Tuesday, 28 September 2010

And in the 91st minute, they have a corner...

Something has come to bug me over the past few days. After seeing the high/lowlights of Town's 1-0 defeat down at Swindon, I rewatched the goal. It came from a Swindon corner put into the middle. Their lad outjumped Peter Clarke and powered his header down into the bottom corner. Danny Wilson will have been a happy manager with that goal.

Lee Clark, on the other hand, ought to have been very unhappy with his team's defending, not just because his captain was outjumped, but because one of the very basics of defending set-pieces was flouted to his side's cost: there was no man standing on the back post waiting to make a clearance if it came near him.

This is a problem at all levels of the game in varying forms. Bolton scored a goal on Sunday where Zat Knight flicked it on into the corner from a corner kick. Patrice Evra - the Manchester United left-back - had wandered two yards off the post he was meant to stick to like glue. The result was that he couldn't do his job properly. Lee Dixon picked up on this in his analysis of the game for Match of the Day 2, and I have to say I agree with every word he said.

When I was defending set-pieces as a kid, I generally got stuck on one post or another. In operating this system, our defence made the goals smaller by at least a yard on either post. They stuck me on a post because I was never going to outjump a centre-half attacking the ball in, but I could be of use in making the goals that bit smaller. Sometimes one would go over me because I wasn't tall enough to get to it, but that could be chalked down to just being one of those things as well as an outstanding finish.

So a man on either post makes the goals smaller. What other principles should teams observe when defending a corner kick? Well, I like to see teams leave at least one player forward. This makes sense from both attacking and defensive perspectives: it makes a break from the corner easier, especially if that lad breaking is a quick player, but it also means that the opposition will pull two players back to defend against the possibility of a counter-attack. Fewer attackers forward, a less congested penalty area, less chance of a striker giving their marker the slip in a crowd of bodies. Couple this with the men stood on the post, and you have a smaller goal, easier marking and a better chance of making a counter-attack.

I was very disappointed to read Lee Clark's comments about the Swindon goal this morning:

"I felt that the defensive side of the game was very good on Saturday and we had to defend quite a lot as we didn't keep hold of the ball as well as we like, but unfortunately over the course of ninety minutes they will get an opportunity and their lad scored a terrific header - if any of my lads scored that goal, I would think it was tremendous. You have to hold your hands up sometimes and he beat one of our lads in the air before heading it in the only place he could to score"

Why can't he see the problem? The only reason he could score there was through a defence not taking proper responsibility. From a 91st minute corner, it's criminal.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Peter uses motivator: it's not very effective...

I've been struggling with writing for a week or so now. Ever since I finished the article about cricket, I don't think I've written a single word, and I'm not sure why. It's not as if I've not had a bit of time on my hands, outside of having a dissertation to write, but for whatever reason I've not been feeling anything like creative.

It's hardly professional of me, I know. If I'm to be professional about the whole thing I should at least sit down and work on one of the half-a-dozen stories I have on the go, even if I'm not feeling particularly motivated. But I haven't been, and those stories have been neglected as a result.

Is it a loss of confidence? Hardly. I'm still in the figjam mindset, and I know it. Perhaps it's just that I've needed a break from writing short stories for a week while I continue to digest more and more of them. Of late, I've been reading them at an increased rate as well as listening to them through the podcasts. I'm subscribed to Daily Science Fiction. It's not unknown for me to download PDFs of magazines these days. My level of exposure to short form SF is as high as it's ever been.

And having half-a-dozen stories on the go at once hasn't exactly helped matters. I probably need to focus on just one at a time before going off and writing another one. Jumping from one idea to another isn't good for an organised mind.

This is a promise to myself: I'm going to use this next few weeks to get the stories I've been working on finished. When I'm not disserting my topic, I'll be found constructing SF and horror short stories, starting with finishing the one for the 2013 anthology. This promise starts tomorrow: at least an hour of work while in uni, waiting to meet the third years.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Knocked for six...

