The Appazza Embarrassment

For many years I despaired of the teenagers who molested and mauled our language. I observed the emergence of ‘lol’ and ‘c u l8r’ first with trepidation, then with scorn, then with something that balanced precariously between anger and hatred.

And then I wondered, in all seriousness: why on earth would you be proud to present yourself as so appallingly illiterate?

Now, this isn’t one of those rants in which someone looks down upon the young, proclaims that it wasn’t like this in their day, and then proceeds to yearn for a return to the era of tea cosies and domestic maids. On the contrary, the creation of textspeak was, at first, a practical means of fitting a long message into the confines of a number of permitted characters and thereby saving money on stretching the thing across two messages.

Which is all well and good, but since then things have taken a distinct downturn. Recently, I actually heard someone respond to something funny by saying ‘Lol’. That’s right, instead of laughing, they actually said ‘Lol’.

And no, it wasn’t an extremely witty satire on the textspeak culture. It was an authentic fraction of the conversation. If indeed such gems as ‘Innit though’ can be classed as conversing.

This weekend, however, things took a new turn for the worse and sank to a new low.


It took me a while to work that one out. And then I realised that what this was, was ‘Apparently’.

Do feel free to pause at this juncture in order to wait for that crawling sensation to stop creeping over your skin, or to go outside and scream at the sky.

This dire and nothing less than embarrassing slaughtering of English was, you will not be shocked to learn, contained in a tweet. You’d be right to assume that it wasn’t on a hashtag associated with current affairs or the global economic crisis.

A glance at the tweeter’s profile revealed that the source was a teenage girl. Well, it was never going to be a refined intellect such as Victoria Coren or Joan Bakewell. Indeed, one suspects that this tweeter would require assistance joining the dots, never mind completing a sequence on Only Connect.

I’m not opposed to the evolution of language; truly, I’m not. Each generation has, and needs, its own identity, and this is brought about in many ways, not least through its slang. But ask yourself, if this was your child, how proud would you be knowing that this was the manner of base illiteracy spewing forth from their mouth and keyboard? If you were that child’s teacher, would you sleep well, safe in the knowledge that their formative years were securing a prosperous and valid future?

I wouldn’t. And I think I’ve made that all too appazzent.



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The Eight Days Of Evil

Eight days have somehow drifted by since last I attended to Veronica’s story. Life has a way of throwing rocks of distraction at the car of creativity from the bridge of annoyance.

Those eight days have not been wasted by any means. Other things have been going on in my life, most of them rather lovely and enjoyable, but it’s a frustration to be otherwise engaged when a project so many years in the making has to be set aside in deference to matters of greater urgency.

Testament to how much has been demanding my attention elsewhere lies in the fact that I’ve just woken from a solid 14 hours’ sleep. I regard sleep as a bit of a bitch at the best of times; I view every hour spent with my head on the pillow as an hour of my life wasted. But needs must when the demon of slumber slaps you in the face.

In retrospect, I should probably adjust the title of this post to seven days of evil rather than eight, because actually yesterday was mostly wonderful, spent as it was in the company of a new acquaintance who made me laugh more than anyone has in some considerable time, and whose place in my select inner circle of true friends is secured.

What irks me most about the last week, however, is not so much how unavoidably busy it’s been, nor even that I’ve had to leave the next segment of Veronica’s chronicle unwritten, but that, looking back, nothing happened that was truly significant. Nothing had any major impact; evading it all would have had no detrimental effect on anything else. And that last sentence probably wouldn’t have been so clumsy either.

I could wish that I still wrote a journal; flicking back through these last eight days to see where they went and how would be fascinating. But I terminated the journal a couple of years ago.

It’s tempting to resume the thing, but, being a writer, I know I’d spend far too much time writing it. An average entry used to run to around three A4 pages, and that was handwritten; imagine how much more of it I’d churn out daily with the added speed of a keyboard, and how angry at myself I’d inevitably be over the time spent doing that when I could have been writing Veronica’s story instead. That’s one hell of a vicious circle that I have no wish to be trapped in.

