What NaNoWriMo 2013 Taught Me

It’s the last day of November which means it is finally time for me to have a day to not really do a whole lot. Unfortunately in my world these kind of days do not exist. I don’t know how to not do anything. It makes me anxious. On this day of not doing a lot I have recorded five songs, written two articles and started work on a Christmas project that I cannot yet detail. I have also tidied my room for the first time in a month, made myself dinner and booked a table for lunch tomorrow.

That is all a complete aside to the actual subject. This year I decided that writing one 50,000 word novel was not enough of a challenge and so when I finished on 17 November I decided I probably had time to get another one done. Rather than taking the time to do some much needed editing I hit the MacBook again, turning from the travel diary of my first project to a fantasy adventure that in my head is the first of three books I have been planning to write for ten years. In a way this made it easier because I should have most of the groundwork down after ten years of thinking about it. The story in fact changed completely as I wrote it. Rather than being my usual ten chapter book from one character’s perspective I realised it became much more interesting to both read and to write if it covered off the way different people looked at the events that were unfolding. I don’t want to provide too much detail in case anyone else ever reads it but essentially this meant creating entirely new characters and scenarios around the basis of what I had. It was fun to do, and it meant I didn’t get bored of one character. I could essentially abandon ship on anyone who got boring for me. That’s point one of what NaNoWriMo 2013 taught me; there is always room for other characters.

I managed to do a lot of my writing during my daily commute. It turns out that people on the Southend Victoria to London Liverpool Street line are not fans of writers. I base this on the loud tutting I often got when I sat with my laptop and tried to create something instead of formlessly refreshing my Facebook feed like everyone around me seemed to be doing. It turns out that without the Internet as a distraction writing is an awful lot easier, or at least the periods of my travel were my most productive. As soon as I was home there were far too many distractions. I found myself taking train journeys just so I could write for longer. So point two is an inability to Internet is very beneficial.

I have also found that after a while people don’t want to hear about what you are doing. I always try not to be one of those terribly self involved and cliched writers who tell everyone about their protagonist’s struggle against blah blah blah. I would tell people my word count when they asked and I updated a few too many milestones along the way but it was for my benefit. It’s my record of my achievement. When I finished my first novel, in June 2012, people were amazed and supportive. Now it is old hat. They know I can do it, the challenge has weakened. It’s expected that I will write and that I will meet deadlines. It’s a scary framework to operate under so my next point would be don’t bother people with it.
They’ll read it when it is published but they have their own petty concerns to be getting on with.

I would like to thank those who have been especially supportive during the last month. Kate has been an absolute gem as usual and on top of that I’ve spoken to Haley, Hollie, Sam, Adam, Luke, Ben, Joe, Lee, Nat, Paul, Stacy, Ian, Emily, Emma, Amy, Jess, Feyza, Andreas, Jamie, Jane, Hannah and my dad about it as I went along. The people in the NaNoEssex group were also really cool to chat to and I am genuinely looking forward to reading some of their work going forwards. The Alex in Southend did a top job of holding space for us to put on Write-Ins and meet ups on Sundays. It’s been a solid month and it looks like I’ve got some freelance work emerging as a result. 

It’s nice to be a winner.



NaNoWriMo – Day 20

I am growing slightly concerned that I’m losing the plot, and not just the plot of my second book this month. I’m at the 23,000 word mark for Sue Key and it has got even more surreal than I had originally pictured.
The idea was to write the start of a three-part fantasy series I’ve been waiting on writing for five years. Instead it has got a lot deeper and more involved than I was expecting. This could be a good thing. I may have hit a stride. My decision to write different chapters from different character perspectives is a departure. The subject matter is a departure. My main concern is that naming a race of goblin-like creatures after my favourite cheese may have been a slight oversight.
It will all work out in the redraft though surely.

NaNoWriMo – Day 17

Today I have started work on another book. I’ve already completed NaNoWriMo so if I manage to get any of this new project done I will be over the moon.
It’s the first of a three-part fantasy series I have had in my head for five years. It’s inspired by the great adventure and fantasy books I read as a child – Carroll, Tolkein, Lewis. It’s a complete departure from my NaNoWriMo project and different to anything I have ever written before. I’m very excited about it all. It’s a real race against time now.

NaNoWriMo – Day 16

In just sixteen days I have managed to write 55,952 words. I have now completed the first draft of Yallah! 

