A Year (and a bit) of Manic Editing

As I noted in an earlier post, things have been a bit slow on this blog for over a year now. This is because I have been editing books, preparing to send manuscripts to agents, sending them to agents, doing more editing, getting other books ready for self-publishing, and so on. And as I write every day for a living (I’m a technical author by trade), I’ve had no time to add blog-posting to the authorial mix. However, I’m hoping that I might temporarily find more time as I’ve just self-published a novel, so I’m not currently editing or writing … well, not for a couple of days, at least…

I talked about History of a Mystery: Fifty Years of the Warminster Thing in that earlier post. In addition to that book, I have published two other books over the last eighteen months.

The first of the books published was The Dead John Miscellany. Six years ago now, one of my best friends, and my co-author on In Alien Heat, died. He had made me executor of his estate, and I knew he wrote stories, poems and lyrics. I also knew he was reluctant to share them, as he could never finish editing them, and anyway thought they could never match the standard of his heroes. I also knew that though many of his friends knew he wrote, few had seen the results of that writing. I decided, therefore, to self-publish a book of his writing that I could give to the other beneficiaries, and also sell on Amazon. After all, should it by any chance sell a million, the beneficiaries would be even better off than John expected!

I finally got around to collating and editing the notebooks and scraps I had found in spring and summer last year. I worked out which were the best drafts, or, at least, which pages from various drafts made the best final draft to my eye and ear. My wife and I then typed them up, formatted them and prepared them for self-publishing. One decision I made early on was to not include in the poetry section the lyrics that John had written for a band we were both part of when we were young. A teenager of the 70s, John had long been an admirer of lyricists, starting with Marc Bolan, and then Pete Sinfield, Peter Hammill, Tom Waits, Mike Scott, Randy Newman, Bob Dylan, and so on. The lyrics were to have, then, their own section.

After about six months of editing, drafting, editing, and drafting again, I finally published the book. The beneficiaries were very happy to finally see his writing, and various of his friends bought a copy of the book. I think John would both hate me, and be secretly pleased, were he not an atheist who is utterly dead.

So what is John’s writing like? Odd and elliptical, full of symbolism and ritual, and making oblique references to the I Ching, religion, sirens and funerary rites. Everything has an air of elusive and illusive mystery. There is one particular obsession I will not reveal, preferring instead to leave the reader to discover.

After The Dead John Miscellany, I worked on the aforementioned History of a Mystery for six months.

Then, having chased a couple of novels around agents, and realising that I wasn’t getting any younger and that preparing and chasing manuscripts around agents was actually preventing me writing another novel, I decided to self-publish the first book in what has become a series of six (or seven) novels.

This first novel, Sorrow Mystica (Dereham Connections: Node 2) had already been drafted many times before being sent to agents. This did not, of course, prevent it being checked and edited twice more; and then, when I went through the process of publishing to CreateSpace, I checked and rechecked the proof about twenty times (and found ugliness on each occasion!). Finally, this week, I decided that I could check no more without going insane, so released it to the world. Sorrow Mystica is a tale of UFOs, human and alien relationships, deceit and obsession.

The imaginary town of Dereham in an imaginary corner of Wiltshire is one of the settings for Sorrow Mystica, and is the location for other books in the Dereham Connections series.

You can get the latest information on Sorrow Mystica and the rest of the Dereham Connections at the Come to Dereham blog.

Fifty Years of Mystery

This blog has rather been in the doldrums since before Christmas. In part, Christmas can be blamed; but I was also tidying up drafts in preparation for (self-) publishing a new book about the Warminster mystery.

The mystery was 50 years old on Christmas day 2014. Until the 1960s, Warminster had never been famous for much. It is an army town, home to the Land Warfare Centre (formerly the School of Infantry). Salisbury Plain, to the north of the town, is used for military manoeuvres and training, including live firing. Very few luminaries had come from the town, and very little had happened there. In the 1960s, that was to change. Warminster was to become famous – notorious even – for its UFO sightings. These UFOs were described in the books of Arthur Shuttlewood, a local journalist. However, these books can only be found, if at all, second-hand, and only take the story of the mystery up until the late 1970s. Much has happened since then that needed recording — not so much UFO sightings, but information on what happened to those who documented the mystery, and the mystery’s slow re-emergence from the half-light of forgotten memories.

