Beaten To It?

…but hopefully not with a paddle. I spotted this in W.H.Smith at Northampton services on the M1 last weekend.

Angel -- Beaten To It?
Maybe Not the Shelf for Mine?

I’d realised my novel’s title is a bit of a hostage to fortune. I like it because it works in conjunction with the content of the novel in several different ways — and I like the definite article usage that’s so associated with pub names. But it obviously has many associations that aren’t lost on the publishers of erotica and similar. Therefore I wasn’t too surprised to see one of the heavily promoted titles in the erotica section in the motorway services used the same title — it’s one of the Mills and Boon Spice series. Interestingly, this is the only The Angel I could find on Amazon, although there are loads of Angel and Angels out there — Marian Keyes used the title and Katie Price has ‘written’ one too. As I’m so familiar with this title, I don’t know what I’d think if an agent or publisher wanted me to change it.

Book titles are a bit like song titles — there aren’t enough original ones to go round. At least mine wouldn’t sit on the same section of the bookshelves — barring a commercially focused rewrite and a foxy sounding pen name. Although the novel doesn’t shy away from the characters’ sexual lives, I think anyone looking for a bit of mass-market sado-masochism will be disappointed. Currently there’s no sex until almost half way through — but, of course, that may yet change.

Speaking of sex scenes in novels, I’ve been ‘enjoying’ excerpts from the Literary Review’s Bad Sex Awards (see previous post).  Now the shortlist is out, short 140-character bursts have been tweeted using the hashtag #LRBadSex2012.

I’ve had a few Twitter conversations with whoever tweets as @Lit_Review about some of this year’s incredible bunch of finalists — and they’re from largely well-known writers (one of the authors, Nicola Barker, wrote a set text for last year’s MMU second year MA course).

It’s not the flowery, purply-prose passages that I find particularly funny — sometimes you can see what the writer is trying to aim for — but the ones which are the opposite of lyrical. For example: ‘He ejaculates voluminously and with very great force indeed. In fact, he keeps on ejaculating, there’s loads of the stuff’, ‘he began to massage her with a kind of dry pumping action, which reminded her of someone blowing up a lilo’ or, my favourite, ‘his penis was jerking around wildly in her hand now and she began yelping to encourage his flow of thought’. The Literary Review doesn’t officially identify the authors of the tweets but let’s say my flow of thought is never going to be quite the same again when I’m watching a report on the nation’s stagnant GDP on Newsnight.

As an aside, and nothing to do with bad sex or erotica, I went to the Made In Germany exhibition in Shoreditch on Thursday — a show by six young or emerging German artists. I’d unreservedly recommend anyone else to visit — except that it finished last Friday (another show with different artists is probably planned). I particularly liked the young people nightlife pieces by Nadine Wölk (the only solo female artist) and the odd landscapes by duo Mike MacKeldey & Ellen DeElaine (possibly the same sort of landscapes Kim might paint).

Made in Germany Logo
Made in Germany Exhibition Logo (from German Embassy website)

I chatted with the representative from the German gallery who’d organised the show — and told him about my novel. Although I think he’d rather I wanted to buy one of the pictures, he told me a fair amount about how German artists trained and where they tended to live and work (mostly Berlin, as I’d imagined). Kim’s backstory in the novel is fortunately quite plausible — she trained at the Universität der Künste. And it would be quite feasible that she’d come to London, although as the chap from the gallery said he though that Shoreditch High Street was starting to look like Kensington, that she’d find it hard going financially.

On another tangential note, I listened to Dustin Hoffman on Desert Island Discs this morning and the section where he talked about being a young, unknown actor, trying to get parts at auditions was fascinating. His life at that time was all about coping with almost continual rejection.

He still seems to feel the pain in some ways and made a very telling point about how people in the acting industry judge talent. It’s his view that the worst actors often got hired, mentioning that his friend Gene Hackman, also then unknown, was such a good, naturalistic actor that it didn’t look like he was acting when he auditioned — which is what directors at that time wanted to see.

It’s Hoffman’s theory that casting directors are terrified of making a mistake and this leads them into usually preferring someone who’s derivative — who reminds them of a known quantity. Because of this, the original talents are often overlooked.