A quick heads-up for all cricket fans: I've written an article for James Chisem's If You Tolerate This... blog regarding the recent crisis engulfing cricket. If you're interested, it can be found here. If you're not, you might find it interesting because it involves corruption, drugs and putting a foot way over the line.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Or maybe not

Right, so the first draft is finished. 486 words of me spouting the usual nonsense. But it's nonsense I like. And it's nonsense I want to try to get published. With apologies to all who might actually have been in the slightest bit interested in reading it (apart from people who I live with, obviously, who might as well have a free pass to my work once I start getting vaguely enthusiastic about it), I'm going to send it off.

The editing process is starting tomorrow morning (or later this evening, once The Inbetweeners has been on telly - I have no doubt that there's a blog about them coming on at some point fairly soon). By this time tomorrow evening, it'll have gone off to the first of the three ezines I have earmarked as potentially publishing it.

Once again, apologies. I'll get to work on a different one instead, just to satisfy the masses (both of them).

New story in the works

I've been spending the afternoon working on a new piece of flash fiction. It's been slow going, but the idea's there and I quite like it. As things stand, I'm about 250 words in to the first draft, and it should be finished before too long. I'm going to put it up on here rather than try to get it published and get paid; it's not SF (well, not strictly speaking at any rate) and if I'm honest I want to get published in SF before I get published in other genres (uni anthology notwithstanding).

With a bit of luck, the story will be finished in first draft form inside the next 24 hours, with the second draft coming along within a day after that. I'm hoping that it'll be up by Thursday. If it isn't, blame the dissertation.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Let The Right One In

I've gone and done the usual. A 520-page book has been devoured in about three days, and I have no one to blame but myself. It's a testament to a book when it gets this treatment, to be fair, and it normally shows that I've really enjoyed it.

I certainly did enjoy Let The Right One In. There isn't much more to say. It's a vampire novel set in the Stockholm suburbs in 1981, against the backdrop of an estate (for want of a better word) battling with social problems. The plot focusses mainly on Oskar, who befriends a girl called Eli, while a series of fairly brutal murders take place. It's a poignant story of trust and friendship, and I really can't think of much more to say about it from that point of view.

As you may be able to tell, unless I'm insulting something I struggle to review it.

So, where can the bad stuff be found? It isn't a particularly great translation from the Swedish, so the prose can be clunky and awkward at times, but that's to be expected with translations; barring Crime and Punishment I can't think of any particularly outstanding ones I've read lately. Another complaint might be that at times the violence and bleakness can be a little overwhelming, particularly towards the end.

But these were overlooked. I enjoyed the energy of it, the pathos of the characters, and the driving pace of the story. It was compelling stuff (as evidenced by the fact I read the whole back half of it this afternoon when I was supposed to be dissertationing), and it left me with a sense of fulfilment.

So do I recommend Let The Right One In? Yes, I do. Highly. If you can deal with the depressing subject matter and the occasional clunky bit of prose and want a vampire novel that will get under your skin, go for it.

Now for the film(s)...

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Update v2.0

It was rejected. Not unexpected; in fact, quite the opposite considering the 0.09% success rate there. If it had been, I'd have been running through Newcastle naked (there's a sight for the ladies) or something in sheer delight. Rejection's a fairly familiar feeling at this point (and not just with the writing), so hey, I can deal.

Now I go back and start working on it again. I didn't like it in the first place, so this is a bonus. Put dissertations aside for a day and go hell for leather on this, make it commercially viable and try again. Probably not with Clarkesworld, though, as I may be setting the bar a little too high right now.

And another update

As you may be able to tell, my imagination fails somewhat when it comes to titles. This has always been a problem of mine, and one I really do need to suss out. My submission to Clarkesworld has probably the worst title possible because it was one I bunged in to act as a filler while I thought of something better. Lo and behold, I failed in that quest to find a better title and it went away with a thoroughly naff title. When it comes back rejected (which will be soon - it's 9th in the reading queue at the time of writing, up 192 places from a week ago. Eh, it's just like Top of the Pops), I'll be working on that title first and foremost before going back and reconstructing the basic premise of the piece.

