Sunday, March 26, 2017

Stealing Ideas

“I say we go for Sci-Fi,” said Benny, scratching at his stubble. He looked tired, eyes drooping, shirt collar wilting.  Even his voice sounded as though it had been up all night and was surviving on coffee and despair. “There’s literally no limit but the imagination. We could empty out the good stuff, bring it back and spend the rest of our lives drinking Romulan ale while wearing a jetpack. The cops couldn’t touch us.”

Rusty shook his head. “First thing is, it’s SF or Science Fiction. Man, you call it sci-fi everyone’s gonna spot you as an imposter. You’d stick out like a donkey in a pig farm. Second, sure, we steal the stuff out of SF and it could be anything, literally impossible to put a price on. But it’s the same story with the protection. You wanna go up against an artificial super-intelligence with an army of cyborg hyenas guarding a vault hidden beneath the sands of Mars, be my guest. Count me out buddy.” Sweat gleamed on his dark skin, the menace of his giant form denying any argument.

Chastity McKitten put her feet up on the table and stretched her long, stocking-clad legs. She ran her fingers through her wavy blonde hair. “You know boys, I said I wanted to do something other than shake my hips and distract the man in charge at the vital moment with my feminine wiles. But I’ve heard that in sci-fi – sorry Science Fiction – even queens and princesses have to shoot, climb, run about the place. Just doesn’t seem right. Not lady-like at all.” She plucked a cigarette from a pack and chose a flame from amongst the forest of offered lighters.

“Gentlemen,” said Flash John, standing up from the far end of the table to show off his immaculately cut suit. His hair was plastered to his narrow skull and a thin moustache graced his upper lip. “Miss McKitten. Entertaining as this discussion is we must make a decision.” He pointed to a chalkboard with a list of names, some crossed out. “Dead-eye Bill has vetoed Horror,” the black-clad, pallid skinned man gave no response, “after his previous experiences. I think we can all agree that Non-Fiction is a non-starter.”

“Aye, the things they get away with there. No one would believe it in a proper crime story,” rasped Scotty from the corner by the drinks table.

“I’m personally opposed to attempting to steal from Comedy as I think that too many of us run the risk of becoming mere two-dimensional parodies of ourselves. Westerns are, if anything, too closely related; we remain ourselves, still holding up banks and robbing trains, with more dust and wider hats.”

“Poetry,” said Rusty. “No one would expect us to steal from them.”

McKitten blew out a cloud of smoke that everyone watched crawl up towards the ceiling. “That’s because you can’t make any money out of it. No point in stealing what no one is willing to pay for.”

“Just so.” Flash John crossed it off.”We have rejected Religious Fiction for obvious reasons and unless we eliminate everything else as impossible I suggest we steer clear of Children’s Fiction. So from the remainder I propose we attempt to steal from this one.” He pointed at the name. “I have no doubt that it will widen our appeal and make us significantly more valuable commodities.”

The dim smoky room filled with murmurs and the scrape of chairs. It seemed that no one would voice an objection.

“Yes gentlemen and Miss McKitten, I think this should be the target of our heist. Romance.” He smiled at them. “After all, how hard can it be to steal a heart?”

This is a piece for the Thanet Creative Writers Writers Writing Competition, in response to the theme "Why I write in my genre," the actual answer being "If not mine, whose genre would I write in?"

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wigwam: Wigwam

Wigwam, a 2006 collaboration between Betty Boo and Alex James of Blur was brought to my attention.
(They're playing on a roof with a backing band of furries)

Now this is pretty good. There's bits of the music that sound very like Blur* and Betty Boo doing her thing of using her voice as an instrument (all that oo-oo and the cat sounds) is a little intrusive. I think there's a lot of potential here, if they worked on it and tried to get their own sound together...

But they didn't. That's it. Either the police shut them down or the that orange cat wanted in on the action and ruined it and no album was ever recorded. So that's a thing.

