As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m very keen on – no, that’s an understatement; I’m frankly fascinated by stories, and storytelling.
It’s not just that I enjoy stories in whatever form they come and often have an over-zealous emotional involvement in their outcome, but I’m also very interested in the way we use stories not just for entertainment and learning, but also as a way to view the world; a friend of mine directly referenced a plotline in Sex and the City when she was talking about how she was going to get over a break-up, as if it was some kind of real world template, and not a constructed fiction with hidden plot levers and pulleys, and I know I’ve looked to books, films, comics and TV for some kind of inspiration when I’ve had tricky times.
All of which is just a brief dip in the water of this ocean of ideas, really, while the Youtube projectionist loads the reels for the short film which (technology allowing) is embedded below; it’s a talk on storytelling by literary agent Julian Friedmann (of the agency Blake Friedmann), and whilst he’s specifically addressing the topic from a screenwriting perspective, I think it applies equally well to writing in all forms.
Okay. So, roll the tape:
What do you think? I was particularly taken with the way he stresses how important the audience is, but without getting into the whole “author’s intent is irrelevant” bit.
Anyway, as I say, this is the kind of thinking I’m doing a lot of at the moment in relation to my writing. “But what exactly are you writing, John? Apart from self-indulgent blog posts, I mean…” you may well ask (and justificably so), and so I reply, “Good question – by way of trying to build a sense of drama and heighten your need for narrative satisfaction, I shall answer that next time…”
Obviously, things have been happening in my offline life in the… er, eighteen months or so since I last posted here, but I’m going to resist the temptation to point to anything in particular as being the reason why I’ve gone so quiet. In all honesty, I think that blogging’s something of a habit, and clearly it’s one I’ve got out of in recent times, for whatever reason. I’ve also got some minor reservations about the platform around which I’ve built the site (including this page), but in all honesty, as a reason for not updating more often, that’s probably on a par with failing to write the novel because I can’t find my favourite pen (ahem).
So, this is less a post and more a statement of intent – I intend to be posting here on a more regular basis (yes, yes, I’m painfully aware that I said that in the last post, back in 1975 or so), as a place to share stray thoughts which exceed the 140-character limit of Twitter (as the section elsewhere on this page shows, I’ve been more vocal [textual?] in that form). Writing – and the process elements of it – is likely to be something of a preoccupation, which is only representative, as writing occupies a lot of my brainspace at any given time, but arguably more because I continue to be fascinated by the nature of… well, let’s call it ‘story’; not just the creation and construction of narrative, but also our relationship and interaction with stories – the ways we look to stories for examples and templates for things that happen in our lives, and the way that we often look back on events and place an interpretion on them as a way of making sense of things: pattern recognition, as it were.
Anyway, we’ll see if any of the above actually pans out, or if I just end up embedding Youtube videos of cats (that’s what we’re supposed to do online, isn’t it? I don’t want to lose my licence to internet).
But enough about me: how are you? It’s been a while, so you must have been up to stuff, surely. Do let me know (he said, on the optimistic assumption that the Comments function is working)…
Salutations this Samhain to you, and in keeping with the cliche that, at this time of year, we like nothing better than to tell or be told creepy stories, here are two for you…
Story the first: is a very short tale I recently wrote for a ‘write a ghost story in 50 words’ competition, and whilst it didn’t win, I thought that I’d share it rather than let it go to waste. Here it be:
The ghosts were using mirrors as portals into my house, so I set about systematically smashing them.
As I prepared to destroy the last mirror, I allowed myself a quick glance at it, and saw a wild-eyed man swinging a hammer, ready to strike.
But my hands were empty.
And Story the second is a previously unpublished Ghost Story by none other than Neil Gaiman – it’s ten minutes long, and he reads it, and you can get it for free (yes, *F*R*E*E*) from Audible – and when you do, Audible will donate 50p to the charity Booktrust. Sounds fab, I know, but do be aware that this is only available until the end of today, 31 October, All Hallow’s Eve, so I recommend you find out more by clicking here pronto, sharpish, lickety-split.
