Monthly Archives: January 2010

New Year’s Day

In my day job I work for an accountancy practice, which means that Januaries are horrible. It’s tax returns month. It’s always mega-stressful. Many of my clients are sole traders, and because of that, final accounts have to be completed before their tax returns can be prepared. There can be difficulty in getting all the paperwork in a timely manner (unsurprisingly, some clients want to do anything other than think about paying tax), and when it does arrive, it can be a lot of work in a short space of time. Carrier bags full of receipts are about as welcome as John Terry is at Wayne Bridge’s Fidelity Fraternity.

This January I took on a lot of things – accounts, this blog, rewrites – as I was “ahead” in terms of where I usually am with the tax returns, but in the last week everything came crashing down. I had taken on too much. I badly underestimated just how much of a slog the last major lot of final accounts would be, and after two twelve hour days where I sat at my office PC and hammered in over a thousand different transactions without a break, I really hit the wall and haven’t yet recovered. This blog suffered. My rewrites were nowhere. Bah.

But the tax returns are all over for another year. No, scratch that, they’re all over for the last year. (There’s nothing like being optimistic, right?)

Essentially, 2010 consists of eleven months. January didn’t count in terms of “life”. February is month one, and there’s a lot that I want to do. I’m taking a day off tomorrow to get over my massive tiredness, and hopefully I’ll put it to good use. Just one final push, and everything to do with Certainty (the synopsis works!) is done. At which point I can send it to who it needs to be sent to, and move on to The Highest Concept, the in-my-head-it’s-good new thing.

What I’m saying is that this is the last writing-while-knackered entry for a while. In February – tomorrow – I wake up. Happy New Year, everyone!

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Mass Obsession

Today, I played Mass Effect 2 for about nine hours.

Had a break for a shower. Thought about Mass Effect 2.

Had a break for tea. Thought about Mass Effect 2.

Watched 24. Thought about Mass Effect 2.

Currently writing this blog entry. While thinking about Mass Effect 2.

So yes, it’s safe to say that Bioware’s latest is kinda alright. Big blog entry on this soon. Sorry about the brevity of tonight’s contribution. You know who to sue.

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Blair’s Iraq Inquiry Shame

Today, The Iraq Inquiry faced its equivalent of a typical videogame’s shitty final boss fight, when former Prime Minister Tony Blair slicked his way into the building.

By far the best moment of the showdown was when Blair claimed that, despite the thousands of interviews he’s survived during his long career, a Paxman-esque heavyweight still managed to fluster him into giving a widely reported answer that he didn’t mean at all – namely, that he would have “still” sent Britain to war in Iraq for regime change, even if he had known that no Weapons of Mass Destruction would ever be found in the aftermath. Blair was today happy to clear up that misconception, and reiterate that the threat of WMDs was the reason for invasion.

(Did anyone else react to the backtracking as I did? With a straight face, trying desperately not to break into a knowing smile and then torrents of laughter? All of you? Oh, fair enough.)

But here’s the important bit. Who was the political bruiser who forced the original admission out of Blair, whose doubtless icy, unbroken stare, and incisive, piercing questioning trapped Blair in a corner? Who should be immediately installed as the new host of Newsnight? David Frost, doing an inverse Life On Mars by time-travelling from the 1970s to 2009, maybe? John Humphreys? Perhaps it was “King Of All Our Hearts”, Martin Bashir?

No. It was Fern Britton.

Come in, Chris Morris, your time is up.

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Holding Pattern

After another twelve hour working day, a bit of Mass Effect 2, and in-laws, I’m afraid that this blog faces a second night without a meaningful update.

Have no fear, however: at some point tomorrow, all tax returns will be finished. At that point, the blog floodgates will again open, and all manner of terrible jokes will be unleashed.

No doubt Friday will be another pisspoor write-off, but Saturday will bring about a new era of posting goodness.

This just in: Mass Effect 2 is GOOD. An astoundingly exciting intro was followed by a game of spot-the-door-opening-animation-that-was-nicked-from, but-not-done-quite-as-well-as, Dead Space, but nonetheless, it’s building up to be something very special. More news soon. For now, extreme bed. Night all.

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At the beep…

Hello. You have reached the blogmail of Mike Grant. I’m afraid I’m not in at the moment. I’ve been working for 12 hours straight, and need to write a blog post right now about as much as the music charts need Rik Waller. But in the spirit of One A Day, here’s a lovely Youtube video from Mr Charlie Brooker, telling you all about how to make a typical news report for today’s news channels. The level of spotonitude is unbelievable, Brian:

Tomorrow night, if I can drag myself kicking and screaming away from it, there may well be a first impressions article about Mass Effect 2 right here on this hallowed webpage. (Please don’t red-ring, please don’t red-ring, please don’t red-ring…)

Incidentally, does anyone else think that the iPad looks like an 80s brick version of the iPhone?

Er… leave a message after the beep, kthxbye.

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The Writer’s Trap: BIRC

I bet you’ve never heard of “BIRC”. Well, of course you haven’t, I’ve just made it up. So what does the acronym mean?

