Friday, 31 August 2012

The Finale

Today is not just a Friday.  Nor is it just the first Friday I've worked in August (booo!).
Today is the last instalment of my blog serial, The Twilight Zone.

Will Emily find Katy and Maggie in time?

Find out here.

Click here for previous instalments.


Thursday, 30 August 2012

Writing a blog serial and lessons learnt




It seems like a long time ago that I started my blog serial, The Twilight Zone.  My wedding anniversary was fast approaching when inspiration hit.  We married at Bristol Zoo during its 175th year which meant that a lot of the zoo’s history was being publicised.  Why not honour this?
Unfortunately it was only a week to our anniversary date so the writing of this blog serial didn’t go exactly to plan...

I have learnt a lot from writing this serial.  It has been an interesting experience and one that I hope to repeat, although perhaps a little differently next time...

Research

Due to the tight time constraints, I didn’t do a lot of research as such on blog serials.  I googled it, found one that looked a lot like how I thought mine would look anyway and that was it.

I spent more time trying to work out how to make the story available for download from the blog, see below for this.

The majority of the research, perhaps as it should be, was spent on Bristol Zoo itself.  There is a lot of information on their website.  The book, ‘An illustrated history of Bristol Zoo Gardens’, was the most helpful piece of research however.  A beautiful book full of stunning photos from across the decades and all of the maps, showing the layout of the zoo .  The maps were the most helpful part, and allowed me to choose a decade and orientate myself.

A trip to the zoo to celebrate our wedding anniversary also proved endlessly helpful, although I’m sure I looked a little mad trying to write notes in the darkness of the nocturnal house.

A lot of what is in The Twilight Zone is fictional and the research already carried out by the zoo, along with a few internet searches, made it easy to figure out where I need to add in my own ideas and which parts I needed to change.  I can’t find any evidence of there ever being a bat-eared fox at Bristol Zoo, I have also never been backstage at the nocturnal house so had to base these scenes on backstage zoo programmes on television.

I wanted something different for this story.  No werewolves or vampires or ghosts or zombies.  It took me a while to find the kitsune but once I did, I got very excited.  I held my breath as I searched for nocturnal foxes but thankfully didn’t have to wait long for the bat-eared fox to pop up.  I did quite a bit of research on the kitsune, there are so many different mythologies around this creature, so many stories and variations.  I read as many as I could before choosing a variation that best suited the story.

In the future, I would prefer to do more research before starting to write.  Writing The Twilight Zone was stressful, purely because I was looking things up as I went and I left myself very open to getting silly things wrong.

Preparation

Erm, yes, well...there was none really.  Other than what I’ve already mentioned.

For my next blog serial I will write the whole thing before I post any instalments.  That had been the plan for this one but, as I say, time got away from me.

For The Twilight Zone, I wrote each instalment the week it would be posted which means that the end product will need heavy editing.

On the other hand, this meant that during a time when I am editing one novel and contemplating the editing of another novel, I was still writing at least 1000 words a week.  Definitely not a bad thing.

Posting

Right, it took me a while to figure this out.  To make documents available to download on your Blogger blog, follow these instructions;

1.       Log in/sign up with Google Groups - https://groups.google.com/.  If you have a Blogger account for your blog, you should be able to just sign in with the same details.
2.       Click on New Group.
3.       Create a New Group.  I kept mine restricted to E-mail List but left everything else open so that it can be discovered but I mainly wanted people to find the documents through my blog.
4.       Click Create Group and your group now exists!
5.       Go into your group and click New Topic in the top left.
6.       Enter a subject and attached the document as a PDF (or whatever file you want to make available).
7.       Click post!  This will be e-mailed to you, it’s annoying but I haven’t spent much time figuring this out yet.
8.       Now go into the posted message and right click over ‘Download’.
9.       Select ‘Copy Link Location’.
10.   Then write your blog post/page and insert the link you just copied into hyperlink option.
11.   Ta da!

Feedback

My Friday blog serial posts are the least read posts of my blog.  There.  I admitted it.  I don’t have figures for how many people have visited the page but the post figures are quite depressing.

I wanted to get some of my writing onto this blog.  Which isn’t such a stupid idea.  I have a pile of short stories but they were all involved in competitions and couldn’t be posted elsewhere, which is why I thought this would be an interesting venture.

