Wednesday, October 31, 2007

my november novel

Nothing to do with Halloween, but the last day of October is a worrying moment. For November is Nanowrimo month!

"NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is a creative writing project originating in the United States in which each participant attempts to write a 50,000 word novel in a single month. Despite the name, the project is now international in scope" states their Wikipedia entry.

If you've ever done a Creative Writing course, you'll find the idea of National Novel Writing Month a bit startling. For here the emphasis is on quantity not quality. Can you write a 50,000 word short novel in four weeks? That's about the length of a slim paperback novel. (Not one of those thick blockbusters you buy at the airport.)

The term "winner" is a bit misleading here - this isn't a contest and there aren't actually any prizes. Chris Baty of San Francisco started the whole thing in 1999 with 21 participants. From there, it's gone from strength to strength - nearly 80,000 participants registered in 2006, with almost 13,000 completing their novels (word total for all participants in 2006 was 982,564,701!)

Participants need to write an average of 1,667 words per day, which is about two and a half pages, single-spaced, in a 12 pt font. Now I am a trained touch typist and I could type that standing on my head. But actually creating a story as you type at that speed? That brings some of us out in a cold sweat.

I've taken part in it the last two years with mixed results. The first year I actually made it with a day to spare, which was just as well. I hadn't realised that different word-processors count words differently; my science fiction novel "Scorched by Darkness" was just under the 50,000 mark and I had to add a few more pages.

It was tiring but a satisfying experience.

The following year I ran into problems. I started off writing what I thought was a horror novel in the Stephen King mode and bogged down at the end of the first week because I was trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.

Eventually I decided what I was actually writing was a psychological thriller set in the television industry and it flowed along fairly well from there. Unfortunately I never made up the time I lost and in the end I missed the deadline by about two hours.

Nevertheless, I have a certain fondness for the resulting story "Carlton Marsden is dead"

So tomorrow I have to begin on my novel for this year. Two weeks ago I was worried about this, firstly because I didn't know if I was physically strong enough to do it, and secondly I didn't know what I was going to write about yet!

But the human mind is an amazing thing. Slowly the germ of a plot began to form and some characters came forward to volunteer. While I was shaving one morning I came up with the title - "Bernie Thompson's Unicorn is Missing" - and when I was walking the dog last night I thought of the whole first page.

And no, it's not a real unicorn. But it does play a vital part in the plot.

Wish me luck as I sit down at the keyboard at midnight tonight.

Monday, October 29, 2007

gone north

Last Saturday I got back from Bagdad in the late afternoon. Not Baghdad in Iraq. Bagdad the small town in central Tasmania.

My sister Julie had an invitation to go to the races up north that weekend, and she could get a lift with a friend of a friend if she could get to Bagdad.
It was a nice Spring day, so I didn't mind the drive. I wasn't quite so happy about my car -- the clutch is slipping and it doesn't like going uphill.
Usually we would have taken Julie's car and had mine repaired, but hers was already in dock. She was driving home one evening when the motor suddenly died and clouds of white smoke began billowing from the rear of the car.
Fortunately years of living in the modern world have given her the training to remedy this: she went on-line and bought a new engine.
But getting back to the trip north, I had to have a refresher course in looking after the animals. I ran through the mechanics of feeding the horse and the poultry morning and night, giving the dogs their dinner and keeping the cats happy.
"Every night, walk around the horse to check he doesn't have any injuries on his legs or flanks. Have a look at his eyes to make sure they're OK," she said. "And if one of the dogs dies, don't bury him till I get home."
I looked at her patiently. "How long are you going to be away? 36 hours? I'm sure everything will be all right."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Yin and Yang

Presented for your inspection, two aspects of the modern persona.

Part the first. My older sister Pauline had an unexpected visitor. A tradesman doing some work on the hotel she had owned years ago turned up on her doorstep. He had found some old photographs of her husband that had slipped down behind a wall and recognized him. So he brought them round to her.

Part the second. Driving home from Pauline's the night she told me about this, I saw a car coming towards me on the main road. He started to turn to the left and I assumed he was turning into a side road. Then he turned right. Then left again. Faster than it takes to describe, he shot past me zig-zagging along the white line in the middle of the street. He was either an expert driver or stoned out of his brain.

Part the third. What do those two people mentioned above have in common. One did something good for no reason except that he thought he should. Another did something reckless with no regard for anybody else. It would be easy to say that one was "good" and the other was not.

But maybe it would be more accurate to say that both were human. We have in us the capacity to help or to hurt others. All of us, like a Yin/Yang symbol, contain elements of both dark and light.

The difference between us, perhaps, is that some of us are trying to move from the dark towards the light.

And some of us aren't.

Thoughts from a late-night laptop.


If you like Red Skelton and/or black-and-white comedy thrillers this will suit you down to the ground. I first saw Whistling in the Dark 40 years ago and have finally located it on DVD. It was just as much fun this time. Directed by S. Sylvan Simon in 1941 with a screenplay written in part by Albert Mannheimer (producer Simon and screenwriter Mannheimer would later receive Oscar nominations for Born Yesterday in 1950).

The play it was based on opened on Broadway starring Edward Arnold and Claire Trevor on 19 January 1932 and had 265 performances.

Skelton plays Wally Benton, a radio broadcaster whose program 'The Fox' features himself in the title role as a crime solver. Conrad Veidt and some nefarious characters decide that ‘The Fox’ is just who they need to invent a perfect crime: a murder which will assist them in obtaining a one million dollar legacy. Ann Rutherford, Virginia Grey, and Rags Ragland play significant roles; Henry O'Neill and Eve Arden also appear.

To ensure The Fox's co-operation they also abduct his girlfriend Carol (Ann Rutherford) and his sponsor's daughter Fran (Virginia Grey).

One of the gang is sent to poison their target on an airliner while the dim-witted ex-boxer (Rags Ragland)is left to guard the trio. Wally, who actually is quite intelligent, works out that a severed phone line can be used in conjunction with a radio set to call for help.

With the help of his two lady friends, he calls in to his radio station and begins broadcasting the details of the crime in progress, including their kidnapping.
Rags is curious as to what they're doing but they convince him they're just pretending to broadcast as they do at that time every week and he good-naturedly goes along with it.

But, having been fooled by Orson Welles's "War of the Worlds" broadcast three years earlier, the local police chief thinks Wally's rantings are just another hoax!
Some of the early scenes also show how radio programmes were made in the early days: actors had to go on air live - twice, once for the East coast, and three hours later for the West coast. They performed, standing up, in front of a live audience. Sound effects men behind them watched for their cues, while the actors read from scripts.

This is all vastly entertaining -- the only way it could be improved is for Eve Arden to be given more screen time as Wally's agent instead of only appearing in the first reel.

Film expert William K. Everson commented "So many comedies of the '40s tend to date today, being so locked in to their period, but 'Whistling in the Dark' escapes that fate and remains an excellent comedy." From his notes for a 1989 Halloween double-feature for film fans