NaNoWrimo: First Steps

Having slept on it I had a brief “oh shit, what am I doing?!” panic.

Then I decided to stop panicking and just get on with it. I do have time in the day, especially now that the show I’m working on is settling down into show-call and we’re pretty much done with rehearsals (apart from the understudies). In the five years I’ve been with the OU, I still have rubbish essay writing discipline (I have an essay due on the 6th Nov…haven’t started, but I have a good excuse what with technical rehearsals, dress rehearsals, previews and press night :P) but those times when I’m just trawling around reddit in the early hours of the morning? Yeah, I can attempt to write then.

So what am I writing?

My final creative writing assignment was to write the first chapter of a novel, it was ‘only’ 3,000 words but I did it and I reckon I have enough planned to finish the story. I like writing in genre, my first creative writing assignment I went with a noir piece, then two ghost stories. I thought about expanding one of my ghost stories but I’m not sure it’s something I can get 5,000 words out of let alone 50,000! I’m keeping it in reserve, in case I get really stuck though.

You could say I’m making it difficult for myself starting with a genre piece. That’s true, it’s not going to be easy but I’ve already done a lot of the world building and have a vivid idea of what my world looks like. I have a working title (it’s a bit shit, but I suck at titles) and my working synopsis:

title: Fire over Ice (told ya it was a bit shit ;) )
synopsis: Following the Second Arctic War, the Imperial Airservice protects the sky above the North West Passage from pirates and the Empire’s enemies. During a routine stop over on King William Island, Lt Charles Crozier becomes aware of a plot to intercept a valuable trade ship which could have devastating implications for the future of the Empire.

Reckless Ideas at 2am

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It’s 3:24am and I’ve just finished signing up to attempt NaNoWrimo, the challenge being to write 50,000 words by the end of November. It’s highly, highly unlikely I can complete such a thing in such a short space of time – it look me an embarrassingly long time to write 3,000 words for my final creative writing assignment! I did it though and that 3,000 words is the first chapter of a steampunk-esque story I have basically mapped out in Scrivener. Perhaps if I can get some writing squeezed in between my literature assignments and the general pissing about on the internet I do I may have a a decent novella out of it.

 

Well, it’s been some time

Not so long ago I intended to do regular things with this blog, like review the books I’d read and that sort of thing. At some point I will post the stories I wrote as part of my creative writing module as…well, why not? I posted my spooky story awhile back and I’ve been thinking about going back to it as while writing I was restricted by the word-count and based on my tutors feedback and other comments there was a lot more I could have done with it.

The good news is that after several months of casual & cover work, I’m now back into full time work as I start on a new show on Friday. I my OU module starts very shortly so I’m doing my best to get as much as the reading done. Struggling quite spectacularly with ‘Dombey & Son’, I am not a Dickens fan (although I do think the opening of ‘A Christmas Carol’ is one of the best openings to a story).

Anyway this is a bit of a non-entry, just a sort of “still alive” as I try to figure out what I want to do with this blog.

Book Review: ‘Northanger Abbey’ by Jane Austen

I have a confession – I greatly dislike Jane Austen. To me her novels are only one step up from cheap romantic trash novels. Pride and Prejudice is an utterly tedious read, Elizabeth is ridiculously shallow, it’s only upon seeing Pemberley does she start to begin to contemplate Darcy as a romantic match but the way people go on it’s as if it is the greatest love story since jam met toast. PD James managed to jazz it up a bit with her very enjoyable book Death Comes to Pemberley but it doesn’t change the vague romantic coupling of Elizabeth & Darcy – he has his pride (and a big house), she has her prejudice – what a marvellous couple!

I’m sure when Northanger Abbey was first published, the opening half of the book was a right hoot. Unfortunately for me it was a hard slog to get through and had I been reading it for pleasure that’s where I would have stopped. As with Pride and Prejudice the opening half of the book is chiefly concerned with the presentation of a young woman into society and all the trapping this brings so of the heroine Catherine Morland goes to Bath in the hands of family friends to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Pump House and dancing. She gets herself wrapped up in the etiquette of the time which is a bit of a poor thing for her as she desperately wants a young parson (Henry Tilney) to ask her to dance but alas her big opportunity is thwarted by having agreed to dance with another man and she can’t break that agreement…even though he has buggered off somewhere to talk to a friend.

She has a few more missed opportunities before finally she’s able to get hold of Tilney and become BFFs with his younger sister. By being charming (or thought to be loaded) she gets herself an invitation to stay at Northanger Abbey.

This is finally where the novel starts to become significantly less tedious. Catherine is a vivacious reader, devouring Gothic romances upon Gothic romances. The idea of going to an abbey utterly thrills her and she conjures up visions of dingy hallways and dark corridors with secret passages. Henry spins her a tale about discovering a lost family treasure and Catherine can hardly believe it when she’s presented with such a thing! Sadly the lost family treasure turns out to be laundry receipts. Ah well, there’s another mystery – that of the missing Mrs Tilney! Mrs Tilney passed away suddenly without her family in attendance, General Tilney keeps her rooms still but does not wish to step foot in them. Naturally he was a cruel husband and is now keeping his wife locked away in misery!

All this Gothic parody is actually quite fun and I was surprised to find myself enjoying it. Unfortunately, it didn’t last as Austen quickly got back to wrist-slashing dreariness of society connections and romantic negotiations.  Poor Catherine is suddenly rushed back home where she mourns the loss of her new friend and potential husband all because family status is the important thing here, and the General has discovered he was mistaken about the Morland family status.