The feedback I have received from friends and family has been very positive.

I have tried to push it out towards non-friends and family and the only response I seem to have had is basically ‘I’ll read it if you finish it.’  To be honest I found this a little insulting, although I didn’t rise to it.  So while many don't seem to be interested at the moment, I wonder how many will read it once it is complete?

For future blog serials I hope to be a little more established and so will have a steady marketing strategy in place.

Future

Writing this blog serial has been a very interesting experience and I feel that I’ve learnt a lot.

The Twilight Zone will be edited and brought together into one document for free download. 
Originally I considered this serial to be a part way novelette, between the first and second Emily May books.  However, since writing I have started rethinking the existing first Emily May book (The-Book-Previously-Known-As-Silver) and have been recently thinking about incorporating The Twilight Zone, in some format, actually into one of the books.

For my next blog serial, I vow to prepare, research and write and edit the whole thing before I start posting.  I already have an idea and it will hopefully make an appearance in the summer of 2013.


I hope you’ve enjoyed reading The Twilight Zone.  Check out the final instalment tomorrow.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

That thing that holds us back


A little while back, actually not that long ago but time goes very slowly at times like these, I wrote a post proclaiming that I was going to move all of my ambition into my writing.

Work is a difficult place at the moment.  Not only am I filled with the constant urge to go home, that I shouldn’t be here (which I am assured everyone feels to some extent), but yesterday one person left for a year’s maternity leave and in two weeks another leaves for a better job.  That along with one person being on long term sick leave and the feet become itchy.

As I sit watching my team leave, move on, have babies and get doctors notes, I stare at a piece of work that is easy to do so why can’t I just get on and do it and I find myself doing any one of three things;
1) plotting escape routes (this is only on truly bad days and does include tunnelling out of the building)
2) wondering if I am just destined to sit here, day in, day out, staring at work that I don’t see the point of or am I capable of more?
3) planning my route to working part time at the day job to pay the bills and spending the rest of my time writing.  Writing novels, short stories, articles, anything.  Just writing.

We have to ignore thought process 1.  It’s pointless, especially considering I could just walk out the door, there’s no need to go looking for a shovel.
However, I have trouble with 2 and 3 because of one thing; fear.

Why do I doubt that I am capable of being more than an administrator?  Why do I doubt that I might be different, that there is a better working life out there for me (the number of mind numbingly boring office jobs I’ve had should be evidence enough)?  Why am I not a published writer yet? 
Fear.
What if I don’t make it?  What if I fail?  What if I am destined to be a full time administrator for the rest of my life?

It’s all ridiculous, of course, and I tell myself this on a daily basis.  I can do anything I want, I can be anything I want to be.  Want to be a writer?  Then write!  Want to be published?  Then put your work out there and persist!  Take risks, take opportunities and the world is your oyster.

This was pushed home even further this morning by this blog post, 'Indie author advises to "Just Do It"', with the advice, ‘just do it’.

Of course it’s not as simple as that.  There’s the question of time – you make time -  and money, if you want to go down the self publishing route – start saving!  These are just excuses.  I’ve already drawn up a writing schedule which so far I’m sticking to and as soon as I have enough patience to go banking I will open a savings account for my first novel.

I used to use the excuse ‘I’ll do it when I’m grown up’, well now is that time.  Seize the day!  Grab your dreams!  Be brave!

Cue the theme music!

Sunday, 26 August 2012

A constructive weekend

Do you remember back in May (I know!  May!  Isn't the year going quickly) I wrote three posts about my favourite cities.  One of them was the city I live in (near), Bristol.

On this glorious long weekend, I have done many things.  I have weeded everything outside (driveway and the stupid crazy block paving, all flowerbeds and even parts of the lawn), I have visited the garden centre and got mucky planting things, I have tidied the house and caught up with my gorgeous friend Gem, I have visited the in-laws, caught escaped guinea pigs and had a day trip into town...

Yesterday me and the hubby went into Bristol.  It poured down in the morning so it was eerily quiet as we emerged from the car park.  We walked along the harbour, through the wonderful market of crafts and yummy smelling food, through Broadmead and into Cabot Circus.  We stopped for lunch and made our way back to the car via the new See No Evil graffiti and that market.