The mystery is being discussed and celebrated at a conference in Warminster in August this year (2015). It was in August 1965, during the summer holidays, that the town was first invaded by hordes of curious skywatchers who camped on the hills surrounding the town to look for the mysterious lights and listen out for the strange sounds they had learned about through TV, radio and newspapers, caused by a phenomenon the locals called the Thing.

To provide an introduction to the Warminster mystery — for those who might be new to it or revisiting it after many years — Kevin Goodman and I have written a new book that describes the fifty years of the mystery. The book reviews what happened during the crazy, exciting years of the Warminster mystery, and also what has happened since the mystery faded away. It is not a long list of sighting reports; it is a short history of the events — the lights and sounds — and the media reports and characters that shaped the Thing.


For information on the Warminster mystery, see the UFO Warminster Website.

The Warminster mystery is described in the following currently in-print books:

History of a Mystery: Fifty Years of the Warminster Thing

In Alien Heat: The Warminster Mystery Revisited

UFO Warminster: Cradle of Contact

For information on out-of-print books that discuss the Warminster mystery, see the Books page of the UFO Warminster Website.


 

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Simon and Julie – A Fragment – Chapter 2

[Simon and Julie is intended to be a long short story (perhaps a novella), involving various characters from the two as yet unpublished novels The Ethical Hitman and Raven of Dispersion. The story (and those novels) are set in and around the long, hot summer of 1976. The protagonists and antagonists are at that happy stage between A-levels and Uni (or A-levels and work ) – technically young adults, but these are not YA stories. As I work on this story, I will throw odd fragments here in the blog.]

Julie walked into town. She had no plan. She had rung Sarah’s house but there had been nobody there. Then she had dared ring Simon’s, but nobody was there, either. She had only momentarily contemplated ringing Tim before dismissing the idea. She had managed to elicit some more money from her parents, on a promise that it would be paid back from the money she got from Boots at the end of the week. She had bought ten Number Six in the Spar shop, and had enough left over for a drink or two.
The afternoon was hot and sunny. She was wearing jeans, tee-shirt, and jesus boots again, as she had seemed to do for most of the summer. Sometimes she despaired of the heat, wondered if it would go on forever, but most of the time simply enjoyed the odd, slightly Mediterranean, feeling that had descended on Dereham. Everybody was in tee-shirts and jeans, or in floaty, strappy, A-line summer dresses. Some of the more hippie girls were in halter-tops and skirts. In the evenings, people were drinking outside of the pubs, standing in the streets, smoking and chatting, and the beer gardens were, for a change, full and lively. Older people were preparing meals with salads and cold drinks and eating them in the garden. Young people hung their heads from car windows; music, thin and tinny, issued from the cars; hands  and arms were held out of the windows, sometimes flat and streamlined, sometimes made into blunt fists, and sometimes upright to cool the palms; shoeless feet rested on dashboards and doorframes.
She looked at the clock on the side of St Peter’s church tower. Five past one. The pubs would be open for another hour or so. She remembered what Simon had said yesterday. She should go to the White Lion. She hadn’t gone last night because… well, she had no money, and hadn’t wanted to bump into Tim. She’d had a nice day yesterday with Simon, Chris and Gray. The day had been so lovely and relaxing she had no inclination to ruin it by bumping into Tim.  In the evening she had watched some television with her parents and sister, and then gone to her bedroom to listen to Carole King and James Taylor and read a book. Today, Tim would be at work in Southleigh, so she was free to enjoy the sun. And perhaps enjoy Simon again, if he was around.
She crossed the road to the crescent of shops that curved around the market. In the centre of the shops was the White Lion. She walked up the steps, and went to the saloon bar. She poked her head around the door; there was no sign of Simon, but his friend Mark was there, chatting with two other people Julie knew, Imogen and James. She went to the bar and bought a Britvic orange. When she turned, she caught Mark’s eye. He waved her over.
“Nice to see you here,” Mark said as she sat next to him.
“Simon said I should come here more often,” Julie said. “Is he around?”
“No, he’s gone for a walk with Stuart, out over the hills. Fitness freaks, the pair of them.”
Julie knew that Simon did Kung Fu and Tai Chi. Stuart played badminton, and walked a lot. They sometimes did go off on long hikes together. Oh well, she would sit here and find out what had been happening in the worlds of Mark, James and Imogen.
“It’s too hot for that madness,” Mark said. “That’s why I have a motorbike.”
“Uh, I thought it was to pull the, uh, chicks,” James said.
Mark sighed, and then frowned. “There’s only one chick I want to pull,” he said.
Everybody knew who he meant, so nobody said anything.
Julie looked at James. He was drinking brandy, as ever. He had a job in Bensons at the weekends, and received generous amounts of pocket-money from his well-off parents. His beard was very extravagant for an eighteen-year old.  She smiled.  “Can I just say just say, your beard is more ridiculous every time I see it.”
Mark and Imogen laughed. “Always to the point,” Imogen said.
“But it is! You’re turning into a caveman.”
James had always been a fast developer, and had needed to shave before any of his friends, sometimes turning up in the fifth year at school with a faint five o’clock shadow. His hairiness had only increased during sixth-form, as he had become more of a freak, growing his dark hair until it reached his shoulders, and encouraging the beard that had quickly sprouted from his chin into a full Victorian-style monster.
“Shaving is for the bourgeoisie,” James said, always quick to separate himself from the proletariat and the middle-class, yet still hoping – while he drank brandy, pocketed the money from his parents, and read T S Eliot – that he was still relevant and connected with the working-class.

