Sunday, 15 January 2017

Zombie plot bunnies

Are you ever bugged by a baby plot bunny that won’t die, but that won’t come to life either?  A zombie rabbit, cute as a button and a great idea except for the fact it’s dead, dead, dead?

I have these all the time.  If you don’t, I envy you.  They sit at the back of my mind, nibbling their own feet and fixing me with their sunken-but-glittering eyes from time to time, as if to say “I could be a fabulous bunny if you just leeet meee liiivvve!”  I listen to them, I try to help, but they’re still undead and I can do nothing for them.

I’ve had some of them for years.  Decades. Seriously.  They are both dead and, it would seem, simultaneously immortal.  The Muse needs to breathe life into them, not me, and she simply hasn’t. Maybe one day she will.  Maybe never.

One of the ones I’ve tried several times to bring to life is an idea about what happens to an uprising against an oppressive regime, when their leader and main commanders are massacred at a fake peace conference.  Just two of the senior members of the uprising escape, both badly injured and rescued by separate groups of sympathisers.  They recover, and find their way back to the remains of the rebellion.  They try to rally the troops, bring on new commanders, and fight back.  But it becomes apparent that there is now a mole amongst them; one of the two survivors is in fact a spy.  But have they been turned, or is something else going on?  Are they an inadvertent spy, carrying some horrible undetectable new kind of implant?  And, of course, which of the two is the mole? It would be a science fiction story, quite a gritty one, and I’ve always thought it was a nice idea.  The problem was that there was no plot.  I had a situation, I had characters – characters I liked – and a dramatic opening with the massacre and the two survivors, injured, hidden in two very different refuges.  But I then had absolutely no idea what was going to happen to them.

Another plot bunny was inspired by Return of the Jedi, and could be summed up by the single question “What Emperor worth his salt is without a son and heir?”  Star Wars is by no means the only SF universe to have an evil empire, and anyway, since I planned to make it an original fic, I’d be inventing my own, wouldn’t I?  But again, it was too incomplete to live.  It had a situation, some characters (who were rather cardboard, since I was only 17 when I dreamed them up), and a few Big Scenes – the Big Fight Scene, the Big Love Scene and so on.  The rest of it was just the rabbit undead, twitching mouldy nose and all.

It looks fairly likely now that the new Star Wars trilogy (VII, VIII and IX) is not going to use “Palpatine has a son and heir” as a plot device. I was reminded of this plot bunny in December 2015, when I went to see The Force Awakens; and at the end of last year, seeing Rogue One, I was reminded of the other plot bunny.  And out of the blue today, I’m starting to feel I could do something about them.  Because if I can mesh the “Son and Heir” and the “Two survivors” stories together, I might have enough plot from those two conjoined to make something worth spending time on.

This cheers me up enormously.  The Plot Bunny Undead Are Coming Alive And They Need To Feed!!

I suppose I ought to review Rogue One, and for that matter some of the other good films and theatre I've seen lately.  The quick Rogue One review would be to say "I am now writing fanfic for it".  But there's a lot more I could say, and it's late and I'm tired; so I'll do that another day.   

Monday, 31 October 2016

Still writing, still alive

Well, yet again I look at this and see how long it's been since I wrote a blog post, and feel embarrassed and dilatory and apologetic.  I've been putting it off, doing other things, or not infrequently procrastinating other things, and thinking I had nothing useful to say, nothing to review, what's the point, etc etc. 

Why apologetic, though?  Why should I feel I'm letting anyone down?  If I still have any readers, none of them have been contacting me to say "noticed you haven't blogged lately, how's tricks" or "R U OK?"  So I don't think it can be causing any disquiet anywhere.  The only person I'm letting down is myself; and that only in so far as that I was taught as a child that I must never, ever, ever, be less than the best, and so if I set myself to do something I must do it not just well, but to standards higher than anyone else's.

Not really a very helpful rule to inculcate in a young mind, now I think about it.  High standards are all very well, but this just leaves you knowing you're never going to be good enough.  No matter what.  Never.  And that is death to creativity.

So the hell with that. 

