In with the old…

When it comes to re-starting an old project where do you begin?

I’ve spoken before about the (many) half-finished or just-started documents that are saved to my computer, etc. but it’s not like I begin with the intention to leave them as they are. Generally, I have the best intentions when I start tapping away at the keyboard.

So, I’d like to turn the attention of those best intentions towards a couple of my old projects that I would love to see cross the finish line.

How do I start them all over again?

Yes, I’ve got words already and there are possibly some notes lying around somewhere if I can find the right folder but, that doesn’t necessarily make the writing process any easier.

Notes can be great guidelines if you’re the kind of person who likes to keep a record of their creativity but, if the project has been on the back burner for a while then you’re bound to have changed your mind about some of the elements of your story. Change is just part of the process. Throwing everything out and re-writing it all from scratch may not be the best way to go but, sticking to your old, possibly out-of-date notes like they’re your own personal rulebook isn’t likely to be the best option either.

What do I usually do when I’m in this situation? Well, I tend to read through what I’ve already got but, it’s not very often that I’ll get to the end before I’m opening up another document at the side of the screen and I’m starting to fix things. More often than not ‘fix’ means that I’m writing the story from the beginning with the changes mixed in. It’s pretty rare that I’ll just make bullet points, etc. concerning any solutions if I know where I want the new elements to go.

That’s not to say that I’ve never looked at an old piece of writing and been happy reading through the whole thing (best feeling ever).

However, with the projects I’d like to tackle right now that’s not really the case. I was never completely happy with first project and I am, in fact, planning to write a brand new opening to the whole story. I’d also like to lengthen it as I think (and have been told) that it would make a pretty good novel rather than a short story which was it’s first incarnation.

As for the other project, I was interrupted before I could finish writing everything that I’d planned and it was a little bit out-of-sight-out-of-mind for a while but I still like the premise. It’s nice to feel excited about looking over an old project rather than slightly wary.

For the two projects I have in mind I’m sure that, as well as increasing the word count, I’ll look at fixing any problems that are already there. I know I usually say that fixing problems falls under the category of ‘editing’ but you shouldn’t be afraid to use what you’ve already got. Starting from a blank page with an old idea can feel more like starting from scratch than coming back to something familiar.



Overwatch Anthology: Volume 1


Overwatch Anthology: Volume 1 was published in October 2017. The book is put together by a team of people who I would love to list but I promise that they are all mentioned with little bios at the back of the book.

I wouldn’t call myself a ‘gamer’ but when I am in the mood to grab a controller I’m a big fan of games that tell a great story (the Kingdom Hearts series is very popular in our house).

The game Overwatch was first released in May 2016 but, what I really loved about the release of the game were the short animated films that each focused on one or two of the many characters that are part of the franchise. They are beautifully done and I adore how much thought obviously went into each of the characters. (You can check them out on YouTube: PlayOverwatch)

That’s why I was so excited to find the gorgeous hardcover book. The Overwatch Anthology from Dark Horse Books collected a whole bunch of the stories of Overwatch and the first was about McCree! Yeah, I’ve got a bit of a soft-spot for the outlaw/bounty hunter Jesse McCree who is trying to fight for just causes in an attempt to make up for his past.

The game itself is a multiplayer online first-person shooter video game and the plot of the franchise is that it is set sixty years into the future of a fictionalized Earth. In the beginning the veteran soldier Jack Morrison was put in charge of Overwatch while veteran solider Gabriel Reyes was put in charge of Blackwatch, Overwatch’s covert ops division. When everything fell apart, including Gabriel and Jack’s friendship, Overwatch was forcefully disbanded after there was an explosion at the headquarters which supposedly killed members of Overwatch including Jack and Gabriel. The game is set a few years after this when some members of Overwatch decide that they can’t sit by and watch the world descend further into chaos.

The stories in the anthology show the characters outside of their roles in Overwatch but, each one of them is attempting to do something positive (Alright, so ‘positive’ is debatable in Junkrat & Roadhog’s case but they’re funny). Many of them are trying to save lives. Of course, there are also some really serious moments as the characters are living in a future that’s scarred by war and violence. I knew that I’d get emotional over Ana’s story because of what I already knew about the character but, it still took me by surprise a little bit.

Then, it was followed by a short Halloween story titled ‘Junkenstein’ which was unexpected and absolutely delightful and funny as Reinhardt tried to spook his teammates (awww, McCree’s little werewolf story at the beginning 🙂 ).

