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Masterchef for Writers.

I love tv programmes like Masterchef.

Professional or celebrity contestants try out their culinary skills through a number of rounds and challenges, some being eliminated week by week, until the final three remain, and the eventual winner is chosen.

They are judged by previous finalists and top critics. They work in professional kitchens and with Michelin Star Chefs.

I have a poor palate, no appreciable culinary skills – unless you count my awesome cheese and beans on toast – so why watch these kind of shows?

I love the invention of the dishes. I love the choice of ingredients. I love the presentation. I love the way the chefs – celebrity or professionals – have had to experiment with flavours, research recipes, test out their own food on relatives and friends.

When you write a scene or a character or a whole book, think like a chef.

Choose your dish. Choose your ingredients. Experiment. Test it out on those closest to you. Present your dish to the judges.

And if it doesn’t work?

Begin the process all over again. Think about the dish. Change the flavours. Alter the presentation. Test it out. Offer it up again.

 

 

 

If You Could Have Written One Book?

If you could have written one book what would it be?

Don’t think for too long or your list will be twenty or thirty books long.

As soon as the book you think of first comes into your head, think about the reasons why you have chosen that particular one.

For me the answer is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

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The reasons why?

I loved the story. I loved the main character’s name, ‘Montag’. I loved the idea that a group of people who you thought of as on your side and protectors – Fireman – could in fact be the opposite. I grew up in Cold War Europe, and the notion that the media portrayed life in definite terms which may or may not be the whole picture meant the society in the book had noticeable parallels. The conclusion of the story was also such a powerful image.

In age of the great painters it was very common for the master to place before his students one of his works and task them to copy it. They would have to replicate the composition, the layering, the mixing of colours, and each brush stroke, and in doing so learnt so much more than wordy instructions.

Take the specific elements that you chose your book for and write your own version.

Learn from an old master.

Study the structure. Study the characters and speech. Study the description.

Write your version. It won’t be identical. It might not be very good. It might be a revelation.

But whatever the outcome, your writing will be changed by the experience.

 

Character.

This evening my family were playing a game called ‘Who Am I?’

You each wear a cardboard headband into which sits a card with the name of someone famous on it. You get to ask questions in turn about the identity of your person, with everyone else answering with yes or no.

Well that is the idea.

My family struggle with simply answering yes or no – which is probably just as well or my youngest son would still be trying to identify Madonna.

Anyway, my wife and eldest son were the last in the game with their respective literary great characters.

Both characters have undoubtedly been given longevity through film and tv adaptations, but both are still widely read in book form.

My wife’s character has been around for 130 years, and my son’s character has been around for 63 years.

Sherlock Holmes and James Bond are literary and cultural giants, but I guarantee that their authors had no idea they would grow into their current gravitas. Both are more than a little irascible and almost dare the reader to like them and if not then they don’t really care.

So what makes a great character? I am sure there are formulas and rules and lists to tell you, but how many of them would have let Harry Potter and his twig past the starting gate? I wouldn’t have. If your wizard isn’t carrying a staff and a sword and standing on a narrow bridge bellowing ‘You shall not pass!’ at a primeval creature then you simply aren’t a wizard.

Sherlock Holmes and James Bond may seem to exist outside of their original circumstances, but neither are what they are today without the stories into which they arrived in our consciousness.

If you want to write a character  which will stand the test of time then it needs to be one which perfectly fits the tale you are trying to tell.

Sherlock Holmes needed to be smarter than the crimes people were committing in society, but he didn’t need to be the friend of the people who came to him for help.

James Bond needed to be the determined blunt instrument who never stopped to counter the ingenious plans of those who threatened the world.

Don’t write your characters to be famous in 63 or 130 years time, but write characters which are what they need to be for your story to be successful, and then in 63 or 130 years time . . .

 

Because the Book has Changed you.

Kristina Olsson is an Australian writer.

In an article for the Guardian newspaper she describes walking across England and discovering that long distance walking and writing a novel are similar things.

She makes the declaration ‘because the book has changed you’ – read the article, it is very good, and you will get the context.

Any artist must be changed by their art. It is a process. Words on a page, paint on a canvas, chisel against marble or stone. As you produce you also are produced.

Each keystroke or pen mark, each word, each description, each character voice, leaves a mark on you, a discernible indent which guides the next stroke/mark, and the next . . .

Whatever you write will change you. Recognise it. Embrace it. Use it in the next word and phrase. You will be a better writer for it.

Maybe even go for a walk.

