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How we create fictional characters in our mind.

How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham [Two Weeks] (3 hours pw)

100% completed

Aimed at undergraduate academics of English Literature, possibly even third year or masters level. I have had to spend more time with the reading than I expected in order to grasp the main thesis relating to ‘Theory of Mind’. It is proving complementary to ‘Start Writing Fiction’ as it shows how we conceive of, and follow imagined and real characters in a world, in our heads, that is always part factual, part fictional.

On rewriting fiction – again

Fig.1. One box from the garage: Five/Six project to work on here 🙁

Thank you SWF Fall 14. [Start Writing Fiction. An Open University ‘Massive Open Online Course’ or MOOC that run from October to December 2014 on the FutureLearn platform]

A MOOC on writing fiction has rekindled my desire to be a published writer for the eighth or ninth time in four decades.

Writing in 1991/2 with a further burst of activity from 1996/8 and another from 2001/2006 and abandoned since 2008 I am glad, though daunted to be looking at drafts of novels and of screenplays that I just dug out of a lock up garage over 10 miles away. There’d be more if I could read floppy disks and ZIP drives.

These piles are stacked carefully enough, though some were tipped out of arch-level files when I started my OU MA in Open and Distance Education in February 2010. Here I am back again, as if these last five years have been something squeezed from me like the last teaspoon of paste from a tube of tomato purée.

I am thrilled to see a TV play called ‘Sardines’ – a farce in which some eight characters all end up hidden in the cupboards or under the bed of the same man in a penthouse flat in central London. I am gobsmacked to find variations something called ‘Form Photo’ which charts the relationships of one man from the age of 17 to 57 … mostly teens, with some first loves in his early teens. This is, I think, the one I am now turning to.

Also in front of me is the manuscript I may have given 18 months to – a typical time span, 18 months and 300 pages and 100,000 words. Working title ‘Journey To Work’ because the premise in 1996 was that a character wanted a car that would drive him to work … i.e. a self-driving car. It is not about the motor industry (although I was doing a lot of work for Land Rover at the time). It also has the title ‘Fifteen Roads to Nowhere’ about this guy who sets out on this mad quests: the car thing, a relationship with such enthusiasm … eventually he takes a bet to drive, or be driven by this homemade car across 100 miles of English rural and urban landscape. So there’s that one.

What else?!

‘The Contents of My Mind’ was an effort to explore how a person’s mind is stored digitally after their death and in this instance is put into the brain of someone who had been in a coma. You end up with a hybrid horror of a person trapped in a body that isn’t theirs that also enforces a new way of thinking and doing on them. Toss! It went to the BBC, was read and returned. 2004 or so?

Hardly a novice writer then?

Always a novice writer. Even should I have the good fortune to be published eventually I will doubt what it is that I do or have done. My sincere hope, as I return to a commitment to writing fiction after a long break is that I now have a better idea of what it is I do, what makes this ‘chef’ how it is that I toss the ingredients down and pull out a meal that is enjoyable. A short film broadcast on Channel 4 that I wrote, directed and produced is my only broadcast credit; I have not been published outside a school magazine.

Editing that destroys what I write isn’t the way to write – it becomes like writing by numbers. I have plenty of examples of that too, where I have tried to write as I believe I am required to write. I did this with a 12 part historical TV series that I read today and it is about as thrilling as a telephone directory – there is nothing of me in it. ‘The Little Duke’ could be retuned wearing my new head.

Far better the outrageous, Tom Sharpe meets Henry Miller, of things like ‘Sardines,’ even ‘Exchange with a Frenchmen’ … the treatment of which I have seen kicking around somewhere. I cut and pasted hundreds of strips of papers into a long scroll. I think, as I am now doing with other work, that I am starting to know how to construct that prose.

I also found the proposal, in French, for a series of false news stories.

