The Electric Fence completed

Today I finished a new short story I’ve been writing over the past couple of weeks: ‘The Electric Fence’. This will be my submission to this year’s Elizabeth Jolley prize. It’s the first short story I’ve done since ‘The Signal Box’, a year ago.

This story, I think, continues a style I found in The Signal Box. I’ve had a feeling I’m starting to find my ‘voice’, whatever that is. A style or kind of story that feels like mine; like I’m no-longer just doing my version of what someone else does. That’s probably been a big part of the journey over the past three years, so its good to feel like I’m arriving at that point.

Like The Signal Box, The Electric Fence can probably be read as a sort of allegory. Neither story is concerned with the time or place in which its events are set. There are also, I think, clear themes of occupation, entrapment and escape. Developing on from The Signal Box though, I think this one is more minimal. Also, it’s way less dark than The Signal Box, which for me is a refreshing development.

My next plan is to get back into ‘The Worm’, and write chapter 8. I also have an idea for continuing two earlier experimental stories: ‘Get Away’ and ‘Forever’ by tying them together in another sort of experiment. This would be a departure from the style I’ve been exploring and discussing above, but it’s an experiment that interests me. The working title for this latter work is: ‘Europa’.

Happy new year! A new cover version recorded and chapter 7 completed

Among the hundreds of thousands of Facebook reflections on ending the year and starting a new one, Brian Eno has posted a few words that provide a perspective that I think is well worth reading, so here it is.

I’ve been reasonably disciplined during the holidays, considering the amount of time I’ve been obliged to spend drinking alcohol with friends and family. I recorded a cover version of Big Star’s 1972 song: “Thirteen”, which I’ve been practicing for about 4 months, and today I finished chapter 7 of The Worm.

My word count is now 36,849. I’m definitely in the middle-ground of the story, which is exciting, but it’s also a challenging place to be. Progress is slow and painstaking. Completing chapter 7 has involved quite a lot of going back and rewriting earlier parts, especially in chapter 6. Before I finished the final scene of this chapter I had gone back and inserted 3 scenes in chapters 6 and 7. I think because this novel is growing in an organic way, it involves more re-writing than would have been necessary if I’d had a clearer, more detailed plan to start with (ie; the way you’re supposed to write a novel). I just keep having more ideas that need to be in the story, and many of them effect earlier parts. I think the second draft process – once the first draft of the novel is completed – is going to have to be pretty extensive. Also, I think it’s probably true that I’m a different sort of writer now than when I started this project. By word-count it’s so far the equivalent of about 7 of my short stories, and I’ve definitely learnt and evolved my writing style during the process. I’m going back and reading some of the early scenes and wincing. What was acceptable 9 months ago isn’t any longer.

I’m really happy with the shape and texture of the novel. As it develops, it’s assuming a more poetic, nuanced feel, and at the same time some epic themes are emerging and growing. I’m finding that a novel is such a huge project, that it’s difficult to conceive of as the work of yourself as one individual. It just seems so big! It’s almost impossible to keep a detailed handle on all the parts; on what happens across the whole thing.

Chapter 7 primarily involves moving the location of events from Virsma, the small town where the novel’s opening events take place, to Ala, the big city to the north. Viktor and Alexis are spending their time on trains and in train stations. I’ve also introduced two new characters: Lena Finks: Alexis’ aunt, and Daniel Röntgen, the police investigator from Ala who takes on the case. Also, in chapter 7 the thread involving Skaistule – the lioness – connects with the story of Anton, the injured child, in what I think is an intriguing and satisfying way.

Phew!

Chapter 6 complete

… with a word count of 30,657. The structural constraint of 5,000 words per chapter, to which I’ve been trying to adhere, seems to have been working. Chapter 6 does not contain any scenes featuring Viktor and Eva. It is the first chapter from which they are completely absent. Following the catastrophic event that concluded chapter 5, I wanted to build, in the mind of the reader, a sense of curiosity about what happened to them; where they went; what they’ve been doing. At the same time there was a need to shape the events other characters are involved in, in preparation for upcoming planned plot points. In Chapter 7 Viktor and Eva will reenter the story, and much of the chapter will be about the development of their relationship. An important new character will also be introduced, who (finally) forms the bridge to some of Eva’s past.