I'm okay, I'm keeping fairly busy and already getting enough modelling work to pay my rent, which means my savings will stretch out a lot longer, giving me more time to find more modelling and/or develop other income streams.  I'm writing.  Some of the writing is going okay, some of it less so, but I'm doing some, fairly steadily.  I've recently started once again on the process of submitting to agents.  My experiment with self-publishing has proved to me that it needs confident marketing skills and a self-promoting ability that I lack; and I have a reasonable amount of good material these days.  What the heck, I'll give it another whirl.

It's interesting to note, looking through the latest edition of the Writers and Artists' Yearbook, how many agents now accept online submissions.  Thank God!  It's five or six years since I was last trying to do this submissions lark, and in that time, it's moved from being a tiny minority to being almost all.  The minority now are those who'll only accept submissions on paper.  This is going to save so much hassle and expense. 

I'm also intrigued to notice that fewer agencies and publishers are stipulating "No SF or fantasy" in their conditions.  Presumably this means that SF and F are coming to be considered as a better commercial bet.  Perhaps also that there's a scrap less snobbery about the genres.  All to the good, anyway. 

I got over getting hurt in the summer (see previous post).  I'm still fencing.  I go to the cinema, and occasionally to the opera or ballet, but less frequently because money is a more pressing issue than it was a year ago.  One of my best friends has moved to the coast and the other has had a baby this year, so I see them when I can; and I'm seeing some of my other closest friends in just under a fortnight. 

So all in all, things aren't too bad.  There are moments of depression and struggle, and I have to resort to ignoring the national and international news, or end up crying and helpless with fear.  It seems as if the world is in such a mess at the moment.  I have to remind myself consciously that it was ever thus; it's just much easier to learn about it than in my parents' or grandparents' day. I do what I can - little things like recycling, not wasting water, always voting; I try to live by my values even when it looks ridiculous or sets me up to feel afraid.  Within my own small sphere, I try.  Il faut cultiver le jardin.

And then I try to let go and let be, and hold on to hope.  Because in times when everywhere one looks there seems to be the same message of "we're all going to the dogs, the world is going to burn, everything's sh*t", I think it's a kind of revolutionary act to refuse the agony and despair, keep taking care of the garden, and insist on hope.  Hope, even if one is wrong.

Monday, 8 August 2016

The delicate art of getting a grip

When you've had a lot going on, when you've been off-balance, struggling with depression or other emotional issues, when you've had your focus firmly on one goal or one area of life, it can be hard to keep up with commitments.  I've neglected this blog for months; I've been focussed elsewhere, and I've been dealing with what we know these days as Stuff.

It's all pretty complicated and I'm not sure I'm up to giving a detailed account.  I met someone, got on really well with them, and thought I'd found a new friend.  When they hesitantly and awkwardly almost-asked-me-out a couple of months ago I'm ashamed to say missed the hints, and then I realised, and did my own asking (like a grown-up!).  But they couldn't manage the date I suggested, and then things went off the boil slightly as I was about to go away for a fortnight's holiday.  Just after I got back from my trip, this person had some private issues from their past come boiling up into the present, and within a couple of weeks had stopped speaking to me completely, and unfriended me on facebook.  And I have very little idea of why.

I am confused, hurt and angry; and I'm also not a little worried for my sometime-friend, who is acting out of character.  But since they won't speak to me and have ignored my email, I don't know what else I can do.  As the cliché has it, some people come into your life for a reason, and some just for a season.  Maybe this was one of those relationships. 

I hate not understanding what went wrong, and I hate the feeling that my trust may have been ill-placed.  I don't trust people quickly these days, but this friendship had won my trust, and now I wonder if I was completely mistaken.

Heavens, I don't think "yes, I'd go out with you on a date, I really like you!" quickly these days, either.

I'll still be here if they do decide to talk to me at some point.  Although the private issues I mentioned were unpleasantly messy and reflected less-than-well on them, my instinct is that my friend is not a monster, just a normal fucked-up human being with a mess they need to deal with.  I know that feeling.  So yes, I'll still be here.  But I won't pursue.  They're an adult, if they want me they can come and find me; they know where I can be found.