Bristol is a city of massive personality.  The bars and restaurants lining the harbour are one thing, the shopping area another.  Cabot Circus is something else entirely.  We walked past a wedding (the bride looked beautiful) and followed three Hare Krishnas down the road (tempted to join and make a conga) before pausing in one of my favourite shops in Bristol; Waterstones - it's huge! - where I added to my list of must-read books.

During lunch we watched families with young children queue to get into a temporary Krusha milkshake bar in the centre of Cabot Circus where women with bright pink glasses served them milkshakes and sugar at a price.

On the way home, we walked through the new See No Evil exhibition - art by graffiti artists on some of Bristol's old buildings.  Find out more here - http://www.seenoevilbristol.co.uk/.  All of the photos in this post are from the exhibition.
Some of the work is astounding.  I can't believe that some people are so talented, or how some of them managed it.  Those building are high.  It's a little scary for the pedestrians as well, you have to make sure you stay on the pavements and don't wander into the road while staring up, gawping.

On the way back to the car we stopped at the harbour market and bought some of the most delicious brownies ever, in the world!  I just finished eating the second and I can't stop thinking about it...

What is the point of this post?  This three day weekend (four day for me, actually) was meant to be all about the writing.  This was the three day weekend to be dedicated to editing my novel.  Have I touched my novel?  Of course not!
Never mind, at least I still have Monday...

Hope you're all having constructive and exciting long weekends.

Friday, 24 August 2012

The Twilight Zone

It's Friday again and that means it's time for another instalment of my blog serial, The Twilight Zone.  Actually, it's time for the penultimate instalment.  Yup, next week is the final part.

It's time for Bane and Emily to finish this as they head back to the zoo with Ray and Craig to find the kitsune and bring back their loved ones.

Click here for the latest instalment.

Click here for previous instalments.

Have a wonderful bank holiday weekend everyone!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Real horror in reality and fiction


After lunch today I clicked onto the BBC website and read this:  Tony Nicklinson has died.
I was shocked at first, it was only last week that he lost his right for someone to help him die without being prosecuted.  Then I was just sad.  I’m glad that he is finally at peace but his situation and its heart breaking ending is utterly, completely awful.
The BBC led onto numerous other stories about people who suffer from locked-in syndrome and I found myself reading all of them.

The stories are not all horrendous but locked-in syndrome is frequently referred to as ‘nightmare-ish’.  That's it, I thought, it is like a nightmare come true.  The very idea of being locked inside your body is terrifying beyond belief, especially before it is diagnosed.  The idea that someone can be lying there, thought to be in a coma but fully conscious makes my skin crawl.  Yet people cope with it and live with it and some go on to have happy lives.  It shows just how capable and remarkable the human mind is.

I was reminded of the House episode about the man who becomes locked-in.  From the beginning of the episode to near the end we see everything from his point of view.  We see through his eyes and we hear his thoughts and it gives a very poignant taste of what locked-in syndrome could be like.  The loneliness and helplessness.  It is only at the end of the episode that the viewers go back to the normal point of view and get to see the man in the way the doctors see him.  It is a shock.  Suddenly he goes from being a functional human being to a body with just a spark of life in the eyes.

It is human nature to dwell on the nightmare situation – it’s why we’re drawn to horrible stories, why we’re more inclined to listen to news items about torture and rape and death.  It is what we fear.

Personally I’ve always felt that the more I learn about something, the more prepared I am.  I have always been of the opinion that it could happen to me.  I hope against hope that it won’t, but I don’t for one second consider myself exempt.  It is why I have hypochondriac tendencies.
I also have a fascination with the human condition and am a sucker for documentaries about people with rare conditions, what those conditions are and how they live with them.  I like understanding the variety of life, the uniqueness of nature and the mysterious working of the mind.

After a while you just have to tell yourself enough.  Turn off the news when they talk about war and incest and imprisonment.  Avoid documentaries, Panorama and One Born Every Minute (it’s not bad but it ain’t pretty!).  Yet we still read novels about it, and these topics turn up in all genres.  We still watch dramas on television, the topics still haunt our DVD collections.
Somehow it is easier to surround ourselves with horrid truths told through fiction, it suggests that it isn’t real.