His story sounds reminiscent of the struggle for recognition of many writers — and how it’s easier to market work that fits a known niche. The photo above of all the Fifty Shades derivatives on the shelves at Northampton services makes the point. Twelve Shades of Submission even re-uses the s word in addition to the ‘number of [insert your kink here]’ formula.

But Dustin Hoffman is a salutary example of persistence. He kept on auditioning, got his break and he’s now received the ultimate honour even in this country — Desert Island Discs.

Broad Beans and Sea Urchins

Writing in the Field -- Tate Modern Espresso Bar

I was in London today and took the time to do a bit of novel-related research. I’m planning on setting a small part of my novel in the Tate Modern and so thought it might be in the spirit of the novel to actually write some of it there.

So, as the picture shows to the left, my netbook is out next to my Tate cappuccino while I wrote a few hundred words about what my characters were doing in the same place — I’m not sure if that does anything for the authenticity of the words on the page but it probably helps me feel that I have some sort of credibility in attempting to use this as a location.

I guess the photo is a bit symbolic in showing the subject of the writing along with the means by which it’s intended to be captured — the Word 2007 screenshot.

The floor where I was sitting is home to the current Gerhard Richter exhibition. This is an incredibly well-reviewed exhibition featuring the works of one of the world’s leading artists, who happens to be German, which fits a little with my novel.

I went to see the exhibition (it’s one of those you have to pay to go in) about five or six weeks ago and was actually very impressed with it. Richter is an incredibly versatile artist who’s created abstract art as well as fascinating landscapes and portraits and still lives — two of his works are exceptionally well known: one of his daughter turning her head and another of a candle that was used on a Sonic Youth album cover .

The Aphrodisiac Encyclopaedia
The Aphrodisiac Encyclopaedia at Christ Church Greyfriars

I then had a look around Daunt Books’ new Cheapside shop.

Nowadays I have to enter bookshops with a resolution of steel — I WILL NOT BUY MORE BOOKS (because I haven’t even got room for all those I currently have — let alone time to read them all). But as soon as I set foot over the threshold I’m ready to be seduced.

And seduction was on the menu for the book I found on one of the tables in the store was The Aphrodisiac Encyclopaedia by Mark Douglas Hill. And seeing as my novel has lots of food in it and relationships then it immediately attracted my interest.

Co-incidentally I was pleased to see this book as I’ve spent an amount of time on the web trying to see if I could get any more seriously foodie information on this subject myself and oddly enough the range of websites that come up tend to be a bit gimmicky or commercial.

I won’t reveal exactly what my intentions are for purchasing this particular volume of literature to peruse but I think some of the more unusual combinations might give me a bit of fun.

Looking through the table of contents, I initially wondered what wasn’t an aphrosidiac — there were quite a few foodstuffs that are pleasant to eat but perhaps not best known for their aphrodisiac qualities — e.g. steak, honey, caviar, chocolate (although I guess a lot depends on how one might use the last three on that list).

Then there are the sensual or symbolic foods that would go on any Valentine’s night menu — oysters, asparagus, truffles, figs and maybe a few others.

I was quite puzzled over the aphrodisiac qualities of some of the book’s contents — watermelon, celery, pine nuts, quince, anchovies, cheese (which sort — presumably not Stinking Bishop, which I bought recently from Neal’s Yard). Having read some of the foods’ entries these less erotic inclusions appear to made on the strength of their vitamin and mineral content — zinc being a favourite plus various amino acids or similar, like trpytophan, which apparently triggers the release of the feel-good hormone dopamine. Apparently, the book says, eating a banana mimics in a presumably more muted way the taking of ecstasy.

The book gives a recipe (for two, obviously) for each of the ingredients — and some look rather nice. I’d guess most lovers would appreciate a well-cooked meal, even if the ingredients were fairly commonly eaten anyway — like eggs or pineapple. However, some choices seemed utterly bizarre — such as broad beans. How a food so unavoidably associated with flatulence can be considered at all sexually alluring is something of a mystery — apparently it’s all something to do with the ancient Greeks and Pythagoras and the supposed similarity in the bean’s shape to the male gonad (and it also produces dopamine, apparently — better tell the ravers).

