A Picture Says a Thousand Words

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Photography and the Art of Writing

So, I have some money coming to me this September. It’s from my Grandparents, the last of which very sadly passed away last November. Now I’m choosing to think of this money as my final birthday present, it is after all my thirtieth birthday in September. So, having put some thought into what I wanted, and they would have liked to give me, I decided on a camera. A reasonably powerful camera.

My Granddad loved taking photos, and they had lots of them. My Granddad even had a really expensive camera once, which was a shock to my dad and Nana when he brought that home. He may not understand the modern bells and whistles, but I think he would like modern cameras.

Anyway, so the camera is quite a personal thing. However, it’s also about writing. I’ve been using camera’s to help me write for some time. It all started off a few years back when I took a photo of Primrose Valley, (the one in Leeds, not on the East Coast), and wrote a story around it.

Since then, I’ve used photographs, and photography as a tool in a number of ways, some small, some large. It’s a handy tool to keep around.

Now, first of all, if anyone feels like following my usually terrible advice, you should know, it doesn’t matter how good or bad you are at taking pictures for this. I’m really bad – especially when I use my camera phone, (see the picture with this post).

There are all sorts of things to consider when taking a photograph, and you only have scant minutes, if that, to be ready to take it. I do my best with things like lighting, focus, composition and such – and if I get a new camera I’ll be really trying to get to grips with all that stuff. As a writer though, you don’t really need to worry about it.

As a writer what you need from photographs might be:

  • A catalogue (for description) of:
    • Things
    • People
    • Places
  • Ideas (inspiration)
  • Basis for story boards (planning)

Description

If you’re anything like me, (and there are some people out there that might be), you might struggle to do descriptions. I’m too busy writing to think about how something looks, it’s a distraction when in the flow of writing really. I mean, getting descriptions right is a very delicate work, and if you forget if a pattern had a green stripe over a blue, and instead go green over red, that’s a basic mistake that’s easy to miss in editing.

My solution is, as I write, I have in mind pictures, either from my anarchic photos folder, or from pictures, and clips online, stick them in a OneNote (or whatever your visual notebook of choice is, online or off), with a  note to who it relates to, and when. Then you can come back to it, in a quiet moment and give some definition to your very basic description.

This is great, because you can then sync up all your descriptions, (without repeating the same words), in such a way as you don’t contradict yourself.

This is probably the most useful reason for photography, and to be honest it really doesn’t matter if you take the photos yourself. I think it’s good to though, you choose the cars you want in your portfolio, the buildings, the rooms, the clothes, and the people. Google Images works just as well though.

Ideas

So, I’m not infallible, I have really fantastic ideas. I mean blow your mind fantastic ideas, but a lot of them never become something I can actually use. They’re too disconnected from reality, or their too real they’re mundane. Maybe I have a great concept, but nothing that really makes it concrete.

I need ideas to to tie it to, pictures are great for that. They give a bare bones idea some fleshy substance. Where I have a scene or a plot but no characters, I can have a visual representation of one. Maybe I’ve got a character, but no world for them, well I can pick some scenery shots, or a building, or maybe just a car, whichever, the character now has a universe, no matter how small. It’s something for the idea to interact with, which means it’s less likely to fade.

In my most recent NaNoWriMo Project, the Arsène Frassin space adventure, somehow I ended up with just two female characters in the whole thing. Not intentionally, I’d like to thinking I’m not a male chauvinistic pig, it’s just where the story went. However in editing, I’m going to insert a few female characters, and it’s helped to utilise images, (that I got from Google Images, wandering around taking random up close shots of women, won’t help you with your career as a writer, unless you want to write from behind bars),  to try and find suitable characters to a heavily male dominated universe.

Story boarding

Now, this one is new to me, but I definately see the potential. I’m on my big planning kick for the past couple of years, one of the things I want to try for NaNoWriMo 2012 is to not just have an outline, but a story board. Here I’ll already have key images set up, and laid out in reasonable order that progress with the story. Instead of hastily searching round for a descriptive picture I need to use later, I’ll have it to hand so maybe I can be more descriptive in my first draft.