Fortunately, imagination doesn't fail me quite so much when it comes to search terms for my dissertation, which I got to work on yesterday with a 2 1/2 hour session searching for articles and cases. Thanks to creative thought, I managed to find 50 cases and articles, some of which I need to follow-up in the practice library once I go back in there. On the other hand, most of those articles can be read in full now, and ought to contain links to arguments made by other articles which I haven't picked up on yet. All in all, it was a decent academic day, only dampened by the PFA not getting back to me on the subject of insurance.

Unfortunately for my writing, the dissertation means that I haven't got any further with a story I'm writing for this anthology. That said, I can work on it while my many hundreds of pages are printing off for me to read. So it isn't all bad news.

I've been back in Newcastle over the last couple of days, and I've thoroughly enjoyed myself, even if the vacuum cleaner doesn't work properly. I need to sort a few things out yet (like dry cleaning my suit for the new year and washing and ironing shirts), but by and large I'm pretty much ready to go for my final year doing the LLB Bar Exempting course. It does have to be said that I don't envisage this being my last year ever at uni, as I'd quite like to go back and do a masters degree, probably in Law, and maybe get another bachelors degree (in a science, probably, seeing as I've spent the last couple of years dipping into science journals and keeping up to date with developments).

And finally, I've been reading Let The Right One In over the past couple of days. I'm not very far in (120 pages), but thus far I've enjoyed it, even if my writer's mind has taken over every now and then, looking at the occasionally clunky translated prose, thinking 'that's clumsy - I could probably do better'. But with that said, I probably couldn't write the material itself, so I shouldn't criticise.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Transition and other stuff

It's been a pretty tough day on the writing front, I have to admit. Words have flowed easily over the past few weeks, but there have still been odd days where for whatever reason it's just not come and I've ended up giving it up as a bad job, going off to brood on whatever it was that went wrong. Today has been one of those days. I've managed 800 words - an hour or so of solid writing - but none of those have been saved. Chances are I'll go back and restart the story I'm working on tomorrow, or at least make major revisions to what I have.

As a result of this mini-block, I've spent much of the day reading. Over the past few days I've been reacquainting myself with the dark, sexy underworld of Iain Banks (or his books, at any rate) in the form of Transition, his latest novel, which went paperback a month or so back.

It's an interesting read. Our world forms just one reality in a multiverse which is overseen by the Concern (what is it about Banks and his organisations or civilisations being single words beginning with 'C' - Culture and Concern?) and its operatives. It's a tale of power-plays within the organisations and of good and evil. Perhaps most importantly, it's a novel of our times.

It says it right at the start. This is a novel about the post-9/11 world, about the credit crunch, the banks, counter-terrorism and moralities connected to all of the previously mentioned. A book for kids this ain't. It's adult in every sense of the word, being both intelligent in its analysis of the world around us and also being violent - with graphic depictions of torture among other things - and sexually-charged - the amount of detailed sex scenes is a little on the high side for my taste, it has to be said.

In fact, there are a few things which I'm not happy with. At times it feels like Banks is pontificating about his world view. Adrian the banker is the biggest symptom of this. He's a young banker, a former drug-dealer who still takes some, who indulges in meaningless sex with hundreds of women and lives a generally carefree playboy lifestyle. It feels like Banks is pinning the banking crisis on this one man.

Another problem that I had was that the novel feels like disconnected threads for much of its duration, and that some of those threads could have been cut out. Had it been left up to me, I wouldn't even have had the Philosopher's storyline. I understand what Banks is trying to say, but it feels superfluous. But then again, my own preference has always been for tightly-plotted novels, where every word counts for something towards the conclusion, so that might be something you bear in mind when considering this.

