Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Out of office reply...

I'm not around right now.  Like a bird, I'm flying south for winter (well, a week anyway).

Unlike a bird I won't shit on you as I pass overhead.

There may or may not be wifi, my laptop may or not survive a strip-search, so I may or may not post / comment. I planned to schedule a post or two to amuse and entertain in the meantime, but time is running out... so I'll leave you with a little competition:

I'd like you to write me the worst opening sentence of a novel you can come up with.  There'll be a 'super' prize* for the winner. You may want to read my previous post for inspiration - you may even want to start your sentence: 'It a was a dark and stormy night' but I won't hold you to that.

Post your answer as a comment.  Tell your friends too - get me up to the 100 follower mark while I'm away so I miss it and feel terrible, why don't you?

* Well, a prize anyway - and you'll really get it too. I remember how skeptical Dave was about ever getting that camel prize until it turned up on his doorstep (sans three wise men).  P.S. But it won't be a camel this time... I promise!

Monday, 21 November 2011

It was a dark and stormy night

I used to love reading 'Peanuts' by Charles M Schulz in the Daily Mail (I was just a kid, OK? It was my parents... I didn't know what I was doing.)

My favourite character was Snoopy, the wannabe novelist dog who, like me at the time, never got much past the first sentence of any great work of fiction he was writing.

Did you know his standard opening: 'It was a dark and stormy night' was written by Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton at the beginning of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford?  I thought the name sounded familiar, and it is because of he annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for examples of really bad fiction.  Last year's winner is a fine example:

For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss--a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil. 
--Molly Ringle, Seattle, Washington

This passage must have been perilously close to being nominated for another much-loved literary award - the Bad Sex Award, the winning passages of which I found strangely erotic:
"like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her"
"He unbuttoned the front of her shirt and pulled it to the side so that her breast was uncovered, her nipple poking out, upturned like the nose of the loveliest nocturnal animal, sniffing the night"

  *blushes fetchingly and goes back to the cartoons...*  

Friday, 18 November 2011

To be brief

Shall I tell you what's interesting about writing a novel?

Yes.  I shall.

As regular readers know, I've mainly written poems and short stories. I've also worked on a local newspaper, and as freelance newsletter editor and press and PR officer.  It's all writing, but it's all writing of a certain kind... succinct!

Learning to edit comes in really useful for poems and stories... where the reader is expected to do a good deal of the imagining.  It's good for any writing which, due to the limitations of space or the pursuit of brevity, applauds the cutting down of what you want to say to the minimum possible number of words.

This can be tricky in a novel.  It dawned on me some way into it that readers may struggle with this kind of succinctness and could need some breathing space between events, some scene-setting - the sort of stuff I cut out of stories, poems, articles ... and blogs!

When I read, I'm too impatient for pages and pages of irrelevant 'purple' prose - but I'm not sure I want to romp through a story at breakneck speed either. So I'm now anti-editing - adding rather than taking away. What's she thinking?  What's the background to this?  What's the weather like? - not for padding (it's already 77k words with a few scenes to add), but to make it a more satisfying read.

I'm interested what you think - do you like the 'two veg' of scene-setting or do you skip to the 'meat' of the next exciting thing?  Do you want to know a character's whole back story or is a well-chosen pen sketch enough?  And when YOU write do you find yourself writing too much or, like me, do you compulsively edit what you've written until you are gnawing on the bare bones?  Short - or lengthy - replies welcome!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

A novel request

Help! I'm in need of some assistance and advice again! The novel's up to 76k words and I'm hoping to have a full draft ready within the week (eek!). So now I'm looking for anyone willing to:

(a) read first 3 chapters quite quickly - which will be sent to the first of a long list of agents imminently

(b) read a first draft of the whole thing, offer general constructive comments and answer some questions afterwards about specific aspects

(c) join in a less time-consuming way by offering suggestions for the following:

  • Examples of low-level bullying by girls ... nothing too nasty, preferably something quirky/ embarrassing circa 1980 (I was lucky enough to not have been subjected to or witnessed any bullying at school)
  • Examples of saints with silly names
  • Examples of bureaucratic jargon or local authority political correctness 
If you'd like to do the actual reading (a) and (b), please send me your email address to clare at clarekirwan dot co dot uk. It's expensive and laborious to send hard copies out, so please only say yes if you're happy to just get a Word file to read on screen.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Highbrow Eyebrow Poem

I'm only posting this because Fran at Being Me had an eyebrow issue recently and I mentioned I had just the poem.