I was on the team writing, directing and producing these things for Antenne 2 in 1991. Outrageous. One story even ended up on the news. We told some lie about the French Prime Minister owning a Honda even though she claimed to be wedded to supporting output from French car manufacturers Renault and Peugot. At this time I also spent six weeks on the road documenting the lives of those in the HLMs outside major towns and cities where immigrants had been put. And I wrote a story about an Algerian boy who when stressed turned into sand … All this and I was translating from French to English a kids cartoon series called ‘Chip and Charlie’ from France Animation.

The funniest read is something I typed up in the Christmas Holidays when I was 13 1/2 I now look at it’s nonsense and think ‘Blue Lagoon … only in space’ 🙂

Still in the garage there is the manuscript for a kid’s adventure story called ‘The Time Telescope’, a kids TV series about a time shift device called after the main characters, brother and sister ‘CC and Susie’ and some kids’ stories written when my own children were six and four. ‘Hapless Harry’ comes to mind … a small boy who ‘transmogrified’ into everyday objects whenever he did something naughty. He turned into his dad’s brief case and got taken to the office in one adventure, I remember.

On verra

 

How to read a mind

How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham[Two Weeks] Fig.1. The image I’ve used for a decade to represent my blogging under the pseudonym ‘mind bursts’.

79% Complete

Four activities remaining to complete. A touch more academic than some. I guess this is undergraduate English Literature, but third year. Or is it pitched at postgraduate level. I have had to spend more time with the reading than I expected in order to grasp the main thesis relating to ‘Theory of Mind’. It is proving complementary to ‘Start Writing Fiction’ as it shows how we conceive of, and follow imagined and real characters in a world, in our heads, that is always part factual, part fictional.

Completed ‘Start Writing Fiction’ with The Open University on FutureLearn

From E-Learning V

Fig.1 Start Writing Fiction

I’ve been blown away, shaken up, put back together, slapped on the behind, smacked on the back and learnt a huge amount. All I need to do now is spend less time online, and more time writing … and reading.

My blogging days aren’t over, but the time devoted to it will be.

24 hours later I’m joining the alumni community of ‘SWF 14’ on Facebook and posting my work from the eight week Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) here. Historically I’ve been very bad at taking advice from fellow bloggers – stop blogging, go write! So if it looks like my self-discipline of keeping this to 40 minutes or so a day then give me an electronic kick up the hooter 🙂

With thanks to ‘Start Writing Fiction Autumn 2014,’ and The Open University, to ‘National Write a Novel in a Month’ and to author and writing tutor Susannah Waters who have over the last three months put me back where I want to be: on a creative path with ‘published and produced’ in the SatNav.

Story is character

Decades of starting a piece of fiction and as many decades often getting into a mess some 70,000 words in I feel I am eating humble pie by ‘doing a course’. You do and can learn by doing, but it helps to have guidance.

 

Fig 1. The Story Tree, by Wend Greenalgh, my tutor for the rest of May.

I quickly saw how this could unlock many stories; I have some dozen partly written and sometimes completed novels and screenplays – written over 26 years. Few see the light of day. Some were sent out. All had the same problem; plot heavy. That I had figured out, ‘the story arc’, but there is little appeal if it is all bridge-like arc with little to attract you to the key character(s) that will hold your attention.

My issue now is how to start again, and where and what to start with?

Escape from Alien Zoo

The Watersprites

Angel of the North

The Time Telescope

The Contents of my Brain

The Little Duke

Or perhaps, as it was short and worked ‘Listening In’ … I wrote, directed and produced this as a short film (16mm) and sold the end result to Channel 4 where it was shown and featured in a few transmissions in 1996-2000. It also went to a few film festivals.

When you have given up large chunks of your life to writing you can understand why I feel nervous about setting out on this journey again; once started I will commit over a few years; I just don’t want to run myself into another dead-end.

The Writing Fiction course I have started is a most modest start and undertaking. A few hours each Thursday evening in Brighton for the month of May. But as I feel know, far more than decades ago, everything and anything can be taught. It doesn’t come by osmosis unless you have a writer parent or grandparent you learn from as a child.

