I will be taking a break from most of my social media for a while, not to fret I’ll be back soon.
The title of my post today may have given the game away, so to speak.
I have written previously of my, minor, obsession with Russian films starring a particular actor. Who my Wrimos, and friends know as GB or Gorgeous Boy. I should take the time to explain that although he really is stunning, calling him a boy is something of a misnomer. He is most certainly a man. Just barely older than me, he has accomplished more in his career than I have at all. I’d be lying if that didn’t make me feel more than a little inadequate. And most intriguing (to me at least) is that it’s not his looks that make me feel inadequate.
When I left school at 18, I had so many plans! And I have achieved so very few of them. Being a bit of a hippy, I wanted to study natural medicine, and start a small clinic. I moved to the other end of my country to make that dream come true. And wound up working full time in order to support this full time study. Then I stumbled across a new plan. Free international travel, in exchange for work – granted. I was ready to apply to Emirates, when during a check up with my GP we discovered that flying everyday for work would be a disaster for me. My ears don’t clear, and there’s no need to have my eardrums blow up unnecessarily. But, the same qualification was suitable to take me onto a cruise ship. So, all of 21, I went home, had another 21st party with my family. And took on a part time job to support myself until the summer; when I intended to ship out for up to 9 months at a time on the cruise ships.
But in the two months between my return home, and the first cruise ships pulling into port, I found out that I was pregnant. And in some ways it saved my life – for obvious reasons I stopped drinking in an instant. But the moment I saw those two pink lines, my entire identity became ‘Mother’, but more importantly it became ‘Single Mother’. We live in a society that has a place for people with these titles. When I mentioned to my mother how I felt, particularly seeing someone my age achieving so much, to my so very little, she reminded me that in someways it was worse for her.
My mother was married, so she didn’t have the stigma of being single. But the economy was strong, so she was expected to sacrifice her career, and her own dreams, to raise her children. And she did so admirably. But I don’t even know what career path she would have taken, or what her dreams were. All she would tell me was that she didn’t regret it, and that she was proud of me for not giving up on having a career – even though I’m a single mother, and that will make things very interesting with my kid.
So, after running out of funding for studying, I left university with only four papers between me and graduation, I started applying for jobs. With the intent of saving the money to pay for those last few papers. Well it’s been two years, with no paying job in sight, and I’m sick of waiting. I’m not waiting anymore. I’m making my return to the Ivory tower, and with a little creative accounting that will be possible in seven and a half months. Mum is helping by holding the cash that I’m putting by, so that I can’t spend it on things like clothes, and shoes as my kid grows.
So this is how I am taking control. I’m not going to wait around for a job that is looking increasingly unlikely. There are other things that I want to do, like travel, and I want to start a podcast. Travel does have to wait, because I have a child, when he’s older travel will be a good deal easier. But the podcast is on my to-do list. And speaking of, I want to start a podcast – reviewing books, and other content; like films, and YouTube videos. As my friend Mrs TeddyBear, insists I would also do a spot of snark, which is to say metaphorically ripping into certain pieces. – Which is what happens when I once annotated (with snark) the plot to a Jane Austen novel, we were deciding whether to use for a research project at university.
I am going to set up my Podcast – though I haven’t done the research as yet, I am hoping to call it: My Scattered Mind. It will start out with some slightly low quality audio, but if you guys like my content I’ll set up a Patreon, to get a quality mic. It would also probably only be once a month, at least at first. Please comment and let me know if there is anything in particular you would like me to review, or snark on. Please do also let me know if you would even listen to my podcast. This whole process works best when I have feedback.
Everyone and their dog, or at least those who know me, know that my plan for this NaNo, which I have been working towards for 6 months, was to disassemble [and yes, I do see Johnny 5 EVERY TIME I use that word] my first novel, and reassemble it to make it better. This was going to be completely achievable – I have an exceptionally detailed plan at home on my desk, about exactly what needs to be changed/deleted, and so on. As well as what needs to be added in for the first time!
Five days before NaNo, I woke up with the disturbing realisation that I needed to write a fanfiction. I understand that fanfiction is a compliment to the original author(s), but I absolutely cannot stand to read any of it! So for me to realise that I had to write a piece of something I despised, was utterly horrifying. And what was worse was that it was all I could focus on so I was going to need to write it before I could do anything genuinely productive. So frustrating.
Then it disappeared the night before NaNo.
When my obsession with Russian films backfired and I had an idea for a novel jump fully formed into my brain, requiring only minor polishing… and, you know, writing…
This has been a public service announcement on the dangers of watching a single group of films exclusively, so close to NaNo.
