Monthly Archives: November 2012

Not the Leveson Report

I originally intended to write this blog on the Leveson report. I opened it, flicked through the pages, and after seeing the sheer heft of the mere table of contents, decided that it was probably not worth it.

Instead, I intend to invite you to my own smug little world as I cope with the giddy aftermath of discovering one of my articles in print for the first time. Of course, I’ve been in school and college publications- but they’re not exactly Focus magazine, are they?

Before I had even bought my copy of November’s Focus magazine from WHSmith’s, I had my nose between the pages. I walked to the counter, tossed some coins across, wandered out into the cold, realised it was cold and wandered into MenKind, where eventually I found what I was looking for. I then proceeded to pretend to browse as I attempted to cork my bubbling excitement.

Really,  I had no idea that my article was going to end up in print. I had felt that perhaps the Focus team were just being kind when they told me of the possibility, and that it was an outcome generally reserved for those better than I. In actuality, I desperately wanted a print article to spice up my portfolio for the benefit of any potential employers and/or admissions tutors.

Still, there it was. My initial thought was to be incredibly pleased that they had spruced it up with a whacking great graphic. It looked beautiful and professional.

This is Focus magazine we’re talking about though. Of course it’s beautiful and professional. Now, and with a piece of paper to prove it, I am also beautiful and professional.

I knew I was going to be excited when I finally got an article into print. I just didn’t realise how excited. I also didn’t realise how desperately dull it would be for everyone who knows me.

If I were a trainee surgeon, and I showed people all the operations I’d managed to blag my way into doing with the aim of perfecting my craft, it would be laughable. So why am I surprised that nobody’s asked to borrow my copy of November’s Focus?

I’m sorry that I’m boring, that I love a job I don’t even have yet and that I want to ruin your day with all the awful details. I really am.

Still- I’m in print!


Masterpiece of Understatement

I must admit, immediately, that the title of this piece comes from an article by BBC Sport’s chief football writer, Phil McNulty.

As much as I despise bad writing, there is a part of me that is slightly overwhelmed by just how beautiful good writing can be. Beautiful writing is common in fiction- almost as common as dross. It might even be more appropriate in fiction than in non-fiction. Fiction is supposed to transport you, deviate you from the repetition of your daily cycle. Non-fiction is supposed to be fact.

Facts are dull. They are dry. They are true, so they are boring, prompting certain newspapers to reject fact in favour of rather more entertaining speculation. That’s bad journalism, and it’s not good for us.

I really can’t express how amazing the following sentence made me feel:

“To suggest that Benitez’s arrival to succeed Roberto Di Matteo has not been received with universal acclaim by Chelsea’s supporters is to offer up a masterpiece of understatement.”

Isn’t it glorious? If you said that out loud, you’d have to pop a monocle in and hold a pipe to the corner of your mouth to stabilise yourself.

What’s more, it’s true, and that makes it so much better. Yes, I do despise Benitez- I pitied Liverpool for keeping him as long as they did. He’s the managerial equivalent of swimming with lead weights around your ankles.

This Sunday, Stamford Bridge will be livid. The Matthew Harding stand will most likely be alight with fury. The West Standers, of course, will sip their caviar, spread their champagne on crackers, and wonder what all the fuss is about, but that’s what you get from ten years of being a billionaire’s favourite toy.

The fact is, eight years ago, every single Chelsea fan fell in love with a man. He wore a long grey coat, and he did it so much better than Roberto Mancini. He was handsome, and had a way of speaking that made us all quite giddy. He was controversy embodied, a megalomaniac rumoured to have hidden in a laundry basket just to dictate the flow of a cup final from which he was banned.

He probably didn’t, but in our dreams he did. Four years after his dismissal, following the unfortunate omelette incident, the name of Jose Mourinho is still sung by Chelsea fans. Every time Roman gets sick of the latest manager, every one of use crosses his fingers that he still has Jose’s number.

We miss him terribly.

