In Search of a Handy Handle

Those of you who keep an eye on the WIP widget (on the top left of the footer) will have noticed that I am not, as previously advertized, typing up Dead Man Talking (extended edition). I was going to, honest I was (I even started!), but then I was distracted by this shiny new idea, and there was this post from Cait Reynolds and… mmm. New book.

I’ve been noodling about with it for about six weeks now (and am on to my second noodling notebook, turning it over in my mind, making notes, and watching it develop like what I seem to recall from Sixth Form Agriculture & Horticulture is called meristem culture, a form of micropropagation. (Don’t take my word for this; it was a long time ago, and micropropagation is not a skill I have had occasion to use since then.)

You take a little blob of what are essentially plant stem cells and you roll that little blob around and around so it can’t tell which way is up (and therefore can’t start doing stem up and root down). And then once it’s grown into a bigger blob you chop it into little blobs and start rolling them around, thus ending up, eventually, with Even More Plants. (All carbon copies of each other, which is problematic from a disease-resistance point of view, but let us not get into that now.)

Light callus PV 5-30 gameto callus forming 5 x19

An indeterminate bunch of planty stem cells is only so useful, however. Sooner or later you gotta let it start growing in particular ways – here’s the stem, here’s the tip, here’s the backstory…

I found, as the days wore by, that I got sick of referring to it (even mentally) by the filename I gave it back when it was just a tiny blob of meristem: Winter Fairytale. And since I can no longer use my old standby “the book,” there being more than one book in my life now, I must search elsewhere for a title. So of course, I went and looked at a title generator. (Hours of innocent entertainment…)

Its suggestions included The Evil Curse and Evil Cursing which are perhaps just a bit too obvious; Cursing for Words (a how-to guide?); Chill Coachman, which seems like the title of a dreadfully anachronistic “historical” novel; and The Deathly Bite which just has to be a vampire novel – or a creative non-fiction work on the mosquito (this isn’t either of those).

Anopheles stephensi
Of course, I could just call it WIP2 or something of that ilk, but I’d rather have a title which at least sounds possible. Otherwise it’s like wearing an item of clothing you know is going in the bin at the end of the day: why bother?

So I have come up with a number of possible titles, most of which aren’t very possible. Obviously, none of you have read the book yet (largely because I haven’t written it yet), but I’d be interested to hear what you think of these.

I haven’t written a proper blurb or anything yet, but here’s a little something to set the scene – without giving too much away (For those of you who have read Restoration Day, it’s of a similar tone. So far.)

Picture to yourself a far-off land under a Good King Wenceslas winter (“when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even”). Peasants huddle round their crackling fires; fashionable aristocrats haunt their chilly palaces in town.

But rumours of a curse stalk the land, a suddenly-striking curse which takes words spoken in thoughtlessness or malice and makes them literally true, in the most unexpected ways.

A carefree young coachman encounters the curse’s fearful effects, and accompanied by a stroppy apprentice wise-woman, an enchanted fountain, and a petrified secretary with a yen for adventure, he strikes out across the wintry land, bent on hunting this malediction to its source.

But there’s more behind his bad luck than he realizes – and the stakes are higher than he knows…

So here are the not-enormously-possibles (none of them sings):

The Winter Curse
(I tried using this, but WC is not an inspiring acronym)

The Winter of ___ Words
(insert adjective here)

Ball at 20s by Kardovsky
The Coachman, the Curse & the Coronation Ball

(I’m not even sure there will be a ball, yet)

Wound of Words
(from the Arab proverb, “The wound of words is worse than the wound of swords.”)

The Winter Malison
(malison being an old word for a curse or malediction)

The Words of Winter
(doesn’t give a clear mental image)

Winter pops up a lot, I know, but it’s sort of thematic, rather like spring was thematic for Restoration Day.

What do you think? If you have any other suggestions – or general advice on titling – I am, like the fennec, all ears.

Fennec Fox @ Africa Alive, Lowestoft
Alas, not until I have actually written the book can you make a truly informed suggestion, but please, do not let that stop you. All contributions gratefully received.

Six Sorts of Stationery for Starting Your Book

It is possible (I hear) to write a book entirely digitally, from inkling (inklessling?) to final draft. But if you’re a lover of stationery such as myself, such a prospect rather chills than cheers. This list is for you.