Now, for stroy boarding, I can’t draw for toffee. Just a few very simple sketches, and maybe a technical drawing or two, but I can use photographs. Handily, for this year’s NaNoWriMo project, two of my three choices are set in the present day, which means I can take photos of places, people, fashions, and things that will be relevant to my novel. For the space option, I’ll have to get more creative, a combination of a visits to the Royal Armouries in Leeds, airports, and suh can fill the gap in the futuristic sides of the novel.

I’ll need shots of as many people as possible to drill down to my core characters, and same with palces and things. Always take too much, you can filter out what’s there to the essentials you need. Which is true of many things in life, to be fair.

So, once I’ve got all my pictures ready, using the outline, I can use OneNote, or Word, or Publisher, or my whiteboard to layout a story board and put the pictures on it. Choosing a picture to represent the core aim, location, character, or event for each chapter, or scene. If you want to get complex, (and let’s face it, I’m a complicated guy, so I do), you can do varying levels of story boarding. Starting at the overall plot, then each layer goes into more and more detail.

Before you think I’ve gone nuts, I should point out I’m a Business Analyst, and this is often how I go about designing process maps. So it makes sense to me, if you want to do a story board, find the way that makes most sense to you. Which is true of any advice you find online, or in books, or the random drunkard who once wrote a story long before he became a alcholhic, and insists on telling you how the best way to do it is.

Lastly

I mentioned, you don’t have to be particularly good, and that’s true. You don’t need a fancy schmancy camera for this, the camera on the phone will do just as well, (and whether you’re on iPhone, Android, or Windows Mobile there’ll be great apps for cataloging your photographs). That’s how a lot of mine get taken, from my phone, though I do prefer a proper camera when I can, sometimes the perfect thing that needs capturing is at the time you’re least likely to be carrying a camera. Make do, having the photo is better than not having a photo because you couldn’t have taken it perfectly.

I should add a note of caution, make sure you don’t appear like a peeping tom, it’s no good sticking your lens into people’s homes without permission for instance, and it’s no excuse for stalking.

And one final bit of advice, get a couple of high resolution crowd shots, within those crowds should be a mix of gender, ages, race and other cuts of society. When you’re stuck for inspiration for a character, get out the picture and point at one at random, then see if you can work them up into a character, complete with physical appearance and description. It’s a bit like people watching, only more convenient when you’re at home on your computer writing.

Happy snapping, and happy typing to you all.

P.S. I included that particular photo for a reason, aside from getting the law of thirds very roughly right, getting lead-in lines, it was done on my camera, and came out blurry, which is unimportant, it’s a great item for the story board for one of my ideas. Plus it didn’t contain any people, so I couldn’t offend anyone.

Road to NaNoWriMo 2013 starts here

So I’ve been a bit quiet on here for a bit too long – the same is true of my writing.

After my success at NaNoWriMo 2011,and personal difficulties during and after, I wanted 2012 to be a significant year, unfortunately I stalled on editing my NaNoWriMo novel. It needs a serious re-write to turn my main character into a bad guy, with sympathetic qualities who reluctantly becomes the hero the universe needs, from where he was in the first draft which is a good guy in a bad guy’s job.

I know what I needed to do, but I choked for now. I will come back to it later on I’ve decided.

But choking doesn’t stop there, aside from a couple of false starts I’ve not written anything original. I have however had some great ideas, which is what I’m going to write about now.

You see, one of the things that helped me last year was the planning I did for my novel. I may not have ended up following the exact plan, but I had enough of an idea about where I was going that I was able to do 50,000 words in two weeks, and finish the story around 75,000 within three weeks. I learnt something, I’m not good at ‘pantsing’, (writing by the seat of your pants). So this time round I’m considering several possible stories, and doing my best to outline them.

Before I get into what my ideas are, I should mention targets. This year, for NaNoWriMo, I’m going to completely aim over the top. My personal target for the month of November will be 125,000 words. It’s doable, my daily word rate for the three weeks was 3751, to hit 125,000 in 30 days would be 4,166. Not a huge stretch, but it won’t leave much time for stopping and struggling for the next idea needed to keep the story moving. So planning is going to be key, and this year I’m trying to plan better.