I must confess I've been slightly traumatised by what I found when searching for 'knitted body parts' on Google. 

Be careful what you wish for.

My grandmother knitted her own eyebrows

you had to in those days – there was a war on.
It was that or gravy browning, but she’d used
that up on the back of her legs to fashion
the illusion of stockings. Visually effective,
but never quite so warm.

The same was true of the eyebrow:
A line would do, at a push, in an emergency,
but if you really wanted to be warm
and keep the falling debris from your eyes
knitted ones were so much more ‘the thing.’

She used number three ply and knit one pearl one.
(I don’t know if that’s true but then I never asked
– so many things I didn’t think to ask about
‘til later. All I remember is her warning me
off plucking them: Or they won’t grow back, she said.)

I tried plucking my legs with this promise in mind,
but they always returned. It was like the hair
in different body parts obeyed different rules
– and some obeyed no rules at all. I used to think

everyone’s pubes would be as black as mine.
and was shocked the first time I saw a naked redhead,
for that (and several other) reasons.

So I didn’t pluck them. Partly because
I never learned to knit – I could do the basics
but none of that casting on or off –

so if I’d tried to knit my brows they would have gone
on and on forever. Which is frowned upon.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

A ha!

Talking about 'funny ha ha and funny peculiar'... 'Ha ha' is a funny kind of word, and so is 'Ha!' on it's own.

We are, of course, limited in the number of possible two-letter acronyms. The initials HA could stand for any of the following: hectare, Hemagglutinin, Highways Agency, Hawaiian Airlines or Hells Angels.. .and HAHA is the also the acronym for the human anti-human antibody (I'm not sure what that is, probably a Doctor Who villain).

There is, naturally, a town in Norway called Hå. I've already mentioned the town in Norway called Hell. Let's face it, there's almost certainly a town in Norway called Brøken Birø.

'Ha' is also the definite article in Hebrew... which makes almost every noun you mention sound either disparaging or mildly amusing.

I don't want to cause a hoo ha about all of this. I especially don't want to cause one because I just looked it up and apparently it doesn't just mean a 'big fuss' - which is what I meant, but also refers (according to some pesky Urban Dictionary) to female genitalia. An excellent example of onomatopoeia .

Incidentally, hoo ha apparently comes from the Yiddish for a hullabaloo הו־האַ .  But you wonder, don't you, if it didn't come from 'brouhaha' - which is assumed to be an onomatopoeic assimilation from Hebrew בָּרוּךְ הַבָּא (barukh haba, “welcome”, literally “blessed is he who comes”).

Don't worry - I'm not going to do this for ALL 2-letter combos. I'm done now. You can come back.....come back!!!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Think you're funny?

Laugh? I nearly died.
There are no clowns in my book, but plenty of coffins
This is a serious post about being funny... but there are some jokes at the end.

I was thinking about being funny when I posted about doing stand-up the other day. Like I said, they weren't exactly rolling in the aisles - wrong material / wrong audience maybe?

People tell me I'm funny. It's one of the things I aspire to be (being funny and being liked: my two aims in life - how needy is that?) But if the occasional quip falls on stony faces I begin to doubt my powers to amuse.

I've been working a lot on my novel-in-progress lately - a lighthearted romp involving a little trouble with Big Society, planning department shenanigans and the undead. And last weekend I finally allowed a good - but critical, discerning and ruthless - friend to read the first half. How many times have you seen a book described as 'laugh out loud funny' but it barely raises a titter? Imagine my delight to hear my friend laughing out loud at my book, my baby. Don't worry - it is supposed to be funny! But it's easy to lose faith when you are the only one to have read something, and humour is subjective.