 

The communismization of knowledge and Open Educational Resources

Fig.1. I like spirals. Thirty years ago this was just a photo. For me it is an expression of what learning looks like. (I think this is St.John’s College, Boat House – or is it Balliol?)

At the base are the undergraduates, the first years, as you climb the steps you find the second and third years, then the middle common room the MA and D.Phil students while at the top are the lecturers, senior lecturers and professors.

And when you die they raise a flag.

In 1983 (or was in 1982?) this was the epitome of ‘closed learning’ – the Oxford College boat house.

Not so much ‘dreaming spires’ as ‘dreaming spirals’.

  • It was a privilege, but like many of these I’ve been either in denial or trying to shake them off for the best part of 25 years.
  • ‘Je suis comme je suis, je suis faite comme ca’ (Jacques Prevert)
  • And there’s no going back.

I was up at 4.03am. Back to bed at 6.15am. Then up again 20 minutes ago.

  • My body was tired, my head continued to buzz.

Regarding ‘Open Learn’  what’s all this fretting about process for?

Have we all forgotten the purpose of research????

Not ‘how?’ but ‘why?’

Why? Why? Why?

We are seeking answers, not trying to construct a bridge across the English Channel with chopsticks and bendy-straws.

Not to get the process right, but to get answers to problems, to find better ways, to understand and share what is going on so that we can act, or not act on it?

Sometimes I read an academic paper and it is all about the process.

Too often I write an assignment and it has to be written to be marked – not to generate ideas. In fact, my finest few hours, a total End of Module Assignment rewrite was a disaster for a set of marks but is my theory and philosophy of what learning is. It was the culmination of months of work, years even. Expressed somewhere like the School of Communication Arts I would have had the attention of eyes and ears.

Fig.2. Submitted as the hypothesis for an End of Module Assignment the grade was catastrophic – it is of the module, but the examiners didn’t have a grid filled with the appropriate crumbs that would permit them to ‘tick the boxes’. (I did submit more than the image, 6ft high and drawn on a sheet of backing wallpaper).

Creativity doesn’t fair well in a process driven system, either in research or in marking assignments.

This isn’t an excuse regarding a grade or the need and value of process drive, guideline controlled, parameter set research, but rather a cry for some ‘free thinking’ the ‘parcours’ of mental agility and expression.

Fig.3 The cliffs below Roche de Mio, La Plagne

There is value in going off piste.

It isn’t even the democratisation of education and knowledge either, it is the Tim Berners-Lee rather than the Google approach to knowledge – i.e. give it away for free.

It  is ‘communismization’ – which is a word, however horrible it sounds, I just looked it up.

This moves me onto dwelling on Creative Commons.

If the idea of openness is to give it away for free what is the reward for the author? Recognition as the author. However, I get the feeling that unless it is published some readers think they can help themselves to the ideas and words of others and claim them as their own.

There will always be theft, but as children aren’t we told that for someone to copy your ideas is a compliment?

We need to behave like the children we still are.

But does even that matter in an open society – theft of intellectual property I mean?

If the spreading of the word is all important should any of us give a fig?

If we have a roof over our heads, food and water, electricity to charge the iPad, the BBC  … a health service like the NHS what more can we want?

  • Better schools.
  • Better roads.
  • Better weather.

‘Peace on earth and good will to humankind’.

A better word needs to be found for what is meant by ‘communismization’.

Is is just ‘communization’?

  • Is it simply ‘open’?!
  • ‘Open’ might do.
  • Free
  • Open

As the air we breathe …

P.S. I worked the season in Val d’Isere in my gap year and returned a decade later and stayed in La Plagne from December to May researching a book and a couple of documentaries for Oxford Scientific Films. None saw the light of day, though after several weeks thinking about it I came down that cliff face. I made a big mistake by slowing down at the edge and nearly didn’t have enough distance to clear the rocks. I no longer have a death wish. And it wasn’t even fun. It focused the mind though. In fact, the best way to stop yourself thinking about other stuff is to take such risks. Racing Fireballs in the English Channel has its appeal  – I  have a tendency to end up in the spinnaker or under the hull though.

