Monthly Archives: December 2012

Of (Un)Packing, Quantum Physics & Pooms

After months of preparation and packing, we finally moved into our new house last week. I had hoped to have an Internet connection set up by now, but we’ve built in a new area where we have to wait for the National Broadband Network to be rolled out. That won’t be happening until February, so that’ll unfortunately mean that I’ll be blogging less until then. That being the case, this post’s going to be a special extended edition…or some such.

As it turned out, the only day we had free to move was the same day that we had tickets to see Russell Brand performing at Rod Laver Arena. Now, Russell’s material is pretty adult (so I don’t expect any kids reading this to be familiar with it) and his persona is a divisive one (I thought he was a bit of an idiot until I actually watched his material) but something he discussed in his show touched on something that’s been of interest to me.

He talked about human sight being stuck between the ultraviolet and infrared spectrums, of our sense of reality being limited to what our five senses can perceive, and to imagine what it’d be like to have the antenna that would allow us insight into other, previously imperceptible dimensions of reality.

It’s the kind of thing I’ve read about in everything from the comics of Grant Morrison to the writings of Michio Kaku, and it’s the exact kind of thing I hope to include in Vanguard Prime one day. Will I get there? Hopefully. Will it be any good? No idea. But it’s an exciting idea nevertheless, and a strange one to encounter at a comedy show.

From one self-indulgent topic to another; I wrote a lot of poetry when I was a teenager. Correction – I wrote a lot of bad poetry when I was teenager. I did it without humour or irony. I did it to bare my soul. Until recently, I had forgotten what had prompted me to take up the quill and the inkpot to pontificate on my emotional suffering.

But in going through my book collection as part of the move, I stumbled across my copy of The Dead of the Night by John Marsden, part of his seminal Tomorrow series. Flipping through it, I was reminded of the character who had a predilection for poetry, with one of his poems serving as the book’s final lines. And that’s when I remembered…this is what inspired me. This is why I had started writing poetry.

To be fair, my poems were more like song lyrics. Super-earnest song lyrics about my sense of alienation and doomed romanticism. Basically, it was a coping mechanism, a therapeutic activity to deal with all the emotional feedback that comes with adolescence. My poetry-writing faded as I got older, finally killed by a university assignment where we had to write a poem and, in doing so, I was graded with the equivalent of a C minus. Ouch.

With that C minus came a self-consciousness, and I became aware of how ridiculous you can come across when you write a poem – a bad poem – and very humorlessly and pompously offer it as if you’re sharing some great insight to the world.

Case in point; Madonna.

I remember seeing this clip as part of a concert documentary she released a few years ago, and it characterised everything I found embarrassing about my own past with poetry, from the rhyming couplets to the ‘I’ve written a poom’ declaration that prefaces it. It made the whole practice feel ridiculous and ripe for mockery.

But then a few years later I saw Neil Gaiman giving an author talk, and he very unashamedly, very matter-of-factly recited some of his own poetry. From there, I’ve come to feel that poetry isn’t its own weird sub-category of writing, but another colour in a writer’s palette.

Poetry frees you from the rules of fiction and story, challenging your brain to move in directions it otherwise might not. As a result, I’ve once again started dabbling in poetry, looking to stretch my descriptive and tonal muscles, playing with words to make a song of them.

I’m a long way off from sharing any of it publicly, though. It’s strange how much more intimate poetry feels, and how much more vulnerable you feel as a writer when giving it to people to read. And that’s perhaps poetry’s greatest strength; it cuts away the artifice, leaving only pure meaning.

Wow…that got earnest. In any case, I recommend any young readers out there to give poetry a go. You may look back on it with embarrassment one day. But it’s worth it.

The Pitfalls of Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.

repetition 1

If you write for long enough, you’ll find that certain turns of phrase show up in your work with disturbing regularity. You might not notice it yourself. Not at first. It’ll sneak up on you like the Predator, all clicks and grrrs and shimmering photosensitive camouflage, with the neon green blood and the shoulder-mounted laser and…

I’m getting a little off-topic here.

In any case, it may take someone else pointing it out for you to become aware of it, or you’ll go over an old piece of work and find certain phrasings cropping up over and over again.

There was one book I read where the writer was constantly comparing things to bullets. It happened almost every other chapter (at least, I remember it happening every other chapter. It was probably more like four or five references across an entire book).

One or two bullet comparisons would have been fine but when it kept cropping up it became distracting, and you started to wonder how closely the editor had been paying attention (which is itself an unfair sentiment; the editor may well have pointed it out and the writer may have rejected any suggested changes).

When I wrote my first manuscript, I noticed certain words repeating themselves enough times that I cobbled together a phrase that used them all; “slowly spiralling towards an ocean of stars”. I used this phrase as a reminder that I shouldn’t lean on these words and pieces of imagery too much. And this breaking of bad habits continues to this day; my editor and I are currently going through Vanguard Prime: Wild Card, and it was pointed out to me that I had to watch my use of the word “however”.

But in addition to that, I also noticed my overuse of the word “cannon” – not just in this book, but across all the Vanguard Prime books I’ve written so far. And that’s where the real challenge lies. Avoiding repetition in a single book is relatively easy, if you pay close enough attention. Avoiding repetition across a series of books? Across an entire body of work? It’s a daunting prospect that can almost paralyse you. You become so anxious about avoiding not only established cliches but your own cliches, while also not straying into purple prose, that you risk your writing becoming little more than the records of a court stenographer.

These are the things that are on my mind as I put the edit for Wild Card to bed and start to focus again on writing Book 4. It’s the kind of neurotic writer nonsense that’s generally better off left to midnight fever dreams and stress binging…but what’s a blog for but to provide cheap therapy?