Latest from the desk…

It’s been quiet on the blog lately, which can only mean one thing: I’ve been editing.

You’ll have seen my previous blogs on editing so I won’t dwell on the process again. Suffice to say that I have a slightly mechanistic approach (or perhaps ritualistic) which works really well (for me) compared to the quite loose and organic way in which I write my drafts. Process brings a scrutiny and a rational engagement with words that were often written by emotion. It’s easier to kill your darlings when you’re pretending to be a psychopath…

The manuscript that I have been editing is notionally known as Novel Number 2. Poor old Novel Number 1 went out into the world to try and find a publisher but is still looking for love. Rather than accompany Number 1 in its loneliness, I wrote Number 2 (spoiler: it’s better). The best way of being a writer, after all, is just to write.

I’m learning my own lesson again this time. After a brief hiatus, I’m now in planning mode for Novels Number 3 and 4 – the one I was intending to write and the one that has crept into my brain and is shouting at me to pay it some attention. One involves things like research and historical detail; the other is contemporary and characterful. Neither is easy. I’m letting them both brew at the moment, not rushing the decision between the, but enjoying the counterpoint between two very different periods and subjects.

Expect the customary blitz during the winter months as I become more productive during the long cold hours of darkness (I have the opposite of seasonal affective disorder, perhaps seasonal productivity disorder?). I’ll try to keep you posted as I go along – and I’ll be sure to let you know how Number 2 is getting along as soon as I can.

Oh, and watch out for some comics news in the coming months. Another Disconnected Press publication and, hopefully, some progress on other projects. Plates spinning all around!

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The art of memory

Do you remember your first kiss?

Of course you do. And you remember the truth about it too. Not the Hollywood-ised version that your fairytale brain would like you to believe, but the awkward reality (do you tilt your head to the left or to the right? Will your teeth clatter together? Will you be able to breathe?).

I’m assuming that your first kiss wasn’t last week, but that it was some years ago. And yet you can remember it reasonably well…

At the weekend, I went to see The Wonder Stuff in concert in Cardiff. Now, the Stuffies were pretty much the soundtrack to my A level years. If you saw me aged 16-18, chances are I would be wearing a big cardigan over a baggy t-shirt, drinking lots of tea, sneaking into pubs and listening to The Wonder Stuff. They rocked my world.

I’ve listened to them on and off since then and – maybe – seen them live before (but that might be memory thinking I must have done rather than the truth…). Anyway, Cardiff. Saturday night. They’re on stage. They play song after song. And I know 80% of the words. To songs I haven’t listened to in 20-something years.

What is my brain doing? Why is all this stuff still in there? Why can I remember the lyrics to obscure B-sides but not what I did last Wednesday? (I picked last Wednesday as a random day. Given a minute or two, I was able to piece together a picture of last Wednesday. The Wonder Stuff lyrics on Saturday came instantly.)

Science and psychology help to tell us how memory works. Our brains are wondrous things with the capacity to analyse and understand themselves – which is quite a spooky concept. Here’s a cute animation to help explain some of the science-y stuff: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUoJc0NPajQ

But it’s the art of memory that intrigues me, at least from a writer’s perspective. What you remember, how that memory is triggered, the timing of that memory coming back to you – these are all fantastic things to think about when crafting a story. False memories, elaborations, your brain downright making things up – those are great fictional devices too.

If you haven’t read Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey, then you really should – it’s an incredible study of what happens to us when memory starts to fail. It’s also a great illustration of our ability to remember the long-ago and far-away in quite some detail but to lose sight of the here and now and last week way too easily.

Our characters are built of their memories, but no-one can remember everything (OK, maybe this guy can). Our brains and our bodies conspire to hide some memories from us – often the most painful or the most intense. And they keep other things bubbling away in the mental mud for years until the bubbles pop through the surface – whether we want them to or not. For everything that our characters remember, there’s a ton of stuff that they will have forgotten. If you interlace multiple narrators, you can find several versions of the same story, and challenge the reader to find the truth within it (this concept has a name, it turns out: it’s the Rashomon effect).

So, explore memory, question it, challenge it. What do you remember? What do your characters remember? What about people quoted in news articles or testifying in court? How does memory change over time? How does it get reinforced? How do you draw on memory to confirm the things you believe? How much do you trust someone whose memory is just too perfect?

And explore the music of The Wonder Stuff too (or at least, go listen to the band you listened to most when you were a teenager – you’ll have a head full of lyrics before you know it!).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6voE0zlRDI

Hup!

 

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Wolves

It’s been a busy few months – promoting the books which launched before Christmas and also working through edits to a new novel. I thought I’d share a very short snippet with you here. Our setting: Finland.