Writers need these horrific tales.  Within them lie stories, people and tales waiting to be told.  On the Fantasy Faction forum there is currently a thread about the most difficult scene to read in a book.  There are some good examples and it is something people can get passionate about.  Those scenes are also the ones that stick in readers heads and define characters.  A horrific scene can be the turning point for a protagonist, or the moment when readers warm to the antagonist.  They can make people human and connect with readers in a way that other scenes just can’t hope to reach.

What makes these scenes worse is to know that fiction derives from fact.  Everything that we know now must have happened for us to conceive it.  So despite attempting to rationalise the human fascination with real nightmares, I am no closer to justifying it.  It is a mystery of our existence.

My heart goes out to Tony Nicklinson’s family and I am glad that he has found his peace, despite it not being the way he wanted.

And just to prove that locked-in syndrome is not always the nightmare we perceive, that the human mind is capable of great things, check out this video which was on the news this morning, before news broke that Tony Nicklinson had died.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The evolution of the Disney princess


Following on from my previous post about Brave, I thought I would explore the Disney princess a little further.  
A whole thesis could be written on the evolution of the Disney princess, so this is just a brief overview.
The Disney Princess is a franchise of Disney, starting with Snow White (1937), through to Cinderella (1950), Aurora (1959), Ariel (1989), Belle (1991), Jasmine (1992), Pocahontas (1995), Mulan (1998), Tiana (2009) and Rapunzel (2010) and, of course, Merida (2012).
I will admit that I’m a bit at a loss with Tiana and Rapunzel but I remember the gist of Pocahontas and Mulan.  However, I grew up on Snow White, Cinderelly, Aurora, Ariel, Belle and Jasmine.

Given that the first Disney princess appeared in 1937, you would expect a certain amount of evolution from Disney’s female role models.  Most noteably the trend has changed from princesses who are kind, hard working and work at cleaning houses to princesses who are kind, hard working and stubborn as hell.  The princesses have evolved to stick up for themselves, to question what is happening, to rely on themselves and not just wait for a prince to come and save them.

All of the princesses are teenagers which means that they appeal to little girls as aspirational but also allows for a love story, leading to a happy ever after marriage.  Putting it that way, it feels that it couldn’t be further from reality but think about the girls you went to school with, or maybe the story rings true to you.  People do fall in love as teenagers and marry and it is fair to say that most of these princesses do not marry during the films, in fact some (Jasmine) do not even get married during the first sequel.

Before I start at the beginning, I need to tell you where I am coming from.  I watched Disney princess films as a child and I enjoyed them (I have warm memories of Aurora's dress turning from pink to blue to a blue-pink mess).  I wanted their long, flowing hair and their pretty eyes and smiles.  But then I also wanted the prince’s horse, and the stepmother’s magic.  When I was young, one of my favourite books was the Tractor Princess – about a princess who didn’t like dresses or frills, she liked tractors.  I loved her.

So, first there were Snow White and Cinderella, one a princess born and one not.  Both spent a lot of the film cleaning, both were kind and sweet and hard working, which are excellent values to pass onto small girls.  Then came Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty.  I remember Maleficent (a new film about Maleficent is coming in 2014) and I remember the fairies and the prince, galloping to Aurora’s rescue but it was only when refreshing my memory for this post that I realised Aurora is blonde!  That’s how much you see of her during the film.  To be honest, I think she has the right idea – sleep through it all – but it means that not much is learnt about this particular princess other than she probably doesn’t snore.

Then came Ariel, the beautiful, teenage mermaid with red hair who wanted to live on the land.  From a very young age I have put a lot into the fact that Ariel is a redhead.  I have just found out that her creators originally wanted her to be blonde, her hair was only red because the colour went well with her tail and was easier for animators to use when she moved from beneath the water to the land.  That means that so far, all of the princesses should have been blonde (excluding Snow White, who has to have black hair otherwise she isn’t Snow White).  How depressing.
Anyway, Ariel was the first princess to show any teenage characteristics, that is, she’s stubborn.  She’s rebellious and adventurous and thinks she knows best, mixed together with a lot of naivety and boom!  A princess that teenagers can relate to!