The positive side of the eight days now ending is that my mind has been quite happily homing in on Veronica at odd moments, and new twists in the tale in progress have sprung up. Some will make the final cut, others will be rejected, and one or two will inevitably be forgotten, but there are a handful that should provide some intriguing diversions, the outcomes of which I can’t be certain of until the time comes to write them.

So, it’s time to refill the kettle, pile high the snacks within easy reach on the corner of the desk, and allow one of the characters waiting in the wings to make their entry into Veronica’s world. Cue Gabriel, one of the few destined to stick around across all nine novels in the Veronica series. Roll up those sleeves, Gabriel; it’s going to be a rocky road.

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Locality Bites

Locations are as important when planning a novel as any other part of the whole. Whether it’s the town wherein someone resides or the setting for a particular scene, the geographical background is vital.

Of course, that doesn’t just mean pinpointing a city. On a smaller scale, the environs in which characters are moving can determine what they do and how they do it. It’s no good establishing in the reader’s mind that two people are in a tiny village and then one page later having them walking past a department store. It’s shocking how often this sort of continuity error crops up, for which both author and editor are equally to blame.

For me, the settings in the first Veronica novel were largely pre-determined by the back stories I already had in my mind. Veronica lives in mid-Sussex, although having been born in Austria it’s inevitable that all roads will at some stage lead to Vienna. Tiffany’s family are old stock from the west coast of Scotland, which is useful from my point of view because in years past I’ve spent many a summer in that beautiful region and thus can depict it even in the first draft with some accuracy, and the ambience won’t be too difficult to conjure up when the storyline demands an excursion there.

Much of this first novel is set in London, and again I have a sufficient working knowledge to portray the relevant areas well. I happen to know that the street in which Sian lives is roughly equidistant from both Oxford Street and Grosvenor Square. It’s also only a few minutes’ walk from Baker Street, which might allow for a subtle lighthearted Sherlock Holmes reference somewhere along the way.

There’s much fun to be had with a major city such as London. One does not have to be overly detailed or indeed accurate. On the contrary, the real entertainment on the writer’s side comes from playing around with it, adding in those fictional streets, bars, shops, parks and other landmarks that make it your own. Authenticity and one’s own geographical invention make for locales that are unique but still believeable.

What’s more fun than any of this, naturally, is creating a completely new place from scratch. Whether it’s a whole town or a single house, one can build it from the foundations upward and construct pieces of the world within the one that already exists. Even something as mundane as a warehouse or hotel can be shaped to fit whatever mood one desires, from the creepy houses of horror to the glamorous five-star haunts of money.

Veronica’s house is fairly ordinary. Well, apart from being built at a 45-degree angle to the road, as mentioned in a previous blog post, and thus bearing the name Cornerways. That aside, it’s just a house in a semi-rural location. You wouldn’t give it a second look.

In truth, you probably wouldn’t give Veronica a second look either. I would, but then she’s been in my head for more than half my life, and now that I’m actually writing her story she’s taken on an even greater significance.

But her house, her kitchen, her bedroom, these are all fairly ordinary, just like anybody else’s. She doesn’t have a luxury home, or a high-end car, or Playboy centrefold looks. And in terms of making her a character that readers can relate to and will like and empathise with, that’s important too. Again, it’s a question of location and setting; these too play a role in how a reader responds to a character.

That’s not to say that Veronica herself is ordinary. Even allowing for my personal bias, she’s a remarkable young woman. Somebody asked me the other day if writers ever fall in love with their characters, and as I said to that person, ‘Oh yes. Years ago.’

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Stupid Cupid

Valentine’s Day. Because nothing says ‘I love you’ more than buying a tacky card for no better reason than that the commercial sector decided you should do so on the same day every year. And all in honour of a chap who was made a saint after being martyred. Dead people and product placement; these are the things that are ruling your hearts.

Frankly, if you need a date in the calendar to prompt you into a demonstration of love, then you’re probably the sort of person who needs a memo to remind you to put the bins out.

Love and romance aren’t about saying ‘Hey, look, I bought you a piece of shiny folded cardboard with a terrible drawing of a cherub on it.’ Love and romance are about spontaneous moments of subtle intimacy; the impulsive cuddle, holding their hand because you want to, surprising them with a small gift that means something to them more than it does to that shop with the red helium balloons in the window. And just being together.