I have three possible novels this year:

  • Firstly, one I’ve wanted to do for a while, a modern retelling of the Count of Monte Cristo, set in London, Paris, and New York. The world is primed for it, and can fit around the events of the novel to really come alive. Downsides, what I have in mind is quite complex, easily 125,000 words, but a lot of is nitty gritty detail of the revenge operations.
  • Secondly, a continuation of the universe created in last year’s NaNoWriMo novel, involving a new protaginist, a new antagonist, a wholly different adventure that might, or might not run consecutively, or concurrently to the original story. Challenges, 125,000 might be a bit long for a space adventure novel of the type I write.
  • Thirdly, a complete restart of my first NaNoWriMo novel from back in 2008, I’ve learned a lot since then, I never actually got it finishedm (though I hit the 50,000 mark just), and I think about it alot. Goal, to fully re-imagine the story to make it easier to read, give the characters more history and depth, and give them more urgency – 125,000 words might be long, but it gives me a chance to explore the nature of the world.

At this stage I’m not sure which I’m going to go with – I’ve already started outlining the Monte Cristo project, but I realised it’s possibly too much for NaNoWriMo – I know a lot can be done in editing, but I would really want to get in the revenge plots as well as I can and just need to clean them up for the second draft. It involves really looking at ways you can screw over bankers/investors/hedge fund managers and the like, and achieve a satisfactory level of revenge.

The others would be easier on many levels, the space pirates universe is easy to write for, it’s largely pulp fiction, with easy rolling story lines, multiple arcs that intertwine, but fun as well as there’s politics, dubious motives on characters and nations. The rework of my 2008 NaNoWriMo is easier because I know the story, certainly the first three quarters, and I’ve got great ideas for thinking about, (imcomplete projects are rarely far from my mind).

Once I’ve gone through the Pro’s and Con’s of each idea, I’m going to write a summary, (just a line or two for each about the principle character(s), the situation, and the goal), and if after that I still can’t decide, I’ll have to go all out and do a synopsis of some description for each one.

The great thing is, which ever two I don’t do for NaNoWriMo can be my projects for the 334 days after NaNoWriMo. I’ve got time booked off this Christmas, (usually I work except for the bank holidays), so I think that’s a good time to start my first post NaNoWriMo novel.

I turn 30 this year, so I’m determined that this year will be the turning point where I knuckle down and not get distracted from….

Ooh look shiney!

Sorry, I won’t get distracted from my writing.

With even more planning going into this year’s novel, I’ll hopefully have plenty to say. Plus, I’ve some other ideas for articles that would be worth exploring… so you might just be stuck with me for a bit.

Tools for NaNoWriMo 2011 (Writing)

This post is a little delayed, but that’s a good thing as my NaNoWriMo project this year nearly got caught in the Technology Trap™.

The Technology Trap™ is where seemingly productivity enhancing tools aren’t actually productive at all. This can be through misunderstanding of the purpose of a piece of technology, inappropriate training or education for a piece of technology, or through design flaws and errors in technology.

My problems were the latter, I wanted to be able to write on my phone and on my PC. Surely there must be an app for that right?

Congratulations there was, a nice simple little app called My Writing Spot on Android. It had word counts in the file list of the app, and in the Web application on the PC (the latter being better as it gave you word count per file and for the whole project). The website is My Writing Nook. It’s very good in theory, you write in a series of text files (which means no complications from unnecessary functionality at this stage of writing and if you’re worried about spell checking, most browsers handle this natively, and auto-correct on your phone when it’s not in a DAYC mood will take care of spelling there), when you click save the file is stored on a protected area of your Google account and is ready for your other device to pick up when it syncs. Now syncing is the best way – but it’s also where My Writing Spot falls down in its current version – the syncing is imperfect and at points you could be syncing over and over until the file moves from your phone to appear on your computer screen and vice versa. You nervously delete it from one, and hope that works, you make umpteen copies just in case.

All this lost time, and concentration becomes a distraction from writing. I finally gave up on it when one night I ended spending a several hours trying to sort it.

Since then, I’ve switched back to good old trusty Microsoft Word when on my laptop on my mobile where I still want to write I’ve gone with QuickOffice which allows me to work on the same file and I could easily view and add to my Excel tracker for NaNoWriMo.