The really interesting thing about this relationship (to be thoroughly cynical and self-absorbed) has been the amount I've got out of it, and in such a short time, too.  This person could be pretty bracing company; outspoken, determined, challenging, even aggressive at times, and absolutely committed to walking their talk.  I had to shake myself out of a lot of familiar patterns, in order just to keep up.  It was bracing, but by damn, it did me good.

I've been in quite a rut, the last few months, and battling with my old invidious enemy, depression.  There were weeks when my fencing class was the one bright spell; a couple of hours of focus and excitement and energy, in a life of day after day of grey fear, procrastination and numbed emotions.
This relationship shook me out of that, and whatever else, I am intensely grateful and glad of this.  Yes, I've been hurt, and baffled, and pissed-off, by this sudden inexplicable break.  But I have been blessed in the friendship nonetheless.

So now, in the aftermath of having someone I thought was walking with me turn round and walk away without a word of explanation, I'm looking again at my life and trying to get a grip on things.  I hope I can maintain the momentum of being braced and energised and shaken up.

There's been no luck on the conventional job front, so I've now definitely gone back to working as an artists' model for the time being.  I'm not sure if I'll manage to make ends meet, but if I don't try it, I won't ever know.  I'm registered as self-employed and got a DBS certificate (what used to be known as CRB >sigh< yet another silly name change), and I've begun picking up some bookings.

I'm also feeling a bit more creative flow, at long last.  I've had another little push at trying to get sales and reviews for "The Charcoal Knots"; and I've finished a sequel, which needs to come back from my beta readers and hopefully will then be published.  I'm working on the extended version of "Running away with Pausanias" and that's going well.  I'm working on some art again, and have finally got round to setting up a facebook page for my art work; you can find that here if you're interested.  I've brushed-up my proof-reading symbols and started learning how to do indexing, and will be looking for any small freelance jobs of that sort, too. 

So, this is me right now; disappointed in love and friendship, but getting a grip and hoping to make a living as a freelancer.  Hoping that creativity and art can gain from the boost in my energy and the jolt in my life.  Still writing, still drawing, and of course still fencing.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Film reviews and writing news (& newsletters)