Simon and Julie – a Fragment

Simon and Julie is intended to be a long short story (perhaps a novella), involving various characters from the two as yet unpublished novels The Ethical Hitman and Raven of Dispersion. The story (and those novels) are set in and around the long, hot summer of 1976. The protagonists and antagonists are at that happy stage between A-levels and Uni (or A-levels and work ) – technically young adults, but these are not YA stories. As I work on this story, I will throw odd fragments here in the blog. In this section, Simon and Julie have been out for a walk. As usual, for that summer, the night is warm, the sky is practically cloudless. They are lying on a patch of brown, dried grass at the edge of a housing estate, only dimly lit by streetlights, and looking at the sky. They have been talking about a mutual friend, Sarah.


Julie picked at some of the brittle, brown grass. “Do you like Sarah?”

“Sarah is pleasantly pneumatic,” Simon said.

“Pneumatic?” Julie said. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s from TS Eliot. Uncorseted, her friendly bust /Gives promise of pneumatic bliss.”

“Oh, I see. I think.”

“And Huxley uses the word too, in that sense. He describes Lenina Crowne as Wonderfully pneumatic.”

“Are we talking about breasts here?”

“Maybe.”

“Are we saying … I mean, are you saying, Sarah has large breasts?”

“Perhaps.”

“Well, haven’t I?”

“To be honest,” Simon said, “I’ve never really noticed your breasts. I mean I’ve looked at them, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think you’re a boy or anything.”

“I am relieved.”

“But I’ve never really thought about their… err… size. They are not the thing I notice first about you.”

“Well, what do you notice first, then?”

“Your eyes.”

“My eyes?”

“Yes. They are light blue. And they sparkle.”

“But aren’t they rather narrow. Don’t I look like Clint Eastwood?”

“Yes. Clint Eastwood with breasts. I just don’t know their size.”

“My eyes or my breasts?”

Simon laughed. “Your eyes may be narrow. I cannot properly gauge that. I mean, obviously you’re not doe-eyed–“

“Obviously. Thank you for reminding me.”

“But.. and there is a but… your eyes shine. They coruscate. I like to make you smile, because then the light dances and dazzles in your eyes.”

“Really?” Julie smiled, and light danced and dazzled in her eyes. Simon fell for a moment, a giddying moment in which the Earth lifted and spun and itself danced. And just in that moment there was not enough breath in the whole world. And then Julie punched him lightly on the arm.

“You great big enormous flirt,” she said. She brushed some strands of his long fair hair away from his face. “I’ve always liked your eyes, too. A deep blue. And flirty, like you.”

They were silent for a few moments. Simon rolled over on his back. He tipped his head and saw long stalks of grass. He slowly pulled one from its sheath, and put the moist green end of it in his mouth. “Arrr, ” he said. “You know, we also call her the Coventry Climax.”

“Who? Sarah?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Well, she works in the banana factory­–”

“Sometimes it’s like Innuendo City around here.”

“Yes. Indeed. Anyway, they have fork lift trucks there. That’s their name. The make and model. The Coventry Climax. Pneumatic Sarah, the Coventry Climax.”

“I hope you would never call her that.”

Simon shook his head. “Why, of course not. When I say we, I mean Nick, Mark and Gaz. Nick named her thus.”

“Ah yes, Nick. A cad and a bounder.”

“He is. I shake my head and tut loudly whenever the epithet is used.”