There’s a little bit of back-and-forth as the stories in the anthology are mixed between past and present but, it’s so great to see more of the developed characters of the franchise (although I do wish that there was more about Hanzo and Genji but, I’ve got my fingers crossed for a volume 2).

The graphic novel is beautifully illustrated, just like their online animations, etc. and it was so worth buying (mine was a gift from people who know me very well but my point still stands).

Of course, I’m going to have to choose an excerpt about McCree (I promise that I am not biased) to round off this review 🙂 and hey, you can read McCree: Train Hopper online if I’ve persuaded you that it’s worth reading 😉



World Book Day

Today, on this very snowy day, I’m loving the tweets about World Book Day.

I love that it is even a thing and I wish that I could be out buying a new book today (as was the plan) but, instead I’m doing the sensible thing. I’m grabbing a book that I haven’t read before off the shelf and I’m curling up with it, while I occasionally look up to watch the snow outside the window.

Technically, I’m borrowing the book since that my sister bought it but, the novel Welcome To Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor has been one that I’ve wanted to read for a while (I’ll do a full review once I’ve finished it 🙂 ). Anything that ventures into the world of horror isn’t usually my type of thing but, I do enjoy listening to the Welcome To Night Vale podcasts (I’m currently listening to them from the beginning again). They are so weirdly calm (unless Station Management is roaming around) about the crazy events Cecil reports on. I love the vibe so, I’m excited to read the book.

World Book Day was always awesome when I was a kid (Yay, vouchers for free and discounted books) and now I’m loving their #ShareAStory thread on twitter. The snow may have caused a fair bit of disruption today to schools, etc. but it’s great seeing World Book Day’s enthusiastic tweets about making the most of it.

I know that a lot of people in the UK, especially any kids that have put in a lot of effort into dressing up, will be disappointed about any school closures/cancellations of events elsewhere but, I don’t believe that the effort is wasted. Take lots of pictures. Read your favourite stories together while you enjoy the snow outside as a pretty backdrop. Cross your fingers and hope that your school will reschedule the fun events if they’ve been closed today.

It’s a great day to think about the books that we love and the books that we’re looking forward to reading.


The Little Book of Common Sense by Terry Wogan

the little book of common sense

The Little Book of Common Sense… or Pause for Thought with Wogan by Terry Wogan with illustrations by Simon Pearsall was first published in 2014.

It might not be an epic novel (as Terry Wogan practically says himself in the introduction) but, I bought this book for my mum because I thought that she would enjoy it. Nothing more, nothing less and I’m glad that I was right.

Although I read at least half of it over her shoulder, I did borrow the actual book afterwards and I read it properly from the beginning to the end.

The book turned out to be pretty much what I expected. It was full of anecdotes, sarcasm and a few moments of what could be considered to be wisdom. It’s pieced together using many subheadings that are followed by short paragraphs on the varied, proclaimed subjects from Life (Page 3 – this one made us all laugh) to Travel to Eurovision.

After reading the book, my mum said, “It was definitely him. You can hear his voice like when he used to read them out on Radio 2.”

Along with the amusing illustrations, each page is short but sweet (and sometimes laughably cynical – I found myself agreeing a lot with the book).

It’s a book designed so that you can read it all of the way through if you wish but you could also pick it up, read a couple of pages and then put it down again until the next time. I like that about it.

Most (if not all) of the book is designed to be quotable but I think that my favourite was right at the very beginning, even before the introduction: Don’t sweat the small stuff – only kindness matters.

The Unexpected

One of the most frustrating things about creative writing, in my opinion, is that it’s annoyingly easy to write yourself into a corner. I’m talking about those sentences that suddenly become dead ends or those events that suddenly seem to have no purpose in the middle of the story/paragraph.

That slow slide to a stop when you sit back from the keyboard and your mind is left with a bunch of question marks and the overwhelming feeling that you’ve dug down and you can’t climb back out.

Alright, so maybe that got a teeny-tiny dramatic towards the end of that description but, can you see my point?

Just the other day I had a character leave the house and return hours later with no information about what he did in the hours he was gone. Why did he leave in the first place? What did he do while he was out? Why did he come home? Well, if I’m the writer and I don’t know the answer to those questions (I still don’t know) then I don’t think that the reader has a chance of figuring it out.