That’s fine with me, except I don’t want to be emailing files several times a day, it’s too inconvenient. So I signed up to Box, they are already integrated into QuickOffice, but they also have a plug in for Office so I can in effect open from and save to my account fairly fast, and then do the same from my mobile.

Even there though was a Technology Trap™, early on with QuickOffice, it crashed while saving to my Box while the signal was a bit intermittent. Lost a few hundred words (I should say this for My Writing Spot, I never lost any actual words just time). Since then I open the file save it down locally and when I’m ready for the PC I save it back to my Box. Haven’t had a problem since of that kind and it doesn’t really take much time more..

QuickOffice isn’t perfect, it doesn’t handle Swype well, but I’ve changed Android keyboards since which I’ll come on to shortly.

So to summarise the majority of my writing is done in Microsoft Word with stuff during commute and breaks at work is handled on QuickOffice – it’s worked for me for the last half of NaNoWriMo.

Another thing that’s made a big difference to writing on my phone has been Swype, it was a lot faster than typing – though it could get annoying at times not recognising what I was trying to say. When I was using My Writing Spot this wasn’t too bad, as I could press the Swype button and it would offer alternatives. The button doesn’t work like that in QuickOffice which was annoying, (it does do this automatically when it’s not sure first time – the issue is when it thinks it got it right and didn’t).

I have since changed keyboards to one called SwiftKey which uses Natural Language Processing to predict based on your historical typing what words come next, a bit like T9 and its derivatives but predicts further ahead. It means you can say more with fewer key presses. It’s taken me some time to get used to typing rather than swiping my way across the screen but it’s actually pretty good at what it does, (however since the most recent update of QuickOffice it annoyingly doesn’t work as well, with several faults in interaction between the two).

I’ll see how it does at writing fiction later, but it is doing okay with blog posts and text messages. Though, as I mentioned, there are a couple of issues with QuickOffice since the most recent update of the software.

Other tools I’ve found invaluable are covered below split between mobile, PC, and real world tools. Some of these may have been mentioned in the planning post, but I list them here as they are also vital to my writing process this NaNoWriMo.

Mobile apps (on my Samsung Galaxy SII with Android 2.3):

  • Thinking Space – mind mapping software for Android with a rough around the edges file syncing system. Most of my planning was stored in Mind Maps, meant it was easy to find and reference the information I stored there, navigate my plot plan and get my story roughly back to it. Thinking Space is the only Mind Mapping software I’ve tried for Android, but it does the job very well. It’s a lot easier to use than PC versions I’ve tried.
  • Fake Name Generator – based on criteria you select it generates a random name and identity information. It generates a lot of points of information such a national conforming phone number, email address, date of birth (gives you age as well if you’re not interested in DOB), occupation, fake credit details, fake website, and vital statistics like height weight and blood type. I have spreadsheets with thousands of fake details like this but it’s handy having an app that generates and does so by gender, ethnicity, and language. I tried two or three from the market this one worked best for me. It does require an internet connection to generate but you can save the identities you generate to access later without a connection.
  • Task – a generic app that came already installed on my, however I used it to craft an initial timeline based on my Excel forecasting as to when I would get to particular sections, and notes to remind me to do things when I did. However, after the first few chapters I gave up trying to divide my work as I went, and decided to do chapters in editing. However this was no fault of the app, and I will use it again because it has a relatively simply to use interface. I’ve looked on market, it’s not there, but there are alternatives.
  • Dolphin Browser HD – There are a lot of options for a browser, but if you’re writing in the wild, it’s handy to have internet references in the wild, and I find I get less distracted by the inconsequential when on mobile phone than when I’m at the PC. However there quite a few options for non-stock browsers on Android, I choose Dolphin Browser HD not because it’s the fastest, or because it does the most, but because it’s a good all rounder and handles complex sites fairly well. I also appreciate the interface most of the time, the sliding menu and favourites bar for instance are handy most of the time, unless they accidentally pop out at random.
  • QuickOffice – Which I’ve already mentioned, it does everything I need, except work consistently with custom keyboard technologies. However even those problems aren’t insurmountable.