It’s officially stupid o’clock in the morning, I should definitely be asleep. But after running some word sprints over on Twitter, I thought I’d get some work done on my novel. A novel which has been sitting at 25,000 for the better part of three days.
I may do a separate post on what happened there, because let me tell you, IT HAS NOT GONE AS PLANNED, certainly not the plan I had leading into NaNo!
I got distracted. Pulled down the YouTube rabbit hole if you will. Watching videos about… death. Yeah, it makes no sense to me either. Unless you want to call it character research – which is totally what we are going to tell anyone who asks, ‘kay?
See, this woman, who lives in LA, is a mortician. Which is kind of cool, in a morbid sort of way. And she tackles the hard questions, fears, misconceptions, etc, about death, and funerals, and corpses. What I’ve found so fascinating about this is that she has, this intrinsic sense of humour, that lightens the darkness. She has made me laugh, while watching a video about corpses in really unfortunate situations. But, and this is the important part, she doesn’t do this at the expense of the people who deserve respect. As a person who can look death in the face and be comfortable with it, we sort of expect it. Hell, we call it gallows humour, it’s expected of cops, morticians, MEs, doctors. The thing is we expect them to turn it off when dealing with someone from outside that hallowed circle. Yet, this very nice lady, has kept a degree of humour, without being perhaps quite as over the top as we expect of more traditional gallows humour, and without sacrificing anyone’s dignity.
Enough for now, I’m starting to talk over myself. A talent, if ever there was one. Time for sleep, before my Wrimo’s find out and feed me to my own Reaver… don’t ask.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I have a real talent for over thinking. I find it helpful to divide my attention slightly; and my weapon of choice, as it were, is TV, it has to be TV that I’m familiar with, so that I can ignore it enough to work and watch it enough to distract myself.
Today, my NaNo prep was character development. I’m rebuilding a story that I have already written, and I’m making some pretty serious, story altering changes. It means that even though I put a lot of thought into my characters before, I need to build them up a bit. They need to be more realistic. Well, one of them not as much… she’s already broken.
See that is some of what makes for realistic characters; they have flaws. Not just imperfections of visage, but flaws of character. As people we accept our flaws and strive to overcome them, but when we write characters it is in our nature to want to polish them. To buff out the flaws, you could even say that we are trying to make them the best versions of ourselves.
My Russian film festival over the weekend made me think more about my characters. Because, despite all my films having one common actor, all of the characters really spoke to me. I had to do a lot of reading body language and facial expressions to make up for my abysmal Russian.
**Things may become a bit ‘stream of consciousness’ from here…
I’m certainly no expert on reading people, but generally I’m a good judge of character. When I ran out of Films, there were more but I either couldn’t get them, or couldn’t follow them at all – due to a lack of English subtitles, I mused on my ability to follow films in a language that was so foreign to me. It lead me to thinking about a TV show that I used to watch when I used my TV for TV. Now the TV is for DVDs and I stream my TV. It’s called Lie To Me, so my working TV show today has been Lie To Me. Now I like Tim Roth, I loved him in Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, but I actually don’t love a lot of his shows and films. But as a character I really love Cal Lightman. It took me one and a half of the three seasons to figure out why I adore him.
In the spirit of openness, there is definitely something about an older man, with a British accent. But after a season and a half, I figured out what it was. Lightman is an arsehole, but he is also a fundamentally good person. There’s a cliche quote about how we need the dark so we notice the light… or something to that effect. And as trite as it is, it is also true. What I love about Lightman is that he embraces his personal darkness, without letting it corrupt him. He isn’t all good, aka perfect, but no one is. He also isn’t all bad.
I adore this in him because, it is a reflection of how I see myself.
It is what I love about myself. I embrace my darkness, and every day I find the balance.
That level of balance between ideal and flaw is what I strive for in my characters. It’s taking time and work to get them to the way I want them to be.
We take it for granted that the actors we like, the ones that really draw us into cinemas for every new release that has their name on it, are in fact good actors. And I’m not saying otherwise – only that we take it for granted.
Ten years ago I lived in an international youth hostel, not the tourist/backpacker type, and I made friends from many different parts of the world. Occasionally we would watch films together, and as I was the minority in these groups the films were rarely in English. Though my friends were kind enough to make sure that English subtitles were available. My favourites at the time were the Bollywood films, they were so colourful and dramatic.
It’s been ten years since I lived with these people who broadened my horizons. I still have a fondness for films I will inevitably have to read to understand. But this has given me a new appreciation for the actors. Subtitles can be excellent, good, or mediocre; and I will usually figure out what they are trying to say. But it means that I rely on the actors as much as the subtitles, they really have to sell it. If there is danger, I need to look at that screen and see the fear in their eyes, I need to hear it in their voice, not just read it in the line. Films in Spanish are the easiest for me, because although I speak very little, I am familiar with it – and who doesn’t love their drama?