Firstly, you will notice there is now a "sign up for the newsletter" whatsit on the sidebar to the left of this.  This is specifically for news about my creative writing activities, not for general blog stuff.  Do sign-up though, I promise you won't be spammed!  Not everything I write is smut, either, so you might even discover something you enjoyed reading...
I'm working on a sequel to "The Charcoal Knots".  It's the first time I've ever set-out to do a follow-up to a completed story, and I'm finding it an interesting experience with some distinct challenges.
When I finished "The Charcoal Knots" my sappy romantic streak was sad for my characters, and part of me wanted them to have another chance to make their relationship work, but their story seemed to have come to a natural finishing point.  But as it turned out, soon after I began having lurking ideas of how that second chance could come about, and decided there might be a sequel in the offing.  Both characters have clearly got some emotional kinks to work through, and some self-acceptance issues to work on; and there's still room for them to explore the other kind of kinks a bit further while they're doing that. 
I started working on this story in response to a writing prompt in the form of a photograph (of a well-known actor holding a business card and looking a trifle puzzled).  I wrote it with the intention of it being simple, straightforward PWP - "porm without plot" - and nothing more.  The characters took control ( that is so weird when that happens but I've got to accept it when it does).  They decided it was going to be more than just aimless happy filth, and of course, being characters out of my head, they found through their exploration of a mutual kink that they were kindred spirits, and made a powerful emotional connection. 
So it turns out I'm not writing simple smut at all, I'm writing about sexuality and sexual kinks as a means of personal development and a path to increased intimacy.
One of the most classic pieces of writing advice ever is "write what you know".  Ahem, well, after years of being single and celibate, that's not entirely what I'm doing.  Certainly bondage and femdom have not been part of my life!  But I do know the experience of yearning for a closer connection with someone, and realising one has projected one's own needs onto them.
Well, I'll keep writing.  I have so many writing projects at the moment, it's ludicrous.  And I'm trying, piecemeal and in some confusion, to build a platform as a writer online as well, and trying to market myself; and wishing it all happened a bit faster >heaves small sigh< well, busy is better than bored, heaven knows.
I know impatience doesn't help, it just feeds the voices of self-doubt.  Begone, impatience!
I'm also trying to re-establish my former career as an artists' model.  It's well over ten years since I was last modelling but I've found it comes back to me as if I last did it a few months ago.  It is (though it's an odd metaphor to use in the circumstances!) like riding a bike.  The muscles don't forget, it seems.  Crossing my fingers for this to be a good move and to build up enough of a practice to be able to pay my bills. 
I'm not entirely sure I wasn't misleading myself badly as I tried for all those years to make a career at Kew.  Much though I dislike the Fluffy Californian White-Light-Bollix speak of phrases like "live a more authentic life", I do wonder if I hadn't got sidetracked into a completely inauthentic one.  So while I still have money to live off, I mean to commit myself properly to trying again to live my way, not the racing-rat way.
It means being broke, of course, but hey, what the heck?  I have enough experience of that, goodness knows.  I know a few coping tricks.
Secondly, I've had a bit of a movie-wallow lately.  This is because I'm trying to relax my brain in the evenings and entering into someone else's story helps me do that.
I had been looking forward to "The Huntsman - Winter's War" as I do love a good fantasy and a fairy tale reimagined for an adult audience.  Unfortunately I thought it was pretty to look at but dreadfully incoherent in script terms.  It has some good special effects, lots of Chris Hemsworth in leather, an outstandingly nonsensical plot and Nick Frost, Sheridan Smith and Rob Brydon as sarcastic dwarves.  There are a couple of characters who appear to be going to be important, but who then play no further role (or even get wiped out), and enough plot holes to bring down a house.   Not much else one can say about it.  It passed the evening easily enough once I'd switched my brain off.  Harmlessly entertaining twaddle which at least concludes that even for those who've been trained all their lives never to love anyone, in the end love will find a way.  That's got to be something, right?
"Jane got a gun" on the other hand I thought was excellent.  