And so, I shall hit Publish on this without further ado. If you’re celebrating Halloween in any way tonight, may your newt be sharp of eye, and your bat be fleet of wing.
I don’t associate the start of the week with a love of alliteration, but I may need to reassess; here’s a picture of the rather lovely Misty Monday Morning which greeted me as I left the house today (no retouching of the colouring, that’s how the picture came out):
All we need now is the mellow fruitfulness (not, of course, to be confused with Meltis New Berry Fruits).
As those of you who know me ‘offline’ (that is, in real life) will be painfully aware, most of my brainspace has been occupied over the last 12 months with the prospect of moving house. To cut a (year-)long story short, it was tiresome and stressed, and made infinitely worse by 90% of the people we were dealing with seeming to be about as helpful as this:
… for twelve months. Lots of fun!
And for those of you who only know me from my writing work will be aware, I’ve hardly been prolific as a result. Anyway, my head is now freed from the hassles of dealing with estate agents and conveyancers and the like, so I intend to post a bit more regularly. Starting with a big rant about the topic everyone’s talking about in the next couple of days.
So I’ve gone all radio-silent again, but that’s because I’m in the midst of a housemove.
And after a weekend of lugging boxes and finding bruises on my arms and in places I didn’t realise had even been involved in the lifting process, all our stuff now looks like this:
So I’m rather nomadic and untethered at the moment, but as soon as I get a bit more settled (into, hopefully, a very lovely new home with the very lovely Mrs Soanes), I’ll be back on a more regular basis (regular readers may recognise this promise from its previous appearances since 2010 or so).
Until then, hope you’re well, and that wherever you are, tea and friends aren’t far away.
Well, what better way to round off things on this blog than to post a picture which I don’t have the real right to post, but which is, y’know, of me? Seems about right somehow.
Anyway, this blog is not dying, it’s moving – or, to be more accurate, I’ll be moving my attentions to my ‘new blog’ and so I doubt I’ll be posting here again (techical issues permitting) for the foreseeable future.
The reason for the move is pretty simple, really – for some time, I’ve been looking into trying to ‘streamline’ the number of places and locations I occupy online, and so I’ve revamped and reshaped my website so that it now includes automatic updates on my Twitter messages, and so it only seems logical that I shift the blog updates over there too.
I speak with utter confidence about this move, but of course if the server crashes or my technical ability reaches its limits, I may well be here again, so I won’t be deleting this blog. Many of the links which you can see in the right-hand column are on the new site, so you don’t have to feel lost and disoriented if you just use his blog as a stepping-stone to other people’s pages. I don’t mind being the guardian of the crossroads, even if Robert Johnson had his misgivings…
Anyway, I hope you’ll come and visit the new blog, and maybe you’ll even be so kind as to add John Soanes to your list of bookmarks? Thanks in advance.
Finally, if this is your last time of visiting, many thanks for your time and eyeballs over the last few years. It’s much appreciated, and as intermittent as my updates may have been in the last year or so, it’s always been reassuring to know that you fine folks were out there reading my nonsense. Seriously, you’ve been fantastic.
I think it was the late (and in my estimation rather great) Blake Snyder, author of the screenwriting book Save The Cat who came up with the concept of ‘Double Mumbo Jumbo’, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a bit recently.
Double Mumbo Jumbo, put simply, is the idea that “as an audience we can only buy one piece of magic per movie” (or, I’d say, book or play or other medium). Where Blake says ‘magic’, I like to think this equally means coincidence – for my money, Spider-Man 3 suffers from Double Mumbo Jumbo in the plotlines relating to the Venom symbiote (to non-comic geeks, that’s the black costume-thing which bonds first with Peter Parker and then with his rival) when it happens to land first near Peter Parker’s moped (if memory serves; I’ve only seen the film once, and don’t plan to watch it again, even if it means verifying details for a blog post) and then it’s roaming ownerless again when Peter Parker’s workplace rival is out and about in the area.