There are times when watch films because of one of the actors. I recently watched a small handful of French films starring Vincent Cassel, who appears in a few American productions as well. Some of these films had excellent subtitles, and others very mediocre – but between the subtitles and the truly excellent performance of the cast, I was never lost, or confused, or left feeling like I should really stick to English.
Peach and I went to see a German film at the local screening for the International Film Festival last year, and it was beautiful. As English speakers, we often joke that German is a harsh and guttural language, and it certainly feels that way in the mouth when you are learning to speak it (which is the full extent of what I remember from my year 9 German classes); but when spoken by a native-speaker, it can be soft and gentle, lilting, and indeed harsh as the situation requires… just like any other language. But again, my familiarity, the excellent subtitles, and a truly fantastic cast meant that I had no trouble following.
Today I watched a Russian film, Flight Crew. Russian is a language with which I have no familiarity, I was reliant entirely on some subtitles that were a little more bad than mediocre and the cast’s performance. It was absolutely worth it. When the characters were scared, I was scared. When the characters were happy, I was happy. When they were focused absolutely on surviving, I was right there with them. And all of this is on the actors. It was a truly exceptional piece of work.
I live in New Zealand, at the end of the world you might say. So far from everywhere that, although we are known for our friendliness, we can often make assumptions about other countries based on what we see in American films. I have learned that these assumptions are often wrong. Or at least badly out of date. I can happily say that I look forward to visiting Russia in the future.
The actors in these films really are very, very good. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy them the same way. This is what makes me realise that we take actors for granted, especially when the film is in a language that we speak. I can only hope that the films in English that I enjoy are as enjoyable to people who don’t speak English, who have to rely on the subtitles and the cast’s performance to understand.
As a reader one of the things that I look for the most, before a book is considered sufficiently worthy to be added to the corporeal bookshelf, is characters who I invest in – whether they resemble me or not. My investment in the characters is most obvious in a series, where at the end of a book I say ‘I have to know what’s going to happen to them!’ and rush out to the library or to Amazon to find a copy of the next book as soon as is humanly possible.
Just recently I found a series like this. In fact I’m so invested in these characters that I have re-read all six books… I will point out now that I’ve only had them for maybe three weeks, and then only just. I’m actually talking myself out of re-reading them again! There is something about these characters that has allowed them to move into my head and make themselves right at home. Especially the male main character… who is of course right up my alley… and fictional…
Even so, this couldn’t have happened at a worse time. I’m supposed to have my head full of my own investment inducing characters so that I can write my epic re-write into what should have been a masterpiece. Well… at least compared to how it started life.
Because the other thing here is that’s exactly what I want to do with my own characters. I want my readers to completely invest in my star-crossed lovers.* And writing starts in a mere twelve days.
As much as I would love to give you a comprehensive review of the series that has just rocked my world – I need some space first, some distance from the overwhelming emotional response. Watch this space… but no promises, NaNoWriMo is 12 days away and then it’s 30 days of writing madness. No one comes out the way they went in.
*This was an epic exaggeration, or at least it should have been… hence the re-write.
People ask me when I started writing. And I tell them that it was 2011, as part of a women’s group. It was.
It was when I started writing fiction, stories.
I have a writer friend, through NaNoWriMo, who in the off-season (as it were) writes poetry. I’m not a huge fan of poetry, but I try to read each piece that she publishes. And recently it has got me thinking about poetry. Poetry that I could maybe write. Poetry that during my teen years I used to write – always metaphorical ‘ode to my beloved’ type stuff. Very hormonal teen, emotion dumping on the page, etc.
But here’s the thing about poetry, it’s a glimpse of the soul, sometimes yours, sometimes the author’s… you get the picture. So for me, writing poetry is like pulling an infinitely faceted gem out of my chest, finding a facet that I like; shaving a layer of the facet away, grinding it into a paste and flicking it at the page like a Jackson Pollock painting.
You might not realise this, but I don’t have moral dilemmas very often.
The situation is thus:
I have a spectacular piece of writing that I have been sitting on for weeks. I have shared it with a friend (Peach), because it’s a letter that I wanted her opinion on before I sent it off. With her guidance I realised that, while well put together, it would do no good – having more to do with the recipient than the writing.
I want to share this letter with you, in all it’s glorious snarkiness, but I’m not so sure as to whether that would really be an acceptable thing to do. Even if I changed or deleted names, is that really something I want to put out into the world? And yet, it’s still spectacular.
Something to ponder.
Meanwhile the letter of snark remains locked away in the vault.