Chasing Stories

Package arrives – my annual upgrade of running shoes. As you can see, chosen brand for the moment is Adidas.

I run about 7km a day and have done since I was in my teens. It’s not just for health – though the benefits are well-documented. This is where I chase down stories.

You’ve got to be in the right place to create – especially if your livelihood relies on a constant stream of new ideas. There’s something meditative about the steady beat of feet on the ground that pulls up ideas from the unconscious.

The reward chemicals endorphins released during exercise have also been shown to activate creativity (and work similar to morphine, without the obvious downside).

And also particularly good for staying sunny, say during a time of restricted horizons.

Thousand Yard Stare

Working in the outside office today. One novel delivered to the editor a week or so back, a big one for me, but as usual not contractually allowed to talk about it yet. There’s a little red dot permanently dancing on my chest, just in case I forget.

About 20k words into another novel and I have a TV script to write. Keeping busy.

No idea what the world’s going to be like when we come out of this. For sure it won’t be the same. A lot of shops, bars, restaurants and other businesses won’t reopen. Bookshops? How are publishers going to adapt?

There’s a hunger for film but maybe won’t be many cinemas to see them in. Studios can’t make as much off streaming so budgets will have to fall.

Several national newspapers on the brink of closing because of the collapse in advertising.

We’re all watching a stack of TV but quite how they’re going to go about making new drama, not even the broadcasters are sure. Green screen? Expensive.

What’s up next?

Titles

How much do I hate coming up with titles? Imagine the thing you loathe the most and times it by a hundred.

Hour upon hour of my life wasted. Bouncing words, drawing mind maps. Gah. At least today I can sit in the sun and do it.

So much effort needed because the title is so important. The wrong one can kill a book’s sales or get a TV project passed over. Nothing too generic. Readers and viewers need to get a handle on the story from that first glance. Many won’t waste the time to find out.

Studies have shown certain words are a big turn-off for large sections – ‘death’, ‘the devil’, anything with negative connotations. And that’s even in genres like horror and crime.

The same studies show the most effective titles for reader engagement describe the central and unique element of the story. Sounds obvious, isn’t always easy.

And titles work best on those same terms when they’re not passive, when they suggest motion or mystery or threat. Easy.

Then do a quick search on Amazon and discover your unique title has already been used.

And that is where I am today, trapped on the endless loop.

The Daemon

Subtitled A Guide To Your Extraordinary Secret Self, Anthony Peake’s fascinating book examines the theory that we all have not one but two separate consciousnesses – our every day mind and that of The Daemon, a separate ‘self’ if you will, or a higher consciousness that guides us, and occasionally breaks through into our day-to-day existence. An all-knowing passenger.

The concept of The Daemon goes back to the ancient Greeks, and Philip Pullman put another slant on it in His Dark Materials, but the idea of the silent partner guiding us has surfaced in accounts of odd experiences by many people across the centuries. Peake quotes Byron, Cocteau, Goethe and particularly Philip K Dick among several others as he presents his case.

The book takes the reader on a wide-ranging journey through neuroscience, mysticism, theology, cutting edge physics, dreams and altered states, and communicates it in an easily-understandable manner. Gnosticism, Socrates, Jung, Einstein…plenty to get your teeth into.

If he’s right, this opens up endless possibilities and may well make you look at events in your life in a completely different way.

News On The UK Coronavirus Vaccine

Announced today: The University of Oxford has reached a partnership agreement with AstraZeneca to ensure its Covid-19 vaccine, if successful, can be manufactured and distributed to those who need it, not just across the UK but also to the poorest countries in the developing world.

This will be on a not-for-profit basis throughout the pandemic.

This is an historic coming together and will have repercussions far beyond the current crisis.

If you want to learn more, read Oxford Uni’s announcement here.

Plague Of The Mummies

Sometimes it’s hard to tell what movie genre you’re living in, and sometimes it’s obvious.

In late October, a press conference was held to announce the discovery of thirty sealed wooden coffins containing 3000-year-old mummies at the necropolis near Luxor, Egypt. Many of them appeared to be priests.

The coffins are exceptionally painted and preserved, but archaeologists haven’t yet deciphered the hieroglyphics on them.

For reasons I can’t quite grasp, the decision was taken to open two of the coffins during the press conference, revealing two mummies with the outer wrappings preserved.

And a few days later, a plague of Biblical proportions began to sweep across the world.

Yes, we’re living in a 1950s Hammer Horror film.

The Sun Brings Out The Words

Worked in an office for a while. Several of them. Bylines in the posh papers (and some of the seedy ones). Enjoyed the camaraderie, the social interaction, dodging labour by hiding out by the coffee machine.

But nothing beats working for yourself, choosing your own hours, having space to think and really learn who you are. It more than makes up for the financial insecurity. And let’s be honest, when you’re a writer everything can fall apart in the blink of an eye.

I’m fortunate here in my lockdown prison to have some outside space. In the Old World, pre-coronavirus, I’d take myself off to cafes or pubs or out on the Common to write. If you’ve been shackled to a desk for a living, why would you carry on doing that when you can choose, right?

So now that the sun’s arrived, I’m out in this garden writing whenever I can. With my eleven-year-old MacBook Pro, ailing battery and all. For me, I’m far more productive when I move my writing spot. Variety brings inspiration.

A thousand words between eight and nine in the room where the books are piled. Another 1k between eleven and twelve, outside. Charge the battery while I go for a run, then another thousand between three and four and a final thousand between six and seven.

Disciplined but free. It works for me.

Boredom Buy

The danger of isolation: crazy, random online purchases.

When I’ve been stuck in my head all day, turning out the few thousand words I need to meet this deadline, I come out like a raging beast breaking out of a cage. Going for my regular 7km run helps burn off some of the madness of being trapped in my skull. Sometimes I need more.

Can’t go out for a drink or a meal or to the cinema any more. So sometimes I buy stuff like this in a knee-jerk act of revolutionary freedom.

This is a box-set of old, half-forgotten Hammer films from the late fifties. Did I absolutely need it? No. Will I regret getting it? Possibly.

But only till I randomly buy something else in a few days time.

Isolate Me

At the end of last year I landed a major book deal, but one with a very tight deadline. To get it done, I decided to head out of London, with its many distractions. I rolled up in the middle of a forest in the Leicestershire countryside. That’s where I was when the lockdown came into force.

There are lots of advantages. Hawks, bats, foxes, owls, silence, trees, babbling brooks, clear skies and starlit nights. Wilderness to go for my daily 7km run. So I’m not complaining, let’s get that straight. I’m very fortunate.

But I miss London, and New York, and LA. I like cities and all they have to offer. Right now, though, those cities are no longer what they were. So if you have to be isolated, where better than here.

Except one thing.

My working life hasn’t changed. I’m still hammering the keyboard for hours on end at the word-mines to meet the deadline. Only all my friends and family have decided this lockdown lark is an extended holiday and surely I’m lying on the sofa swilling vodka from the bottle and watching Ozark.

So they call me up. Morning. Afternoon. Sometimes morning and afternoon when they’ve forgotten something. And when I mention, actually, you know, I’m doing a bit of work here, they laugh.

I could turn off the phone, but then what if it’s an emergency and they need me?

I figure the only answer is to turn everything upside down. Work all night and spend all day lying on the sofa swilling vodka from the bottle and watching Ozark.

At least till all my friends on the West Coast realise what I’ve done. Isolation? Pfft.