At least broad beans are quite familiar unlike some of the aphrodisiacs. The most unusual include pufferfish, sea urchin and iguana. I’d probably rather breakfast on cold pizza in the morning or a leftover kebab heated in the microwave than eat sea urchin. But, then again, in the words of 10cc, eating pufferfish might be one of the things we do for love.

As for iguana, I don’t think even the characters in my novel would go so far as serving that up in pursuit of seduction. (Apparently iguanas have some powerful glands in their inner thighs that produce powerful sex pheromones, which causes them to be turned into an aphrodisiac stew in their Native Nicaragua.) It’s a shame as the book has a recipe for ‘Roast Iguana with Chipotle and Oregano Marinade’, which would have been an interesting dish to feature in my novel. Maybe I’ll go instead for symbolism and have a character with a pet iguana which the cognoscenti will know is a symbol of their hidden, raging sexual passion.

Of course, the Aphrodisiac Encyclopaedia doesn’t take itself very seriously (see the link to the author bio above). This is a point that seems to be missed in a rather humourless and contradictory review of the book in the Observer — stating that the way to spot a mediocre novelist is the inevitable use of a meal as a metaphor for sensuality but then goes on to equate eating with sex and states that an intimate meal involves ‘wearing your elemental self on your sleeve’ (maybe it’s OK to use the metaphor in a review but not a novel or maybe I’ve missed some self-reflexive irony?).

Of course  there’s not much science behind the claims for most aphrodisiacs — although the social and cultural associations of some of the better known foods in the book are enough to make the consumption of these foods in the right context a suggestive and potentially innuendo laden act. I’m sure I can put the research to good effect.

And on the way between the Tate Modern and Daunt Books where I was seduced by this volume, I walked over the Millennium Bridge, which gave me the opportunity to monitor the progress of the Shard again. This time I’ve got a smeary-lensed, city scape with what my blogging acquaintance Female PTSD describes as a giant Issey Miyake perfume bottle (that’s an analogy as a male I never would have got).

The Shard 6th December 2011
The Shard Nearly Finished -- 6th December 2011

What Happens in Vegas…

…ends up in my novel. This may be something of a surprise seeing as most of it is set in an English country pub which, apart from the copious amounts of booze drunk, is probably one of the places least like Las Vegas in the world.

However, as has happened throughout the writing of this novel, what I’ve ended up doing in real life tends to have muscled its way into the narrative. The problem is that I’m taking so long to write the thing that the danger is that the plot I started out with will be crowded out with bizarre and incidental links to what else I was up to over the two years that it will have taken to finish (I have to be optimistic that it will be completed by Christmas — well, first draft, maybe?).

I’d like to say that the horribly long period between this post (written on a slow, stopping Chiltern Railways train in the dark) and the last (completed on a balcony in Santa Barbara overlooking the Pacific) was due to many words being committed to Microsoft Word but the time has mainly been spent enjoying the rest of the holiday (of which more later), getting back to work with the commute made more grinding by Chiltern Railways’ horrible new timetable – improved only for people north of Leamington Spa it seems – and doing all the tedious stuff that normally arrives in September.

But, as mentioned in my comments on the last post in response to Bren Gosling’s enquiries, I’ve come up with a whole load of new ideas for the novel. Some are wholly extraneous, irrelevant and (quite possibly) completely gratuitous but others serve to provide some missing context and backstory and to provide a bit of extra complexity to some characters.

And so to Las Vegas. This was the last stop on the holiday and I’m probably one of the last of my friends to have visited the place.

We arrived by car from Arizona and the Grand Canyon and, as I got the first view from the freeway about 10 miles away, I was quite prepared to dislike the peculiar cluster of high-rise buildings on the Strip, completely out of scale with the low-rise sprawl beneath.

Through a combination of special offers and me haggling at the reception desk for a pair of rooms with a connecting door, we ended up with a suite and adjoining king size room on the 39th floor of the brand new Cosmopolitan hotel. The combined floor space was probably bigger than my house. Whereas the view from my house is of green fields and the rolling hills of the Chilterns behind, the view from the three (!) balconies we had in Las Vegas was of the Eiffel Tower (at the Paris casino), Caesar’s Palace, the Flamingo, a glimpse of the campanile tower at the Venetian and the amazing Bellagio fountains. We were too high up to hear the music (maybe a blessing) but the synchronised show was a spectacle nevertheless.

