Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My ten thousand hours

I was going through my old writing earlier in the week. And by old writing, I mean everything that I’ve kept since I was about twelve. My mum has some of my earlier stuff, complete with original illustrations, but I’ve got most of the stuff from twelve on. Probably because by that stage I was SERIOUS and INTENSE and YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ME and HOW DARE YOU LOOK THROUGH MY THINGS! THAT’S PRIVATE!

Anyway, it’s cringe worthy stuff.

Young Jen, I say in a patronising tone to my younger self, this is truly terrible. I mean, god-awful. Your epic poem set in convict era Australia? There are Vogons who can’t handle reading it, it’s so very, very bad. So bad that with the right spin it could almost pass for satire. But then you realise it’s just shit.

The fantasy novel you wrote in the back of your geography book, with pages taped in from typing class? What the hell is going on with that? It’s juvenile and terrible, but those are forgivable sins. What’s unforgivable is the plot. Usurped prince escapes an attempt on his life by his evil uncle (naturally) and is recaptured, and escapes, and is recaptured, and escapes, and is recaptured and escapes ad infinitum. Ad nauseam. You  know what would make more sense? If the uncle put a sword through the kid’s throat in the first chapter.

But don’t let me dim your obvious enthusiasm for clichéd derivative fantasy.

Oh, I see you didn’t. Because here’s another one. This one is interesting because it actually has the germ of an incredibly creepy idea – an evil mage that puts people in his thrall and then steals their eyes. Sadly, while this would work incredibly well if I could draw like Edward Gorey, it works less well as a rambling-as-all-hell get-distracted-by-a-gazillion-useless-side-characters, unfinished piece of dross.

From The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey.
I want to draw like this. 

But when I’m tired of cringing at my old stuff, I start to smile at it instead. The way you smile when a kid gives you a picture of a blob with another blob attached, and some wavy lines, and some other slightly different blobs.

That’s lovely, you tell them. What is it?

And it turns out that it’s you.

That’s what reading my old writing is like. It’s a mess, seriously. But it’s an enthusiastic mess. It’s full of spelling mistakes, and bad grammar, and clichés, and pot holes, but it’s also full of potential.

You know how they say you need to do something for ten thousand hours before you become an expert at it? I’ve got a lot of hours behind me now, and a lot of terrible writing to show for it.

And hey, young Jen, I tell myself in a slightly less patronising tone, you’re still doing this. And, good news, you got a little better at it.

Have you kept any of your old writing? Are you brave enough to revisit it?


Saturday, April 12, 2014

There will be fans...

In October, I’m going to my first convention as an author. And I’m pretty excited by that. Also, I’m kind of terrified. And not just because I have no idea what’s expected of me. I’m terrified because there will be fans.

Now, fans are lovely people on the internet when they send you emails and say nice things about the stuff you write. But in person? Well, I’m sure in person they’re lovely people as well, but I worry that they might be expecting someone apart from, well, me.


I can do that cheery, friendly thing with strangers. But not for extended periods of time. And I’ve never really believed that “A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet.” Um…okay. Well excuse me while I go and get changed into pyjama pants, drink cheap wine on the couch, and belch. Oh, wait, we don’t have that sort of friendship after all? My bad.

Still, I’m very excited to go. I just have to remember to answer to my pseudonym’s name, and not mine.

List of things I would do differently if I had to pick my pseudonym again:

  1. Keep my given name.
  2. That is all.

List of things I am terrified about:

  1. Fans. What if they want to talk to me? What if they don’t?
  2. I am on a panel. Hopefully one about historical fiction. And hopefully with other panel members who actually have interesting things to say.
  3. Being professional. I’m pretty sure I haven’t figured out how to do this yet.
  4. Getting lost in Chicago. Actually, that could be fun.

If anyone has any tips about conventions, about professionalism, or about Chicago, please feel free to share! I’ll be over here practicing signing stuff in my pseudonym’s name, and being quietly thankful I at least picked something that was easy to spell.



Monday, April 7, 2014

Career Choices

When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer?