I think the second story in Pulp Fiction suffers from this sort of coincidence problem as well, though I know a lot of people hold that film in much higher regard than I do.
It’s not just a problem which you see in films, either (though the example I’m about to give was, I think, adapted to film): the novel Perfume by Patrick Suskind is very well-respected and was given to me with strong recommendations by a friend, but when I read it I couldn’t get past the fact that the main character had no personal scent (which struck me as being biologically unlikely) and also had an extrememly sensitive ability to detect odours.
This felt like a cheat to me, as if the author realised that someone with a truly super-powered nose would be unable to smell anything beyond the scent of their own sweat and clothing. I didn’t buy it, and as a result the rest of the book felt hard to swallow, built as it was on a foundation that I didn’t find particularly sturdy.
This has been on my mind a bit recently, because in the novel I’m currently writing (due for completion about half an hour before the heat-death of the universe, longtime readers might suspect) I have various ‘secret’ government agencies and bodies, and I don’t want to have too much stuff that looks like a fudge – whilst I’m confident that most readers will accept that there are bodies within government and the military which don’t appear in annual reports and budget publications, I don’t want to make it look as if I’ve made them ‘secret’ just so I haven’t got to do the research on Home Office heirarchies and departmental responsibilities and the like.
In a strange – though hopefully understandable – tangent, thinking about the concept of Double Mumbo Jumbo has partly explained to me why I find the following advert irks me more than it probably should:
The advert doesn’t really make sense to me on any level – and yes, I know it’s meant to be a bit out there and surreal, but consider the things that we’re supposed to accept:
He’s so fond of sausage rolls he’s cloned a miniature dog to say what he can’t
He carries the miniature dog in a jewellery box in his pocket
He had it in his pocket, but initially wasn’t intending to hand it to her (note how he turns away at first)
The ‘garage lady’ accepts what appears to be a gift of jewellery from a customer
The miniature dog speaks english (with, I think, the voice of Mathew Horne)
The dog knows which button to press on its (also miniaturised) keyboard to start the music (which is either drum and bass or garage, I think – I’m not bothered about either of those choices really, though I hope it’s the latter as it would be appropriate given the setting of the advert)
It just feels like the advert-makers have hit the ‘random’ button in an almost cynical way, as if throwing diverse stuff together like that immediately equates to something surreal and/or clever. The main problem I think I have with it is that for someone who’s “just a bloke”, and apparently incapable of expressing himself, he’s gone to a lot of trouble (and a weird kind of trouble) to express his gratitude.
In fact, within this universe where we can create speaking miniature animals to perform tasks we humans can’t, I’m surprised that there are petrol stations at all, as the normal rules don’t seem to apply; surely the pumps dispense some kind of liquid boulders, and the ‘garage lady’ is in fact the reincarnation of Alexander the Great, wearing a human outfit to disguise the fact that he’s come back as an oversized moth (I’m aware that many insects’ tracheas don’t function once they get above a certain size, so this is an inherently unrealistic proposition, but given that the shruken dog apparently suffers no difficulty breathing despite his size and being enclosed in a small box, it seems all bets are off). Actually, it’s strange that this bizarre world they inhabit has sausage rolls and money in it at all really. What are the odds of that?
I can live with the odd quirk or wrinkle to things – and as I understand it, much of the ‘magic realism’ school of writing is based on the world as we know it reacting to strange and unusual things happening – but it needs to be balanced, I think. The Queen in Alice in Wonderland boasts “sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast”, but that advert seems, to me, to be a case of Multiple Mumbo Jumbo, and so I can’t swallow it (then again, as a vegetarian, I was probably unlikely to swallow anything related to sausage rolls).
Come to think of it, no wonder the chap in the advert accepts the strange world he lives in: it’s clearly the early hours, and maybe he needs to believe the six impossible things I list above before he can have the sausage roll – that is, his breakfast.