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Archive for June, 2010

I spend hours writing most days, working on a psychological thriller.  Mostly, I enjoy the process.   No writer’s block for a month now!  But what about reading?  What keep me interested when I’m reading a particular novel?

I like psychological thrillers and autobiographies, but occasionally I’ll read books from other genres.  Here’s a list of what I look out for:

  • Atmosphere and psychological intensity
  • Simple viewpoint or First Person narrative
  • Present tense (in thrillers but not autobiographies)
  • Variation in the writing style and not too much dialogue
  • Showing rather than telling
  • A clear answer to the central story question (open endings don’t work for me)
  • Character build up
  • The effects of a crime upon the people involved rather than pages of endless procedure

My preferences have changed over the years.  At one time, I liked omniscient novels with thoughts italicised and clichés – but not anymore.

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About a year ago, a technically minded friend recorded me playing the piano and gave me a copy of the CD a few weeks later.  Within a day of receiving the CD, I had copied the files to my computer, saved them to a portable device, emailed them to my various accounts and uploaded them to YUDU, a self-publishing site based in the UK.   At last, I had a recording  of my own, a recording that anyone with an internet connection could access.  It was an incredible feeling.  A genuine high.

Later, I uploaded the same recording to last.fm, an internet radio site.  I have always felt that last.fm is a particularly stable site, excellent in so many ways and free to use. I enjoy seeing the stats and finding that people from all over the world have listened to me play.

During lunch on Tuesday, a different friend lent me a CD of a piano recording I made more than six years ago, instructing me not to lose it because she enjoyed the music so much!   The person who’d helped with that particular recording deleted the files six years ago and I had no other way of retrieving the recording – until now.

After work, I set about making a digital recording, running into obstacles from the start. First, the files were MPEG-4 rather than MP3 unlike the files in last year’s recording.  This means they’re bigger and more difficult to upload/download.  It took me ages to email the files to my various accounts for back up purposes; even then, I hadn’t realised that I could download a free MP3 converter to make the task easier.

I still need to check the title for each track before uploading to a public site like last.fm, but I’ve finally managed to burn all the files to CD and make online back up copies.  The CD includes music by Chopin, Schubert and Rachmaninoff.

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I’m still relatively new to digital photography, but Picasa’s keeping me busy. Picasa, which is free, belongs to Google. It provides photo sharing and basic photo editing software that users download to their computer hard drive.

In particular, I enjoy selecting a photograph, deciding what I want it to look like, and working on the image.   The editing software enables people to straighten lopsided scenery and alter the focus and colour.  I especially like the Crop feature to eradicate parts of a picture.  Users can experiment with this and present the same image in more than one way.  They can also get rid of wrinkles and blemishes from a photograph by using the Basic Fixes. 

Pretty impressive.   The option Create a Gift CD produces one or more beautifully set out photo albums to present to friends and family.

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At the moment, I’m churning out more than 1000 words a day of my second novel, a psychological thriller.  I wouldn’t call the work easy, but I certainly wouldn’t describe it as frustrating – rather, challenging and rewarding.  In the past, however, the writing hasn’t always come quickly. Recently, in fact, I’ve thought a lot about previous drafts of my two novels, particularly the problematic areas in the stories. 

The biggest obstacle to story telling, I suspect, lies in not knowing what the story is really about.  Story telling is fundamentally about people.  Character.  What motivates a character. Their most powerful desires, their greatest fears.

But characters don’t exist in isolation. They interact with other characters. One character might behave unfavourably to another. The character in question might plan their actions with a goal in mind.  Revenge.  Greed. 

Alternatively, a character might seek to protect or rescue another character. Those characters – “the goodies” – will also need a plan of action.

Will the character achieve their goal?   The three possible answers are Yes, No and Don’t Know (open endings).

The central story question forms the basis of the plot.  Character-led plot drives the story on. Obstacles threaten to prevent the central character’s aims.  In thriller and crime novels, the danger often mounts.  If not, the descent into emotional mayhem may intensify.

What’s the best way of telling the story on paper?   This is where structure comes in.  Viewpoint consideration.   Chapter lengths.  Whether to divide the novel into sections. Whether to incorporate back story or memory flashbacks.  What to concentrate on.  In thriller and crime novels, the writer has a number of options.  The forensic set up. The current investigation. The effects of the crime on the people involved.  The character interactions. In my novels, I concentrate mostly on how an event has impacted the lives of others and how those characters relate to one another.  

Finally, theme. What the story is really about.  The point the author is hoping to make through their writing. 

Just a few of my thoughts.

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Visit to Cambridge June 2010 by Lawrence's Pictures

Although I’ve been based in London UK for years, I don’t really know many places in the south of England.  Before today, I’d never visited Cambridge.  A couple of friends and I travelled along the North Circular and up the M11 this morning, arriving in Cambridge shortly after eleven o’clock.

I thought it was an interesting city – some great architecture, but a bit too touristy and crowded for me.  (I prefer rural villages and quiet pubs.)  We visited a number of the university colleges, including the famous King’s College (see above photo), and enjoyed lunch in a crowded pub.

A fascinating day out.  My own degree training in music took place at Dartington College of Arts, Totnes, Devon, which is so completely different from Cambridge.  More rural and “alternative”.

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From as far back as I can remember, I’ve always had an interest in the mind – in particular, whether humans have the capacity to experience life beyond the established physical senses.  Due to various reasons, I myself don’t practice techniques intended to develop ESP, but I have a keen interest in the subject from a scientific viewpoint.  I also believe that people are capable of experiencing life beyond the five senses and that neuroscience adequately explains the processes involved but not always the deeper reasons for the experiences. 

Diane Hennacy Powell’s book The ESP Enigma is perhaps one of the best books I’ve read on the subject.  The author has an impressive training in medicine, neurology and psychiatry at institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, and has published many articles in leading scientific journals.  Her style of writing is easy to follow.

Powell provides considerable information on the brain, as well as physics and quantum physics. In the earlier part of the book, she describes in detail various forms of ESP, providing examples of both anecdotal evidence and research carried out under scientific conditions. Without giving too much away, I have to say that many of the examples in the book were considerably impressive and definitely worthy of further investigation. 

While reading the book, I could easily envisage some of the people and subjects mentioned, and I found the material extremely refreshing and informative.  I would certainly recommend the book.

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I had a mammoth session at the grand piano this morning…the second Brahms Rhapsody from opus 79, the Brahms G minor Ballade from opus 118, Chopin’s third Ballade, and four of the Chopin Preludes, including the “gallop” prelude in G sharp minor.  I worked on various aspects of piano technique – lightness of touch, bravura.

Yesterday, I spent some time on the twelfth Hungarian Rhapsody by Liszt – a war-horse.

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