PC applications and websites (on my Dell Inspiron Duo with Windows 8 Developer Preview):

  • Microsoft Office 2010
    • Microsoft Word – I’m a long time Microsoft Word user, I remember going way back into the days of DOS. I’ve grown up with it, I was educated on it, and have educated others in it. So out of all the free versions out there, I’ll still opt for this every time. I say this to admit my bias when I say this is the best Word Processor available bar none. Everyone however is entitled to their own view of this, but I like the things Microsoft does well, and better than the competition, and I like the idiosyncratic things they don’t. However to summarise it in an unbiased way, it accepts words in a variety of languages, has custom dictionaries, can do macros if you like for to automate common functions (I like having a short cut for adding page breaks), the newer versions have the ribbon, which I hated initially but have grown to enjoy for the most part, especially with a touch screen.
    • Microsoft Excel – For all your spreadsheeting needs, there’s nothing better. I am however a power user, and fill spreadsheets with macros, and charts many of them created or customised by me.
    • Microsoft OneNote – I use OneNote to store all my more detailed notes, web page clippings, random notes, and samples
  • FreeMind – is a free Mind Mapping software for the PC, which works with files from Thinking Space on the android phone. I mostly use it for reviewing on a larger screen what I’ve done on the mobile.

 

So there you have it, a brief over view of the tools I’ve used for NaNoWriMo 2011. I’m going to try out a different set of tools, and some different methods for going about my writing, to give me something to compare to. Also, while I acknowledge my favourites here, I am open to something better being out there, as long as its a tool that works with the whole process with minimum fuss.

I’ll do another post in the new year to let you know what I’ve chosen to try, and how it has gone. In the meantime, suggestions wouldn’t be unwelcome.

 

NaNoWriMo 2011 – From Week Two to the End

NaNoWriMo 2011 week two, or as I shall hereby refer to the 45th week of 2011, ‘ The week that won it’.

I’m sure you can guess why, if you can’t, or even if you can because I want to show off, as of Sunday 13th November I hit 50,000 words (50,443 to be precise). Can’t validate until the 25th November, but still after falling short two years running, to hit a second week finish feels great.

I can tell you, it was quite a buzz to hit the 50,000 mark, and I didn’t stop there. Week three saw me push on with the aim of hitting 75,000 words, including “The end.” Want to know how that went? Well I did that too. Though, it was a bittersweet second victory, someone I loved dearly passed away on the Saturday, and I contemplated on just stopping with 8,846 words still to go. That wasn’t the memory I wanted to have of someone I love passing, and though it was a slog, I finished at 75,114 on day 21.

So, the last step of the immediate NaNoWriMo process is to validate your win. And I did.


So there you go – I officially win this year’s NaNoWriMo. I have a badge to prove it.

However, I have decided that there is more to NaNoWriMo than simply writing 50,000 words though – that’s goal number one, with a couple of sub-goals that are worth noting. Below I’ve listed important steps in the writing process as I see them right now, (I reserve the right to grow as a writer and evolve these later*).

 

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Tools for NaNoWriMo 2011 (Planning)

So I’ve talked about the planning I’ve done and am still doing for NaNoWriMo but not about how I’m going to be working.

First of there’s how I’ve done the planning. There are obvious tools such as the browser I’ve done online research from (Firefox on my PC, and Dolphin Browser on my phone), and then sites such as Wikipedia,  space.about.com, and news websites (for the latest science and technological developments and theories). Nothing ground breaking there, I’ve been using a lot of science based sites to flush out details I can populate my universe with, but some sites on the history of piracy, and 16th, 17th, and 18th century naval life.

That’s all great but once I’ve got it, whether it’s snippets or whole articles I need to store it so that I can access it again, preferably offline so I’m not distracted by the internet later on. For this I use Microsoft Office OneNote – something I’ve had for ages but never gotten round to exploring for writing. It’s good, I’ve two projects on there, one for all that juicy research, the other for character bio’s and scene/locales.