Meanwhile on Twitter there was a meme where people shared their favourite short joke. Here are some of the ones I liked the best, which gives you a clue as to the sort of humour to expect :

  1. My wife bet me I couldn't build a car from spaghetti. Imagine her face when I drove pasta...
  2. I bought ten tonnes of Tippex the other day... big mistake!
  3. I just spilled glue all over my autobiography - that's my story and I'm sticking to it!
  4. Two goldfish in a tank, one says to the other... "How do you drive this thing?"
  5. What do you call a donkey with 3 legs? Wonkey
  6. "Doctor, doctor, I think I'm a moth." "Sorry, mate, this is a solicitor's, not a doctor's surgery." "I know, but your light was on."
  7. How do you titillate an ocelot?  Oscillate its tits a lot
  8. What's gray, wrinkly and hangs out your granddads pajamas? Your grandma.
  9. Why did the baker have brown hands? Cos he kneaded a poo.
  10. (gotta have a library joke) Man walks into library: Can I have fish & chips please? Librarian: This is a library. Man whispers: Can I have fish &.. 

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Stand up and be counted

Some people do very brave things. They run back into burning buildings to save small children. They hold the bridge under enemy fire, diffuse bombs, cut their own mangled legs free from the wreckage and hobble 30 miles on the stumps... (sorry - none of you are having your tea are you?)

Some people even do brave things for fun: they hurl themselves down ice-covered mountain slopes, tear along the dotted lines in fast cars, or leap from bridges into the abyss with just a bit of string tied around their ankles (pictured: Ladies loo at AJ Hackett Bungy, NZ) or heli-hike on a glacier... ok, I have done that last one, but that's not the point.

But even some of the people who do these things say to me: 'You're so brave! I could never do that!'
What? WHAT? Did I give up my place on the lifeboat? Did I fight a vicious wild animal with my bare hands? Did I spend twenty years as a spy behind the lines?

Nope. I tried stand-up comedy.

I did a course - ten of us learning the ropes for a few evenings culminating in a performance at the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool in front of 200 people (we were each given 20 free tickets for family and friends, so it wasn't an antagonistic audience - but it was still 180 people I didn't know).

You can be taught the basics - choosing a theme to play around with, microphone technique etc - and you can practice your material in a classroom environment to see what works and what doesn't, but ultimately it's you on a stage on your own.

But nobody died.

Nobody died laughing either... and it was very, very scary - not great for my high blood pressure.

I did it again, too - at Bolton Socialist Club. And I haven't ruled out another shot another time, but as a mate of mine says: 'It's better to surprise people by being funny than to stand up in front of a bunch of people who are expecting you to.'

What's the bravest thing you've done?

Thursday, 3 November 2011

What brings you here?

Free cheese here!
fornicating frosties

metaphor luggage carousel

hot librarian look

bad ass bruises

These are just a few of the search terms* on Google which have led people to my blog (along with Zombie Wombles which inspired this post)

Estimates vary - Wikipedia says that as of February 2011, there were over 156 million public blogs in existence. Other people say there are in excess of 450 million active blogs in English alone, possibly a billion all told - that's 1 in every 6 people blogging.  I find this difficult to believe when so many people I know don't have any idea what a blog is!

I 'follow' too many which means I don't read all the posts all the time, and I've been thinking about how I found them in the first place. Sadly I don't remember how it started (if we've followed each other for a while, do remind me if you know!)  But probably I mostly come across new blogs in these ways (in order of likelihood):
  1. A blog is recommended to me eg when a blogger I follow posts about their favourite blogs that week, or mentions another blogger positively in one of their posts
  2. If someone's comments on a blog I follow interest me, I'll bite.
  3. If people seem interesting and/or witty on Twitter - I'll check out their blogs.
  4. When a person follows me, I'll look at their blog too. 
  5. When someone I know in real life tells me they have a blog, I'll have a look.   
  6. If I spot an interesting blog title (or even blog name) on the sidebar of a blog I follow, I'll bite.
  7. Looking up something random on Google (often a picture) I may stumble across a blog I like. 
This is all how I find other blogs, not why I choose to continue to read them - that's another story!

But I think there are important lessons here for any new bloggers - that being part of a community and engaging with other people online is vital if you want people to find your blog amongst all the others clamouring for attention.

So tell me - how do you find the blogs you follow? What leads you to them in the first place?

* I would tell you more, but I'm constructing a surreal 'found' poem entirely constructed from search terms people have used to find my blog!