It's had a pretty chequered career en-route to our cinemas, and some of the reviews I've seen were more interested in rehashing this history and licking their lips over it than in the film itself.  Particularly galling was the one that referred to the film as "Natalie Portman's vanity project"; grrr!  So the male co-author also plays one of the leads (extremely well, I might add, but still...) but it's a personal vanity project for the female lead?  Shame on you, reviewer-who-shall-be-nameless. 
"Jane got a gun" boasts very good performances by all the leads, great New Mexico locations, great photography, a strong script and a powerful climactic gun-battle in a beseiged farmhouse.  It doesn't fudge the brutality of post-bellum frontier life, but allows its characters to hold on to their humanity and make credible choices when they do the right thing.  I'm a big fan of Natalie Portman and I thought she was really excellent as the eponymous heroine, a capable frontierswoman who is formidably strong, morally decent, and refreshingly rounded and vulnerable, while the ever-watchable Joel Edgerton is terrific as the former fiance she turns to for help.  Noah Emmerich is also very good as Jane's dying husband, a hard man who has found a modicum of redemption and is allowed the grace of living by it to the end.  An almost-unrecognisable Ewan MacGregor has a whale of a time being utterly vile as the main antagonist.  
Love finds a way here, too, but grittily and painfully, and with regrets and compromises and losses on the way.  So my advice on this one would be to ignore those sniffy reviews; this is an intelligent slow-burn western with a marvelous heroine, and it's well worth seeing.
That's the two films I saw in the cinema; now on to the ones I saw at home last night.
"Love comes to the executioner"; good grief, what a weird movie.
It's almost rather good; but it has a hopelessly rambling shaggy-dog story of a plot, and it never settles on a consistent tone.  The leading man seemed a bit non-plussed by things a lot of the time, too.  It was if he was channeling Jim Carrey but without having Carrey's unnerving fusion of mania and repressed pain; leaving the poor lad just gurning furiously through too many scenes.  The story and the script kept slipping between genres, moving between sick jet-black comedy and light screwball comedy, with occasional forays into "angst-ridden small-town poverty".  That interplay of different tones of comedy is ferociously difficult to pull off - even Billy Wilder didn't always manage it - and sadly this doesn't quite get it right. 
I was only watching it for one reason, of course.  I'm a Renner fan.  And Jeremy Renner is very, very good in this.  To be honest, he completely unbalances the film; his performance is so real and assertive and raw it's as though he's fallen in through the floor from another, darker, better, more bitter prison movie happening on an upper storey.  The "dead man walking" scene made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
So, my verdict on this would be, see it for Renner, but don't expect much of the film itself.
And finally, because I couldn't get to sleep after that; the 2004 "King Arthur", which popped up as a late-night offering on (I think) Channel 5.  Corblimey, what a farrago.
I liked the idea of a movie based on a possible historical basis for the King Arthur story.  I love trying to winkle out threads of real history deep in the weave of legend, so this could have been just my cup of tea (sorry, terrible mixed metaphors there!).  But oh dear; such fabulous locations, so much money spent on fake snow, and such a good cast.  And what a mess of burnt porridge at the end of it. 
There were so many things that just didn't work, and so many that looked thrown in for the hell of it.  Roman soldiers did not fight with mediaeval broadswords.  The Saxons did not invade via Scotland.  The withdrawal of the legions was over half a century before the date this story was supposedly set in.  I don't think anyone, even the Chinese, had trebuchets in the 5th century.  The classic Arthurian names - Lancelot, Gawain and so forth - just don't work taken out of their Romance period and dumped wholesale into the very early Dark Ages.  And where the hell did all that tar come from?  And where the hell did all the corpses go?  And why did they all go to the seaside for the final wedding scene?
And Keira Knightley's bust seemed to keep changing size, which was a tad bizarre. 
And so on, and so on.
The very good cast tackled underwritten and cliched roles manfully and womanfully, and they all looked great wearing their improbable mixed-period armour and wielding their anachronistic weapons.  They were paying their mortgages and keeping their kids in shoe leather, and they were all doing a sterling & professional job of it.  Thanks to them, it wasn't so bad as to make me give up; but it was not good.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Wildest dreams

Re my post yesterday; my inner doubting voices could not have been more wrong.

It takes a while to get by public transport from where I live in Chiswick all the way out to Brunel University.  It was raining when I got on my first bus, and I sat looking out at Ealing, Southal, Hayes and so on and feeling a kind of resigned calm with just a tinge of excitement.  But by the time I got off the second bus and walked up the road, the sun had come out.  I bumped into Alan, our club armourer (very nice older gent), who showed me where to go, and in no time I was registering with the judges and heading into the women's changing room to get my kit on.

I took longer than I should have done to get changed because I got right the way to putting on the last item, the metalised over-vest called a lame, before I realised I'd forgotten to change my bra.  Fond though I am of my favourite Wedgwood-blue embroidered net push-up bra, I do know it's not suitable for sporting activities (at least, not the kind carried out in a sports hall).  So I had to set-to and strip off again, to exchange it for the comfortable solidity of a Shock Absorber.

By the time I got down into the hall we were ready to begin; and I promptly won my first bout.

Altogether I fenced nine bouts in the first round, which is handled in groups called poules; we fought, then swapped round the groups, so that every fencer fights every other contestent in their poule.  Then a ranking is created from that.  I won two and lost seven, but I scored hits in all but two of the bouts I lost, and twice I only lost by one point.  I was immensely satisfied with this; it was far more than I had hoped to achieve.  That brought us to lunchtime.

Then after lunch the rankings were posted, and to my astonishment I had been ranked sixth out of the women.  I was through to the quarter finals.  Me.  This was beyond my wildest dreams; to quote a favourite movie line, inconceivable...

Yes, it was just an inter-club friendly match.  But it was a competition, and for everyone taking part it felt pretty serious.  Including me, astonished beyond belief as I was.

