Friday, 31 October 2008

Act 3 sketched out - preliminary story completed

Not much more to write as I’m feeling quite exhausted after a very intense writing week (as well as busy half-term break).

What has been important in completing the first draft of the plot is that the ENTIRE plot from Act 1 through Act 2 to the climax in Act 3 hangs together and is credible. So, I’m fairly satisfied that 90% of the whole looks okay. Phew!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Exercising an Exercise Book

Whilst hoping to complete the entire first rough sketching of the novel by the end of the week, I’m beginning to think that I’ll break with my traditional writing processes. Rather that ‘write’ onto endless sheets of loose A4 paper I’m looking to write the story into an Exercise Book.

It will mean transcribing any of my A4 sheets into the book...and I hope that it will work well. Writing in an exercise book will be the first time that I’ve done anything like this since I was at school.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

2 major scenes written...and into Act 3

A large amount of my working/writing time in the past month – contrary to my blog scribblings –has been spent sitting (and standing), thinking deeply and deeper, staring at the wall opposite or through the window to my side and looking as if my mind’s possessed. I’ve always found this ‘idle’ part of writing paramount to the whole process – it’s a time when there’s no scratching of pencil on paper or clattering of computer keyboard, but a very silent formulative process that pushes the scene through my mental process. This is followed invariably by a burst of intense pencil on paper.

And so it was today when I suddenly internalised 2 crucial scenes and then scrawled the action and dialogue on paper – my writing is too slow to keep up with my thoughts.

One scene that I wrote out took place at the end of Act 1 where Bella meets Murphy – a very simple scene but critical as to the manner of their meeting and suggestive as to the future.

The second scene that I wrote out was the dénouement in Act 3 – a series of action sequences underscored by a good deal of emotion.

In the meantime, I was now well into roughing out Act 3, which still needs one or two plotpoints sorting out so that the whole story hangs together tightly.

Monday, 27 October 2008

My kinda town...London is

What a weekend! This was our first family visit to the great metropolis in 7½ years and we stayed with Mrs R’s little brother, his wife and 2 young children in rather nice Tulse Hill.

We arrived in London on Friday evening and found a city buzzing at the start of the weekend; whilst Saturday morning was a breezy, bright morning spent walking around autumnal Brockwell Park.In the afternoon it was a la recherché du temps perdu as drove the 2 or 3 miles up to Balham. What had been a run-down, seedy suburb in the 80’s and a villagey yet vibrant area in the 90’s has now been made over into a yuppified playground. And Mrs R and I were shocked and a little saddened.

Our arrival in Balham was met with a parking meter but also by our wonderful and unique postman, Cliff – much hugging and reminiscing of neighbours. We then walked around Balham and a few ‘old’ shops remained – second-hand books, hairdresser, Afro-Asian products, jeweller – but now there were also up-market restaurants and shops, Waitrose, As Nature Intended and numerous coffee bars!
Later we had tea with 2 sets of friends (way back from antenatal classes) and saw how their children had grown and developed and heard about the vicissitudes of local schooling.

The highlight of the weekend for me was waking up on Sunday morning – the sky was overcast and the drizzle was steady. My favourite evocation of London is rainy Sunday mornings – shivery, grey and peaceful apart from the sound of the rain. Oh joy!

Then we packed up and headed for South Kensington and the Natural History Museum via a wander along Knightsbridge. The museum was heaving, even at 10 in the morning, with half-term families and overseas visitors. Lunch was taken with my elderly and delightful aunt in Kentish Town, before we headed back up the motorway to Yorkshire again.

Both Mrs R and I reminisced about how little the atmosphere of London had changed and mooted how easily we’d like to live there again. The young Refugees had different ideas; they were – to a girl – steadfast in their desire to live in Great Bickering and away from the ugly, demon metropolis.