I’m also using an app on my phone called Thinking Space (I’m using the pro version, but the free version doesn’t restrict you other than listing some screen retail to ads). This is a mind mapping (or brain storming if you want to call a spade a spade) tool, it’s a lot lower on detail than one note but has the advantage of quickly summarising thoughts and ideas and showing how things are interconnected. It’s in Thinking Space I’ve also mapped out the structure of the story, so I can clearly see what each chapter needs to include to feed events four or five chapters further into the story, and ultimately the end. Hopefully it means no loose ends at the end, and if I can keep it up to date it gives me a to-do list of changes I need to make in editing if things happen later in the story that weren’t originally part of the plan and need supporting events.

Other basics in the planning stage include Microsoft Word, Notepad, and a calculator. Then there’s my Kindle, where I’ve been reading plenty of similar sci-fi, and piracy novels. They’d also a few travel guides on there as this is an interplanetary novel each location needs to be distinct but something that can be related to by the Earth found denizens of today’s earth. It helps to borrow from out countries, cities, and cultures to enrich my fictional universe, lest everything in the universe somehow looks and feels like Leeds.

Add into that Google Sky Maps, Google Translate, and we’ve pretty much got everything I need for a space based science fiction story.

These are the tools I’ve used fire the planning, and they’ll be reused in the writing stage, but added to by things that are geared to better improve my writing, speed me up, andkeep me going. I’ll cover those in a subsequent post dedicated to that subject. I’ll do one in January to show the tools I’ll use to edit this story. For other novels I’ll try different tools and review them.

Nanowrimo Day One

Day one… is done.
I’m not going to bore you and me with daily NaNoWriMo updates – I’ll keep it weekly.  However as the first day is over, I thought I’d give it a start.
So my thoughts on my NaNoWriMo project so far – I suck. Okay, it’s not that bad, I’m  well past the 1,667 word standard target for day one, however I wanted to blast it. My  personal schedule called for 6,000 words. In the end, when I finished last night I was  at 3,062 words. I should be happy with that, but I’m not.
See the problem is, I got home from work, (and I’d been successfully writing on my  phone on the way home), and just went pfft. I got distracted by the interwebs,  television, food, reading the news. So what I need tonight is a digital coccoon to stop  this happening again. Going to need it to, as I’d really like to make the Herculean effort  to get back on track, (according to my schedule for the early push by the end of today I  need to be pushing 10l to 11k). However, that’s probably not reasonable, so if I write  6,000 words today, I will allow myself to get back online. Though from this point  onwards I’ll only be recording the shows I like, I’ll wait until I hit 50k to watch them, (I  actually prefer watching multiple episodes back to back anyway, you get to to see arcs  developing better than if watching them one by one.
After today the schedule, aside from weekends, becomes a lot less punishing – that’s  why a good strong early push is so important.
Okay, aside from my crap ability to focus after a days work, and my inability to resist  the temptation of other forms of entertainment,  the story itself is going pretty good.  I’ve got a pretty good idea where I’m going still, we’ve not gone completely off plan  (though I used more words than I anticipated in the first section – I can easily see in  editing that the word count in that chapter alone will drop 25-50% but I’m not too  worried about that now). I’m now on the second chapter, and I’m pushing hard at the  world building, because chapter one was too limiting an environment to build up the  world the story takes place. Chapter two is a little cruise, several meet and greets,  and  just a tinge of excitement, as a preview of what is to come as the story progresses to  the thirdhalf way point.
That’s actually a little bit of an issue, but again I’m pusing it aside until the editing  process – I think the plan I have flows pretty well, but it does trouble me that the main  events of the story line don’t happen till late on – with feeder events earlier on building  up to it. However, if it doesn’t work I’ll worry about it in editing, because it’s too late to  go back now, and if I go off plan I’ll probably lose the thread in my head.
This of course makes sense to me, but I offer no guarentees anyone else will  understand a word of this.
So, do I feel confident after just one day? Despite not being where I want to be, the  likelihood is I will finish this year, I do have a plan, I’ve got a cast of characters, yet still  there’s plenty of room for my own creativity.
I was going to throw in all sorts of random stats, such as I’ve spent around 4 hours 37  minutes writing, currently averaging 15 words per minute (including the time I’m sat  looking at the screen trying to motivate myself to put words down), at my current rate  there’s 59 hours writing to go, and as things stand now (with only a part day done on  the second day),  should finish on or around the 27th November), however I just could  find a seemless way to fit them into this post, so you’ll have to wait till I’ve got a few  days worth of stats.