Looking at it now I am not sure I want it to be published. It’s very fresh to my experiences and I haven’t really written it with an audience in mind. That being said I would like to complete something this November that I can publish. My moustache sure as hell won’t be counted so I am left with just one other option….

Arcade Fire @ The Roundhouse

There is a lot to be said about a stadium-sized band taking on the intimate venue that is The Roundhouse, and when I use the term ‘stadium-sized band’ I’m not just referring to the high number of personnel. Last night I got swept up in the glitz of The Reflektors whistlestop tour, the front Arcade Fire have chosen to adopt in order to get through some intimate gigs before plowing on with the World tour they will no doubt carry out early next year.
For them it was a special event, and not just because one of their favourite British bands took to the same stage in 1976. It’s a chance to dress up and to make more of a celebration than is possible when your songs are getting caught on the wind and dragged out across Hyde Park for slack-jawed cider-drunks in straw porkpie hats to churn back at you in off-key retorts. The joy of going to see The Reflektors is that it wasn’t a gig. It was an event.
As my lucky date and I got out of the queue and onto the red carpet we knew we were in for something a little different. In the entrance stood a six piece mariachi band playing cover songs. The walls were lined in glitter. The fans were lined in glitter, with strips of black across their eyes. Designated facepainters were on hand and everywhere dripped with the vibration of contact.
We headed in and got a gin. There was still an hour before the band were due onstage. Standing to the left of the shielded stage we could make out the glittering mirrored backdrop and the lights of roadies performing a soundcheck. The stage was supposed to be covered by a black cape which had ‘The Reflektors’ on it in lights.
Slowly the room filled. The queues of people waiting from the door all the way back to the petrol station by the Proud galleries took over the space. Leaning against the wall was a man in a hood and a skeleton mask who turned out to be Win Butler. He watched us all and then went out into the lobby to sing a cover of Reflektor with the mariachi band.
DJ Don Letts continued to play dragged out mixes of Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley and The Clash until the band took to the stage and the crowd erupted. The cape dropped to the floor and there they were, coated in their own designs and with mirrorballs overhead the band burst into the opening of the seven minutes that is Reflektor.
‘We are The Reflektors from Canada. The one place you finally get to suck it to to French!’ said Win.
From then on I was lost to the trance of Flashbulb Eyes complete with steel drum accompaniment to match the mood adopted by the band for their new album. This slowly dropped into the intro of PowerOut. When the song finally dropped fully the crowd went wild and red lights bounced across painted faces. From then on it was very Reflektor heavy; Joan Of Arc, You Already Know, We Exist, It’s Never Over (Hey Orpehus) and the intro of Porno which bled into Afterlife. The band then composed themselves and played Haiti, taking it back to Funeral once more before the powerful Normal Person.
Win put his papier-mâché head on and Will sung Bored Of The USA, a song they dedicated to Don Letts. I was in awe. The pure joy of seeing Arcade Fire cover The Clash live was lost on most people but I punched the air and sang along. This was followed by Here Comes The Nighttime complete with silver confetti. This was the moment when the gonks took out their iPhones en masse to try and capture it. Bobbing and weaving between the light from the screens I watched the band I love salute, wave and walk off in a hail of feedback.
They returned for Sprawl II and Supersymmetry, the former played live without a sequencer for the first time thanks to the ten person band on stage. If you’re not able to perform your own song live without ten people then you’re doing something right.

I’m glad I got to see them in such an intimate venue and I am even happier I got to share it with her.


NaNoWriMo – Day 6

It’s day 6 of NaNoWriMo and I can imagine I’m starting to annoy everyone with just how well I’m doing. Only yesterday I got an apology message for the way someone had approached the news that I had already hit the 20,000 word mark. It’s getting worse for everyone else because today I hit 25,000. That’s right, I’m halfway through the challenge in just six days. I have found it obnoxiously easy and I am not gloating because I know it is down to the fact I’m essentially writing my own diary. How did I feel? Great. Just write that a lot. Despite the way I am going about this I am still here to support my friends who are writing actual proper things and will continue to hit up The Alex once a week for our meet-up sessions. It’s so good to meet so many people who are trying the project out for their first year. The meeting we had on Sunday was a real eye opener. At the moment I feel like I’ll never stop so it’s grounding to see people who aren’t taking to it in the same way I am this year. It’s excellent in fact. Their writing will be a damn sight more interesting than mine because they’ve thought about it whereas mine just falls out of me at a rate of knots.
The NaNoWriMop website is estimating that I’ll finish on November 12th. I could fit in another book before the end of the month then right?

