My South African houseguests are leaving tomorrow, and it’s been very cool to have them around. Quinton, who’s my friend Sarah’s brother-in-law, researches leopards and set up The Cape Leopard Trust. As of yesterday, he has the word Doctor before his name and PhD after it, following his storming performance at the viva for his thesis. Awesomes. He’s also quite a personality – a passionate and eloquent speaker about his subject of choice, promoting conservation and raging against the tabloid instincts of various TV shows about animals. His wife Liz is lovely, too – clearly someone who really inspires the kids that she teaches. So it’s been a pleasure to host the couple, doubly so because beforehand neither my wife Jo nor I quite knew how it would go, having never met them before. It’s been kinda like a school exchange that could have gone either way but really worked.

Maybe sometime soon we’ll be able to go to South Africa and see the leopards for ourselves – apparently their behaviour is very much like upscaled versions of our housecats, which sounds bloody cool. But even if that’s a way off, I’ve definitely gained new insights into animal behaviour and how both the urban and rural parts of South Africa work. I’m very glad that Quinton and Liz came to stay. It’s been a lot of fun to have them stay with us, and I’ll be sorry to see them go.


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Force Feedback

Now here’s something I don’t do every day (not this blog, obviously – I definitely do this every day, as has been previously established. I don’t even have to anymore, but I’m posting this evening anyway. Old habits, eh? Sheesh. Oh, where was I? This set of brackets has kind of run away with itself, hasn’t it? Shit, this isn’t a very good start).

What’s in between the brackets above is actually what the purpose of the “something I don’t do every day” is, which makes it less of a terribly self-indulgent first paragraph and more of an awesome metaphor. To take my last sentence in order, that’s (a) Overwriting, (b) Sending the draft of my novel’s new opening to several different friends to see what they make of it, and (c) Ha ha, nice try. You see, it’s reached that point where Certainty is about to be sent into the wild blue yonder, and as such I want to see what my main demographic makes of the first three chapters – those opening pages being the ones that agents mainly ask for in the first instance, you see. So there’s a lot riding on them.

In the red corner, then: my revised opening. In the blue corner: two people who’ve read full drafts of the novel before, one who read some of it before and liked it, one who read some of it before and hated it, and two who’ve read none of it before at all. What will they think?

The purpose of the exercise isn’t to try to get some kind of universal opinion – writing is way too subjective for that. Instead, it’s to try to catch any glaring errors that I’ve missed, or massively obvious recurring negative – or, indeed, positive – themes. And, of course, because it’s all feedback from people I respect, I’m rather worried about what they’re going to think, despite the fact that I reckon this new opening is pretty damn good. That final 1% of polish I mentioned a few days ago? This is more of that.

I’ll regroup after all the feedback’s in and see if there’s anything I still need to work on. Besides taking out some of the ‘f’ words, of course – I’m such a potty-mouth. Sigh.

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The Final ‘One A Day’

The moment is here at last.

On 18 January 2010, I read on my Twitter feed about a ragtag band of brothers (and sisters, though HBO hasn’t got around to them yet) who, in a ludicrously optimistic show of bravado, planned to write a blog entry every single day for a year. The project was called One A Day. My good friend Chris Schilling had decided to give it a go, and I thought it would be a bit of a laugh to join in. So I started, gradually figuring out over the first few weeks how to write a blog, then dreaming of some people actually reading it, then deciding not to advertise my posts on Twitter anymore (except on special occasions) as too many of them were horribly self-indulgent.

Now, 377 posts later (see: more than One A Day!), I’m on post 378. The end. The final one. The victory lap.

When this blog started, I worked for an accountancy practice and dreamt of selling a novel. As I sit here tonight, I work for the same accountancy practice and dream of selling a novel. Progress? What progress?

Quite a bit, actually. I’m now an honorary member of the South African author mafia (despite never having been to South Africa, and besides, I went to school with Shrien Dewani so I probably wouldn’t even be allowed into the country), and I’ve had some very awesome people say that I’m all talented and stuff, which is nice. My friend Rick has told me not to be so self-deprecating, and so I’m trying very hard to find the right balance with that. After some near-misses with literary agents back in August/September-time, I went back to the drawing board and emerged with renewed focus and a new draft which, basking in the glow of the novelty of fresh material, I currently proclaim to be pretty bloody great. We’ll see how it fares in the cut-throat world of agents very soon. I also started a new novel that’s going to knock everyone’s socks off when it’s done (they’ll just have to go without).