Just Show Up.

Sometimes.

All you need to do.

Is just show up.

Sometimes showing up is at your standing desk with your favourite playlist.

Or sitting at your favourite table, in your favourite coffee shop, with your favourite drink.

But sometimes showing up is just your pen and notebook in the corner of a cramped commuter train.

Or thirty seconds on your smart phone waiting for the microwave to ping.

Whether it is an idea, a line of dialogue, a change in the structure of your story 85,000 words in, or something else, you just need to show up.

And this is the lesson that I am learning everyday.

So tomorrow, I am going to just show up.

How about you?

Write Like An Artist.

Begin at the beginning, middle at the middle, and end at the end. Writing is a process. Despite the need for creativity, the actual production of your book is a method which you need to work through. Silence the distractions and produce your word count each day. Silence the artist in you and grind out the content.

Not all artists work this way.

Many painters, and there are many examples of the old masters doing this, work on several canvases at once. But they don’t stop there. They still sketch and work on new ideas.

Whilst Claude Monet was painting in London in 1900, he wrote to his wife telling her that he had 65 canvases with colour on them, and he still needed more.

It is perfectly okay for writers to work in the same way.

Deadlines are deadlines and the production needs to get done, but you will still get new ideas so don’t ignore them.

Write them down. Run with the idea. Plan it out.

Write your structure notes. Maybe even write the odd scene or two.

Artists know it is okay to have several canvases on the go at anyone time.

Writers are artists too.

Week Ending – 6

Fiction book of the week – Still reading The Cuckoo Calling – stalled on this book this week as I wanted to revisit the style of Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. I I finished John Le Carre’s The Legacy of Spies as well – an awesome book with all the best characters of George Smiley, Peter Guillam, and Alec Lemas!

Non-Fiction book of the week – Still working my way through Writing and Selling your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron.

Podcast of the weekInside the Huddle – NFL, and The Writers’ Guide.

Music of the week – Thousand Foot Krutch and Moby.

Radio programme of the week – BBC Radio 4 – Front Row.

Articles of the week – Mostly stuff on Medium about routines and habits. Lots of sports as well.

New Season, New Era.

A new season of Super League for Wigan Warriors and a new era for the San Francisco 49ers.

For the Warriors, four straight Grand Finals and two titles, would leave you expecting them to reach the final four and another final. The 49ers are at the other end of the leader board, as a two win team in the 2016 normal season; one win above the last placed team in the NFL.

Wigan keep their Head Coach, Shaun Wane, as you would expect with the success the team has achieved in the last four years. The first game out of the 2017 season was a good first half win against Salford, taking a 26-nil score into the break. No points in the second half was disappointing and a couple of easy tries from Salford, surely left the coach unhappy and the fans expecting a similar rollercoaster ride through the season as last year.

In the pre-season games, new signing at fullback, Morgan Escare, looked like his speed and field kicking ability may be a big advantage, for a team which doesn’t look like it has done anything new. Recent success would suggest that if it isn’t broke don’t fix it, however, a little bit of coaching smarts could easily undo the system. However, looking at the Saints-Leeds opener and then the Castleford-Leigh game, the off-season simply seems to have seen teams bulk up and run down the middle as the over-riding game plan. Boring is the word which immediately springs to mind and I wonder if Wigan has the size to match some of the other teams.

In a side note: the lack of markers standing square in those first two televised matches was beyond a joke. The only joke coming when a side was eventually penalised, leaving the players and crowd wondering how that particular one was penalised when all of the others got away with it. Super League has got to follow the NRL with two referees and the fundamental laws of the game, being playing the ball with the foot and standing square at marker, being enforced.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the franchise owners and fans alike, are hoping and praying that the combination of General Manager John Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan, will return the Niners to the glory days of Bill Walsh and George Seifert, Joe Montana and Steve Young. The Harbaugh era of play-offs, a divisional championship, and a Super Bowl appearance, seems to have been completely eradicated by the fantastically poor performance of the last two years.

The early press conferences seems to have been going over well, with the inexperience of John Lynch as a scout and manager being the key talking point. Shanahan’s run to Super Bowl 51 with the Atlanta Falcons, have clearly established his credentials as someone who can get the job done. Both men are appearing together and giving the same message, which clearly hasn’t happened for a while in the Bay area, and that message is about returning the franchise back to its former glory and doing it the right way. Clearly a message to the owner Jed York and the fans, that there isn’t going to be a quick fix to the struggling franchise.