That’s one of the main areas where editing thrives because taking out dead ends tends to make a piece of writing flow much better.

Yet, I always want to be better at avoiding these dead ends in the first place.

Avoiding boring sentences is usually the first step to this. I’m talking about sentences that aren’t necessary. If I’m asking myself, “Do I need to describe him putting milk on his cereal?” The answer is (almost) always no. When you’re following a character around, the day-to-day business of their lives is really only relevant if it furthers the plot. Yet, sometimes it’s tempting to get caught up in the small details as a writer.

Let’s be honest, working with original characters is like trying to build a person from nothing. Basically, all you have is small details. As you write, it’s inevitable that you need more and more details to stop you’re character from falling completely flat. People are really, really complicated but, just as you don’t need to know every single second about your best friend’s day, you can skip the boring stuff in favour of the rest when it comes to your character. It’s okay if we don’t know what kind of cereal they’re eating but, as readers we should know why they’re leaving the house.

Writing carries a weird sense of purpose. There’s a reason why we bother to scribbles words on a page so it shouldn’t be surprising that characters require reason for action as well.

A dead end means that you’ve come to a complete stop. These instances tend to be really uninspiring. So, the last time I wrote myself into a corner I skipped a couple of days in the narrative and started from there. New page, new day, new events.

The popular rule of improvisation is that every answer is “yes, and…” in order to keep the narrative going. Nothing stops a story more than a resounding, definite “no”. So, this rule isn’t a bad thing to apply to creative writing. If your sentence doesn’t have something about it that you can expand on then, maybe you should take a second look at whether it should be there in the first place.

Another way of moving things along, as well as giving your character something to say yes to or skipping to a new small beginning, is to throw something unexpected at your character (not always literally). It’s an immensely popular short story writing exercise to present your character with a situation, other character, etc. that changes the pace and guarantees that your character will have to interact with the situation to progress. Realising that there is nothing but yourself stopping you from putting whatever you want in your character’s path is kind of a weird moment of power in my experience. Your character sees a llama in the middle of the road? Great. Your character suddenly decides that they’re going to travel the world via boat? Awesome. An alien shows up in their bathtub? Well, okay then.

It’s a weird gig.

The point I’m trying to make is this. Dead ends are only permanent if you fail to carry on. So, keep writing and good luck.

The Legend Of Korra – Turf Wars: Part One

The Legend of Korra Turf Wars Part One

The Legend Of Korra – Turf Wars: Part One by Michael Dante DiMartino, with art by Irene Koh was first published in 2017

Turf Wars: Part One is the official continuation of The Legend of Korra and it’s also another one of the graphic novels I was lucky enough to get for Christmas and there is no way that I’m going to wait until the next Christmas to get Part Two.

Both the writer and the artist were involved in the production of The Legend of Korra TV series shown on the Nickelodeon channel and the graphic novel series follows on from the events of the final episode, ‘The Last Stand’. With several people involved in the creation of the novel I think that the bright colours and the continuation of the plot is true to the series that started it all but, I wouldn’t worry about reading it if you don’t have a lot of foreknowledge. The novel does lead off from events that happened in the TV series but, the graphic novel is very good at including any vital information you need so that you can follow the story.

However, if you really don’t know The Legend of Korra then I’m about to share a spoiler but, I have to say it: Korra and Asami make such a cute couple 🙂

I love that they were so excited about the start of their relationship and the novel really showed that. The TV series ended right where they became a romantic couple, holding hands as they walked into the spirit world together (it sounds like an amazing holiday) and it was so lovely to see more of that new element to their relationship.

Seeing Korra and Asami deal with issues such as who they should tell about their new relationship was a very realistic (and relatable) element of the story. It was great to see the happy reactions of their closest friends and relatives even if it was couched in short messages of caution about how other people could potentially react, which revealed a little bit about the way LGBTQ+ individuals might be treated in the Avatar universe. The people closest to them want Korra and Asami to be safe and happy and there’s a lot of love there and that was wonderful.

The graphic novel starts with Korra and Asami enjoying their time in the spirit world together which is beautifully illustrated. However, they soon end up back in the human world where they meet up with old friends, including Mako and Bolin, and find that there is a growing animosity between the spirits and humans who want to use the spirit portal for their own ends. Of course Korra, Asami and their friends are in favour of protecting the spirts and their portal. Amongst all of this exciting plot, Korra and Asami recognise that they need to work better as a team even as they vow to look out for each other.