In contrast, Rafael Benitez is a balding, bespectacled, chubby man. He enjoys zonal marking, which is dull. Where Mourinho had masculine stubble, Benitez sports a beard which can probably be found in a joke shop. Where Mourinho was sharply dressed, Benitez is more practical, which is all very lovely and sensible, but since when do football fans love people for being sensible? Since when does anyone?

The final nail in the coffin for Benitez is the fact that he used to manage Liverpool, and managed them when they were quite successful. On the back of some repugnant cheating by famous ginger Xabi Alonso, Chelsea were kicked out of a Champions’ League which was rightfully theirs, leaving it to Inter Milan to cock up the final and let Liverpool win.

As a result, Benitez and Mourinho don’t get on. To explain what that means, Andre Villas Boas didn’t get on with Mourinho either. He didn’t do very well- probably something to do with the older players’ ability to send text messages to Spain, but probably more to do with receiving replies.

Rafael Benitez could manage Chelsea to the four remaining trophies of the season, and I’d still want him to go at the end of the interim. I’d want him to go because I’d believe it to be a fluke, knowing him, as all Chelsea fans do, as a mediocre manager who has been unemployed for two years.

I hated Phil Scolari with a passion. I can’t even say I care that much about Benitez.

Beautiful journalism is a brilliant idea. Facts aren’t dull. Facts actually mean something. The words “masterpiece of understatement” spoke to me in a way that an epic poem never could. They spoke the truth.

NaNoWriMo Week 3

Subtitle: the end of the road.

Yes, I know, it’s tragic, I’m rubbish, I’m just giving up and I ought to be ashamed of myself.

Last Friday, my cat died. I then took a two-and-a-half hour car journey all night to visit my parents, who I never see, and spent Saturday in a muddy field watching my first, and I can only hope my last, game of rugby. On Sunday I watched Skyfall, which I know is all very fun, and then got back into the car for another 150 minute journey, which was clearly not.

I know. Excuses, excuses. I could have let everyone else go to the cinema without me, while I forced out 1667 words. Maybe I shouldn’t have even visited my parents.

On Monday, I came down with a cold. I know, pathetic, isn’t it? A cold. It doesn’t matter that my sinuses were agonising. That I couldn’t sleep at night. That I had three deadlines that week, not to mention that my entire Wednesday would be swallowed up by work training.

People get colds every year. It’s not the ‘flu. It’s not even food poisoning. It doesn’t matter that when I sneeze or cough particularly hard, my ribcage slams down into my abdomen, behind bits of body that it should definitely not be behind. It’s just a cold. You can’t stop writing a novel just because you’ve got a cold.

When I started this, I knew it was ambitious. I knew I was busy. I just didn’t realise how busy.

This morning, I tried coming into university to finish captioning my work. I knew it shouldn’t take more than an hour, but still I left with plenty of time. There was a traffic incident on the way in, which delayed me by 40 mins.

I then had a run-in with a particularly unpleasant little man.

I won’t give you the details, but he was a complete stranger, who was petty, aggressive and belittling. I didn’t give him the satisfaction of breaking me there and then, but as I walked away, I started to panic. Hyperventilating and crying, the reality of how hard I have been working hit me.

There’s a challenge, and then there’s martyrdom. Goodbye, NaNoWriMo. Maybe we’ll meet again someday. But this is not my year.

This doesn’t mean I’ll never write a novel. I will. Try and stop me.

NaNoWriMo Week 2

Basically, it’s not gone well.

I’m writing on paper, so I have no idea where I’m up to, which is not the most encouraging feeling. I tend to underestimate how much I’ve written, leading me to believe that I’m doing far worse than I am. I didn’t write anything at all on Tuesday.

Also, I live in a world of lab reports, presentations, cooking, ironing, job applications, washing up and the occasional meal at Nando’s. These are all inescapable lifey things that I cannot ignore just because it’s November.

My dreams have been glorious. And third-person. Last night I dreamt about two brothers, who had taken each other’s identity before one of them was killed in a freak accident, leaving the younger brother stuck with the identity of the older brother. Many years later, he finds out about a mad old aunt who is rich and dying, and will naturally leave all her money to the older brother. Meanwhile, the older brother still has a presence in the real world in the form of a small dog who can communicate telepathically with his brother but nobody else. The dog-brother is unaware, therefore, that he (and in turn his children) would have inherited the money, and the living brother needs to make a moral decision.

