Jonathon Dean

Writer. Human. Nerd.

Category: Blog (page 1 of 3)

Holy Hell It’s Warm!

Get out your pasty, pasty legs! Britain is in the midst of a heatwave, taking even Manchester to temperatures as high as 32°C, which is fully double the temperature that anyone was expecting. It’s even got so high that at times we’ve been hotter than most of the Mediterranian nations where we usually go to get some sunshine and out of the drizzle. And now Manchester is actually in the midst of a wildfire, without even a sniff of rainfall on the horizon.

The trouble is… Britain’s just not deisgned for this. We don’t have air-conditioning in our homes (or in many workplaces),  there is virtually nothing to do outdoors on nice days aside from pub beergardens, and all the buildings are designed to stop heat from leaving. The result? All productivity in the country stops dead, because honestly, who can work when they’re an exhausted ball of sweat?

Naturally, I’m no exception. Fresh back from a trip to the Czech Republic, where I watched many bands and enjoyed many beers, and suddenly I’m thrust into an upside down world where Britain is gloriously sunny! So much for cracking on with the dozen lots of work I’ve got to be getting on with. I’ve basically melted.

Translation? I’ve not managed to write anything new in a while.

Still, can’t stick around here typing all day. There’s basking to be done.

Green (But Lazy) Fingers

So I’m failing on the writing front – having done surprisingly little fiction writing work since the beginning of the year, in fact – but I am at least succeeding on the “growing chilli plants” front, in that most of the seedlings I planted a few months back have resolutely failed to die, despite their sole source of care being me, a man whose plans today involved leaving early and going for a swim, but in reality involved a mini-pizza for breakfast and a stop at KFC on the way to the pub.

I’ve tried growing plants a number of times over the years, only to see the lot of them drop dead at a moment’s notice due to some combination of overwatering, underwatering, overfertilising, underfertilising, too little sunlight, and too much sunslight. Because plants are finicky little buggers who need to buck their ideas up and stop being entitled snowflakes. These guys seem to be still alive – and it feels suspiciously like someone’s rushed out to the plant-pound and replaced the seedlings with identical ones every time they die so I don’t get upset.

Whether they’ll live long enough to bear fruit, and for that fruit to ripen in my cold, cold rented house is anyone’s guess. But I’m already having to look into greenhouses, and even have elaborate plans to knock together a moving greenhouse so that I can actually use the one patch of sun in my garden from time to time rather than turning it over to some green scroungers on a full-time basis. Who knows, I’ll probably blog about it again.

 

Oh, still here?

I see my blogging has been as regular as ever.

Since I see I haven’t updated anything since the beginning of the year, I’ll preface this by pointing out that I haven’t exactly done much of interest since then. More running exams, more writing work that pays the shells off peanuts, and the occasional stint of making cushions and curtains, because life is occasionally bloody strange. See, the most interesting thing that’s happened lately is that my girlfriend has opened a shop in Manchester’s alternative marketplace, Affleck’s. Add that to her pub job, and we’ve not been getting to spend a great deal of time together lately, excluding when I’m hanging around the goth shop looking like the bloke sent down from maintenance to put up some shelves.

Thing is, up until yesterday, my laptop was in a bit of a state, and would overheat and shut itself down with any movement whatsoever, which is not what you’d call ideal for a piece of technology whose main selling point is portability. Regardless, it has meant that for some months now, I’ve not been able to get out of the house and take my work with me in the way that I would like, and have in fact been confined to a cold house so that my laptop doesn’t burn itself out half way through whatever work I was doing. But this week, the trusty thing finally gave up, and I was forced to buy a new one with the money I definitely don’t have. However, since my livelihood is almost solely dependent on being able to type… yeah, that was something of a necessary expenditure.

But it does mean that I can now venture out of the house with my laptop again the way it was meant to be – and as the days start to get warmer again, that means getting to work in pub beergardens again! Huzzah!

A Cracking Start to the Year

A new year, and already I’m ill with whatever it is that seems to be going around lately. It would have to be just when I’m busier than I’ve been in quite some time, wouldn’t it?

One of the things I’ve been loaning my corporeal form to is exam invigilation, which is an unusual job as these things go, whose main required skill is the ability to keep oneself occupied for long periods of time without succumbing to any form of existential anxiety and screaming your soul out as you claw the flesh from your face. Thankfully I’m rather more stable than that.