Grandpa Heikkila used to wrap us in furs and sit with us on the deck of the cottage, even when the sky was white with cold and the ice had spread across the lake. Our father would call to him, say bring them in, they’ll freeze, and Grandpa Heikkila would call back laughing: they won’t freeze, these young wolves won’t freeze.

We were young wolves, Grandpa Heikkila said, and like young wolves, we would have to learn to live in the cold.

Once, he said, a long time ago, wolves had short hair, fine hair like the hair on our arms, soft to the touch. The wolves roamed the forest through the seasons, but in the winter they would shiver as they ran between the trees, scared of what they knew was coming but not able to do anything to change it.

Death would take them in the winter, in the cold.

As time passed, the wolves learned to accept death. They travelled in bigger packs, they had more pups. When death came whispering, stroking their fine hair gently like a mother, they could leave their dead behind and pretend they had never been. The pack carried on, hiding their grief.

One day, Grandpa Heikkila said, a wolf was born that was different from the others. His fur was longer, better to protect him against the deepest sadness of the cold. In the winter, he was strong and fast. He could hunt and chase and fight through the long dark months of snow and ice. He became the father of the wolves, sire of all the pups. As each new cub was born, its fur thick and long, the pack celebrated, forgetting a little more each time how weak they had once been.

“Now,” Grandpa Heikkila said, “the wolves are kings of the forest. But it is not the size of the pack that makes them strong, it’s not the sharpness of their teeth or even the length of their fur.”

He looked down at us with a smile.

“All it took was one little pup to be born lucky.”

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Why do books suddenly appear…?

Reading back on this blog, I find that titles of books and anthologies appear – full of promise. They linger – flirting for a while. And then they disappear, like a boyfriend who simply won’t return your calls. [Younger readers, insert appropriate social media metaphor.]

And then, after a while, in a strange coming together of circumstances, all your ex-boyfriends turn up at once.

OK. Metaphor stretched a little too far… Let’s get to the NEWS!

This weekend marks ThoughtBubble, the UK’s biggest independent comics festival. Held in Leeds over the course of a week, ThoughtBubble culminates in a two-day convention where you can pick up a comic in almost any style, on almost any subject and really get under the skin of a blossoming UK creative industry.

I am DELIGHTED that the following will be happening this weekend:

thwmu_cover_newThe Heart Which Makes Us will launch. This is a 100 page graphic novel, written by yours truly, illustrated by Aaron Moran, lettered by Paul Mclaren and edited (and inspired) by Barry Nugent.

The book follows Kathryn Monroe, a brilliant crime scene analyst, fresh into her job as an investigator and longing for her first big case.

Find out more at http://unseenshadows.com/comics/the-heart-which-makes-us/ – including a link to the Unseen Shadows Comicsy store if you’d like to order a copy online.

Secret GardensSecret Gardens will be on sale. OK, so technically this is last month’s news, but I haven’t told you yet! Secret Gardens is an illustrated choose-your-own-adventure book, for all ages, which I launched last month with artist Conor Boyle.

Set in the landscape of Lowther Castle in the Lake District, Secret Gardens contains four choose-your-own-adventure stories featuring ghosts, wizards, witches and some very organised squirrels…

You can order a copy of Secret Gardens from http://www.comicsy.co.uk/disconnectedpress/store/products/secret-gardens/ for just £5 plus P&P. You can also buy Secret Gardens from the gift shop at Lowther Castle!

What else?

Ah yes, the Pigs. This weekend, we launch Issues 3 and 4 of our horror comedy madcap apocalypse comic Sentient Zombie Space Pigs. If you haven’t followed the story so far, where have you been? Alien lands on farm. Farmer shoots alien. Pigs eat alien. Things go wrong. And that’s all before page 5 of Issue 1…

SZSP Teaser 2Sentient Zombie Space Pigs is an affectionate tribute to all things zombie, and is an awful lot of fun to write. You can buy the complete story – The Whole Hog – at http://www.comicsy.co.uk/disconnectedpress/store/products/sentient-zombie-space-pigs-the-whole-hog/ for just £4 plus P&P. Yes, honestly, the issues are £1 each. Because comics are for everyone (perhaps with a little parental guidance….).

The GrimeSpeaking of parental guidance, the other Lizzie Boyle story that comes out this weekend is called Free Go and it features in a new anthology called The Grime. Edited by James McCulloch, The Grime is twisted, nasty, horrific and dark. And don’t say I didn’t warn you….

Free Go features a teenager in 1950s Brighton who thinks the fortune telling machine is just a waste of time. Artwork is by the brilliant Bekah Withers, who I last worked with on How To Kill Bears just as she was starting her degree (she’s just graduated. I feel old.).

It’s great that so many projects have finally found their way onto pieces of paper. It also means that the next wave of projects can get the love and attention they deserve!

Do get in touch if you have any questions about writing for comics, editing or publishing, or if you just want to natter. I’m on Twitter as @lizzieboylesays and always happy to help!