Unfortunately, this rather original supernatural tale set in the 1920s English countryside is not my novel. My novel is far more trite, unoriginal and obvious, despite the fact I put a lot more thought into it. I’ll just have to save it for next year.

I don’t want to give up, but I may have to accept the fact that completing this novel is not a feasible reality. I am just busy, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Except there are moments. Odd little pieces of day I can tap into. Waiting for things.

That’s why I’m on paper. My laptop is the size of well, my lap, and seeing as I’ve already got one of those I don’t need to be carrying another one around. Whereas my notebook (papery thing, not electricky thing) fits snugly into my bag, no problem. Yes, my word count is all wrong, but is that what matters?

My target, in words, was 50k to win, and 60k to win well. At 8304 words, I know I’d written 55 sides of handwritten A5. I know I’ve now written 66. My estimate, therefore, is 9965 words, around 5000 under par.

But that doesn’t matter. As long as I keep trying, that’s the main thing. I’m eventually going to type it up, but for now I’m sticking to pen and ink, and estimating 150.981818181 words per side. Which, although conveniently near a nice round 150, I will ignore. I’m not the sort of person who rounds numbers to make them easier.

My equivalent target for 50,000 words is 332 pages. To make 60k, I’d have to make that 398. I don’t know if it’s doable, and frankly I don’t care. It’s my target, and if I miss it, I’ll still have done alright.

I’ve never got anywhere near writing a novel. I love a bit of dialogue, but hate moving the story along. I’m a self-conscious narrator, despite how often I love to drivel on about my own experiences via a blog. I’ve been writing the same novel since I was ten years old, and due to the sheer number of revisions, narrative voice shifts, main character changes, deleted scenes and, on occasion, major premise alterations, it’s no nearer completion than it was on the day ten years ago I announced to my family, seated on my grandmother’s patio, that I was going to be a writer.

I didn’t realise then just how right I was.

NaNoWriMo Week 1

This year, I take on NaNoWriMo for the first time. I am in my final year of university, trying to find a job, applying for journalism diplomas and cooking all my own food. So maybe now isn’t the time. But that’s the point.

NaNoWriMo, if you didn’t know, is an annual writing challenge- to screw 50,000 words of novel out of your guts before the end of November. It is not supposed to be easy. In fact, it’s supposed to be rather tricky.

To complete NaNoWriMo then, in a year already quite jammed with challenges, would be an incredible achievement. The excitement has been unbelievable.

In the closing days of October, with my plot identified and a working title at hand (if rubbish), I was itching to get going. Never having done this before, I was desperate to begin as I had no idea how things were going to go once I got into November.

Was I going to forget everything? What if I couldn’t squeeze 50,000 words out of the idea I had? What if my idea was just plain rubbish?

Now it’s November. Got 2469 words down, and a long way to go. I’d love it if you wished me luck.

Day one was harder than expected, which sounds stupid considering it’s supposed to be a challenge. I guess I just looked at that first blank page for ages and willed it to write itself. By about half eleven, it was clear that it wasn’t going to happen and I was going to have to take the lid off my pen.

Where was all the enthusiasm I’d had in the closing days of October? All the brilliant ideas that had kept me awake at night?

They were hiding in my head. See, there’s just something about an empty notebook (or a new word document, for those of you who have accepted the trappings of the 20th century). It’s ready. It’s clean. The only thing a writer of capable of doing at this point is ruining it.

To kick off, I wrote: “NaNoWriMo 2012 – Vague Plot”.

Notebook happily ruined, I got on with it, and wrote nearly 2500 words on day one.

This challenge is a lovely idea, but I might be irritable, inkstained and reclusive for the next four weeks. And then triumphant. Very triumphant.

I have a confession. I’m not actually aiming for 50,000 words. 50,000 words isn’t technically a novel. I’m aiming for 60,000 words. At this rate, I’ll be done on the 25th.

Yeah, right.