Warning – editor at work

I would show you a real page from my manuscript, but there would be way too much red ink (source: writerwin.com)

I would show you a real page from my manuscript, but there would be way too much red ink (source: writerwin.com)

I’ve not blogged recently as I’ve been on holiday for the past couple of weeks. This will amuse a number of my friends who are convinced that I’m always on holiday; that my days are spent with my feet up, watching two perfectly behaved boys entertain each other, or effortlessly churning out reams of text whilst sunning myself on a hammock. What a charmed life us stay at home Dads / struggling writers lead.

Anyway, before we left for the wonderful coast of North Wales , I had finished the latest edits of my manuscript based on alpha reader feedback. I was really pleased with the changes I’d made (I’d had excellent, no holds barred feedback), and was convinced that the book wasn’t too far away from being publishable. In a last-minute moment of inspiration, I saved the book onto my iPad to read while I was away.

This was a mistake.

The first evening, tired after our seven hour drive, I went to bed early looking forward to reading my book. After 15 minutes I felt like throwing my iPad out of the window. It was terrible. The story was good but the prose was clunky. There were also many grammatical errors (for example,  I’d started the second chapter in present tense, only to move back to past tense half way through). Rather than being an enjoyable read, my manuscript was an instrument of torture. I couldn’t understand it. How had I been so pleased with this disaster?

The answer was simple. I’d not given my manuscript the respect it deserved. I’d not read it as a whole for months. I’d been too busy concentrating on individual plot points, accentuating themes and drawing out character traits that I’d lost focus on the prose and the flow. With each edit, I’d increased errors and introduced jarring inconsistencies of style. What was worse, I couldn’t do anything about it. I stopped reading for my sanity’s sake.

Keep the meat and remove the dross - how to edit in the kitchen (source: blogs.kqed.org)

Keep the meat and remove the dross – how to edit in the kitchen (source: blogs.kqed.org)

As soon as I got home, I printed my manuscript out and – pen in hand – started reading it through. I’ve been reading each sentence out loud, to hear any inconsistencies before honing and tightening like a dervish. Then, at the end of each chapter, I’ll read it out again as a whole. Finally, as I type the changes into Scrivener, I’ll have a third chance to improve on the original. My trusty pen has been paring and filleting like a Michelin starred Chef. This time I’ve not settled for good enough, and the process is taking some time, but 100 pages in I’m very happy with how it’s going (only another 350 to go).

What this does mean, is that I’ll be cutting back on the blogging until I finish. I’ll try to commit to one blog a week, but no promises. I hope you all understand, but if you don’t, well, so be it. However, if you do decide not to return, you’ll never get to hear the tale of how I was outsmarted by a fly….

Disclaimer: Any grammar or spelling mistakes in this blog are deliberate. It’s called irony.*

* I may be lying

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This be the word

20130812-205221.jpg

Many congratulations to the English cricket team for winning the Ashes again! I’m on holiday this week, so I haven’t written anything, but as a long standing fan of a certain small, ginger English batsman I read this opening to the Guardian OBO coverage by John Ashdown and thought it was so good, I should share it with you. Enjoy!

There was a boy. And the boy was doubted.

Over time, the boy became a man. Many runs did He score and many times voices were raised to proclaim His centuries, bringing great joy to His people. And yet still He was doubted.

Some called Him king. The doubters did not call Him king. The doubters saw flaws, His followers saw a man of their ilk, human in His fallibility. The doubters saw weakness, His followers saw a different kind of strength, one that echoed their own path. The doubters spat bile, His followers lifted their shields to deflect those words of hate, and the hate was turned upon them. Though they were few, His followers were bold and had great courage. They bowed their heads and braved the taunts and the endless torture of the beast Magraa in 2005, replayed not on televisions but upon the very plasma screens of their souls.

Springs followed winters. Summers followed springs. Leaves lived and fell. Years passed.

And lo, the Ashes of 2013 began. And lo, He did put the Australian bowlers to the sword with many runs. And the voices were raised in proclaimation to bring the good news of His centuries to the people of the land. Many did flock to the colosseums to see His blade flash and dab down to third man for a couple. The oversized Oompa Loompas, the Bananamen, the Flintstones, the Priests, the Borats, the Super Marios, the Scooby-Doos and Smurf after Smurf after Smurf did lift many a plastic glass in His honour.