And my final conclusion about our visit – there IS a North-South divide.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

A crucial character: Act 2 roughed out

At the beginning of the week we, and then I, decided upon Murphy’s name. As the week has worked its way through and as I approached the start of Act 3 I thought it was important that I sort out which of the 3 children acts as a counterpoint to the introduction of Murphy. Originally, I had the feeling that I knew which of the 3 children should be; and so it has turned out to be BELLA who is to be inextricably linked to Murphy and the climax of Act 3.

As a result, I’ve managed to complete the rough sketching of Act 2 and, as we’re heading to London for the weekend, Act 3 beckons next week – with all the complexities of tying up ALL the loose threads.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

What's in a name?

The past 2 days have been spent working on Act which has romped along fairly well. But I also thought that now that Murphy had been named it was high time that the other family characters were given names.
And so I have the main players.....

NICK and KATE, and their 3 daughters - SARAH, BELLA and SCARLETT.

However, I realised that I didn't have a surname for the family - so, for convenience, I keep jotting the surname down as The Nickkates. Please read on, dear reader.......

Monday, 20 October 2008

A dog called...MURPHY

Yesterday (Sunday) we all sat down to Sunday lunch and I instigated a rather heated Refugees discussion about name of the dog at the centre of the story. Whilst we were tucking in, I instigated a SECRET ballot – I handed out little bits of paper to which everyone had to tick against..... name A, name B,
....ANOther dog name.
Unfortunately and sadly our dawgs were unable to vote.

I had instinctively gone for name A but I was interested in the Refugees’ opinions. When the secret ballot papers were returned to me – no Electoral College at Refugee Towers – we had a 4 to 1 majority for dog A being called MURPHY. (Dog B was Murdoch and Mrs R was the lone dissenting voice) And if anyone thinks that I may have nobbled the young refugees I have to say that they were not bribed by offers of strawberry laces or Green & Black’s choc or iphone!

I also have the title of the book but I can’t yet reveal it (as it will give away a lot away) so I’ll refer to the book just as ‘MURPHY’. I also have a visual of MURPHY (the dog, not the book title) as a lurcher-sheepdog-setter-mongrel, wirey but shaggy, with foxy yet floppy ears, black and charcoal and grey and cream with padded feet and twinkly eyes with a hint of steel!? But then again I do need some new glasses. But my trusted illustrator (Mrs R) may see him differently – yes, Murphy’s definitely male.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

More plotting - Act 1, and into Act 2 next week

I have taken nearly 3 days to roughly sketch out the basic intricacies of the plot and characters.

If the complexities of Act 1 are important to get right, then Act 2 should be a relative romp. With the Act 1 situation set and the characters hopefully well defined and the 6th character introduced and offering a twist, we can then be propelled forward into a rollercoaster of events throughout Act 2.

At the end of Act 2 the main 2 characters will reach a stage whereby their fate is linked irrevocably and must be resolved in Act 3. At the conclusion of sketching Act 1 I was fairly clear as to how this Act 3 resolution would occur, but there are some issues around Act 2/Act 3 that need surmounting.

I need a head-clearing weekend to sort out some novel issues.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

The basic plot starts to unfold - Act 1

With my small sheaf of A4 sheets with scrawled notes and my concertina paper laid out on my desk, I began to sketch out the preliminary plotline of the book.

As with previous screenplay plotting I envisage the story having 3 acts – in classic fashion. Act 1 is always the most difficult to get right; although I see the ‘situation’ clearly – London family transported to a totally different environment – there is a great deal to be set down in the matter of the various plotpoints and the secondary and extraneous characters to be introduced and explained.

Whilst the 5 family members – so far unnamed – are present in most scenes in Act 1 and can be introduced gradually, the minor characters are speedily introduced; at the same time the plot has to be pushed along when the 6th major character, the (as yet also unnamed) dog, is revealed towards the conclusion of Act 1.

As I wrote out each plot point in Act 1 I started to envisage each of the major characters in visual and verbal terms.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

The novel Family

With the 15 ‘chapters’ sketched out (on pages of A4) I’ve turned to the family at the heart of the story.