* Is it a bit Coffee and TV?
You know what's good about the video? Yes, yes, dancing milk carton. But ALSO at 4:15 when Graham leaves the basement they're jamming in Damon's like "where's he off to?", Dave just drums away and Alex is grooving on, "hey, lead guitarist has gone, looks like it's time for the bass player." That's my interpretation anyway.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Theological Mistakes

This week Thanet Creative Writers had the writing prompt If I Invented My Own Religion. I wasn't going to attempt this writing challenge because if I can't be trusted with a time machine then I certainly shouldn't try to create a religion. Still, one important lesson the tutor of a creative writing class taught me was that you're not on oath when you write your autobiography. You don't have to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you god. You can edit, improve things, emphasise here, blur things there. You shouldn't flat out lie, but you can tell the best version of the story. So bearing that in mind...

Some years ago while hiking in Brittany we came up out of a wood, on to a wide clearing with stones in the middle. As it was raised up on a hill top there was a magnificent view of miles of countryside ahead. I stopped and opened my mouth, not knowing what was going to come out. What came out was:

"This is a holy place."

As it turns out there had been a chapel there until the French Revolution, and before it was a chapel it was an older chapel, and before that was a Roman temple, which historians think was built on a pre-Roman Gaulish worship site. So I'm not the first to have had that reaction, having been beaten to it by at least two thousand years.

A year or two later I was in the Orkney Islands on the unhelpfully named island of Mainland. I didn't know it at the time but I was coming down with a bug. I did know, as I strolled along the beach, that everything was very strange and that I was not feeling normal. I came to a dead seagull, lying like a puff of feathers on the sand and had the strongest suspicion that it wanted to talk to me. Obviously it couldn't open the conversation, being dead, and I was damned if I was going to talk to a dead seagull, no matter what it had to say. I went back to the youth hostel and spent a very uncomfortable, restless and, since it was two days after midsummer, very bright night there, the incident rolling around in my head.
Made in a giant teacup by a wizard

The naturalistic explanation is that I am sensitive to this kind of stuff; my brain has access to a spiritual state of mind in which I am receptive to feelings of this sort. As another example there are a variety of foods and drinks that give me particularly vivid and lucid dreams. I'd had them the night before the hike in Brittany, after several glasses of local cidre fermier. (I had been completely sober the night before I went to Orkney as the bus left Inverness at some ungodly hour in the morning).

While thinking about this stuff for the piece you're reading, some of the towns Jehovah's Witnesses knocked on the door and asked me if I had considered the big questions in life. Not being on oath (still) I politely dismissed them, saying that I was working and concentrating on the small questions at that moment. I prefer, for the moment, to seek my own salvation and damnation in my own way. And it was then as I fumbled with my keys to lock the door that I knew - that I had the revelation - that I was going to write this piece.

So anyway, there's some of the raw material, the leftover scraps I'd find myself using for a religion were I to make the mistake of building one. A dead seagull that reveals nothing. A site on a hill that other people thought was holy. Cider, or chartreuse, or absinthe, or rice pudding with raisins. to give vision-dreams. And politely turning away adherents of other religions.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Ideas to Steal

Here is a free one-page roleplaying game called Honey Heist about criminal bears stealing honey by Grant Howitt.

Here is an article on using MacGuffins in fiction by Robert Wood.

If you understand these two items then you are ready to plan your first heist*. Please get writing.

If not here are some films to watch until you do understand:
Ocean's Eleven
The Thomas Crown Affair
The Italian Job
Inside Man
Die Hard
Point Break
How to Beat the High Cost of Living
The Ladykillers
The Lavender Hill Mob
The remakes of those first three, and the Ocean sequels
The League of Gentlemen

For bonus marks:
A Fish Called Wanda
The Great Muppet Caper
Kelly's Heroes

Also Swordfish, maybe, and Hudson Hawk if you really feel the need. Sorry.

* Fictional heist. If you are going to try and steal something in real life then that is outside the bounds of this post.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

More on Time Travel

So while discussing Time Machines (see previous post for more details) the song 3000 by Busted was mentioned to me.
There's a lot going on here, although most of it was not worth the time we spent on it. However this part of the lyrics caught my eye:
I took a trip to the year 3000
This song had gone multi-platinum
Everybody bought our seventh album
Which means that the song had been reported as going multi-platinum by the year 3000 before completion of this version of the song. This is paradoxical; the song could not have been written and recorded in this form before the neighbour returned from their time trip to report on it's success*.

