, neurology, psychology. “Why the fuck do people do that” / “how do people work” (child development books are good for this too, imo). I like this because it’s easier to tweak things about a character if you have an idea of what life event is likely to result in what kind of variety of flaws or fears or so on & hopefully reduces the likelihood of getting repetitive. Also: blogs on How To Understand Neurotypicals written for people who are Neurodivervgent/ASD/etc are remarkably useful for Neurotypical writers because they will explain the why of things.

A strong, original character is one who lives as a person, basically. Either they are the centre of their own universe or the transference of a universal centre to an item, individual, or quest makes them fanatical, weird, comment-worthy by other characters. Secondary characters should always always always always have lives, concerns, and priorities outside of the protagonist. Antagonists need, again IMO, to have inner life. Assuming your antagonist is a character and not, say, “the concept of death”.

Uh… oh, right, bonds. Interactions create those. You can short-cut people to understanding that two people are very close by the way they interact; you can show the growth of a bond by the changes of interaction between characters (lazy: by using less and less formal language; by reducing the physical space between them; by increasing the humour and such in their conversations). A fun game to play in public is detective over what kind of relationship two strangers have to each other (I mean, strangers to you). Analyse what makes you reach your conclusions; transfer this to depictions in writing. Remember that cultural and subcultural mores play a role in this – teenage boys express affection by shoving and hitting each other, etc.

Try to avoid the temptation to demonstrate closeness by overshare of personal backstory – if your character is the kind who overshares personal backstory almost immediately it won’t be a show of affection but of disorder, if they turn it into a joke — ref. Deadpool and Vanessa flirting — it tells you about the character (less the backstory and more how they talk about it, how they use it as currency/recognition), but the intimacy isn’t formed then.

Short-cuts to bonds which are very popular in certain works (and uh, also in real life by people who are grooming someone) include “going through a traumatic event together”, which is often the basis of bringing together a disparate group of people – but it’s worth considering that the type of bond may not be intimate, long-lasting, positive, or even an attractor – some people who go through trauma with other people want nothing more than to be away from anyone or anything that reminds them of it.

Likeable is difficult, because obviously what appeals to one person will not appeal to another; I love Patty Tolan the best out of the recent Ghostbusters movie but many other people prefer Holtzmann or Abby etc… attempts to appeal to everyone all at once lead to Stubbly McQuiptits, Joss Whedon Syndrome, or everything Stephen King has ever done. I think in that respect the only real gauge you can rely on is yourself/test readers. Read their dialogue and interactions back to yourself or have it read back to you (to divorce it from your own voice), and try to think about whether this is someone you want to read about – not the same thing, obviously, as someone you want to hang out with! (I adore Miss Temple in Glass Books but I’m pretty sure I’d want to hit her with a tea tray if we had to socialise).

With likeability too I think realism is important; someone with a gamut of emotions and experiences and who has enough stacked against them that people can sympathise (as the majority of readers aren’t going to be bajillionaire superhots who effortlessly got their PhDs aged 7; part of the appeal for most of, say, Matt Fraction’s Clint Barton is that while he may have incredible skills in one area and be overall a good and heroic dude, he’s a dysfunctional shitmess in pretty much every other area).


I am, in theory, working towards a slightly less bombastic version of How Not To Write at the moment.

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Another Review, and why reviews matter.

First, a link:

Rori Shay on how Amazon uses reviews to rank books and increase your exposure to things more people have enjoyed.

Next, a review:

review

(Click for full-size)

I appreciate each and every single review, because they genuinely do make a difference. Every time you tell a friend about one of my books, it sticks in their mind, and maybe they pick it up one day, and enjoy it themselves. Every time you mention one in passing, or make reference to one, you pique someone’s curiosity, and perhaps they spread a little further.

And hey, if you don’t enjoy the book, remember other people have different tastes, and that also spite-recommending books to people is a fun prank.

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Writing advice.

On That Other Site I Spend Too Much Time On, I recently received the following question:

darknpretty asked: How do you get over the fear of writing and just plow through it?

Now, while I have been blocked all to fuck of late (struggling through a mere 1,100 words of three short scenes has been like wading through treacle), I know it’s not through the fear of writing. So there are a few words I can offer, and these are the ones I sent back:

hold two mutually contradictory ideas in your head:

  1. the thing you have to write is the most important thing that can ever be said and it has to be you that says it, because no one else will say it the same way (and when you have finished, you have made a thing exist in the world that never existed before, and that is powerful magic)
  2. writing is like taking a poop. it has to be done. the end result may be total fucking garbage but guess what? you get infinite other goes at it. you can do it as many times as you need to, to get what’s needed said. this applies whether you’re writing passionate rhetoric about the need for democratic reform in your country or whether you’re writing 100 words of teen wolf ovipositor fisting coffee shop au; you get as many goes as it takes. it doesn’t matter if you fuck it up. it doesn’t matter that it categorically will not be perfect. everyone needs to edit.

(basically do not fear the blank page. you are the boss of words, and you can fuck ‘em up as much as you like. just like drawing. start with a damn scribble; write the scene backwards; pretend everyone involved is farting all the way through their dialogue; wear a party hat while you write. it’s an amazing and incredible act of creation but you don’t have to take it seriously).

Now, if anyone has any advice on how to yank the remaining 4,000 words out of my ass and actually tell a coherent story, I’d welcome them.

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The Gamification of Dining.

Currently I’m a widower to Pokemon Go, as are many. My Delightful Boyfriend, who is a nerd who likes shooting things on the TV while swearing, and has been known to RPG (unlike me: I am the very cool kind of nerd who has lots of emotions about dead people and Knows Facts About Bees), has been sucked into the vortex of “walking around places with his head down” game, which doesn’t much differ from his “I can’t use Facebook and walk at the same time but never say never” approach to life in many particulars.