But I did enjoy it, and it's worth remembering this. It whips along at a brisk pace and is skilfully constructed. I'm not going to be put off reading more Iain (M.) Banks at any point in the near future, unless Surface Detail is the worst book in the history of the English language (which it won't be).

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Theo Robinson

Dear Town fans,

What is it about Theo Robinson that means people instantly slag him off? Is it his lack of composure in front of goal (you know, that same lack of composure that saw him score 16 goals last season), the lack of a football brain (see previous comment) or the fact he isn't very good in the air?

Whatever it is, there's a great number of you who should be ashamed of yourselves. A player who scores 16 goals in 19 starts, is only 21 and will improve isn't a bad player. I accept he can be a bit of a headless chicken, but what has he really done to make him such a pariah? Is it the umpteen chances he missed against Wycombe? Or is it just that you need a scapegoat?

Many people seemed to blame Theo for the 5-1 defeat at Everton. Right, so the fact the defence conceded 5 and could have conceded more was Theo's fault? He lost possession for the first goal, fine, but the midfield should have closed players down quicker and not allowed the ball to be worked out wide. In fact, the goal we did score - a Lee Croft cross in to Gary Roberts, whose effort was blocked by the goalkeeper only for an under-pressure Johnny Heitinga to bundle over his own line - came about because Theo got in the box and put pressure on the defender, forcing him into the mistake. Good forward play, in other words.

Let's throw another consideration into the mix: playing with one up front. Theo is not a lone striker. He works best with a partner, and it's certainly a bad idea to lump the ball in to him for him to hold up because he can't do it, so why was the whole gameplan in the second half lump it up for Theo to hold up? Is it Theo's fault he isn't a big burly six-foot-three striker who can do the job? No. And why the criticism for him not closing down every defender and allowing them to bring it forward? The system we played - 4-5-1 - meant that if he did do it, there wasn't a second striker putting pressure on the other central defender so it was a straightforward pass for the centre-half to make, so his mate could saunter out of defence under no pressure instead.

A confident Theo is a goalscoring Theo, and we haven't seen that this season because he a) hasn't been given minutes and b) hasn't been confident. I hope we see him in a Town shirt again because he is unpredictable and because he hasn't been given a chance by the people who are supposed to get behind him. If he doesn't come back to Town after his loan spell at Millwall, I hope he has a great career scoring goals at clubs who appreciate him.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Submissions (not like that)

The post is starting to annoy me. Over the last few years it's been getting gradually later, which is especially annoying when you need to go somewhere but can't go anywhere until the parcel you were expecting has arrived (or, more commonly, not) with the morning post. Only it's never morning these days. It's early afternoon, which is ridiculous.

It would also be nice if Amazon actually did as I told them. I asked for the two books I ordered the other day to be packaged together. It makes sense, doesn't it? Less packaging is better for the environment and cheaper for the company itself. Apparently, though, Amazon doesn't do that, and has instead sent me them separately. Or, rather, it's sent me one and the other's apparently still en route to my front door.

As you may be able to tell, I'm a little cranky this evening. I could do with my tea, but what was promised for six is now definitely going to be ready for seven (or so I'm told). According to the person in charge, it was always going to be seven. What is this, the Wilson family equivalent of the Ministry of Truth in 1984? Blimey.

I've followed up my submission of a piece of flash fiction to a website the other day with the submission of a short story to Clarkesworld. Apparently, Clarkesworld is one of the hardest markets to crack (probably because they pay so well), but I quite fancy the challenge. So, off this story has gone, quite probably coming back in a day or two's time with a 'get stuffed' note attached. Unfortunately, rejection is likely to happen a few times over the next few weeks.

This is the writing Gom Jabbar, the acid test of whether a writer really is serious, has self-belief and is prepared to keep plugging away. In the past, I failed it - I got a few rejection slips and by self-belief was hit hard. To be fair, I was about 16. I was inexperienced and had only been writing 3 years. It was raw stuff I was sending away, and it isn't a surprise. My stuff now may not be world-changing, but it's better than what was going off then.