There are many things the novel allows for discussion, which I imagine why it’s a set text on my OU module but in a way it’s unfortunate it’s such a short novel and that the part which is really enjoyable comes so late in the book. The novel was published after Austen’s death and I can’t help wishing she’d had an editor who told her to cut all the rubbish about society and concentrate on the Gothic satire. I read an article about Val McDermid reworking it as a ‘teen thriller’, as a fan of her work I’m tempted to see what life she can breath into the first half.

Show Must Go On!

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Goodbye Everybody from the WWRY followspot team!

Sat 31st May 2014 saw the final performances of ‘We Will Rock You’ in the West End.

It was slightly unreal as on stage for both performances we had Brian May and Roger Taylor performing with the cast. It’s not the first time I’ve followspotted Brian May performing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (Oct 2013 for the cast change) but this felt very different.

Someone in the audience recorded the final performance of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Show Must Go On’ – look out for a particularly awesome snap at the end of Bo’ Rap. I’m the side spot on the left (of the video, so Brian May’s right).

I’m going to be doing some cover work at the Aldwych over the next couple of weeks so I’m not as unemployed as I feared I would be (it’s quiet out there for spots at the moment, what with various shows closing).

Game Reviews: ‘Spec Ops: The Line’ & ‘Gone Home’

I’m an unashamed fan of first person action shooters, the original Medal of Honor and Call of Duty games remain on my all time favourite games list. The recent additions to the CoD & MoH franchises have left me cold as the single player experience has been very lacking (I completed the new MoH in 24hrs over 2weeks) so I’ve been quite wary of recent shooters.

Spec Ops: The Line is a game which has been on my radar for some time, the original teaser trailer quickly got my interest and soon the reviews were praising the storyline. I played the demo and was sufficiently impressed with the game play so added it to my Steam wishlist and waited for it to be in a sale. Once there, I bought it and as I was still in the middle of my latest bout of serious Sims 3 addiction I left the game unplayed for some time.

Some reviews were critical of the graphics but not having a super-powered gaming laptop this has never particularly bothered me. I found the sand covered almost post-apocalyptic landscapes of Dubai and the beautifully designed hotel interiors very evocative and contributed greatly to the atmospheric corruption and decay. The environment was nicely destructive as well: cover is destroyed, you can shoot out the glass windows and drown your enemies in sand, grenades will kick up a sand cloud momentarily blinding everyone…

At times the battles are relentless and the two assistants didn’t seem to offer that much help but once you got the hang of the controls and learnt to use the environment to your advantage it soon got not quite as relentless. For some reason sprint & use cover are mapped to the same key and there’s no way of separating them so there were several moments when I wanted to get into cover but ended up sprinting into the heart of the battle.

On the surface there is nothing really separating this from any other shooter but what makes it stand out is the story. You’ve been sent to find out what happened to the 33rd, a company of soldiers who were sent to aid in the evacuation of Dubai, and continue the evacuation if possible. Upon arrival you’re attacked by local insurgents who seem locked in a battle with the remaining members of the 33rd. As you progress you find out more and more unsettling things to the point where you’re no longer sure whose side you are actually on. You see and take part in many, many terrible things and as you do so you find your character becoming more unhinged – his comments during battle become bizarre and his executions more extreme. The conclusion of the game shocked me greatly (in a good way).

For what could have been just an above average entry into the FPS canon, Spec Ops: The Line rises above with a truly engrossing and clever story.

At the complete opposite end of gaming is Gone Home a beautifully designed and construction interactive story. There are no monsters to kill or murderers to uncover but there is a lovely interactive environment where you can open cupboards, switch on/off lights and put on cassette tapes. You arrive home to find your house empty with a mysterious note from your sister telling you not to worry about her or look for her. As you walk around the house you find letters, notes and hints which reveal slowly reveal the story of the family. At times I was unnerved by the game and started to imagine I was going to discover something horrific around each corner. There are some reveals in the story which the game could have made more of as there was a lot going on but it all seemed shoved aside, there is a particular discovery about the original owner of the house which I feel could have had more of an impact but the story isn’t about him. Once you’ve discovered the story I don’t think the game has much replay value but it makes for a very engrossing hour or so and the mechanics themselves are very simple.

 

Stuck with Britain’s Worst Train Company

I am an unfortunate customer of Southeastern trains. I say ‘customer’ but I don’t actually have a choice in my rail service provider so I suppose I am a subject of Southeastern trains.

This year Southeastern have been crowned Britain’s Worst Train Company with only a 40% customer satisfaction rate. Southeastern hit back and said we’re only unhappy because we’re on the way to work. I’m usually unhappy I have to go to work using Southeastern trains, it’s only Wednesday and so far my train to work has been late every single day! It’s a surprise when things are actually running on time.

The biggest problem Southeastern trains have is their lack of communication. You don’t know if the train is delayed because the train is delayed or if all trains are delayed because of a bigger problem. Arriving at the platform to see ‘delayed’ on a much earlier train makes your heart sink as you now have to play the guessing game – is it just that one or is everything screwed? Should I start seeking an alternative route or is the next train going to be here? Do I risk waiting to see about the next train? If the next train does arrive do I still have enough time to get to where I need to be?

75% of Southeastern customers don’t bother to complain and of the 11% who do complain 55% of them are unhappy with how it was handled. I complained once about a journey which caused me to be very late for work (I only just made the start of the show) in response Southeastern gave me a voucher offering me £2 off a ticket for a future journey. At the time I was paying Southeastern £55 per week and a travelcard costs £7. I complained about this and only got a sorry you are unhappy letter.

This is supposed to be an age of communication, it’s even easier for companies to interact with their customer base and respond to concerns…unfortunately Southeastern are still trying to grasp smoke signals.