I don’t know if this is a question I can personally answer. I've always written, for as long as I can remember. And telling stories and creating imaginary worlds was very much encouraged throughout my childhood.

I was probably in primary school when I first noticed that not everyone played the way that my sister and I did. We planned out stories for our dolls to act out. And then we wrote them down. In chapters. Meandering, cringe-worthy chapters that we stapled together to make books. Terrible, cringe-worthy books. But the seed was there: I wanted to make books. For real.

Did everyone else have those career charts at schools? Like concentric coloured circles, with some subject you were good at in the middle, and a whole ripple effect of careers that you could do with that. Like the maths might go to mathematician (obviously), to maths teacher (slightly less obviously) to military fighter pilot (an example only. As if I ever had cause to study the maths poster).

I remember checking out the English poster, and the History poster, and thinking, “But I don’t want to be a teacher. Or an actor. Or a social worker.”

But, funnily enough, I don’t remember “writer” or “author” being on the list back when I was at school. Maybe that’s because nobody in the Education department could, in good conscience, recommend a career choice that, for most people, pays les than welfare. Because check it out, this updated poster is totally talking it up:


Maybe I just didn’t want to see “writer” on the list back then, as though I was afraid it would jinx me. Whatever the case, somehow I put that childhood dream of making real books on hold. I told myself that writing was a hobby. Just like reading, but nobody judges you for reading. 

I mean, I couldn’t fail to be a published author if I never tried, right? I wasted a lot of years thinking that.

But the writing bug – by which I mean the absolute compulsion to write, the pure need to do it – isn’t something that goes away. So I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote. And even if nobody could figure out why I was still doing it, I kept going.

Publishing is a decision we make. It’s a goal we decide to aim for.

But writing. Writing is necessary.

I’ve think I’ve always been a writer. How about you?


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Oh Victorians, you so funny!

At the moment I am deep in editing hell. 

And I've also turned to some source materials for this book -- a historical -- just to make sure I don't completely flub the details. Like giving my cowboy an iPod or something. Would have made life in the saddle a lot more bearable, that's for sure. 

Anyway, I swear I was only going to read the chapter on gunshots, but god. God, I just couldn't stop. Here, for your edification, are some things I learned from the Student's Hand-Book of Forensic Medicine and Medical Police. 1883

1. Chimney sweeps are prone to cancer of the testicles. 

My thoughts: WHY? Also, I will never be able to watch the dancing chimney sweeps in Mary Poppins without thinking, "Oh, those poor, sad men." 


Tragic. Just tragic. 
2. Hysteria is almost unheard of in men. 

My thoughts: I'll kill you all as soon as I can get out of this straightjacket.  

3. In Scotland, carnal knowledge of a girl under twelve is considered rape whether or not the girl consents. In England, the carnal knowledge of a child under ten is a felony, between ten and twelve a misdemeanour, and over twelve the girl may give her consent. 

My thoughts: There appears to be no law against the rape of men or boys, or at least none mentioned in this book. In a medical/legal book I was quite surprised to find no mention of it. I mean, consenting or not, sodomy was a crime. And surely doctors must have been called in on occasion to examine defendants or victims. 

4. There is a legal and medical distinction between idiocy, cretinism, and imbecility. 

My thoughts: Can we make these legal terms again, and can I offer some nominations? 

5. Mental disorders may be defined as either intellectual mania or moral mania. 

My thoughts: I appear to be guilty of many of the moral ones.

6. Men of literature die younger because they are intemperate and keep strange hours. 

My thoughts: There appear to be no women of literature. 

7. People dying of strychnine poisoning can feel their seizures coming, and often cry out to be saved. 

My thoughts: Well, of course you would. 

8. It is illegal to offer to rent a cellar for occupancy unless the ceilings are at least 7 feet high. 

My thoughts: The tall Victorian gentleman must have felt very claustrophobic. And that's before you factor in the height of his top hat. 

I love old books so much. 

Also, I think that if time travel is ever invented, I'd better not go to Victorian England. What with all my moral manias and hysteria, I'd be thrown in an asylum within a week.

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