For reasons of a change of work circumstances, the (so-far unnamed) family moves from inner-city London to the wilds of the North Yorkshire Moors. They move into a dilapidated house in a small village and they struggle somewhat to settle into their new environment. That would be difficult enough but they then take on a pet, which completely turns their lives upside down.

The family includes 3 daughters (ages not yet fixed but in the range of 4 to 14), each with strong and different characters. Now, eagle-eyed readers might notice that The Refugees are a family of 5 with 3 young daughters), BUT....I wish to make it very clear that the novel’s family of 5 with 3 young daughters bears MINIMAL resemblance to my Refugees.

Monday, 13 October 2008

War is Hell, War Weekend is Purgatory

I really don’t want to publicise War Weekend any more than it’s received so far, but this year’s weekend was the worst that we’ve suffered. It wasn’t just the crowds – that seemed larger than ever, and the scale of events – that not only engulfed Great Bickering but also outlying villages - and the inconvenience of being hemmed in your street – I had to dismantle a barrier to collect two of the Refugees from York but....the pure scale of invasion of privacy by preening, self-satisfied, conceited WarWeekenders.

I’m not really against people dressing up in clothes for ‘fun’ but dressing up in military and quasi-military uniforms and pretending they’re clearly someone that they’re not, but.....some of the people who parade and flaunt themselves over this bizarre weekend are ripe for psychological evaluation. For example, why would anyone transform himself into a WW2 squaddie – with guns/grenades/ribbons/medals – or even a Nazi stormtrooper in FULL regalia? Rifles, grenades, Nazi insignia, ribbons, medals and more? This year the nearby town of Levisham was transformed into the French village of Le Visham and was then ‘captured’ by Nazis. What next year – a hospital full of amputees, the Luftwaffe strafing the railway station or even concentration camp victims!?

As a wonderful neighbour of ours – aged 94 – said to me yesterday, with great insight, “If there were a war this week, most of the people in this extravaganza would NOT want to be conscripted!”
I didn’t really want to include any photos but here are 3 examples....

On Saturday we were gridlocked for 4-5 hours as the ‘grand parade’ slowly snaked its way slowly through the town. Although the economy of the area is given a great financial fix by the influx of WW BUT the majority of Great Pickeringites dread the weekend, dislike the incomers and their gross behaviour and cannot wait for Monday...when the town returns to normal.

Now what do we do next year for War Weekend? Get out of town!!!

Friday, 10 October 2008

The horrors of War Weekend

Mayday! Mayday!
Our little town of GB is under siege from an army of GI’s, Tommys, Home Guard, Land Girls, Spivs, Coppers and Nazis! Great Bickering has a population in the region of 7000 but the hordes our pouring in to quadruple the number to about 30,000. If only there was someone, somewhere – of the stature of Mr Churchill – who could save us from the horrors of War Weekend!

Every year that we’ve lived in Great Bickering we have wishes that we were anywhere else but Great Bickering. This year we’ve failed again and we’ll have to tolerate the vehicles, the armoury and large number of people in a variety of uniforms completely taking over our town.

This morning whilst taking our girls to school I noticed a couple – man in army uniform, woman as a nurse – and their 2 children about 7 and 10 also in 40’s clothing. Why weren’t their children at school? And the main question.....just how bad will this year’s event be?

Thursday, 9 October 2008

I love concertina computer paper

I am a literary luddite, and fairly happily so.

From my first sketch for Newsrevue in 1983, through sketches for radio and TV, via stand-up material for a couple of stand-up comedians, through episodes for a radio sit-com to a script doctor job on a screenplay, my physical act of writing method has not changed.

My desk contains.......
An A4 pencil – HB or H – which is regularly sharpened by my invaluable Westcott iPoint electric pencil sharpener. The pencil is always topped off with a perfectly weighted waving Jesus. When the pencil is sharpened down to about 3 inches it is then discarded. Definitely NOT biro or gel-pen and never straight into a computer!
A rubber eraser – preferable long and thin, which is now difficult to find. Definitely NOT a plastic eraser!
A stack of (used/scrap) A4 paper. And NEVER prisitine double-sided blank A4 paper.
A smaller stack of A4 concertina computer paper.