Aha! Found You!

My muses have elected to return to me it seems. I suddenly have the ability to write again, and am doing so with gusto working on a new project. I know, I have lots of unfinished projects I should be working on, but I’m just enjoying writing right now.

So the new project, it’s currently titled Journals of a Space Corsair, and is a sci-fi piece. Inspired by the concept of the Bio of a Space Tyrant novels by Piers Anthony, which I read recently, and once I finished reading those books, I also read Michael Crichton’s Pirate Latitudes, between the two of them, this whole science fiction universe of mine was inspired and created in my mind. What’s more is I’ve been able to put it into words, something I’ve struggled to do for the past eighteen months.

It’s a nice feeling, not too many words just yet, but just passed the 20,000 mark in two weeks so that’s a comfort.

The way I’m doing this project is blog posts, it’s an auto-biography, so I’m going to write it as a series of confessionals, the man’s story in his own words, detailing his good deeds, but mostly his crimes, the lifestyle he led, and the suffering he brought and received. The hardest part is not giving in to my tendency to make the character a flawed good guy, or to have the character swing from bad to good. I’m trying to write something that reflects a man, and not an archetype from a TV series. That isn’t to say there isn’t an arc, in fact there’s a pretty big one, and my aim is the character goes from illegality to legitimacy, and then back to illegality. Times are turbulent, wars rise up and allegiances change.

I do feel the need to acknowledge Piers Anthony, and Michael Crichton, as their books are a massive influence on this story, it was their books that really lit my imagination on fire.

From Michael Crichton I tried to take a sense of how pirates actually operated, and in many ways how the new world worked, the trade routes between the colonial lands, the stopping off points like Jamaica, which I’ve tried to translate the spirit of into worlds and space stations.

From Piers Anthony, obviously I’ve tried to take the format, the fictional autobiography of a significant figure in future history, I’m also borrowing some of the technology he mentions in his books, the travelling via a beam of light, over massive distances, which is as reasonable a way to explain interstellar travel as any. Of course it is fraught with its own difficulties in a story that takes place in real time, with politics, wars, and tactics – I can’t really afford it taking decades to travel from one planet to the other. Instead, I shall embellish the idea with faster than light energy – so it takes days and weeks to travel between the stars.

I think it is important to acknowledge where a story comes from – it is not my intention to plagiarise these amazing authors, but they have inspired within me a tale which I think is unique and distinct in its own right. Besides when it comes to science fiction, it’s never easy to come up with easy ideas for propulsion, and story telling in general tends to form into archetypes. I think that’s one of the advantages of writing an account of a self confessed bad guy, while not ground breaking or unique, it is a point of view that is carried far less often than that of a hero, heroically battling to save the world.

My intention is to post up a chapter (and if I write it right, it will be more of a self contained short story, which feeds into the overall tale), every fortnight, detailing a significant memory of this space corsair. I won’t be launching it right away, as I want to build up four or five chapters ahead, this gives me a nice cushion with which to edit the stories (because while the muse does flow, it tends not to check the grammar for me, nor does it worry about the annoying inconsistencies of writing large pieces of work in small bits). Also, my sister’s baby is due next month, I’m on holiday in Prague in August, and I’m off to the British Science Festival in Birmingham this September, so there’s plenty to interrupt my schedule.

Speaking of the British Science Festival, I’m really looking forward to it, it feeds a lot of knowledge in my science fiction, such as the power system for the ships in my story – I learned that from a presentation I went to on fusion energy, I always favoured the methodology employed in the tokamak fusion generators, rather than the method involving lasers, purely because it seems to me that once such devices as ITER are operational and producing massive quantities of energy, we would be able to learn from this and scale the process down to have a device that can sit aboard a starship and produce the kind of energy I need for propulsion, FTL (faster than light) travel, and of course the staple of most space based science fiction, the weapons.

I am genuinely excited to be writing again, and long may it continue. Nanowrimo is in November (it’s always in November, hardly a surprise there), and this year I’m going to ace it. Mark my words.