I’m not cynical about love in any way whatsoever. I adore romance, and love, and all those little things that make them special. I also happen to enjoy being single, which is just as well at the moment.

Writing is, of necessity, a solitary pursuit. Singledom makes it a lot easier to write when I want to. That I effectively work night shifts at the desk is more easily facilitated by not having somebody else’s lifestyle to consider. It’s not as selfish as it sounds, but if I’m alone then I may as well make the most of it.

There’s an element of the romantic in almost everything I write, and yes, I enjoy giving my characters that extra ingredient to throw into the mix. In the case of the current project, it also makes things fascinatingly complicated.

As for me, I’m blissfully content to buy chocolate and not have to share it with someone else. But if a someone else wants to share both the sofa and the chocolate, well, I’m blissfully content for that to happen too.


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The Weekend’s Weak End

In terms of creativity and productivity, this has not been a good weekend. You can probably tell by the example of punnery in this post’s title. Actually, I rather like it, but on the other hand, my head feels like it’s been dipped into a vat of swirl-inducing anaesthetic and then shifted out of synch with the rest of me.

No, I’m not hungover. In fact, I drink so little that a small rodent could probably beat me in a drinking contest.

Personally, I don’t mind having days when the words refuse to flow. I don’t get moody if the pages remain blank for a while and I have no choice but to resort to a lazy few hours in front of the television with an overflowing ashtray and more snacks than the local soulless multiplex could sell in a week. Time away from the keyboard is more often than not a good thing, which results in a rejuvenated mind and a fresh idea or two.

What really annoys the hell out of me is an unidentified condition I seem to suffer with which is best described as a mild form of narcolepsy.

Intermittently, my entire being simply refuses to stay awake. Everything shuts down. Since this time on Friday, a period of 48 hours, I have slept for something in the region of 36 hours. Not because I wanted to but because I simply could not stay conscious.

Now, there are far worse conditions to endure than this, but in its own way it can be debilitating. And the complication is in the fact that it has no trend or regularity. It doesn’t occur, say, every x number of days. It strikes randomly, and when it does I can do nothing, including keeping my eyes open.

It has nothing to do with my preference for working at night either. There are millions of people who work night shifts and sleep through the day with no problem whatsoever. I maintain a sleep pattern that makes allowances for my after-dark hours.

Doctors are baffled and bemused. I’ve been poked, prodded, sampled and tested until I was blue in the face (among other places). No certain diagnosis has been reached. I’m advised merely to let it happen and, in the words of one white-coated buffoon, ‘deal with it.’

Which I do. But to say it’s frustrating is a gargantuan understatement. I’ve never been one of those people, for example, who likes to have a lie-in on a Sunday morning. Sleep, to me, is nothing more than a waste of a third of most people’s lives. Yes, it’s a necessity, but think what you could be doing instead.

So at times like this weekend, I am left with the bitter sense of having had to let 36 hours of my life go to waste. Well, not all of it, because I will now inevitably plunge into the next few days reinvigorated. But, at this moment, my brain feels fuzzy, and I know it’ll be a few hours yet before I’m able to focus on anything well enough to be able to do anything with my time that I regard as worthwhile.

The above may read like a bit of a rant, and I suppose it is in a way. But I always promised myself that when not blogging about the Veronica novels and any other projects that I’d write honestly about myself and my life when it felt appropriate, and give you, the reader, some insight into the person behind it all.

The one positive thing to happen this weekend was that, not being in any fit state to write, I was able to use one of my waking interludes to get back to the PokerStars tournament tables online. Somehow, through the wooziness, I succeeded in adding to my account balance with a few minor tournament cashes, and then surprised nobody by crashing and burning with some terrible errors of judgment that ensured I waved goodbye to a larger buy-in. But it lifted my mood.

By this time tomorrow, I’ll almost certainly have regained my equilibrium, jumped back in the saddle and mixed some more random metaphors like those. And will once again be extremely thankful that the coffee jar is never empty.