Vegas at Nightfall
Nightfall on the Strip, Las Vegas

As well as being very well appointed and luxurious, the hotel room had some unexpected bonuses – a washing machine and tumble dryer were very useful for people who’d been living out of suitcases for two weeks. So rather than a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket and some caviar blinis, room service delivered us a free packet of washing powder!

This was all very serendipitous research for the novel. As some of my ex-City friends might remember a piece I workshopped with Alison last autumn where Kim and James end up in a penthouse suite in a luxury hotel in London. If anything, the Cosmopolitan was larger and better appointed than the almost surreally sumptuous suite I imagined my characters stumbling into — it even had several plasma screens that controlled the music, lights, door locks and so on as well as being TVs.

I walked around photographing the suite and then also video recording it to keep for research (even the three toilets).

I’ll resist the temptation to make art follow life too slavishly and avoid writing into my novel a scene where Kim makes use of the facilities and puts her smalls in for an overnight wash and dry cycle (although, at that point in the story, she’s not changed for 36 hours so she probably ought to).

The Eiffel Tower, Las Vegas

Another Las Vegas experience that may make its presence felt in the novel is the Beatles/Cirque du Soleil Love show at the Mirage. This is something I’d wanted to see since its inception about six years ago but never really thought I would – bar a transfer to the UK. Some of the remixes in the soundtrack album ‘blew my mind’ (to paraphrase one of the songs featured) when I first heard them.

It was a superb show but, being along time worshipper of the Beatles music, I was most interested in the surround sound – having Paul McCartney’s harmonies on Come Together come out from speakers behind your ears is a memorable experience.

The Beatles have some very strong German connections: John Lennon is often quoted as saying ‘I was born in Liverpool but I grew up in Hamburg’. This German influence on the outlook of one of the best-known Englishmen and shapers of popular culture in the 20th century won’t be lost on Kim – who’s a devout Anglophile but also has the patriotic fervour of the ex-pat.

Caesar's Palace
Caesar's Palace on the Strip, Las Vegas

Las Vegas – or the Las Vegas of the Strip – is such a ridiculously OTT monument to artifice that, a little like my reaction to Disneyland, the place couldn’t be viewed ironically – it ridiculed itself. I was awed by the scale and audacity of the place – a pyramid, a recreation of the New York skyline, a casino with an erupting volcano outside it and, perhaps most bizarrely, a monorail system of all things.

New York, Las Vegas
New York, Las Vegas

The whole place is a fiction – an attempt to paint audacious, and convincing, narratives to disguise the low-level, slot-machine routine gambling that provides the casinos with the cashflow that is the life-blood of the city.

But, ironically, it’s a fiction that isn’t executed in a tacky way. A lot of money is spent on exactly sourcing the right sort of materials to create a pyramid or the Manhattan skyline or similar.

Kim would know that one of the key figures behind much of the extravagant architecture on the Strip is Steve Wynn, who’s used his fortune to buy a lot of valuable modern art (though one of his acquisitions lost much of its value when he put his elbow through the canvas).

The all-you-can-eat buffets in the hotels also emphasise how Las Vegas is built on human fallibilities – greed being one, but also (obviously) gambling and  sex is suffused throughout the city. It never seemed to be far from the surface in Las Vegas – whether the organised touts on the Strip with their ‘Girls To Your Room in 20 Minutes’ T-Shirts (incredibly I saw someone wearing one of these as a souvenir at the airport), the risqué shows (including one Cirque du Soleil one) or the general atmosphere of a perpetual stag or hen party – thronged with gangs of hardly-clothed young people, although no-one is going to be comfortable completely covering up in the 40C temperatures we experienced.

It’s no wonder, despite the Strip’s relatively recent transformation in the 1990s, that Las Vegas has come to occupy its own niche in the pantheon of popular culture — many novels and films mine use it as a shorthand to access fallibility and excess.