With the smooth came the rough. My aunt was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I lost two grandparents. Westlife are still going. And I’m still not making a living for the only thing in this world that I’m actually pretty good at (aside from drinking red wine, of course). But as I sit here on 17 January 2011 and think about the afternoon in which I sat down to write my hilariously short and shit first blog entry a year ago, I reckon that I’m a better person for the One A Day experience. I know more about myself and what I’m capable of. I also know what I need to work on, and have taken steps to do so. The one big thing I haven’t really tackled yet is my stammer, and maybe that’s another focus for this year – though fuck knows what I’m going to do about it.

So what of this blog? It will definitely continue. I’m not necessarily going to update it every day – it’s more likely that there will be bite-sized entries interspersed with longer pieces – but the blogging habit has become so much part of my routine that I can’t see myself stopping. Also, this place will likely have a spring clean when I work out who I can wangle into making it look nice – it’s something that I didn’t look into at all in the past year to my shame, and The Mirrorball looks pretty bland compared to some of the gorgeous blogs that other people have.

But One A Day-wise, that’s me done and dusted. The project is carrying on in a different format this year, and I wish all the new participants luck. They’ll need it.

See you on the flipside, ladies and gents. And thank you so much for reading – whether it was just a single post or all 378 of the damn things. There will be more. But for now, good night.


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Final Draft

In a bit of crazy convergence, it looks like I’m going to finish the final draft of Certainty at pretty much the same time as this blog reaches the end of its first year. This round of editing is hardcore stuff, with the little changes and the big changes and the more judicious use of the word ‘fuck’, all adding up to something that is shaping up to be pretty bloody great. I’m now only one chapter from the end, and may well get there before I go to work tomorrow (all part of my new “wake up stupidly early” regime). I have to go back and think about a couple of things before it’s totally ready, but it feels great to be very nearly there.

Work on my new novel has had to take a bit of a back seat while I’ve been hammering out the new draft of this one, but it’s been great to get back into the world again and make it leaner, meaner, and as tight as a badger’s arse. I’m learning much more about what I do well (action stuff, most of the dialogue), what I do badly (transitions, clunky explanations for things that could easily be written in one sentence), that I’m not as terrible at description as I thought I was, and that I have an unfortunate penchant for overwritten Bond-villain-style speeches.

Best bits of the edit so far:

– Discovering hitherto unknown homo-erotic undertones between my main character and the billionaire who takes him under his wing (sample comment from Sarah: “Gaaaaaaaaay”). This has all been ripped out, and one of the recurring themes of the book (my main character seeing the group of people he joins as a potential new surrogate family) has been completely excised as it didn’t quite work. Close, but no cigar.

– Kelly for Annie. One of my characters was a bit of a wet lettuce, and was only really there because I thought that the ensemble my main character finds himself in could do with another member. As it happened, though, I already had a character earlier in the book who was good but was then kind of abandoned for plot purposes. It was surprisingly easy to replace the weak character with her, and it solved a whole bunch of issues.

– Finding that I can argue my corner pretty well in the face of pressure when I dig my heels in. A back and forth with a published author is always pretty awesome, and I was surprised to win some of the arguments about structure, plot and character.

– Finding easy solutions for long-standing problems. Sometimes a writer is so close to their own material that they can’t see the wood for the trees, and some of the clunky sentences that had driven me insane for ages were instantly put right by Sarah. Very gratifying.

– Seeing vast swathes of text with no comments in them whatsoever. Also known as: you did this bit right, son. Interestingly, the chapters that I thought about most and put the most work into – the big set piece chapters – tended to be the ones with the least to change, despite being the most difficult bits to write. Note to self: don’t be so fucking lazy in future.

Only a massively cool car chase to go now, plus the short epilogue. Win. Then I can think about selling the bastard thing.