Part One is great at setting up a story that promises to have a lot of conflict with new bad guys such as Tokuga but, there’s also a lot of lovely acceptance and team work as well. Korra and Asami’s conversation with Kya is a great example of this acceptance and adds a little bit more to her character story that I think is really sweet.

There’s a lot of great panels in the graphic novel just like this one before Kya approaches them:

The Legend Of Korra page.jpg

Good plot? Bad plot?

Right at the very beginning it can be pretty difficult to tell if your idea is a good one or not. The truth is, there really is no way of telling yourself for sure that you have a 100% chance of success or failure. All creative writing requires a leap of faith.

That’s no reason not to try.

The good thing about starting a new project that’s just yours is that you don’t have to talk to anyone about it if you don’t want to. That way, if something’s not working out when you’re developing your plot then you can just scrap the bad bits and keep the good. If you’re ambitious then someone will eventually see it but, they don’t need to see all of the torn pages and scribbled out lines that all writer’s toss to one side.

Don’t be afraid to say no if it’s not working out.

Everyone wants to have a unique idea and I know some people who get a little disheartened when they talk about an idea that they’re really excited about only to be told in reply, “Oh, that sounds like…”

Here’s a little tip: publishers like new stories that “sound like…” because if they’ve sold that type of book before then they know that they can do it again.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that you should be aiming for a new spin on an old idea all of the time. New ideas are what keeps creative writing fresh and exciting and moving forward like it should. That’s why all writers should remember, if you believe that your story has potential then you should try and see it through. Even if your initial idea isn’t completely unique, the writing and plot will be because it will be yours.

So, how do you specifically make your plot hit the good points and miss the bad?

Let me know if you figure it out. Haha, I’m joking (mostly). Writing a book is a trial because you’re trying to hit an impressive word count without boring your eventual readers and plot is pretty much what’s holding your characters, settings, etc. in place so, dropping the ball there doesn’t give you much of a book.

My main piece of advice is to keep the balance. No story needs big conflicts on every page and it’s okay if your idea drifts from place to place once you’re thousands of words into the tale. As a writer it’s not really your job to agonize over the genre you’re writing in – that’s for marketing and P.R. departments to consider because book selling boils down to ‘who is going to be interested?’ – but, it is your job to make sure that your plot makes sense. Reason has a big place in creative writing because if a major plot point occurs with absolutely no foundation then the reader’s going to be left thinking ??? when it doesn’t make sense and they may even put down the book – something I have done before and it honestly doesn’t bother me in those cases.

If one plot point follows another in your mind then great, you just have to make sure that your characters follow the path that you’re creating for them. I’d say that you’re doing pretty well if they are but, if you’re struggling a little bit that doesn’t immediately mean that you’ve got a ‘bad’ plot on your hands. It might just mean that it isn’t as smooth as you’d like it to be or you could do with taking a couple of steps back to see if you went in the right direction after all.

Readers will judge whether they think that the plot of a book is good or not but, as a writer it’s your job to make sure that it can be read at all.

As a writer you should be proud because the plot isn’t just the journey of the story, it’s the work, time and heart that you put into it.

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepperd

The Living Mountain front cover

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepperd was first published in 1977.

I read The Living Mountain partly because it was recommended by my dad but, I was also the one who bought him the book in the first place.

I knew very little about the author (I didn’t even know that her full first name is Anna) but I caught a snippet of something about her and her writing about the Scottish Highlands on TV. We were both watching and we were both intrigued which is why I thought that it would make a good gift for my dad.

The version of the book I bought was published in 2011 and it was first published in 1977 but, I was interested to find that she actually wrote the book during the 1930’s while the Second World War was taking place. The 2011 copy has an introduction by Robert Macfarlane which I skipped – also a recommendation by my dad. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against introductions written by someone other than the primary author and I may take a look at it in the future but it was Nan Shepperd’s words that I was looking for.

Nan Shepperd captures the sensation of mountain hiking beautifully. It’s a feeling I’ve always struggled to put into words myself (I’ve been hiking since I was a kid) and it’s captivating to read about her experiences in the Cairngorms.