Unfortunately, many talented writers get their first rejection and never submit again. On the other hand, many who are convinced they're God's gift to literature receive their first rejection and do exactly the same, so there's an upside to every problem (how many are convinced the editor just didn't get their work is not something up for discussion right now). My message to the former of these two classes is to keep working at it. We're in the same boat, you and I, two (or more) hopefuls auditioning for a chance to grasp the first rung of the publishing ladder. I know that when my work's rejected I'll just be resubmitting it and working on other things at the same time.

Best of luck to you! You stand a better chance of publication than I do of getting my tea at any point in the next century.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

What will I write?

In one of the more exciting moments of the summer, I ordered Let The Right One In off Amazon yesterday. I'm not being sarcastic about that being one of the most exciting moments of the summer either: to say the time off uni has been a let-down is something of an understatement. But I'm not writing about that now; it's for another day.

I know roughly what it's about, and I expect it to challenge me. I expect to feel disgusted, horrified and just plain dirty. My hope is that the themes will help the book get under my skin and have me disturbed. Paedophilia, molestation, vampirism... We're not talking light stuff here, and I expect them to affect me.

This got me thinking: is there a subject I wouldn't write about? Would I write about child sex and rape? I initially dismissed it. Just because I haven't done in the past doesn't mean I wouldn't in the future. Besides, it's not like I'm planning on writing anything like that right now. Dark, yes, but not quite that dark. The point is largely moot.

But could I write something that genuinely repulses me like that? The thought wouldn't go away. Perhaps I could. I could certainly imply that something like that happened and allow a reader's mind to take over, and I could easily mention something like that in a character's past. But could I actually write a graphic scene depicting something like that?

No. I don't think I could.

There's a difference between something being implied and something being explicitly depicted. It's fade to black versus porn, in its essence. I've always been on the fade to black side of things (especially when it comes to sex scenes - I think I've written about two, but implied or mentioned about 50). Some would argue that a good writer is brave and takes the decisions that will lead to a visceral experience that will get under a reader's skin. I'd respond with the argument that you can do that without graphic depictions, and it can actually be even more effective. Allow the reader's mind to do the leg work, don't ram scenes into their brain.

I don't have a problem with writers who do want to depict these things, so long as it isn't done for the sake of simply shocking the readership. We live in a world where paedophiles, rapists, murderers, sadists and more live; we can't afford to brush them under the carpet in the fiction we write. We need to write about them to elict strong responses and keep them in the public eye as a problem that won't go away. But I can't write about what they do, not explicitly, at least.

Maybe that means I'm not a brave writer. Not that it really matters to me right now: I'd rather be a safe writer in relation to things like that.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

A flash of inspiration

Writers who may be reading will already have guessed what I've been writing from the title. To any non-writers who don't have a clue what I'm referring to, it's this: flash fiction.

I've taken it up as a writing exercise of late. The Sucker (see archive) is an example of this, although most of the stories I've been writing won't see the light of day in the same way, either being rubbish or experimental (or, more commonly, both).

However, I'm excited about my latest effort. My challenge to myself was to pull off a galaxy-spanning epic in 500 words, and I think I may have done something like it. OK, so epic might be stretching the definition, but the point is it has a journey longer than Lord of the Rings and a word count shorter than quite a lot of poetry. Result.

I may be deluding myself about how good it is (chances are I am, considering my record), but I feel so good about it that I've actually submitted it. Not to a place that will pay me (it's 492 words long - why would anyone in their right mind pay for a piece of fiction that long, really? I wouldn't pay to read it, that's for sure), admittedly, but it's a first submission of the summer and one of the biggest steps I've made in my writing for a while.

If it ends up not being published, I'm not to bothered. It'd be nice and a real boost ahead of the new uni year, but at the end of the day I can then bring it back and polish it further, re-write it and then try again. Part of me wants it coming back negative, just so I can do that very thing.

I'm weird like that.