Fine writing instruments
The first requirement of writing a book is, of course, a Pen. Now, you could use an endless supply of disposables, but it would be much more ecologically friendly – as well as more pleasant and aesthetically pleasing – to use a fountain pen. I wrote the first draft of Restoration Day with an old green Faber-Castell, and then bought myself a TWSBI Diamond Mini to celebrate. It is this latter that I shall be using for the first draft of the new book.

A pen is, of course, of little use without Ink (except in case of emergency tracheotomy; do not try this at home). Here is where the fountain pen really comes into its own: you can have pretty much any colour you choose – and some even come with scents. I picked Diamine Majestic Purple as the thematic colour for Restoration Day, and over 160,000 words later, I’ve only used about 2/3 of the 30mL bottle. For this new book (I really must come up with a good working title) I shall be using Diamine Kensington Blue.

It is true that ink comes in cartridges as well as bottles, but I say leave ink cartridges to printers. A cartridge is, after all, just a way to throw out part of your pen instead of all of it. And if you are worried about needing to refill on the go, get a TWSBI pen with one of their plug-in ink bottles. All the convenience, none of the mess, and it looks great on your desk. (No affiliation, just a satisfied customer.)

Having sorted out your basic writing implement, the next thing you need is something to write on. I would suggest – particularly if you are not yet sure whether your idea has what is known as “legs” – that you do not launch straight into a proper book. Instead, have a Noodling Notebook. This can be as flash or as plain as you like: I used a 3B1 with an evocative pattern glued to the cover.

Fleshing out your idea – what a grotesque expression; let us depart from it – exploring and filling out your idea in your noodling notebook will either fill you with such enthusiasm that it is clear a larger book will be required; or make you realize that as fun as the idea was, it isn’t enough to carry a book. In which case you at least have the consolation that you haven’t wasted your stationery treasure on a few scant pages of notes.

Once you get to the point that your noodling is starting to slop over the edges and grow right out of your notebook, you may think that it is time to take to the proper book. You would be wrong. Don’t believe me? Write down all the juicy little scene ideas which have sprouted out of your noodling on to Index Cards. (Note: not every idea constitutes a scene.) Then lay them out in the order indicated (a pinboard avec pins may assist with this, unless you have a large flat surface which is not otherwise encumbered with meals, cats, sewing etc).

According to Larry Brooks, a novel has, at a rough estimate, about 60 scenes. Do you have 60 cards with scene ideas on them? Alack! It is not so. This can be a rather depressing moment, when you realize that your lofty dreams are in fact exceedingly vague in the middle, but it is better to realize this now than after you have written 30,000 words and realize it’s not going anywhere. (Take it from someone who knows.)

Hence the cards. They also constitute a significantly easier to re-engineer form of your novel than an actual manuscript; but they’re easier to take in at a glance than a page of notes on a screen. Plus there is the possibility of colour-coding!

Finally, you are ready to write the book itself. What do you choose? Some may like to work their way through a ream of paper (one word of advice: paperweights), while others use what for want of a better term I will call Exercise Books. I wrote Restoration Day in eight large ugly ring-bound books – left pages only as I am left-handed when writing and it is exceedingly uncomfortable as well as messy to write with your hand resting on a large metal spiral.

For the new book, I have decided to treat myself. I purchased two Paper Lane A4 80gsm 240-page 7mm-ruled FSC hardback “journals” in blue (and on sale, yay!). The pen loop is rather too small for the TWSBI (another point in favour of fountain pens as opposed to disposable ball-points: you aren’t gripping a tiny barrel for hours on end); but I expect the storage pocket will come in handy.

Which brings me to the last of the six sorts of stationery: the classic Bits of Paper. Yes, you could just use odd bits of whatever comes to hand – old envelopes, receipts, the back of an unwary piece of A4 that strayed on to your desk – but you are much less likely to lose your thoughts, notes, lists etc if they are on pieces of paper which are unequivocally To Do With This. (This also avoids the drama of losing yesterday’s notes and ransacking your desk, only to find that they are on the reverse of today’s notes.)

I like to make a quick précis of what’s going to happen next when I break off for the day, so as to jog my memory quickly back into the flow the next day. Also useful for figuring out exchanges in the right order, diagrams, and a myriad other uses. Consider getting a memo cube or scribble pad in your thematic colour, to be used only for that project. That way, when you see a piece of it floating around your desk, you’ll know what project it belongs to – and when you’re missing a note it’ll be easier to find.

Those are, of course, merely the basics. Truly dedicated stationery-lovers will no doubt find a dozen other openings for stationery in the process of writing a book. Suggestions?