Finally, a brunette princess enters the stage.  Unfortunately Belle is boring and bland, especially after the rebellious redheaded Ariel.  Belle’s creators wanted to keep her as close to possible as the original character, that is kind, generous, sympathetic and soft spoken.  In other words, boring.  Maybe it doesn’t matter, Beauty and the Beast has a much more potent message about beauty, proven by the fact that most children (myself included) wish the Beast never did change back into the prince.

Belle may have been boring, but then came Jasmine.  She joins Ariel in a step in the right direction. Jasmine has been described as self-assured, likeable, cynical and the ‘most full bodied of the Disney Princesses’.  I’m taking this to mean that her character, rather than her chest, was fully developed.  I did like Jasmine as a child, she stuck up for herself, and I also found her whiny and door-slamming which are two key features of a teenager.  What annoyed me about Jasmine is that she fell in love.  She said she wouldn’t, but she did.  Although she gets points for falling in love with a thief rather than a prince.  Oh, and for having a pet tiger.

So, Pocahontas.  The first American princess and what a princess!  I feel Disney cheated a little here by basing her on a historical figure but Pocahontas is ‘noble, free-spirited and highly spiritual’.  She is wise and kind and loves adventure.  She is something all girls should aspire to be, without a mop in sight.  She retains her identity throughout the sequel too, which is also very important for a girl, especially a teenager, to understand.  What makes Pocahontas really stand out is that she has two love interests.  There is no happily ever after for this princess, not in the traditional sense.  She is perhaps the most evolved of all of the stories and characters.

The same can be said for Mulan, the girl who dresses as a boy to save her father from going to war.  Now, it’s been a long time since I saw Mulan, but is she a princess in the traditional way?  If not, then hats off to Disney.  Here is a beautiful, teenage girl who is ‘unmarryable’, who trains as a warrior and fights bravely for the loyalty and love of her family.  She does fall in love, but I think she’s deserved that piece of happiness.  And, have I got this wrong?  But does she fall in love with someone quite a bit older than her? 
Just how old are these Disney princes, anyway?  I know Aurora’s prince is roughly the same age but what about the others? 

After Mulan, comes Tiana.  The second ever American Disney princess and the first African-American princess.  It’s a shame she spends most of the film as a frog.  An aspiring restaurant owner, Tiana meets, falls in love and marries a prince.  So she is similar to Cinderella in that she is not a princess born, but look!  She doesn’t spend her life cleaning.  Ok, so she’s a waitress but she’s a waitress with dreams and those dreams don’t involve a prince charming.  She sends some very important messages to young girls – dream for yourself, love is the most important thing (family, not that of a man) and that you don’t have to be blonde to be a princess.

Unfortunately Tiana is followed by another blonde princess – Rapunzel.  Thankfully Rapunzel is the next evolved step from Tiana – she is well read, artistic, spirited, smart, kind and playful.  She questions her life and her imprisonment in the tower and she refuses to return once she has escaped.  Rapunzel is strong willed and stubborn.  She even ‘does a Jasmine’ and falls in love with a thief.  I’m not sure how many mothers would approve, but perhaps this follows the line that girls just aren’t interested in finding their boring, bland prince charmings anymore.

We finish off with the 2012 Disney princess – Merida.   Redheaded, because she is Scottish, but just as curious and stubborn as Ariel.  Kind and hard working, because all Disney princesses are kind and hard working.  Na├»ve because she’s a teenager.  She follows Rapunzel in being clever and spirited and playful but she is also the first ever Disney princess tomboy.  Not only that, but Brave is the first ever Disney princess film to not have a love interest.  This is a story about family, like Mulan, about tradition and heritage, like Pocahontas, and about the mother and daughter relationship, which is entirely unique among the Disney princess franchise.  The mother -daughter relationship is also particularly fascinating when you consider that most mothers are not present in the other films.  They may be there, somewhere, but they are never the focus.  Or they are replaced by the evil stepmother and the representation of the matriarch is the antagonist.  Bearing this in mind, it is astounding that Disney have managed to produce so many well rounded princesses.