This song exists at the intersection between the complexity of self-referential songs** and the paradoxes of time-travel stories. And I'm not a Busted fan and this isn't even the song of there's I like most.

* For the curious I checked and Busted have released three studio and one live album so their seventh album has not yet been released.

** For example: I was 21 years when I wrote this song/ I'm 22 now but I won't be for long which makes a prediction in the lyrics (Billy Bragg, New England, although perhaps the Kirsty MacColl version is better known)

Travelling in Time 24 Hours per Day

If I had a time machine I would bury it in a hole
Or burn it on the waste ground behind the car park
Or dismantle it and post each piece to a different city
Or smash it with a hammer, or several hammers
Or seal it in a vault, deep underground
Lock it tight and lose the key
Tear up the combination
Cover it in concrete three metres deep
Then change the records so that anyone who looked
Would know for sure it was in a different vault in a different place

Because if I know anything about time machines
Then their use has unintended consequences
Unpinning cause from effect
So that events have no history and all of time
Becomes madness and chaos and old night
And no one wants that to happen

So that’s what I’m going to do
But to pay for the vault and all that concrete
I’m going to nip out and get the lotto numbers
For next Saturday
(One little trip can’t do any harm)

This is week two of the Thanet Creative Writers Writers Writing Competition. This turns out to be the fourth Time Travel poem I've put up on this site.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

What Gets Me Writing; Or, I Am Easily Distract...

This is my Thanet Creative Writers Competition entry. The theme is:

What gets me writing

I write because it’s a good way to deal with the thoughts that zoom around my head. Meanwhile as I go about my daily life I keep myself interested by looking for ideas to write about.

Recently my three year old nephew came to stay and introduced me to Planes 2: Fire and Rescue, a fairly straightforward animated film with an excellent scene that is a parody of 80s TV show CHiPs. One of the more notable things about the Cars/Planes films is that not only are there no humans amongst the sentient vehicles, but that there is no animal life at all; tractors replacing cattle and deer, tiny planes for birds, and winged VW beetles in the place of flies.

This ties into my current warm-up exercise, the couple of hundred words I write when I’m not writing something else and I’m editing or need to research or plan the next part. It’s a set of silly science fiction stories starring Lieutenant Commander Tommy “Ray” Gunn of the Deep Patrol, who has crazy adventures in a dark, grim, post-apocalyptic, post-human-singularity future. The all-animals-replaced-by-machines planet/habitat/ecology notes now cover half a page of my notebook.

Including a note on The Transformers: The Movie (the 80s cartoon with the final voice-work of Orson Welles, not the later Michael Bay helmed film) in which every planet except Earth is not only inhabited by robots, but by transforming robots. There are actually reasons for this in the film (don’t ask) yet logically it is a problem. If everything is a robot in disguise then surely it wouldn’t work as a disguise. Better to just be a machine that’s good at what it does rather than a compromised design that does two (or three) (or more) things poorly.

I’m probably not going to write the machine-animal planet episode as it doesn’t seem to generate an interesting story (it may get mentioned in conversation or appear in flashback).

Meanwhile according to my plan I’m supposed to be working on a crime story. Is all this over-analysis of kid’s cartoons a distraction? Well yes. It’s also what gets me writing.

(CHiPs theme tune for no very good reason)

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Video Game Romance Poetry

Twitter friend Mumbles has a competition giving away a game to best poem about a video game romance and I don't care about winning but will almost always type out some doggerel on demand.

And then it got a bit out of hand. This needs a lot of polishing but it's basically there as a pantun.

Alicia and Welkin are soldiers
(Valkyria Chronicles by the way)
And inevitably also lovers
Game hidden in my tankpunk anime

Valkyria Chronicles by the way
Turn-based tactical third/first person
Game hidden in my tankpunk anime
With magic, tanks and explosions and guns

Turn-based tactical third/first person
And while their country is being burned
With magic, tanks and explosions and guns
Their friendship grows and deepens and turns

And while their country is being burned
Alicia and Welkin are soldiers
Their friendship grows and deepens and turns
And inevitably also lovers

Too much game review not enough romance. Where it does succeed is my whole thing of trying to get the second time a line appears in a pantun to have a different meaning and/or weight.

(My introduction to the pantun or pantoum can be found here. My best one is here.)