That aside, the most important skill is the ability to remain silent for three hours at a time. Which, thanks to the aforementioned illness, is proving to be the most difficult part of the job. Generally, I consider myself one of the very best at sitting in a quiet room and keeping myself occupied with a book and phone/tablet for long periods of time – unfortunately at the moment that’s been requiring tag-teaming with someone else while I quietly nip out into the corridor and cough up several of my major organs, and then make my eighth lemsip-or-brew of the day.

Irritatingly, it is this very coughing-myself-into-an-early-grave issue that’s also getting in the way of me actually doing anything with the large amounts of time that I’m spending sat alone. I could easily be planning a project, working on my social media presence or similar – and actually getting paid for it! – but instead I’m forever rushing out into the corridor to attempt to turn myself inside-out instead of doing anything that is in any way useful.

Tellingly, the most significant writing milestone thus far in 2018 has been a rejection email for a short story I submitted over two years ago. I did vaguely wonder if they had simply not bothered to read it – that is a bloody long turnaround, after all! – but in the end it turns out that they just didn’t like it very much. I’m not sure whether that’s reassuring, or just damning.

Still, with the year getting off to this kind of start, it can only get better, right?

…right?

2017’s almost over, and what have we learned?

In this latest entire journey around the sun, what have I learned?

Well, first off, that breaking a limb 1) hurts, 2) is hugely inconvenient, and 3) really doesn’t help with the whole “let’s try to type all the time” side of things – which, if you think about it, is basically 90% of everything these days, particularly when you would really like to write for a living.

Second off, that all that time spent not-really-being-able-to-do-any-writing also seems to have a deleterious effect on my ability to actually come up with anything that I would like to write about for the length of time necessary to hit the 90k+ word count of the modern genre novel, without wanting to launch my laptop and its (admittedly electronic) contents out of a window and into the path of a passing bulldozer. This is also a gargantuan problem. How can I even sit and type about something now that I’m physically able to once again, when I’m struggling to come up with any ideas I want to spend any time with?

Third off, querying agents petrifies me. Like, properly petrifies me. And it’s not a question of showing people my work either, that I’m perfectly happy with. Here’s the issue; you get one, single attempt per agent per manuscript. There are a finite number of agents, and so a finite number of attempts that you get at redrafting and submitting each query letter, and manuscript. And of course, without having an agent (or the ability to throw infinite amounts of money at professional editors), you’re reliant on the feedback of people who know about as much about the whole process and what agents and editors are looking for as I do. Which means I can never have enough confidence in the finishedness and polishedness of my work to take the gigantic gamble of submitting them to my first choice agents, because it means that I don’t ever have the opportunity to submit that work to that agent ever again, and potentially several years’ work disappears into the void along with the many thousands of pounds I’ve spent on rent over the years.

All in all, a lot of self-discovery this year… I can only hope that 2018 starts looking a bit more positive than 2017!

Another Trip Around the Sun

So Friday was my 29th birthday, making that a new personal best for laps around the sun.

As you might imagine, I got a little bit merry for a few days, and as luck uniformly has it, a friend’s birthday happens to fall the day after mine, and he traditionally has a house party on the closest weekend. Which means traditionally, I tend to spend my birthday celebrating someone else’s birthday.

Not that I mind too much – I tend to assume that nobody would be that bothered about coming to drink for my birthday anyway – but it can get a bit strange spending your birthday going to birthday parties with all the usual trimmings but which aren’t for you.

Statistically, most people probably know a few people who share their birthday, particularly in the age of sprawling social media networks of friendships. I know at least four. So where does this vague desire for acknowledgement come from? After all, it’s not like I’ve earned anything that requires recognition, all I’ve done is survive another year without accidentally dying (though admittedly this year I broke a limb, which I’ve never done before!).

It seems utterly irrational to me, and yet it’s somewhere here in my brain anyway. Some matter of family socialisation, most likely, that persists into adulthood even though logically I know I don’t care a great deal.

So the question is, if that’s still in there, what else is? And how much of that goes to explain the nonsensical paths that modern society is taking?

Losing the Plot

I think I’m having something of an existential crisis.

See, I’ve been writing stories for years perfectly happily, but in the last few years, I’ve really started to delve into the theory of it all. There’s a lot of great material on the internet that makes studying this an absolute breeze. Brandon Sanderson, in particular, seems to genuinely enjoy helping new writers and teaching people about the art of writing, and his stuff is great.