The Cairngorms are a mountain range in the Eastern Highlands of Scotland. I’ve been there, once, but my half-remembered memories of turning back from our goal of scaling Ben Macdhui because the weather was bad, are no match for the eloquent and beautiful, yet sometimes terrible, picture that Nan Shepperd paints about the hours she’s spent in those wild places.

It was amazing, to me, to read about her watching Second World War training planes moving amongst the mountain valleys as she looked down on them from the peaks above. It gave the book a strong sense of ‘time’ as well as ‘place’ but, rather unusually, it didn’t prompt a sense of a distance too much for my imagination to reach between me, as the reader, and the narrator. As Nan Shepperd points out the changes made to the mountain by the people who walk there (especially in her foreword) there’s still a sense of steadiness and ancient history as she describes the mountain. From the smallest, clinging plant on the mountainside to the quickly changing sky in all seasons she writes about it all in small fragments and, in her own words (Page 1),

However often I walk on them, these hills hold astonishment for me. 

In particular, I must admit that Chapter 5 Frost and Snow was utterly captivating for me. I was doubly delighted that, as I read this chapter, it was snowing outside which is a rather rare sight where I live. She writes the truth – snow is a serious business as it shouldn’t be underestimated for it’s ability to do harm if it’s met by the unsuspecting but there is so much beauty in the phenomenon. She also writes about the snow revealing a closer connection to other denizens on the mountainside (Page 30),

The animals had fared as we did: sometimes we stepped buoyantly over the surface of drifts, sometimes sank in well above the knees.

Her stories of the animals she’s come across in her adventures may be some of her best anecdotes as my dad and I both agree that the stories of the ptarmigans (Page 66) and the owl (Page 97) are two of that really stood out.

There are a few more moments that I could happily pick out but I’ll keep it at two.

She tells a tale of her first climb up to the summit of Ben MacDhui and the sensation of being inside a cloud (Page 17). I know that I would’ve fallen short of describing such a phenomenon because there’s nothing quite like it in my experience but, she captured it wonderfully.

The second is her story of when she was wading in a loch and saw something unexpected (Page 12-13). It’s a small moment but there’s a wealth of meaning that she takes from it and it’s fascinating. It’s not all beautiful, positive moments in The Living Mountain as she doesn’t shy away from the darker consequences that can befall any unlucky hiker but, even that honesty is appreciated.

There are some people who you can listen to when they tell the stories of their lives and you hope that you will be able to tell stories as interesting as theirs one day. To me, that’s what this book felt like. It was a book of amazing stories from an interesting life told by a rare kind of person.

Where is the end?

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been in that ‘hey, that’d make an interesting story’ kind of mood.

This usually means that I write a couple of pages of what could potentially be the beginning of a story and then it’s put to one side or saved as a vaguely titled document (I’m trying to be better about titling).

I know that writing nothing except from the beginning of a story is not the best way to write if you have an intent to finish anything but, honestly, it’s been a while since I’ve been this interested in more than one or two ideas at a time. It feels strangely normal to me to think of a few ideas without intending to write pages and pages about every single thing. The better ideas tend to continue on without hours of agonizing over the tiny details and the worse ideas tend to fizzle out before I get past the initial plotting stages.

The endings of my stories might not be numerous when they’re compared to all of the ideas I’ve had in the past but, starting something and then putting it to one side is how I tended to write for quite a while. It worked for me at the time.

Not finishing a story doesn’t happen because there is a lack of interest or will. Sometimes it just doesn’t flow right or the idea dries up. I’d rather not tear my hair out or spend hours looking at an empty screen when I could be more productive elsewhere. Going back and picking up where I left off was always tricky though.

It sincerely hope that everything I’ve written lately won’t end up gathering dust or never be seen again. Of course, the responsibility of doing something with the scraps of stories lies solely with me.

In my opinion, it’s pretty promising that my 200 words a day project has been successful so far. That’s seventeen days of consecutive writing and 3,400 words in total so far. If I’ve ever written every day like that before, it’s been quite a while and I think that it’s definitely a good thing.

I want to be writing but, I also like to feel positive about it and at the moment that’s working together and resulting in some promising words. I’m finding it interesting that writing one particular story has also put me in a better frame of mind for tackling some of my other projects because I know that I’m being productive.

I’m still not entirely sure where the overall story plot is going  but, I’m glad that I’m not having too much trouble in finding 200 words to write on a daily basis. It’s been pleasantly surprising so far but there’s a long way to go before the end of the year.


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