So there you have it, the evolution of the Disney princess, from the beautiful animation of Snow White to the beautiful characterisation of Brave.  I will introduce my future daughter to all of the princesses, if she so wishes, but it is the likes of Pocahontas, Tiana and Merida that I hope she truly learns from.  The love from a boy/man is not as important as love for yourself and your family, some frogs can turn out to be princes and anyone, I repeat, anyone can be a princess.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

A Brave princess film


It’s been a long time since I saw a kids film at the cinema, in a screen full of small children.  I expected noise, I expected to be frustrated and annoyed, I expected to not be able to follow the film.  In truth, every child was glued to the screen, taking in every moment.  That in itself, proves that Brave is a fantastic film.

Brave is the latest creation of Pixar – the genius animation company that is so good that Disney had to buy it out.  That being said, Brave should not be compared to such Pixar greats as Wall-E or Toy Story.  Brave is latest edition of the Disney princess franchise; a new, improved and evolved Disney princess film.

Gone are the days of the princess who ran into the forest to clean a house belonging to seven dwarves until her prince rescued her, or the girl who cleaned her stepmother’s house until she met her prince, or the princess who slept through it all (good old Aurora).  Society has changed and girls now want something more than just cleaning and waiting for their Prince Charming.
Remember Ariel?  No, not the washing gel.  The red headed mermaid princess who wanted to grow legs and change her fate to find her prince?  Ariel was the first stubborn Disney princess.  Funny how both she and Merida are red headed...

Merida is the Scottish princess who is a tomboy at heart.  She discovers that three clan leader sons will be vying for her hand in marriage.  Merida isn’t ready for marriage and, unlike Jasmine, she doesn’t give in and fall in love with her suitor anyway.  She rebels, she throws a tantrum and she runs away, like every good teenager does when faced with a problem like this.  The next part completely threw me.

I think I expected Merida to want to change her fate as a princess, to discover herself, perhaps by following more male pursuits.  Instead, this is a story about the relationship between Merida and her mother.  It wasn’t what I expected but it was a very pleasant surprise.  Brave is the story of a teenage daughter connecting with her mother; a stormy, scary and ultimately, hopefully, fulfilling relationship.  As a daughter who was once a teenager, I completely understood this film.  Merida and her actions made complete sense to me and, as an adult woman, so did her mothers.  I wonder if men would feel the same way?

The children in the screen certainly enjoyed it although we wondered afterwards just how scary children would find this film.  I vividly remember being scared of certain films when I was small,  Pinocchio and Dumbo mainly – the bullying and vulnerabilities and loss of parental love were too much for me when I was young.  At one point during Brave, a girl near the front screamed.  The girls around us ended the film curled up on their dad’s laps.  As I walked back out into the sunshine, watching these happy children, I wondered how many had been affected by the fear of losing one’s mother. 

Whether you are a child or adult, male or female, Brave is hilarious in places and full of tension and pace in others.  It is a fast moving, short film and it is a wonder to behold.  There are some great talents in this film including Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Billy Connelly and Robbie Coltrane.  The Scottish scenery is well designed and the music inspiring (I am slightly biased as I am completely in love with Scotland).  Merida’s hair is also incredible and reminded me of the intricate animation involved in Sulley’s (Monsters Inc) fur.  Another thing that sets Pixar far, far apart from Disney are the horses.  I don’t know why Disney can’t draw horses but Pixar sure can.  Not only does Angus, Merida’s horse, actually look like a real horse but he makes the right noises.  Bravo Pixar.

Brave is a film with a strong message of family, tradition and individuality.  Some might be annoyed by Merida’s teenage tantrums.  I admit I cringed when she screamed ‘it’s not fair.’  But these are the actions of a teenager and I dare anyone to find someone who didn’t say ‘it’s not fair’ at least once as a teenager.  Some may have expected more from Brave, especially from the title.  I do think Brave may be the wrong title and was possibly used a marketing ploy to tie it into Braveheart?  
On the other hand, this film isn’t about being brave enough to go out there and change your life.  This film is about being brave enough to listen to those you love, to accept who you are and the world you live in and still be brave enough to keep your individuality and if you can do that, maybe, just maybe, your fate will be changed.

I urge everyone to share this film with their children and show your daughters that there is more to life than waiting for their prince to come!