The trouble is, the more I learn about how plots and narratives are constructed, the harder I find it to put one together. My mind just keeps telling me that what I’ve got is a string of scenes rather than a plot, no matter how closely they resemble a plot, my brain will simply tell me it’s not complete.

I’m pretty sure this is a paradox borne of some combination of the Dunning-Krueger effect and impostor syndrome, whereby the more I learn, the more I realise I don’t know. Unfortunately, this was largely the case with my Ph.D. studies as well, and the primary reason for my taking an interruption.

Let’s hope the same paralysis doesn’t set in here too, eh?

Well, this is embarrassing…

So my plan to post an update every Sunday didn’t exactly go to, um, plan.

Alright, so I’m only a day out, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t too bad, but still. Two weeks in and already I managed to forget to blog? Doesn’t exactly bode well for the future, right?

I’ll make my excuses now; I’ve had a busy week. I’ve been doing some subcontracting work lately, looking at survey responses from Iraqi refugee camps for Save the Children, and it’s left me a little bit drained.

There’s really only so many times you can read statements from parents talking about their children drowning in unsupervised areas of the refugee camp, or from children talking about how their family members have been killed or kidnapped by terrorist organisations, and still want to come and type out some light observations about spaceships.

It’s easy to just drop into a funk about all this – after all, it is pretty depressing that these camps not only have to exist in the first place, but the fact that so many of these personal horror stories go largely ignored makes it so much worse. Of course, we all know that these things go on, in a largely abstract sense, but to see them written up in such a clinical, emotionless way that auto-translation software delivers is an entirely different experience.

I guess the thing about fiction is that we can choose to use it as an escape from the harsh realities of life, like the refugee camps, the hunger and misery, the abuse of human life and the future and livelihoods denied to so many, or we can use it to bring these abstract horrors into sharp relief, putting characters we get to know and love into the same situations we have in real life. Ordinarily, I’d take the second route every time. This week, though? I need an escape.

Student Invasion!

Ah Manchester.

I’ve lived here since coming to university a decade ago now, and the city never ceases to amaze me. Since Manchester is home to three huge universities, as well as a few smaller academic institutions, there’s a big student vibe to the place. Not only that, but since the student population numbers somewhere around a hundred thousand, the summer months are a completely different world.

I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to live in a place that doesn’t have tides of students flooding the city in September, and leaving parts of it virtually empty in the summer. Of course, this is the best way around it – I’d rather have fewer people competing for space in the beer gardens when it’s gloriously hot, wouldn’t you?

But this isn’t about that Manchester, where beer gardens in converted Victorian warehouses overlook gently flowing canals, built to cater to many more residents than are in the city at the time. No, this is about the other Manchester on the other side of the tide, where thousands of eighteen year olds, freed from the yoke of their parents for the first time, arrive in the city simultaneously and proceed to get spectacularly plastered.

I can’t begrudge them for that – I did much the same myself – and it does eventually calm down. But for the first few weeks of new student arrivals? The student-heavy areas of the city are a sea of vomit and broken glass, and the bus routes are jam packed full of hammered idiots who haven’t the faintest idea how either buses or money work.

But you know what? I wouldn’t trade this for any other city. They turn up, they go nuts, and eventually they become a proper part of this living, breathing organism of a city.

Staying Regular

So I’ve had this site for a few years now, and yet it feels like I’ve been neglecting the actual “blog” portion of it.

That’s largely because blogging isn’t actually as fun or interesting to write as fiction, and so I tend to skip over it. For someone like me, for whom a “schedule” is something that the rest of the world obeys and I tend to just drift straight past, the idea of knocking out a few paragraphs of something every week sounds perfectly sensible and easy in principle, but in practice it’s something that I’ll just plain forget to do.

But I’m making the effort. With liberal use of various reminders, alarms and scheduling tools, I’m actually going to make this blog a regular weekly blog. Who knows, I might even get around to writing some more Stories Behind Stories content as well.

The big issue that arises then is, well, what the hell do I blog about? Who cares about what I’m doing with my time? (Hint: it’s not much) Who cares what some unpublished writer on the internet reckons about writing?

Still, even if it’s a case of slamming my head on the keyboard a few times until some vague, half-formed stream of consciousness dribble falls out of it and forms some vaguely word-looking shapes on a screen near you, it’s more than I was doing previously.

I can’t promise you it’ll be good – but I can promise you it’ll be here.

Probably.

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