The Distant Summer – Sarah Patterson (1976)

Fig.1. Sarah Patterson – her first novel with the promise of many more to come – 1976

The poignant story of a girl who loves two WWII flyers, written by the daughter of suspense writer Jack Higgins when she was just 17. Trying to write myself I was inspired. Over three decades later I have written plenty, though only one piece of fiction has thus far been broadcast – short film ‘Listening In’.

The folder contains ‘The Gypsy’s Curse’ a short story about a girl who is cursed to ‘die of water’ by a gypsy as an infant and much later nearly dies of an asthma attack. My kid sister was grabbed from the house as a three or four year old by a Gypsy and the curse is true – she is asthmatic, but I hope nothing else of it is true.

Fig.2. Sarah Patterson – Young Observer 1976

Scrapbooks, like this one, are ‘mind bursts’ – moments that inspired. In fact this is pasted to a folder that contains typed up teenage efforts. She was 17 and writing about what it was like to be a 17 year old in 1943. I was 15 and writing about what it might be like to be a 15 year old in 2943.

Can inspiration bog you down?

When are distractions are good thing and when bad?

Where does motivation come from and what happens if it is only sometimes realised?

Forties era romance reviewed.

When did you last stumble upon such words of encouragement?

Is

Fig.1. Words of encouragement

Isn’t this all that we need? Someone who believes?

(On the inside of a folder of  ‘creative writing’ from my teens – short stories, a novel, a TV screenplay, poems and lyrics. Lyrics that the author of these words put to music).

Don’t tell me I am not still that 19 year old.

This is the human condition.

Days before my mother died, with barely any faculties functioning I span her through grabs of famous artworks on an iPad – her last cogniscent words were ‘Louvre, Paris’ while all but my sister and I say a dead person waiting to die.

Creativity is improvisation … Edmund de Waal on pots, netsuke, writing and his desert island discs

Fig 1. Pots, Writing, Music and on being a Smarty Pants

Listen to it for yourself. What intrigued me where his thoughts on the creative process.

Edmund de Waal
Desert Island Discs
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/b01p067p
Sunday 25th November 2012

On describing his pots

“Rigorous but humane –  I’d like that on my gravestone if possible”.
“The rest of the world falls away”.
“The challenge is always the same, what are you going to do next?”

On a very particular recording of Ella FitzgeraldMack the Knife – forgetting the words and improvising.

Ella FitzGerald sings : “What’s the next chorus to this song now. It’s the one – I don’t know. It’s a swing song, that’s the tune … Something about Louis Miller and something about cash … tell me … ”

“This is music as it should be. This is making it up as you go along. This matters to me because this is what the experience of making things is like. That’s improvisation. That’s when when you think you’ve  got it made before you start. And then …   it all goes … it doesn’t go wrong – it goes different. And then you have to … then you’re alive. That’s the moment of absolute aliveness. Which is what music is about … and about what I do is about”.

A course on creativity could be constructed from interviews and music featured on Desert Island Discs. Like any frustrated creative I listen to this and find myself turning to a short story or a sheet of cartridge paper.

(A netsuke of the kind Edmund de Waal shows Kirsty Young, a signed piece from the early 18th century, is likely to be worth £10,000 to £12,000.).

I  prefer invention over recreation.

Others I’ve caught on Desert Island Discs include

Grayson Perry

Another potter, form whom ‘creativity is mistakes’.

What the Scandinavians know about children’s literature

With Mariella Fostrup

I liked the comment from Professor Maria Nikolajeva when she quoted Leonard Helsing as saying ‘all pedagogical art is bad art, but all good art is pedagogical’. So if you write a children’s book from the point of view of creating good literature the learning will come naturally.

 

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