I’ve never been tremendously into games*, for the following reasons: I dislike losing a lot more than I enjoy winning; I am hopelessly allergic to anything involving teamwork; sudden loud noises stress me the fuck out; I have spent most of my life with abjectly poor hand-eye and foot-eye coordination; team-bonding’s neurological effect actively scares me; I don’t have the attention span; I want to control absolutely everything or absolutely nothing but find the middle ground frustrating; I am terminally averse to getting things wrong the first time.

*Disclaimer: I have had crippling addictions to: Tetris, a card game called Montana,  Soltaire, Hoppit, a match-three game for the Acorn called Reaction, Bejeweled, Bookworm, and still routinely spend hours mindlessly thumbing through 2048. 

However, I’m also a sucker for: prizes; food; new stuff.

And recently I went to Shuang Shuang in Piccadilly. It’s a hotpot conveyor belt restaurant, combining the simple delight I experienced for the first time 14 years ago when I went to Yo! Sushi in Paddington Station and got FOOD ZOOMED PAST MY EYES with the equally great satisfaction of HAVING FOOD COOKED IN FRONT OF ME ESPECIALLY FOR ME at Abeno Too some eight or so years later, and the no lesser delight of “pick your own ingredients and we’ll make the thing for you” buffet-style restaurants like Tiger Lil’s and the Mongolian Barbecue (now I think both sadly defunct) that were popular in the 2003-5 period. In that you get your own temperature-controlled hot pot of the broth of your choice, a conveyor belt of fresh ingredients, and a guide to roughly how long you should let things cook for.

As I said to my date, fellow flaneur, London history nerd, enjoyer-of-gadgets, and the person who introduced me to Sci Fi Nutrigruel (and to the glories of H G Wells), I fall squarely into the opposite camp to We Want Plates. My requirements for eating out being:

  1. Is it good food
  2. Is it good food I probably couldn’t make myself
  3. Have you done something weird with it

Why yes, I do slavishly watch Heston Blumenthal while chuckling quietly about him being mental. Thank you. I do find the words “good honest grub” tedious in the extreme. I can make that at home. I came out to your cavern of hellish socialisation so I could be treated to Exciting Shit. Make some dinner theatre happen!

This, for example, looks fun.

lego breadbasket

Image from WeWantPlates.com

Admittedly I’m bored now with what I think of as Nerd Fun With Food; “caffeinate everything”, “what can we make taste of artificial bacon next”; “look it’s a really massive version of some highly overproduced snack food you barely like anyway”, but I feel in terms of presentation and excitement, stuff like Supersizers Go… knows a thing or two about how to make eating out interesting.

It was ruminating on this and quipping about it that led to the following concept, described by friend Chris Siddall as “Iron Chef Go” and by Delightful Boyfriend as “hrm”; I would like to thank them both for asking me enough questions to help iron out some original kinks in the idea.

IT’S TIME FOR ENRICHMENT, BITCHES:

So the wheeze is this. You and your group – hen party, stag do, business retreat, family reunion, football team, LARP favourites, etc – book ahead to this thing. A country house, an adventure park, or a hotel. You tell them how many there are of you, what dietary requirements and preferences you have, and that’s it. You put the app in your phone.

When you turn up you’re sent off into the grounds. You have to check your app. How many ingredients do you need to find? Where are they? What clues are you following? What riddles to you answer correctly?

You find a thing. It’s a fake bowl of chopped onions, under a hedge, rather like shokuhin sampuru in restaurants. It’s got a Tile or an i-tag or similar on it. You tap the ingredient’s tag on your phone to let your team know you’ve got it, and to tell the chef that ingredient’s unlocked on the list, meaning your potential meal just got tastier: you only eat meals with what you’ve managed to find.

At the end of the pre-meal game you drop all your “ingredients” into a pot, and make your way back to the restaurant. You’ve had fun, you’ve worked up an appetite, you don’t know exactly what you’re getting, but you know it’s going to be more satisfying to eat now than it would have been just picking something off a piece of card.

Naturally the dinner theatre’s been meticulously arranged in advance. The ingredients you hunt can be combined to different levels and in different ways, and that menu has already been decided: if you find none of the ingredients you get a very nice burger and chips and a drink with a sad face on it and a card saying “I don’t think you tried at all”. If you find, say, three, you get the “three-ingredient” meal. If you find all the ingredients you get a free cocktail and unlock the dessert roulette.

Would it catch on? I don’t know. I could see it being a hit in Dalston, the same way that Fire Hazard Games – immersive gaming around real-life – has taken off, and possibly with the same people. It would combine healthy exercise and food, and thinking exercises with reward, much as Pokemon Go has got people moving and getting out of the house.

Heston, man. Hit me up. You know you want to.

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New Design!

I  haven’t used my WACOM in a million years because, uh, it broke.

Then a friend very kindly gifted me a replacement which is BIGGER and BETTER and WIRELESS and DOESN’T WORK BECAUSE THE BATTERY IS DEAD and I don’t have a DC in cable to charge the battery…

But while I waiting for my finances to recover sufficiently (don’t pity me, it’s my own fault for buying a bike and some accidentally expensive Japanese groceries – unless your pity takes the form of Free Money) to buy a DC in cable & adapter so I can actually use my damn thing to draw in a medium that allows more than my regular forrays into “doodling cartoon cats on my work notes”, I have a lot of vector elements, and an idea for a tattoo.

What I don’t have is free time, so it took me an embarrassingly long time from conception to execution, but it’s here now. I will be tattooing it, but I see no reason other people can’t adorn themselves and their belongings with it:

All of the above and many more, including other designs of mine, can be purchased at my Redbubble account. You can also buy it, and a number of other designs, at my PAOM page!

 

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