 

 

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Thoughts on Bloomsday

It’s 16 June, aka Bloomsday, aka the day on which James Joyce‘s Ulysses is set. As much as Joyce’s birthday on 2 February, Bloomsday has become a time to reflect on Joyce’s work, his life and the fingerprints he has left across Irish, British and French culture. Continue reading

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Ghosts, goblins, tanks and flick knives

A quick update from the Land of Lizzie, as it’s been a while. I’m currently in full-on writer mode, having taken some time off from the Day Job, so I’m showing up at the desk every day and these, you know, “words” keep coming out.

I’ve been writing on many and varied subjects, including – but not limited to – those listed in the title of this blog. I’ve also blown up some rabbits, travelled through time, taken on the Russian Army, saved the world and had an encounter with a very creepy puppet.

Suffice to say, I’m having a good time!

Things to look out for:

The Heart Which Makes Us – a graphic novel about a forensic psychologist – should be out later this year. The artwork has been completed by the wonderful Aaron Moran, so we’re now at lettering stage, and then it’s over to publisher Barry Nugent to decide when and how to launch. His Unseen Shadows universe is full of great stories if you like action, thrillers and a little bit of the supernatural thrown in (and who doesn’t?).

Sentient Zombie Space Pigs 3 and 4 – yes, it seems my abiding legacy may be a throwaway tale about a farm-based apocalypse, but I’m getting used to it. I also like to imagine the intro they give when I win the Booker, but that’s another story. Sentient Zombie Space Pigs 3 and 4 are “with the artist” – some chap called Conor Boyle – and we’re hopeful that at least one will be ready for your perusal later this year. If you haven’t read Parts 1 and 2, never fear – you can order them for just £1 each from our Comicsy shop or get them from Disconnected Press at Comic Conventions during the year.

The creepy puppet – features in my contribution to a new horror anthology from writer James McCulloch, who is the nicest guy ever to terrify you on a dark night. More on that as it happens; I think there are plans for a Kickstarter so I shall tweet vigorously at the appropriate time.

– On the prose front: novel #2 is coming along, and should be two thirds drafted by the end of this month. Novel #1 has kind of ground to a halt on its quest to find a mainstream publisher, though I have had some incredibly positive feedback. Currently debating its future…

– Oh, and there’s another super-secret project, but I can’t tell you about that. Nope, not even you.

Things I’ve learned over the last wee while:

– Writing more means you write more

– It’s hard to write horror on a sunny day

– Massive sheets of paper covered in scribbles are your friends

– I highly recommend Sibelius, Paganini and Vaughan Williams as good listening while you type. And www.bnwmovies.com when you want to be distracted.

More soon!

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In The Grey

This was something to get me going yesterday evening. I needed atmosphere for another project and was struggling to describe it. Once I had a feeling of a place, some people popped up. See below!

Grey mist settles like dust. Thick, like you could put your hand in it and leave a mark, an absence. Grey like the sea, like the birds, like the buildings squat against the rocks.

Winter.

When he first came to the islands, he loved the seasons. The dark curtain of winter, the switch to the bright light of summer, no messing about with anything much in between. Now it was just a black and white movie. Old. Predictable.

He kicked at stones to keep his feet warm. New boots. He’d get new boots for next winter. Spend a bit on them, this time, make it feel like his feet were part of him and not cold like the rocks below.

Someone coming through the grey. Short, squat, like a bruise.

Hughes. Hughes the bruise. He thinks he should remember that, tell Hughes, like a joke. Hughes the bruise.

Hughes comes closer, a face forming in the grey, granite.

He looks at Hughes, sees a lifetime of scars, forgets the joke he was going to tell. Not the day for it. Never the day for it. No joking with Hughes.

He waits.

Hughes comes to him. “Alright?”

He nods.

“Caught anything?”

He looks at Hughes, surprised, then remembers. The thin shaft of the rod is so light in his hands that he had forgotten it was there. Borrowed. From Hughes? Maybe. Maybe it was time to give it back.

He looks out into the mist. There is water, a lake of sorts, a dark pool beneath the mist.

He looks at the ground. Beside his cold feet in their cold boots, a couple of boxes, plastic. Living things in one, crawling: bait. Nothing in the other.

“No,” he says.

Hughes smiles at him.

He doesn’t know what to think when Hughes smiles. It is odd, like the sun shining bright in winter or the thought of being truly warm.

“They’ll come,” Hughes says.

Hughes pulls his coat around him and carries on along the path.

He remembers. He calls out.

“Hughes!”

Hughes turns to look back at him.

He stops now, still, like the rocks or the mist or the fish that will lie dead in his plastic box as soon as he’s caught it, reeled it in, teased the hook out of its jaw and cracked its head on the ground.

Hughes is looking at him.