But despite the hedonism, there’s also an appreciation of real beauty and culture – as in the opulent setting of the Venetian with its ‘real’ gondolas — its artifice is a step up from the fibreglass reconstructions in theme parks. The first time I walked into the recreation of St. Mark’s Square I gasped at the incredibly lifelike blue sky. It’s such a ridiculous conceit to reconstruct a water-bound jewel of the Renaissance in an American desert that it’s completely seductive — and you’re soon on the water being serenaded past Dolce and Gabbana and Louis Vuitton. I can see how Emma would fall in love with this place in a second.

Gondoliers in Vegas
Gondoliers in Vegas

It’s a fiction writers’ dream – a fantastical place that is motivated by, and appeals to, all the human desires that are normally kept hidden by the inhibitions of  society. I was so fascinated by the place I bought a couple of books when I got back on the development and history of the Strip — and I’m fascinated by the psychology of manipulation that is used in casino design.

It’s almost a cliche that there are no clocks or windows in casinos (although there are big windows at the new Cosmopolitan) but there are many other subtle triggers that are used to manipulate customers’ behaviour (perhaps no more than in a supermarket but it’s better to end up with too many buy-one-get-one-frees than to have your bank account cleared out). There must certainly be parallels with fiction writing and narrative.

So, despite, or perhaps because, my novel is largely set in such a supposedly staid and traditional place, some of the characters will be seduced by the idea of Las Vegas – it would be the sort of destination that both James and Emma would visit on their own stag/hen dos and probably go out for a long weekend in the winter.

And if anyone goes on holiday to Las Vegas during the course of my novel then you know that something interesting is going to happen — and what happens in Vegas isn’t necessarily going to stay there.

Schumpeter on the Art of Management

My ex-City coursemate Michael Braga shares with me a love of The Economist newspaper that must be very unusual among writers — many of whom probably consider its readers as the evil spawn of the global capital machine. I must admit I often disagree with its often over-opinionated editorial stance but it’s an unfailingly fascinating publication. Almost every time I pick it up I find half a dozen immensely fascinating articles — not just on current affairs or business but it has superbly concise science section (where Dr Olivia Judson used to write some superb articles on evolutionary biology that might have started my interest in this subject) and a similarly focused arts sections which features some great book reviews (including novels).

The Economist is also exceptionally well-written — much better than any daily newspaper or other weekly magazine, publishing its own style guide. It ought to be a good example to fiction writers.

So when I came across an article in last week’s edition, written by the business columnist, Schumpeter (no bylines are allowed), titled ‘The art of management: why business has a lot to learn from the arts’, I was intrigued.  It starts by complaining that the liberal arts world really doesn’t understand business and often misrepresents it by caricature (e.g. ‘Wall Street’). However, it soon moves on to castigate the philistinism and macho-aggression of the corporate world — there’s even a popular management book called ‘A Good Hard Kick in the Ass: the Real Rules for Business‘ — written, naturally, by an ex-marine.

Schumpeter argues that this culture results in poor communication, dysfunctional attitudes to risk and the stifling of creativity — failings that corporations are constantly trying to argue they have overcome (partly through spending vast amounts of money on snake-oil management training programmes — the kind of ‘put on a blue hat and you’ll be creative’ or if you ban people from frowning then the workplace will become more productive). Instead of wasting money on pseudo-scientific brainwashing the article sensibly suggests that a study or appreciation of the arts might suggest better solutions to these issues.

The article concludes by saying that, if business can learn from the arts, then in return perhaps artists should also take business more seriously and calls for writers, among others, to be more subtle in their examination of commerce — which it calls a central part of human experience.

I thought that sounded quite reasonable and while this might be a potential gap in the market for fiction that might be readily identifiable, it’s uncanny how I might have unconsciously constructed myself a CV that qualifies me to write in this sort of genre. As I wrote in a comment on the article on the web site, I’m originally an arts graduate but also have an MBA and I’ve often thought there are many parallels between the arts (communication, motivation, psychology and so on) and business than the syllabuses of business schools care to admit (perhaps to boost their pseudo-scientific credentials).

I realised that I’ve also tended to gravitate towards roles in business that have played to my ability to put a few half-decent paragraphs down on paper or a word-processor — and it’s a constant source of amazement how poor are many of the most successful business types at expressing themselves with the written word. (An interesting hypothesis about business’s uneasy relationship with the arts might explore whether this is borne out of personal frustration and resentment at individuals’ own shortcomings.)