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Threads And Whips

As Tiffany’s role in this first Veronica novel slowly becomes more apparent to those involved, not least Veronica herself, a crowd of other characters are beginning to gather and impatiently await their entry into the saga.

It was always going to happen. The list of dramatis personae is long, and whilst the principals are easily separated from the not-so-key players (I hesitate to call them minor characters since they all have an impact on the story, whether it be now or in the eventual ninth novel) the question that arises is, when and how does each of them appear?

Gabriel, arguably the most important male alongside Veronica’s brother, must be involved sooner rather than later. His story arc is long and intricate, stretching far beyond the first of these novels, and his early revelation will dictate a number of events or their outcomes.

Sadie, whose name is no coincidence given her liking for drawing blood at the tip of a whip (among other indulgences) is also a crucial cog on the Veronica wheel, but plotlines mean she won’t be encountered for some time.

Sian, meanwhile, is waiting much more patiently, and will meet Veronica in the not too distant future, although at the moment I’ve yet to engineer the precise means by which their paths are going to cross.

And then there’s Tiffany’s family, all of whom must be brought into the foreground. Amongst them, Anna has my most likely empathy, but until I find out for sure which of the relations is going to throw the most proverbial spanners into the works I’m not going to commit myself to that particular piece of favouritism.

Through these people, three distinct plot threads will be launched, at least two of which are to become wrapped around each other, and it wouldn’t surprise me whatsoever if the third somehow gets mixed up with them before the first of Veronica’s tales reaches its partial conclusion.

Veronica is a bit grumpy at the moment (she’s not often angry, but can be prone to what I think of as a sort of cute irritability) after learning something about her brother, and I’ve had a restless day myself, so we’re taking 24 hours away from it all to relax and freshen up before a weekend of more writing.

As for me, I’m a teeny bit anxious about Gabriel. When the reader first meets him, the atmosphere and general aura about him have to be spot on to ensure the mystery of the man is established. It’s a challenge, and one I’m equal to, but I suspect it’s also a section of which I’ll be hugely self-critical when it comes to revising the first draft later in the year.

On the other hand, at least I don’t ever have to be in the same place as Sadie and her whip, or whatever other toys she has hidden away. Somebody is inevitably going to get hurt, and I’m really hoping it’s not Veronica.


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Fleshing Out The Geek Bones

One of the advantages to being single and living alone is that awkward moments aren’t witnessed by anyone else. Laughing at the spherical chickens joke-within-a-joke in series one of The Big Bang Theory went unheard; having a minor crush on a politician remains shrouded in secrecy; punching the air when my all-time poker idol followed me on Twitter was unseen by other eyes. I can get away with being this uncool because there are no eyes or ears to testify to it.

Last night it dawned on me just how intricate my geekiness can be when I realised that two of the names in the character list of the Veronica novels are anagrams of other names, and that one of the source names is in turn that of an unrelated fictional character.

And that’s before we get to the admission that one of the details I’m most baffled by is what Felix (Veronica’s brother) would have as his avatar and username when playing poker online.

Such intricacies do matter, of course. It’s crucial that such seemingly irrelevant elements are consistent with the character, because if there’s one thing you can rely on as an author it’s that at least one reader will pick up on them.

I agonised for several days when first signing up with PokerStars over what my own username and avatar would be, and now I hate them both. This has nothing to do with the matter of how Felix might represent himself online, but does add to my frustrations over that aspect of the man.

It probably doesn’t even matter. I have no plans to include a Bond-style poker scene in some shadowy casino in any of the nine novels in the series, nor to place any great emphasis on Felix playing online. The most that’s likely to pop up is him being in mid-game during a conversation with Veronica. But these are the fine-tunings that flesh out the bones.

To complicate creative matters further, I now have to craft a sudden and very dramatic transition from the relatively everyday opening of the first novel to the bleaker, darker world in which the main body of it takes place. I’m in two minds as to whether I’ll throw Veronica headlong into it via some horrendous event which leaves her shaken to the core (and will leave me feeling terribly guilty; see my first ever blog post¬†for an insight into our relationship of 23 years) or to lead her into it by way of a more gradual process.

Or to put it another way: which is going to produce more value, a continuation bet or shoving all-in?


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