I’ve been reading John Trulby’s book: The Anatomy of Story – a great read for anyone trying to write fiction. In New Zealand I read, with great interest, the section on symbols. And reading this, I realised that I’ve instinctively stumbled on some symbolism in my story. I’m thinking here of Eva’s mother’s juggling balls, and what happens to them, how they fall into the hands of some of the men in the story that are competing for her attention. Its interesting to me that even when simply following blind instinct, you can sometimes produce story elements that have legitimate, or theoretical value.

cage

Last night, while walking my dogs, I was listening through my headphones to an old lecture by Pema Chodron , in which she described a Tibetan Buddhist approach to ego, or the “The well-fortified ego”, by which she means an ego that is meant to provide protection from the world at large, but instead makes a prisoner of the soul who possesses it. The kind of ego that could benefit from some opening up; some “ventilation”; some curiosity about other systems; other world concepts; other views of the universe, and my ears pricked up, because of the direct fit between this concept and the basic premise of my planned story: “The Electric Fence”. Its amazing sometimes, just how providential life can be.

cover versions

I’ve been recording cover versions of a few favourite songs over the past couple of months in preparation for a project I want to do next year – where I want to record some original material that I’ve had sitting around, half-developed for a long time. It’s been a while since I did any extensive recording. Over the past few years, while I’ve been working on my Masters, the only real recording I’ve done has been of Ally (my daughter)  so, recording these covers is a way of rebuilding technique and confidence.

I thought I’d post this here because I’m uploading all my stuff to Soundcloud, and you can (if the notion takes you) go over there and have a listen. Here’s a list of songs I’ve recorded so far, along with each song’s originator:

Blue Bucket of Gold – Sufjan Stevens
Here Come the Warm Jets – Brian Eno
Grantchester Meadows – Pink Floyd
Scarborough Fair/Canticle – Simon & Garfunkel.

There’s probably a couple more I’d like to record before the end of the year. There’s a few to choose from. I’d probably like to do “13″ by Big Star. I’m not sure what else at this point but I’ve been enjoying doing them, so I’ll probably do a few more while I have the time.

Greener Pastures finished

I finished Greener Pastures last night, and sent it off today. It’s my entry for the Noosa Arts Theatre National One Act Playwriting Competition. I also entered in 2014 and 2015. Neither of those entries were shortlisted. When I started writing my first entry: “Final Performance” in 2014, I had the idea that I would do a play each year for 3 consecutive years. I think really the point of this activity has been for me to try and learn something about writing plays. Have I learned anything? Well, I think Greener Pastures is probably the best of the three. I was never sure which of the previous two was better, but I’m pretty happy with this latest one. It has, I think, two pretty engaging, pretty interesting, believable and relatable lead characters in Satya and Verity. I had a similar mutual-outsider vibe happening with Io and Hermes in my 2015 Story: “A God From The Machine”. I think Greener Pastures also has some rich themes weaving through it, and I think its a decent little yarn. So, we’ll see. The judging process is pretty long. I think for last year’s competition, I didn’t find out I’d missed the shortlist ‘till some time in January.

Next things… well, I’ll be getting back into The Worm. Chapter 6 awaits, in which poor Viktor and Eva spiral ever deeper into the existential abyss. I also have the beginnings of an idea for a short story, which I think is pretty interesting. It’s another sort of allegory, along similar stylistic lines to The Signal Box. I’m not sure if I might have already mentioned it on this blog, but anyway… It’s called “The Electric Fence”. Also, I have some interest in doing a non-fiction piece to be titled: “The Speaking Clock”. This would be about Pat Simmons, the voice of the United Kingdom’s telephone system, Speaking Clock from 1963 to 1985. There are some pretty interesting facets to this story and I think it might be worth writing, but there’s quite a bit of research required, including writing to some people who might not want to be bothered.

speaking clock

Probably my most pressing creative commitment now, however, is to complete the soundtrack for Phoebe’s animated film, which I have another 2 or 3 weeks to do. Then, at the start of November I’m heading to New Zealand with Brian for a week, to hike Milford Sound. So, busy as usual, and plenty to look forward to!

chapter 5 finished

Chapter 5 is finished and that marks the first third of the story. A few months ago I posted about this story probably going to 12 chapters and 50,000+ words. This is now revised to 15 chapters and 75,000+ words. I’m at 26,000 words currently.

I’ve finally finished my degree (about a week ago) which means I’ll be able to dedicate more time to the kind of writing I want to do and the novel should start to progress more quickly – but not before I take the next 4 weeks out to write a short play. This will be an entry into the Noosa Arts Theatre one act playwriting competition. When I submitted my first entry in this in 2014, I resolved to do one per year for 3 consecutive years. My story this year revolves around 2 characters: Satya and Verity, a young drug-dealer and an older woman. It’s about place, and the different sorts of claims people have on it.