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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

 

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Who gets my things after I’ve taken my life?

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction

As a Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education I will give all kinds of things a go. I’ve done a few FutureLearn MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). This eight week course on writing fiction from the OU looks like being one of the biggest; the OU pedigree also shows – the thinking and ‘broadcast quality’ of the video pieces shows compared to material put up by some universities.

Activities, activities, activities I remember someone saying from the OU when it came to designing learning online. This course is a little bit of telling, a bit of doing, that a lot of sharing. You can be thinking up a comment and before you post there can be five or six posts ‘land’ ahead of you. There are 1000+ responses to a thread. To some this is daunting. To those not used to these environments it may be off-putting. When you get used to it its fine, like going to a huge nightclub in London that’s on several floors rather than a mate’s part in their front lounge.

In this exercise we watched a clip of a dozen folk going about the daily business; all had feature in the opening piece about writing, so most are ‘at it’ pen on paper, into the laptop or onto an iPad. We are invited to take a person or moment and invent a story from it. I had never consciously done this before and was delighted with the effect, not trying to figure out what people really are doing, but rather inventing something for them.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 2. From an activity in ‘Start Writing Fiction’ from FutureLearn

I have a young woman innocently keeping a ‘writer’s journal’ who I decide is writing suicide notes to five or six people; she puts a key from the bunch in each envelope, posts off the letters then kills herself. A bit morbid. I suppose I should now figure out why, and reveal what is behind each key.

Go see.

FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction

See also how a shared, threaded forum such as this can be used to create a vibrant asynchronous conversation with several hundred, even thousands of people. Several things FutureLearn do which would work well here: word count limited to 1200 characters, 16 minutes timed out having posted to edit – then its done. A ‘like’ button and an easy way to keep abreast of comments left in a discussion you have started or joined without having to try to find it.

Writers have the details at their fingertips

From E-Learning V

Fig.1 Moon phases in May 1917

Studying with the OU for the last four years it soon become natural to conduct online niche searches for books and papers related to course work. You learn also how to tag, store and gather the information and ideas that you find: this is one answer to that, a blog that serves several purposes, not least as a learning journal and e-portfolio.

Searching for the obscure, that essential detail that forms such a vital part of the sensory palette used by the writer, is as easy to find and just as necessary. This morning I stepped out one May evening in 1917 and wanted some hint of what I’d see, hear and feel: a few searches and I can see a waxing moon at 10.00pm on a cooling evening as the temperature dips below 12 degree C, and the noise, in this instance of thousands of men in Nissen huts around a camp soon giving way to a robin trilling and burbling in the trees and the sound of the sea washing against the Channel Coast.

These details are far more than accessories that overlay character and plot; they are what gives it credibility. Writing on and as the Great War rages requires significant care. The wrong detail will throw a reader, worse I’ll end up in a conversation about my claims. Posting a piece of fiction some years ago an irate reader told me what I’d said was rot and went on to correct me – I had been writing fiction. I’d said that a character called Gustav Hemmel changed his name to George Hepple and fakes his own death – the reality is that he went missing over the English Channel in his plane.

THREE HOURS working on writing fiction, five days a week, is the goal . The OU will have me for TWO hours a day (averaged with longer stints at the weekend). That’s the plan.

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