So it’s almost a logical extension that I’m now taking this a step further and have now spent more time on creative writing courses than I did on my MBA — which is now in the process of being complemented by an MA in Creative Writing.

And, Schumpeter would be pleased to learn, that this is exactly what I’ve been doing myself with The Angel which starts with exactly the premise that’s explored in the article — as it takes a City trader and explores his latent ambition to learn more from the arts. Its central premise is the relationship between business and the arts — both in the background of the two central characters and in the plot, one strand of which is all about the pair or them setting up and running a business. While it’s a comedy, hopefully I can make this a subtle enough examination on the page to redress the current balance a little.

The German Fourth Plinth 2013

Here’s me for various complicated, meandering reasons, writing a novel about a German artist in London, which seems a bit esoteric but, come 2013, almost every visitor to London is going to see a memorable work by a German artist — in the form of a huge blue cock. German sculptor Katherina Fritsch has been chosen to fill the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square for the whole year — see photo below from the Fourth Plinth website.

Katharina Fritsch's Blue Cockerel
Katharina Fritsch's Blue Cockerel

It seems there’s something of a Zeitgeist at the moment for finding out more about Germany. One of the biggest selling non-fiction books at the moment is Simon Winder’s Germania, which I’ve bought but only dipped into — hopefully I can blog about it when I’ve finished it. In the introduction to the book, he suggests that it’s only now, with the passage of more than sixty years since the last war, that preconceptions and prejudices are being dropped and the rest of the world now realises that, unlike, say, France or Italy, that Germany is relatively little known.

In fact the most read and commented on post on this blog recently has been the one on the BBC4 Germany series where I comment on the Al Murray documentary and the art and walking programmes.

So, bizarrely enough and certainly without any specific intention, I might have stumbled on to some themes in the novel that people are suddenly getting more interested in. I’d better hurry up and finish writing the thing.

Opening the Novel?

Unlike the majority of my fellow students on the City course I’ve not approached the writing of either of my novels-in-progress in any kind of sequence — either chronologically or in anticipation of the eventual order in the book. I’m not too concerned by this as I think my brain works in a non-linear way — my (by now fairly distant) past in computer programming means I’m quite familiar with defining the meaty, functional bits of a concept and then choreographing these together — in the same way as one might write a coherent argument or report. The exercise I did with the post-it-notes (see post below) was quite useful for taking stock of where I planned to get compared with where I am now but it’s evident that I still need an opening for ‘The Angel’ and that, while I’ve written an opening for ‘Burying Bad News’ that’s likely to be superseded by later developments.

Over the weekend I thought I had a plan. I would start off ‘The Angel’ in dramatic fashion with James being unjustly fired from his financial job — being made a scapegoat partly because he’d been slowly drifting away from being ‘one of the lads’ and engaging his interest in arts. I guess this subject could be the most autobiographical of any of my writing as I’ve now twice been on the wrong end of this experience myself — currently going through the consequences of this ‘process’ as HR people like to term it. Perhaps, because I’ve aired quite a few of my own grievances, I’ve managed to do 3,000 words of this opening.

It’s in three sections — starting in media res halfway through the meeting where James is ‘re-organised’ in clinical HR speak; then a scene which is quite useful in a number of ways where he packs up his mementos from his desk (lots of character clues through the artefacts) and befriends the Somali security guard; finally a more dramatic scene in the gents where the real reasons that he’s been fired are revealed — not going to the lap dancing club being one — and he hits his erstwhile boss.

It was a real slog to write all this and took me a whole day to revise it (I think I was still feeling the effects of my cold/flu). However, 3,000 words is quite a lot, especially when this section doesn’t impinge much on the rest of the plot. To break it up a bit and avoid the impression it’s a book wholly about City types, I’m planning to interleave James’ section with Kim’s own crisis which I think  I’ll have happening in parallel.

I have a nice vision of her having an almighty row and bust up with the St. John Rivers-type character I’m yet to define — I see her standing on the top of Village Underground in Shoreditch throwing his stuff down to the street from 40 feet above Great Eastern Street. The trouble is I’m finding it difficult  to think of what she could throw without her getting arrested. I’ve wondered about her pouring paint on him. Maybe she could do it on the other side of Village Underground near the entrance to the warehouse and the spiral staircase which is currently a dead end due to the construction of the new Shoreditch High Street station? I think this would work quite well if it’s quite physical and visual as it would contrast with the corporate stuff. The two would then turn to each other in the aftermath of their stressful mornings and head out on the aforementioned bender.