And with each run carved into the rock of history did His doubters begin to turn their doubt upon themselves. Their eyes grew afeared as they saw what He had become. But so deep was their doubt that in the dark crevasses and cracks of their hearts they doubted still.

At last He came to the river side. And He did fail. And even those who had never given up hope shook their heads with grief and knew in their hearts that this indeed was a bloody shocking shot quite frankly. They bowed their heads. When they lifted them they saw through the tears the smiles of the doubters, their jagged teeth shining through oily jaws. And this filled their hearts with pity. And with anger. And with that they knew. They knew they still believed. They knew they still had faith.

And lo, they did come to the second dig. His comrades did fall. The sky grew black. But He did not fall. One by one they abandoned in the face of furious attack. But he did not wilt, nor did he fall to his knees and beg for the mercy of the good lord DRS. He stood. And He stood. And He stood. Until at last, with a ropey front foot prod forged from the fires deep within His soul, He made the voices of His people rise once more. For again He was a centurion.

The doubters scattered, bereft and broken. Tears did fill their eyes. Some pleaded for forgiveness. Some donned masks. Some scuttled for the dark and the filth and were welcomed back with open arms that clawed the meat from their bones even as they embraced.

And all was quiet.

The scribes came to Him and they asked him for His words.
“It was,” He began, ” a good challenge out there.”
The scribes wrote his words on their tablets of metal and light, to be saved for the ages. But still they asked for more.
“I was pleased,” He boomed, “to score a century.”
He paused. Tapes whirred. Ink dripped. Breaths held.
“It was,” He said at last, “a good challenge.”
And the scribes were happy. For though he had no kingly words he had a kingly bearing and his with his actions he had shown he was indeed kingly.

The doubters were gone. And in their place grew hope. And the land rejoiced and sang His name.

And His name was Ian Ronald Bell.

Little Challenges

I recognise this (source:www.shopmasc.com)

I recognise this (source:www.shopmasc.com)

This morning, something miraculous happened: I had a shave without cutting myself.  Well, when I say not cutting myself I mean not cutting myself badly enough to need a little square of tissue paper to staunch the blood flow (I think I may be over-dramatising things with that phrasing, but you get what i mean.) You might think that after over twenty years of shaving, I should be more accomplished by now, but as any man who wet shaves will tell you, it’s not as simple as all that. Most days after shaving, I look as if I’ve just been thrown through a car windscreen.

As you may be able to tell, having a shave without cutting myself has made me very happy, not just because I have more iron rich blood travelling my veins than most mornings, but because it is one of my little challenges; the things I do to help make the day more interesting. Occasionally, like today, they come from every day tasks (although shaving for me  stopped being an every day task when I gave up work) but most of the time I make them up. Let me give you an example.

They haven't stopped, they are just moving forward very slowly.

They haven’t stopped, they are just moving forward very slowly. (source: sustainableexchange.wordpress.com)

Sometimes, when I drive, I try to do so without bringing the car to a complete stop until I get to my destination. I’ve driven over 300 miles in one go before without ever stopping. Even in towns. Traffic lights are a particular challenge. If the lights are red I slow down to a crawl and try to judge how much space I need between me and the car in front that will enable me to keep moving at the slowest possible speed before the lights turn green and the queue starts moving. Sad, isn’t it. Yet I get inordinately happy whenever I get it right. If you ever travel to Istanbul you will find the taxi drivers do the same thing, because if their wheels aren’t turning the meter doesn’t turn either.

Another little win when I was at work was to start my computer up, go downstairs, boil the kettle, make a cup of tea, then return, all before the computer had finished booting up. Another involves pasta. If I weigh out pasta I have to get to the target weight without stopping the flow prematurely, but I lose if I over-pour. This is particular challenging with electronic scales. I think you get the gist.

At this point I would just like to say that a part of me is dying inside telling you this.

So my question to you, my dear reader, is do you set yourself any little challenges, and if so, what are they? I’d really love to know, just so I don’t feel so alone.

Plus, I’m always looking for new ways to challenge myself…..

