Category Archives: Rants and Raves

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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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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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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Tonight’s motivational tip for writers

So, tonight, to increase writerly productivity, I enlisted the help of my friends.

I set aside three hours of writing time and sent a message out on Facebook asking people to estimate how many words I’d write in that time. Whoever made the best guess would win a glass of beer / wine / other the next time I see them.

For context, it’s first draft time, which comes out quickly and without any polish. I managed to avoid distractions (apart from changing CD (Mahler and Prokofiev tonight), replenishing my glass of water, and occasionally popping back to Facebook to follow the betting).

Estimates ranged from the pessimistic 9 (from a writer!) to the optimistic 6000 (from an editor!), which probably gives an insight into why the writer / editor relationship can sometimes be a bit fraught…

As I said in my follow-up FB post, it was highly motivating to feel accountable to a group of people and to know that they were watching over me. Writing can be an isolated activity, so to have some people cheering from the stalls gave me a bit of extra oomph in breaking through a bit of deadlock. I’ll definitely be doing it again.

That said, I’ve set a benchmark now, so they might be expecting more next time. My arms are aching after three hours solid typing and my eyes are a bit blurry…. But I managed to pour out precisely 5224 words in that time. And, in the words of someone much wiser than me, that’ll do, pig, that’ll do.

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Give me a Pro; give me a -crast; give me an -ination!

And what have you got?

Monday!

I’ve been variously distracted today by emptying the kitchen bin, making coffee, looking at my work email, reading the Guardian website (twice) and flicking through an Armando Iannucci book. All of which have been very entertaining (well, maybe not the kitchen bin)…

So in a fit of writerly guilt, I decided to do some writerly things to break the pattern and shake myself out of my distracted fug.

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Women In Comics… (more specifically, women in a comic)

So I’ve just read the first book of Rachel Rising by Terry Moore (and I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers). It’s dark, it’s moody, it adds layers of mystery with every page and I am now impatient to read more.

Something that marks it out amongst comics is the prevalence of female characters, from Rachel herself to Jet the mechanic, Aunt Johnny the morgue worker and the incredible Zoe (read it, she is compelling). Yep, there’s a mechanic-girl and a morgue-woman, both of whom are introduced in their workplaces in an androgynous, even masculine way. Terry Moore is playing here: you’re expecting a guy? Here’s a girl. This is a world where women drive the plot, solve the mysteries, make things happen, and are both the victims and the causes of violence. It’s refreshing. Traditionally, in literature and in comics, a woman was either a virgin or a whore,  a simpering sweetheart or a villainous vixen. Times are thankfully changing, and Terry Moore is giving us something different with his women: good gals, bad gals, confused gals, girls who do bad things yet still have you rooting for them.

So what about the men? Sorry, guys, but you’re not going to like this. The men in Rachel Rising are a venal, sleazy, cruel, easily led lot. Nice guys give you a ride home and then get the hell out of town (woe betide you if you try to help). Everyone else will betray some kind of weakness or perversion or downright weirdness before long.

So we have a world of mixed-up, stereotype busting women, alive, dead and all points in between, alongside a bunch of men who frankly deserve what’s coming to them. What’s not to like?!

Buy Rachel Rising from Terry Moore’s store or, as I did, from the lovely people at Orbital Comics.

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It’s grapic and it’s a biography: Hellraisers

Hellraisers is new from Self Made Hero, a comic adaptation of Sellers’ 2008 book Hellraisers – The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed. With a title like that, you know exactly what you’re getting: anecdotes, stories, fables, myths, all related to the tremendous capacity for mayhem and alcohol shared by four of the greatest actors ever to walk the stage and screen.

I read the original book and loved the light touch with which Robert Sellers wrote. He let the stories tell themselves, allowing the personalities of Burton, Harris, O’Toole and Reed to bounce off the page at you. The same happens here – the stars are the stars – although there’s some clunky op-ed stuff about the nature of celebrity in Sellers’ (prose) introduction which doesn’t necessarily sit comfortably with the main narrative.

But the characters are what you want and the characters are what you get. They are beautifully rendered by artist Jake in a style that you start by thinking might be too primitive for the material, but come to recognise as being perfect for capturing the essence of the individual. Lee Marvin makes a cameo appearance (drunk) and is spot on; Elizabeth Taylor is fabulous, beautiful and tragic, as she should be; Humphrey Bogart is an aphorism in a hospital bed.

As for the four leading men, they each bring their own tales of hedonism and decadence along with an absence of regret or recrimination. It’s the lack of apology that is central here. Each does things that would make a sailor blush. Why? Because they could? Because they were insecure egos seeking solace in a bottle from the pressures of fame? Because they were the children of alcoholics, or fatherless boys adrift in a changing world? In a sense, it doesn’t matter why – and Sellers doesn’t labour it – because what matters is what they did, not why they did it. They were behaviour in extremis and in essence. They lived through their actions.

So, how does the transition to graphic novel work? In the main, extremely well. Sellers and Jake make the most of the form. There are some fantastic transitions between scenes and sections of the story, some laugh out loud visual moments (Harris and Burton quitting booze whilst filming The Wild Geese; a panel of Elizabeth Taylor and Burton with the caption “You could say our marriage was disintegrating fast”; Harris and O’Toole shinning up drainpipes), and some moments of real, deep tragedy, particularly the later years of Harris’ life.

There are also layers in here. The framing device for all of these stories is a “Christmas Carol” type experience for a wayward husband, father and boozer called Martin. He is visited by the spirits of the four stars and he hears their stories: sometimes he is a passive listener, sometimes an active participant, sometimes he talks to other characters about the four men in their absence. It is part comic, part dream, part reality, part hallucination, part commentary, part vague memory of a 40 year piss-up.

There’s a lot in here on the theme of fathers and sons – which does work – and there is a leaning towards a wider moral message – which, for me, doesn’t work. The moment you try to pin down a moral message about the behaviour of these four drunken, violent, cheating bastards is the moment you start to miss the point of them. Sellers knows this, I think, and may have resisted trying to draw regret, recrimination or a message of “good, clean living” from all of this, but every story must have an ending.

So aside from a quibble about the introduction and an uncertainty about the ending: I loved this book. And now I know there’s a prose follow up called Hollywood Heroes (featuring Brando, Nicholson, Beatty and Hopper), I am adding it to my Christmas list and looking forward to Sellers’ and Jake’s follow up adaptation. More please!

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