He is thinking about the dead fish, completely still, then about the rocks, completely still. The mist moves, like breath, he thinks. The rocks move too, slower, like the breath of something about to die.

Hughes is waiting.

He can hear the tap of Hughes’ boot on the ground. A twitch that could become a kick.

“Hughes the bruise,” he says.

Hughes stops tapping his foot. Hughes folds his arms across his chest and tilts his head – just so.

“Hughes the bruise,” Hughes says.

“Hughes the bruise,” Hughes says again.

Hughes nods and turns and walks away, disappearing into the grey.

He smiles.

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Work in progress: an excerpt…

I thought I’d share something new with you. Below is an extract from “work in progress novel #2” which will one day have a better title, but which is now about 35,000 words along. It’s proving a joy to write, when I can make the time, as the characters seem to wait for me to show up and then just act out scenes for me to transcribe.  Our narrator, below, is a 12 year old girl, and our setting is rural Finland (they say “write what you know”, I say “stuff that, write what you can imagine”. They’re probably right, but I’m having fun!).

So here we go. Tweet me @lizzieboylesays if you like it, or if you don’t. This is first draft (aka, the great blurt) so the words are in the order that my fingers produced them, unedited…:

Continue reading

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Elephants, shadows and nervous Sundays

As promised, I’m writing on Elephant Words over the next six weeks, so thought I’d use a blog to tell you a bit about it and also to link to my first contribution.

Elephant Words brings together a group of writers. Each Sunday, one of us posts a picture which is then used as a prompt by the other writers for a piece of short fiction. Rather than leave it to creative chaos, there’s a schedule, so you’re forced to write on a different day each week. If you’re Friday in Week 1, you’ll gradually move forward in the week – and so have less and less time to think about your tale each week….

shadowman

Here’s the image that was posted last Sunday. You can read my response at:

http://elephantwords.co.uk/2015/01/13/shadow/

What do you think? What would you have written? What does this image bring to you?

If you find the wee calendar on the Elephant Words website, and click different dates from last week, you’ll see the responses of other writers.

There’s a new image going up today, and I’m the Monday writer this week, so the nerves are already jangling…. Come on, muse, don’t let me down!

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New Year’s advice for writers – including myself

Top tip number 1 – stop talking, start writing.

Top tip number 2 – do your morning pages. I learned about these a couple of years ago when I read Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. Write three pages longhand first thing in the morning. Not a story, not a chapter, just three pages of whatever is on your mind. You’ll feel stupid. It’ll seem to take ages. But after a few days of discipline, you’ll find that your stories are starting to come alive on those pages – little insights and connections that you hadn’t made before. You’ll also find that other things in life feel just that bit more under control.

Here’s Julia Cameron talking about the pages: http://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/morning-pages/

And here’s a cynical Guardian journalist responding: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/oct/03/morning-pages-change-your-life-oliver-burkeman

Top tip number 3 – read more books. Santa very kindly bought me some classic sci fi this Christmas. My first read of the year: We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, a proto-1984 in a future society ruled by logic, mathematics and efficiency. I’m now onto read #2: Plan for Chaos by John Wyndham, not well known. I’m about one third of the way through, so no spoilers, but it’s a great noirish conspiracy mystery with amazing slangy dialogue. Oh, my pre-Christmas read, recommended to me, was Room by Emma Donoghue. Well worth it if you haven’t read it. Beautifully written, compelling and shows how to create a world within four walls.

Oh, reading more books helps you learn about writing. What works, what doesn’t, what you like, what you don’t, structure, pacing, language. You know, useful stuff.

Top tip number 4 – set aside time. Everything wants to get in the way of writing. My biggest mistake last year was to let it. Now I’m realistic enough to know that I won’t (won’t be able to / can’t) write every day. But equally, I know I have to dedicate time week in week out. So I’ve set a little personal goal of a certain number of hours per week. If I make it, great, pat on the back, and the reward of having written a lot (and perhaps a cheeky glass of something). If I don’t make it, well, so long as I get close, I’ll still have written quite a bit. Momentum is everything in writing; purple patches come when you’re writing the most. Write more and you’ll write more / better. More better. Yeah.

Top tip number 5 – share your work. Getting feedback on your work is vital to understanding how to make it better (or if it’s perfect ;-)). I’ve been a bit rubbish at this so am taking steps to address it in 2015. I’ll be back on the schedule at Elephant Words very soon, publishing little weekly bursts of short fiction.  I’m also going back to the F2K sessions on the Writers Village University site – brilliant for honing specifics about a character or a situation and for getting feedback on your style over a 6-7 week period. I also plan to get more extracts from my longer fiction posted on here for your consideration, and to get back on the short story circuit. A couple of years ago, I even threatened to do some readings….

Top tip number 6 – find someone to hold you accountable for all of the above. Um, I guess that’s you guys. Please shout at me if I don’t keep this website up to date!

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