Reflektor – an almost review.

For Arcade Fire fans this is the fourth coming. Win, Regine, Will, Richard, Jeremy and Tim have pushed aside the boulder that was their own tomb once more to reveal the shiny and beautiful Reflektor LP. With more extras than the scene in Life Of Brian where Brian’s mum reveals him not to be the messiah but instead a very naughty boy it promises a lot. From the seven minute opening and titular track which caused a mild hashtagging hysteria on 9/9 with its simultaneous (and if you were in the UK overpriced) release around the globe, it delivers and it does so in droves. Gone are the self-reflective tones of The Suburbs and in place are the Haitian grooves and voodoo beats brought about by Win and Regine’s visits to her home country.
Win Butler has said that lyrically a lot of the material for the album was taken from 50’s film Black Orpheus which is a personal favourite. Its themes of isolation and death are not anything new for Arcade Fire. Who else could release a first album called Funeral? We Exist strikes to the heart of that isolation with tumbling and distorted bass lines underpinning everything else. It’s funky in the way taking to an abandoned castle in Jamaica to record when your church in Montreal collapses in on itself can. Flashbulb Eyes is remarkably short, half the length of any other song on the first half of the double album – the average length of the tracks across the board is over five minutes, a clear departure from the radio-worthy Wake Up or Ready To Start on their previous efforts. Reflektor feels more like an album being made by a band who want to make an album, not under any pressure, and completely ignorant of any expectations. By freeing themselves up in this way they’ve provided something entirely different to the rest of their body of work but it’s still undisputedly Arcade Fire.
Here Comes The Night Time features the near steel drum sound piano part that has resonated through their confusing and visceral videos in the last two months. The change in tempo within the song is compelling and a signature move of the band who will no doubt rip the whole thing apart live. Normal Person starts out with a near Velvet Underground basement club level of distortion before the honky-tonk piano and guitar parts and suitably croaking intro. Inexplicably the next song You Already Know is introduced by Jonathan Ross, or at least a sample of his 2007 show where the band’s performance was interrupted by Win smashing up a camera with his mandolin. Sonically, the track sounds not entirely removed from The Smiths’Rusholme Ruffians, the bouncing bass guitar twirling around an introductory Marr-esque guitar before all Arcade Fire breaks loose. The track closes with Ross laughing and confirming the name of the band. Disc one is concluded with Joan Of Arc which would be perfect for a bedroom rave (pay close attention KC).

Like all great double albums there is a clear difference in mood and temperament. The second disc begins with Here Comes The Night Time II which hints at the grandeur of the track it is linked to but simultaneously has a drawn out and orchestral feel like Sprawl II on The Suburbs. While somber in lyrical content the first disc is composed of celebratory tracks and if the footage from their recent small-venued gigs as ‘The Reflektors’ are anything to go by their live performances are made up of such. The second half of the album is more restrained, it’s calmer, reflective. This is where the album art begins to make sense. Contained within a black circle is an image of Auguste Rodin’s sculpture ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’ which forms the title of two of the tracks – Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice) and It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus). This is where the truly atmospheric and spiritual side of Arcade Fire’s songs takes hold. Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice) is angelic and blissful, doused in dragging loops and sounds fit for The Flaming Lips. It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus) picks up the other side of the AF mantle, it delivers the group shouts and catch chorus that turned the public eye on Arcade Fire in the first place. Whilst on their own the last three songs on Reflektor are incredible, thrown together in the way they are means that they jar slightly. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with them and I pick this because I can’t write a whole article waxing lyrical about anyone, not even the mighty Arcade Fire. Porno, whilst inducing a childish titter rides high on the steel drum high levels of piano as featured on Here Comes The Night Time but with waves of synthesisers undercutting it. The following track Afterlife sounds too close musically and perhaps this is the reason it’s the only hair to be pulled from this work. The album closer Supersymmetry matches this same mood, the drawn out aspect of arriving at a point after all of the dancing is done. It’s the moment of clarity.

Reflektor is not what you would expect. It doesn’t continue down the line cast out by the last two albums. There’s progression but it’s eschewed. There’s Arcade Fire but in giant papier-mâché heads, twirling around on the beach with boomboxes in their hands. It’s the assistance of James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem) who produced that this sounds as dynamic and enchanting as it does. Arcade Fire could have written a stadium rock album. They could have followed down the same vein as so many other bands with a Grammy wedged in their back pockets but they changed tact, they saw something that was different and they embraced it and that is what makes them such an engaging force.