For me, born in the 50’s, there is something very early-years about writing in PENCIL on PAPER.
I started using concertina computer paper when I wrote my first, optioned screenplay: as the story unfolds so the story unfolds chronologically unfolds on concertina paper to reveal a wavy flow charting plot, characters and some snippets of dialogue. As the days and weeks stretch out a very ‘rough’ draft of concertina paper is replaced by a more ordered draft of concertina paper. And so it goes until I might have discarded 3 or 4 drafts. The final draft will then be used as a template from which to write the script.

Whereas the plotting stage may take 6-10 weeks, the first written draft of the script may take only 4-6 weeks. This may go through 3 or 4 improved drafts before transposing the script to computer using the best screenplay software - Movie Magic Screenwriter; though, in this case, for the novel, I’ll be using Microsoft Word software.


Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Précising the chapters

The perceived literary wisdom is to...’write from experience’. Over the past 25 years that has not always been my experience. Whether writing stand-up material or satirising material for sketches I can recall that this was often a matter of extrapolating or inverting situations and stereotypes to make the comedy work.

This book throws up a couple of problems:
1. A great deal of the novel will come directly from my/our personal experience.
2. As I mentioned in last Friday’s blog I was never enthusiastic and confident about novel-writing, so I’m not sure how I can and will handle writing narrative.
These factors will become evident in the weeks ahead.

For now, I have 5 main (human) characters, I have a location, I have 15 chapter treatments and a nameless dog. This was followed by expanding upon the situations into a plotline for each chapter. This takes the form of staring at blank sheets of A4 along with intense thought whereby images and some dialogue formulate and then play like a film in my mind. Once an image or idea is transfixed and therefore feels right I go over it again and start to write sketchily and very fast – appending each idea or plotpoint with character notes and/or snippets of dialogue.

At this stage I’m fairly amazed, and quite heartened, that so much of the story is coalescing easily and quickly. My little grey cells seem to be in good physical shape.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

A change of literary plan

Having thought extensively and made copious notes I’ve realised that the plotline is pregnant with further possibilities in the way of characters, scenes and dialogue.

So....much as I’d like to hand over lots of IOU’s to Mrs R for her possible full-colour and full-page illustrations, I’ve decided to alter and expand the form of the book. I now see that I have the fragments of a story that would be more suited to a children’s novella. In fact, I’ve now written out 15 thin sketches that would equate to 15 chapters – along with one or two illustrations per chapter. After all, one needs to feed a few of one's financial crumbs to one’s illustrator.

One of Mrs R’s recent works.....

Saturday, 4 October 2008

And the title of my book is...

...Undecided. No, ‘Undecided’ is NOT the book title. I just haven’t decided the title from 3 or 4 provisionals, especially as one of the titles would be a dead giveaway.

Initially, I imagined that the book would be in the form similar to Shirley Hughes’s excellent books – e.g. Dogger, the Alfie series. Hughes’s books have intricate and colourful illustrations along with a fairly simple narrative.

My book has a simple plot that revolves around a family in North Yorkshire whose life is dramatically changed when they rescue a rather unique dog.

Friday, 3 October 2008

What, me, write a book!? With my literary reputation?

I’ve been a fully paid-up member of the Writer’s Guild for 25 years now but the ‘Yorkshire years’ haven’t quite covered my membership fees and literary lunches at The Groucho Club. So, I can’t really write that I’ve been a proper writer for a while now. All things must change.

For my 12 years writing comedy sketches for stand-up, theatre, radio and TV I was often asked if I wrote books. To which a reply might be...”What me, write a book!? Not so jolly likely!” It’s a mantra I’ve continued to repeat....until recently. And now......

Having mentioned at the beginning of the summer that I intended to write 'Murphy the ******' today is the day to put pencil to paper in earnest.

So, I’ll begin to blog the progress of 'Murphy', whilst also reflecting upon my southerner-up-north posts.