Quarter finals onwards are played as direct elimination, and I lost to the ladies' third seed; but I managed to land a few hits even on her, so my honour is more than satisfied.

Heck, my honour is in a delighted state of shock. 

I am now home.  I'm completely shattered.  I'm aching all over.  I have interesting new bruises.

And I am ludicrously happy.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

I must be mad, the voices say...

I can't remember if I've mentioned this here before - since I've been having a bad fit of laxity and not blogging much lately, probably not.  Back in January, I took up fencing.

I'm not very good, I've only won three bouts so far and every week I come home from the club with a new set of bruises.  But I'm loving it.  So a few weeks ago, in a fit of I-know-not-what kind of insanity, I put my name down for a Novices' Foil competition.  It's just a friendly, between London Saxons, the club I've joined, and Brunel University.  It's tomorrow.

I'm now neck-deep in nerves.  I have literally never done any kind of sporting contest in my life before.  Back in my schooldays I was always one of the last people to be picked for anything - team captains would choose almost anyone else before me.  I was overweight and short-sighted and clumsy, I couldn't run and I couldn't throw, hit or catch a ball.  I let the side down in PE every single week.  When I was finally able to stop doing Games at the age of fifteen, I cut up my PE shirt ceremonially for cleaning rags.

I realised back in the autumn that I needed to find some way of getting more exercise, and began looking for something I would actually enjoy enough to be motivated to keep it up.  Since all the problems with running, throwing etc still persist, and I still cringe at the memory of my competitive streak being crushed by Miss Goldsmith yelling "You're not trying!" at me week after week while I tried my bloody damnedest, I looked for something where I wouldn't be part of a team, and would be able to measure against myself.  And where I wouldn't need to hit, throw, run, etc.

Managed most of it.  I do have to hit; but a person, not a ball.

The other club members are friendly, and by taking my shyness firmly in hand each week I have managed to start getting to know some of them a bit.  Most of them are much sportier types than me, but they are all very pleasant people, and although I'm not the rugby-going or rugby-playing sort I feel welcomed by those who are, which is a first.  And the fencing itself, I love.

It's hard to explain.  It's a whole-body, whole-mind sport.  I have to be completely focussed on the moment; I have to be working on technique, posture, balance, speed, strength and agility, and also thinking tactically, and trying to second-guess my opponent's tactics, and respond to what is happening when I have just a split second to see and analyse their moves.  Mostly I get it wrong.  But every failure teaches me something, and I come away each week totally exhilerated.  Exhausted, yes; running in sweat and aching all over.  But so happy I'm walking on air.

So, this contest.  All my inner voices are telling me I must have lost my marbles, whatever was I thinking of, etc.  I never compete.  I never sign-up for anything like this.  What on earth possessed me?

I know they are the voices of nervousness, because I'm doing something new.  I know that letting that kind of formless, past-experience-exaggerating anxiety get the better of me is self-defeating and dangerous.  I know it isn't madness to have done this.  But I'm still terribly tense about it.

My last bout on Thursday was with a fencer with over a year's more experience than me, and I came within a couple of hits of beating her.  She congratulated me at the end of the bout on how much I've improved.  It was the best possible encouragement before this contest, and I came away feeling full of light and ready for anything.  That is the feeling I need to remember tomorrow.

I am just a beginner still;  I will be knocked out in the first round.  But if I can score a few hits and learn something from the experience of competing than I will have achieved more than I've ever done in any sport; I will have taken part in an actual honest-to-god competition.  Me, taking part.  And that is a victory in itself.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Another five-star review for "The Charcoal Knots" on Amazon...

Thank you, Amazon shopper Otiselevator, whoever you are, for sharing your thoughts; there's nothing like a good review to warm a writer's heart.

"Arty S&M, you'll submit to its charms.
An all too brief but erotic and intriguing story which left this reader panting for more. You're significantly raising the bar for other writers here Imogen and I hope the sequel comes to fruition very soon. By turns romantic and stimulating it outstrips (no pun intended) a certain global bondage success story within a few pages. A sexy novella written by someone with literary ability and knowledge of creative artistry, not to mention a vivid imagination....whatever next?"