BIRC = Because It’s Really Cool.

Hang on. Surely putting something that’s “Really Cool” into what you’re writing can’t possibly be a bad thing? Ah, but if you think that then you’re in danger of falling into the same trap that I did. You see, just because something sounds like it would make The Fonz look like Robson and Jerome, doesn’t mean that it would make what you’re writing any better. Indeed, it might well actually make it worse.

Case in point: I knew that the second section of my book (I fell into a three-act structure… more on how that unintentionally happened, coming soon on the blog) needed to end with a mammoth setpiece. I’d wanted to write something like that for ages, a setpiece that would build and build over a long stretch of the book. I’d always wanted to read something similar, too. Screw little chapters with a bit of action, I thought, let’s go widescreen! Once the blue touchpaper was lit, the action would go like a runaway train for pages and pages, building to a thrilling climax. Wait a minute! Goes like a runaway train! So how about something on a speeding train? That sounds cool, right? What if there was a BOMB on the speeding train (yes, I am clearly still 5 years old), and my lead character had to go on the train to defuse it, and there were big fights and confrontations and edge-of-your seat suspense and it went on for ages just getting better and better and better? Awesome!

Written well, that would be a good setpiece, right? It’s something I’d be excited to write. But there were a couple of problems: firstly, how the hell do I write an action piece set on a train? I know bugger-all about the workings of trains. But far more importantly, why is there a bomb on the train in the first place? “Well, the main antagonist puts it there.” Yes, but why? “Because he does.” Hmmm. Great.

I’d fallen slap-bang into the middle of the Writer’s Trap. Come on, inner monologue, be honest: why is there really a bomb on the train? “Er… BIRC.”

Before I realised that a random cool event wasn’t enough, however, reason number one (“I know bugger-all about trains”) nixed the idea. I recognised my limitations in realising the scene on the page. And that’s the only reason it never existed. Best decision ever. It made me start thinking smaller scale. I still wanted a long, exciting setpiece, but I had to be able to write it. “Well, I introduced this nightclub very early on, and we’ve already been back there once, and so it seems to have some importance to the story. I suppose I could write something about something big happening in the nightclub that my protagonist has to prevent…”

Bingo. In the novel there’s a personal connection with the nightclub and my main character’s situation, so having the event there made good sense as it felt relevant to the story I’d been telling… and then, woah, the floodgates were open. “Well, if that happens then surely THIS happens and that’s then linked to that, and omg mind blown.”

By going for story instead of the random cool idea, I not only ended up with a much cooler setpiece, but it was one that tied in directly to the plot and had loads of branching-off points for the next part of the book. I even got to keep the exact final page to section two that I had always planned. Win-win.

So for once, I can offer a piece of writing advice without the usual caveat that this is just the way it works for me and it might not apply to you, etc etc: story first. Don’t be a BIRC.

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Music And Writing – A Match Made In Heaven

While occasionally the level of concentration required to write anything even half-intelligible can make silence a golden state of affairs, more often than not I find that in order to get into a particular mood to write a certain kind of scene, the right music really helps. I wrote much of my novel Certainty in endless thrall to the following:

1. Prelude To War by Bear McCreary, from the Battlestar Galactica Season 2 OST

This is, in my opinion, the single finest piece of music ever composed for episodic television. The rises, falls, careful pacing and sheer excitement of this tune informed the direction of my novel’s biggest setpiece. I had this on repeat for AGES, and it helped me to absolutely hammer the shit out of what first seemed to be a chapter that was impossibly difficult to write.

2. Bim Bam Smash by John Powell, from The Bourne Supremacy OST

The Bourne Supremacy’s climactic car chase is almost certainly the best of the past decade or more, and this thrilling music adds so much to it. It builds and builds and builds, until the edge of your seat can barely take any more. No wonder, then, that this track was used heavily as inspiration while writing my own vehicular mayhem.

3. Surprise Attack by James Horner, from the Star Trek II OST

Yes, James Horner may rip himself off pretty relentlessly these days, but back in the 80s he was an astonishingly good composer. The Star Trek II soundtrack was a staple diet for me while writing Certainty, bringing as it does a fantastic mixture of suspense and action cues, creating exactly the right general mood on many occasions.

4. To The Roof by John Powell, from the Bourne Supremacy

The Bourne Supremacy soundtrack did a lot for me overall while writing particular chapters. This track helped me to demonstrate the new drive and determination of my novel’s main protagonist. It’s a score I never tire of listening to.

5. Everything In Its Right Place by Radiohead, from the album Kid A

It’s no secret that Radiohead are my favourite band by a country mile. In getting to the right place (no pun intended) for the opening section of the novel, the album Kid A was a useful marker. The soundtrack of something not quite right with the world, this often minimalist and understated album allowed me to get into the head of Sebastian’s former life and the unease that awaits him at the trigger point which starts the novel proper.

While it won’t work for everyone, for me music is an essential part of the writing process, a short cut into the moods, textures and emotions that I want to get down on the page. The right piece of music at the right time really can bring that intangible extra “something” to the thought process, and I can’t imagine writing to silence any time soon.

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