I'm writing this in a local coffee-shop drinking lemonade because I am such a rebel. Everyone is very impressed.
Books & Britpop
This is the release of the week. Over 300 pages, over 70 stories, over 160 collaborators with all proceeds going to survivors of the Vegas shooting. Jamie and I were approached by JH Williams, and it was pretty humbling to be asked. Vegas is a town I like a lot. Not just the glitzy Sistine Chapel of consumerism side of the strip, but the side people live in. We've stayed in the city, and seen how people go about their lives, the sprawl of the suburbia, the golden-handcuffs of the work and just the people. As such, this one felt close to home. More so, it was a musical festival, and perhaps obviously, that always makes a disaster intimate. The desecration of one of the better things that humans do is a particularly brand of horror, which is what I ended up writing about. Dee Cunnliffe handled colours with Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou. Our story is a short, in the mode of the Phonogram B-sides, and is called Critics. I hope you find it interesting and I hope you support the anthology.
It's available in comic and normal book shops and online and digitally.
It's the Fairford Festival this Saturday (2nd), which Chrissy will be speaking at and I will be operating the projector. It's a literary festival curated by the always wonderful Paul Cornell, and as well as Chrissy, its speakers include Mark Gatiss, Sarah Hilary, Matthew Graham and Ross Montgomery. Fairford is also just about the most beautiful and archetypal English village you can go to for a Saturday. I strongly recommend going there to nose if you ever get a chance.
Culture consumption! Finished a couple of books.
Firstly, Beating the Story by Robin D Laws, who is a writer and designer whose work I’ve enjoyed. It’s an expansion of his previous Hamlet’s Hit Points, which was an attempt to use beat analysis to help stories in tabletop games. This attempts to apply the same critical thinking to all forms of narrative. That’s one of the more useful prompts of the book – most books of the type are implicitly writing to a form, and you have to transfer the insight to other media (which is always at the risk of you accepting an analysis without unpacking why it may not be true – or as true - in another form.)
Rather than large scale act-based structure, the interest here is in terms of beat-to-beat (or at least, scene to scene) and looking at progress of interest and emotional engagement across a story, and the ways it can be lost. I found myself thinking of my last seminar, when one of the most popular questions was “how can I get from A to B in a story?” As in, they know where it starts and where they want to go – how to generate those scenes and make them interesting. This book speaks to that pretty intensely, and offers various useful tactics for driving story. I also found myself thinking of the quote by Mamet (which I’ll badly paraphrase as I can’t find it and also note that it may not be Mamet) that the only thing that matters in a story is that it makes you want to know what happens next. That’s a deliberate flip of the Large Scale Structure Is All people. Instead, that quote (and this book) looks at stories as roads through a tangled forest. The book suggests taking the micro choices, maps them, and then you see the structure and analyse possible problems. While many down scenes in a row will clearly show increasing tension, it also becomes deadening without intermit-ant up-beats.
I suspect this is actually stuff most good storytellers will already have. It’s an extrapolation of “don’t hit the same tone too often.” It feels deadening, repetitive. I’m not sure I’ll ever actually do a full on beat analysis of a story, but it’s certainly articulates something I’m thinking about when I’m writing, and by making it concrete, makes me reconsiders my methods. I suspect it’s useful that the back end is extensive analysis of actual pieces of media too – if you’re reading the guidelines about “how many down beats in a row is deadening” you may end up thinking that we’re talking three. When you’ve got a Mad Men episode with over ten in a row makes you realise that “too many” is deeply flexible.
The other group of people I think may find it useful are editors. There’s a whole section about how to give better notes, in terms of actually helping you tell a writer what the problem actually is and making it palatable. The “this character is unlikeable” and similar are unpacked in terms of being unhelpful, and the implicit meaning of them made explicit. There’s lots more there.
I’ve mainly concentrated on the main thrust of the book – there’s a lot of wisdom and personal takes mixed in, and made me laugh a lot. I suspect you’d like it.
This also made me smile, in terms of the moments of sheer salt thrown in the mix. Nothing like a world class historian who isn’t afraid of throwing punches.
That the Revolutions podcast was back from hiatus reminded me that I hadn’t actually gone through this. It’s the first part of his four part series, charting the long 19th century and the short 20th century. The argument being the 19th century starts with the dual revolutions of 1789 (The French and the British Industrial Revolution) and ends with the Great War in 1914, while the 20th century dated from then to the fall of soviet Russia in 1991. The first three volumes cover the long 19th century, and the fourth the 20th. The latter is the one I was previously familiar with, having read it multiple times, and is one of the key influences in the thinking that went into Uber. That it took me as long to get to this is a little shameful, but I suspect a good thing. I’ve been dabbling around the 19th century in my other reading across the last decade, and I appreciate the high-level view of the period better than I would have if I’d read it back when I read The Age of Extremes.
In short: extremely strong. If you’ve got the slightest interest in knowing where the hell that is the 20th century actually came from, you’ll find huge swathes of material to chew over here.
I also have spent the back end of the weekend oddly obsessed with 90s-Britpop C-list band Gene, but I’ve ran out of time to write. Suffice to say, it was probably more of a surprise to me than you. For obvious reasons people tend to think I listen to a lot of Britpop. It’s simply not true. But that it was a genre which left such deep roots and/or scars there’s stuff which is interesting to pick over, and I found myself thinking how glad I was there was a presence like openly-bisexual Martin Rossiter in the scene in the time, and whose Smiths/Jam classicism could have aligned them with the triumphant Oasis faction, but the longing, political, sensitive parts of them clearly wouldn’t let them fall into the lumpenproletariat mode. Interesting place to be, and interesting to re-examine them through a 20-plus-years-filter.
I was also pleased to see that never-a-single-but-clearly-their-best-early-record OIympian is the most listened to track on Spotify. I fucking told you, everyone, in the past, gone forever.
A slow work week. The issue of WicDiv is going to be a little late again, due to various issues. We’re all looking forward to the gap between arcs, to say the least. That the issue is still in progress has meant that I’ve sat off from doing a polish on issues 38 and 39, and letting it digest in my head a little. I suspect I’ll dive in the second I finish writing this, but it hasn’t been done. It’s also possible I may be moving to a lettering draft of Spangly New Thing. Or one of the two outlines I should be working on. Or many other things. It’s difficult to tell. It is Spring, and I wish to run free through the grasses and (er) think about plot structure.
It’s also been slow because I bit every projectile I could find and finally did my taxes. You can imagine your own favourite bits from Black Books here, and you wouldn’t be that far wrong. I’ve also got to be playing editor a bunch this week, as the final few scripts for the curated half of 24 Panels have been arriving, and the first stories are being finished. We’ll be announcing a lot of these soon, but in terms of people we’ve already said, what Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie are doing is just startling. We’ve also got our publisher sorted, and the book should be out for Christmas. Possibly even November. It’s also not too late to send in (or even start) stories for the open-submission half of the project. The deadline is the end of June, and you can find the full details here.