Petty domestic disputes No.7: Toys in the lounge

I can feel the blood pressure rising (source: nieniedialogues.blogspot.com)

Welcome home Daddy! (source: nieniedialogues.blogspot.com)

Picture the scene. You’ve been away from home for a few days, possibly longer. You are tired. The journey back has been longer than expected and you are a bit jet-lagged as you have been abroad – and it’s not as if you can sleep well in a hotel bed at the best of times. You open the front door and your children rush up, shouting your name as they throw themselves into your arms. It’s a great feeling, up there with the best moments of being a parent. You walk into the lounge, ready to sit down for five minutes and hear about what the kids have to say. Instead you just stand there open-mouthed.

The lounge looks like an explosion at Toys R Us. It takes all your dexterity to get to a seat without twisting your ankle and when you arrive, you find even more toys taking up the sofa space. Your blood pressure rises and before you know it you’re telling your kids to have a clear up. They stare at you, disappointment in their eyes as they remember how grumpy Daddy can be.

Now you might say I’m being unreasonable; children like to play with toys and what sort of monster would stop them from doing so? And you would be right, if the lounge was the only place they could play. But one of the reasons for buying our house was that on the ground floor it had a kitchen, lounge, dining room and conservatory, enabling us to eat in the conservatory and convert the dining room into a kids play room.

This never happens in our house

This never happens in our house

Can you imagine that, a whole room full of toys and books, with the space to play and make as much noise as you want? I would have loved to have had a play room when I was a kid. As we decorated the room I could see the scene in my head; our two boys playing nicely together in the play room while my wife and I relaxed in the lounge, the adult room. I’m so naïve.

For the majority of the day, the children’s play room is like a big storage unit. It’s where the children go to collect whichever of their (many, many) toys they want to play with and bring them into our lounge to play. When this first started happening I would shoo the kids back into the playroom, which would bring on the inevitable bout of tears; “how dare you force me to go into a room full of my toys to play, it’s so unfair. ” But my wife said I was being mean so we compromised ,and we now have the basket.

The basket is small – around 2 feet by 2 feet wide and 6 inches high – made of wicker and sits at one end of our lounge. When we started with the basket, the rule was that the only toys allowed in the lounge were those in the basket. For every new toy in, one went out. This seemed like a fair compromise. The kids could play in the lounge with those toys, but if they wanted to play with any other toys they had to either play in the play room or tidy away toys already in the lounge, ensuring the lounge wouldn’t get overrun. As I said, I’m so naïve.

Now that's what I call value for money (source: huffingtonpost.co.uk)

Now that’s what I call value for money (source: huffingtonpost.co.uk)

Over time, the basket started to resemble a salad bowl you see at a serve your self salad buffet. You know the ones I mean, where the bowl is very small and the people with a “bit more storage capacity than others” build up salad walls using carrots and cucumbers, increasing the bowls capacity so they can fill the middle with potato salad, coleslaw and croutons; all to be smothered by honey and mustard dressing. You know, the healthy option.

Now our lounge is just an annex of the play room. Despite my heroics in trying to get the kids to tidy their toys away each evening, they always miss something, usually something small and hard, which gets trodden on as you come downstairs to get a bottle of milk for the little one at 4:00am.

And, of course, in order to allow our children this privilege, we end up eating our meals in a furnace during the summer and a freezer during the winter.

That was until everything changed. The basket still remains in the lounge and it is still overflowing with toys. There are always toys scattered across the lounge and sofas. The difference, though, is that I am the one at home with the children and my wife is the one that travels. Yes, there are times when I would love for the boys to play in the play room for a while to give me a break, but most of the time I enjoy playing with them in the lounge. I’ve also developed partial blindness to the fact that toys remain scattered around the place. I’ve even developed a sixth sense to identify which areas to avoid on the early hours milk collections.

My wife, on the other hand, had a sort out of both the toy room and the toy basket the other day. I didn’t say a word.

Previous petty domestic dispute blogs in this series:

  1. Bed space
  2. The 6 a.m. watershed
  3. Food
  4. Houseplants
  5. Who changes the nappy
  6. Bed Linen

Storms over Suffolk

We had some amazing storms over Suffolk today. Well the storms themselves were pretty standard but I’ve never seen cloud formations like these before. Enjoy!

All photographs were taken on my iPhone and then enhanced using the Snapseed app to reflect what my eyes were seeing.

Storm clouds over Suffolk (©Dylan Hearn 2013)

Storm clouds over Suffolk (©Dylan Hearn 2013)

More storm clouds over Suffolk (©Dylan Hearn 2013)

More storm clouds over Suffolk (©Dylan Hearn 2013)