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Tonight, houseguests arrived. I had never met them before, and so it was a bit of a leap of faith. My friend Sarah’s brother-in-law and his wife had to come to Bristol for his PhD viva, and so he needed somewhere to stay. Given that Sarah has been a beyond-awesome help to me in the past few months, I thought that it would be pretty cool to offer them accommodation while they’re here. I was very worried, of course. Quite beyond the issue of potential personality incompatibility, I was more than worried about the whole stammer thing. It’s pretty bad at the moment, and so I was anxious about giving the wrong impression.

Happily, we seem to have got on very well together (hell, maybe I’ll see the opposite Facebook posts later), and I’ve been fascinated to learn about the Cape Leopard Trust that Quinton runs. It’s given me another perspective from my sheltered Western life into how things happen further afield. His stories about how animals are trapped and killed in South Africa have given me a lot to think about. I reckon that Jo and I should try to be much more active in this particular field, as both of us love animals and there’s so much more that we could do if we spent more time on this issue. It’s yet another motive to get the whole novel thing sorted, to try to gather a bit of influence to make a difference. And on that subject, Sarah’s editing suggestions are so good. This new draft is turning out to be crazy-strong, and that’s both scary and brilliant.

It should all be finished in the next couple of days. And then the real work begins.

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The Final Drink

It’s somehow fitting that in the final week of One A Day on this blog, there should be a post fuelled by alcohol that relies on tippy-tap, crazy-slow, one-finger typing to get it down. After all, there have been a good few of these over the past year. None of them have been any good, either. I used to think that one day I’d be able to write something brilliant while drunk, but it hasn’t turned out that way. Indeed, most wine-tastic posts on this blog have been a war of attrition, a bitter fight towards the minimum 150 words. Such a fight, in fact, that I’ve often been forced to eschew the number and write it out to gain extra words.

But those posts were great in another way – they epitomised the crazy level of stubbornness required to get to this point. Think about it. Your vision is swimming, your muscles won’t respond, you’re wanting to fall off to sleep – and yet you have this challenge, this call to arms: to write a blog entry. Insanely, you still want it to be good. You turn your PC on, and while you’re waiting for it to load up, you take another swig of wine. Big mistake. By the time you’re able to click on the Google Chrome icon and see it respond, your keyboard skills are like bullet-time in real-time. You sit there, eyes glazing over, forcing one finger onto one key. Then the next finger onto another key, and so on. You’re typing like Ray Liotta would in Hannibal after Anthony Hopkins has fried his brain. But in the end, you get there. You hit ‘submit’. Victory!

But then you wake up the next morning, read what you’ve written, and think, “Oh, what the fu…”

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Laughing at other people’s misfortune has been big business for a while. ITV’s look-at-the-guy-falling-over-athon, You’ve Been Framed, has been running in one form or another since 1990, and now that the beyond tedious studio sections have finally been excised due to the presence of Harry Hill on voiceover duties, it’s almost watchable when in a drunken stupor. Never quite recapturing the glory days when it was novel to watch people running into trees in dodgy home video footage, it is at least past the nadir of the godawful Lisa Riley years. I remember once trying to fake a video with a few of my friends – nothing elaborate, just a bit of ‘spontaneous’ falling-over. We didn’t send it in. I seem to remember that the fee the show paid for clips was £250 at its launch 20 years ago. It’s still £250 now. Cheapskates.

You’ve Been Framed, though, suffers from being on ITV in the early evening, which means that the level of the participants’ suffering is usually pretty tame. Someone being punched in the balls by a toddler is about as violent as it gets. I’ve always thought that an edgier version (maybe called You’ve Been Maimed) is the way forward. I’m not talking about people dying or being seriously injured or anything, merely the kind of hijinks that would send ITV’s lawyers running away screaming, just in case anyone copied the crazy stunts that went wrong.

This is where Failblog comes in. I first encountered it due to a random Youtube link that was sent to me, and, not being a regular viewer, it always seems fresh to me whenever a new ‘best of’ compilation goes up. Failblog is, as the name implies, concerned with showing pictures and video of people trying things and failing miserably, with suitably humorous results. Being on the internet, it doesn’t have to obey strict broadcasting guidelines. As such, at times it’s more brutal (and funnier) than Harry Hill can manage. The video below is a relatively mild compilation of fails, and it’s all good-natured, but you get the idea. There are shedloads more on Youtube, and on the site itself.

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