Simon rolled over onto his side. He wanted to see Julie’s eyes. Julie was already on her side, her head leaning against her hand, looking at him. “Take that piece of grass out of your mouth, Si,” she said. “It is not cool.”

“Oh. Don’t you actually think two bits would be cooler? Wouldn’t I look dapper?”

Julie smiled again. The world tilted slightly, then  Julie looked at her watch and righted it again. “We have to go Si,” she said. “You’re a lazy-arse student, but I have to be in the shop at 8.30.”

Simon sighed. “Alright.”

Julie leaned over and kissed him lightly on the lips. The world whirled. “We’ll meet up again soon, yeah?”

Simon could barely get the words out. “Yes, of course.” He stood, and then offered his hand to Julie. He pulled her up. She smiled. If only she would stop smiling the world might successfully and uninterruptedly spin and orbit, and he might walk her home securely attached to its surface.

Julie slipped her arm through Simon’s and they began to walk towards Julie’s house. “You can tell me more of the names Nick has given people.”

“I will. They are, quite literally, Nick-names.”

“Oh, very good. Do I have one?”

Yes, Simon thought. Miss Lovely

Drafting and Drafting and Drafting….

A couple of nights ago, I finished reading draft two of the novel known as Crossing the Line for the second time. The draft now contains lots of markups, and editing began last night.

When I’ve finished editing Crossing the Line, my intention was to return to editing the novel known as Panlyrae — which is on draft nine, I think — and after that, Raven of Dispersion, which is at draft 18!!

After editing Panlyrae and Raven, I will edit draft eight of the novel known either as Archibald Franklin Fucking Conn or The Ethical Hitman. And there will be at least one more draft after that, as well — this draft will better dovetail some loose ends, and add some scenes, and these additions and changes will need at least one more edit.

And then — finally — I’ll be able to begin writing the new novel — tentatively titled German Overalls, after a Peter Hammill song — that has been rolling around my head in images, and for which I have been making notes, for the last four years.

At the same time, I need to create, edit and self-publish what I amusingly call The Dead John Miscellany, which is a book of the collected writings of my friend John, who died back in 2009, and was my co-author on In Alien Heat. As an executor of his estate, I became de facto his literary executor, and I’m not going to let his poems, lyrics and short stories be forgotten — among his friends at least — so intend self-publishing his collected works using available cheap platforms, such as Kindle and CreateSpace.

My editing plans have already gone awry, however. Last night, my intention had been to edit Crossing the Line. Crossing and Panlyrae are linked, and when I began editing Crossing I realised that I had no idea where I was in time, and how the timeline connected to the end of Panlyrae. The novels are structured so that they can be read as independent novels; however, for those who do read both, the timeline should be clear and make sense. I am, therefore, now going to edit Panlyrae first, and during the edit ensure I understand the timeline — because if I can’t. who will… 

Still, it keeps me off the streets…

A Poem is Never Finished…

…not, at least, until Faber have printed your collected works.

If you read the poem in the previous post, in the 30 minutes after I posted it, you will have seen the line:

Encourages green and gold across the downs

Yet ever since I wrote Spring Song, I’ve felt vaguely disappointed with the word Encourages. It felt weak, and it added an unwanted syllable to the line. But then I moved on, wrote some new things, and kind of forgot about this “problem”. However, whenever I saw the poem again, I would worry, and then worry that I was worrying too much – after all, other people had read the poem in various draft states, and in its completed state, and had never complained about that line.

But this evening, reading the poem a few times while I edited the photos around it, I could stand it no longer. My original thought, two years ago, was that the sun indeed encouraged nature, revivified it, gave life to it, forced energy through the green fuse, and so on, and hence remade the spring colours  So I began to think about synonyms for encourage, and check out thesauruses. Every word I looked at or thought about that had that burgeoning, fecundity vibe just didn’t seem right.

Instead, I went slantwise (like some of the rhymes) and decided to approach the problem from a different angle. What else, I thought, was the sun doing? After the mist had been burned away, the sun would illuminate the hills, paint them, drip colour on them… The idea of painting colours felt better to me — more in tune with what I could see in my mind as the mist melted. Still, painting, painted, paint also seemed weak, and perhaps too obvious. Eventually, I alighted on brush and brushing, thinking of the sun’s rays as the hairs of a paintbrush. The phrase Then brushing also had the advantage of being exactly three syllables – exactly what I needed to return the line to an iambic pentameter.

I will, though, undoubtedly edit them all, all my poems, all my lines, again, and again. A poem is never finished.