If I do two scenes with Kim at about 1,500 to 2,000 words and I guess the bender is going to take about 4,000 words (I’d like to write this for my tutorial with Alison on 27th March,  although I need to get it to her earlier than that) then I’m going to have about 9,000 words of an opening to the novel, which I think might be ok if I’m looking at around 80-100,000 words overall. I’ve already written an ending of about 3,000 words which could be expanded (I wrote it bearing in mind the tutorial word limit) and it needs some context preceding it. I’d then probably have my two pivotal plot points at about the 12-15,000  and 70-75,000 word points — where the action leaves London and then returns. Seems far too neat to actually work out properly!

Speaking of Village Underground, I was quite alarmed to hear on the radio this morning about the huge fire in an ‘office and bar complex’ in Shoreditch. Fortunately, for my own selfish purposes, it’s not Village Underground that’s gone up in flames, it’s a place about half a mile away from Shoreditch High Street — but it just shows how real life can intervene in these things.

Kim’s Hometown

We got given some homework yesterday — to write in one of our characters’ voices about their hometown. Strangely I didn’t leave it until a few hours before the next class to think about starting it. This probably followed on from our discussion about plot where a small group of us considered potential holes in each others’ plots — mine was getting my unlikely protagonists together, Kim and James in ‘The Angel’. I was probably also motivated by my visit to Village Underground (see forthcoming post).

Making Kim a German has let me re-use a lot of my knowledge about Germany — a country I’ve probably visited about once a month between 2001 and 2009, sometimes more frequently. Despite my shameful ability to speak the language I actually know and recognise quite a bit of German. I’ve also met hundreds of Germans and visited more or less every large city in Germany and Austria, with the exception of places like Leipzig and Dresden. So writing about Kim’s hometown was like teasing open the floodgates. I got to the 500 word limit fairly rapidly: Kim’s Hometown .

Incidentally, the Benther Berg is completely real and so is the hotel — I’ve stayed there a couple of times and there’s a photo in existence of me fallen asleep in the bar there worse for wear having consumed Herculean quantities of red wine on the company’s expense account. It can be looked up on German Wikipedia here.


One book I bought a while ago and have been trying to start reading in the New Year — it’s ‘Too Big To Fail’ by Andrew Ross Sorkin — subtitled ‘Inside the Battle To Save Wall Street’. It’s not a novel but is written very much in a novelistic style with the author taking considerable artistic licence to describe the actions of the principal characters in a very realistic way — ‘leaning over, Fuld swept his arm across Kaplan’s desk with a violent twist, sending dozens of papers flying across the office.’

The book is notorious for its colourful language. I’m looking forward to reading its infamoususe of the word ‘grinfucked’.

It’s given me an idea for developing the synopsis of ‘The Angel’. I had James, somewhat arbitrarily, as a headhunter — mainly as I imagined him doing the kind of job that relied on personal charm. However, I also have to have a device that moves him out of the corporate background into the pub. I’d settled on redundancy but I the Sorkin book has given me a better idea. I’ll give him a background in some sort of City firm. This will allow me to use the background of the credit crunch — which I may use as an analogy to the pub’s ups and downs (big crisis at the end when everything threatens to collapse into catastrophe). I don’t want him to be a red-braces type trader as that wouldn’t give his subsequent character development much credibility. I’m thinking of making him one of the kind of very clever financial manipulators whose computer models ended up causing so much damage — if not the cause of the crash in the first place they certainly exaggerated the faults. And he will get fired because his clever financial scheme has lost lots of money. In fact, as he’s not terribly senior he’ll be the scapegoat for a whole management chain, which will cause him some bitterness.

This will also use a bit of my own background, to some extent, in business administration and IT. I could have chapters of his previous life coming into the novel as flashbacks. However, I want to keep this more as backstory than intrude into the main plot.

I think that might fill a few holes and inconsistencies and give another angle to the novel.