Category: Wedding Page 1 of 2

For A Post On The Subject, This Is Arguably Rather Unstructured…

I’m currently reading Into The Woods by John Yorke, which (as you may know) is about stories and storytelling. Unsurprisingly, it features quite a bit of discussion of structure, which is a subject I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently, and in the spirit of self-indulgent sharing, it’s the springboard for this blogpost.

Cards on the (perfectly square and clean-baized) table: I like structure. And I like it both as a reader and as a writer. As I’ve written before, my tiny mind was happily bent out of shape many years ago when I started reading and watching things that played with form and chronology and the like, and I still delight to this day in works which don’t draw a straight line from “Once upon a time…” to “… happily ever after” (provided it’s in service of the story; if it’s just done for its own sake, I may wonder if there’s some shortcoming in the story which is being disguised by shuffling the chronology or whatever – and I’d go so far as to suggest that might well be the case with my own first published work. But I digress, and this parenthesis is getting unworkably long, so I’ll close it and then put a full stop and we can move onto a new paragraph).

Maybe I’m being optimistic, but I think there’s been a bit of a rise of narratives with unusual structure over the past few years – to give a couple of examples,the success of Gone Girl in both written and filmed form was testimony to audiences’ willingness to watch events play out of sequence, and complex structure was a key aspect of Steven Moffatt’s work on Doctor Who (though he doesn’t need time travel as a plot device to enable this kind of thing, as fans of his earlier work Coupling [and I am one of those fans] will be aware). There are often suggestions that audiences are becoming increasingly sophisticated and aware of how narrative works, and I guess that willingness to accept breaking and bending of the A to B shape of a tale may well be a part of that.

But whether it’s part of a wider phenomenon or not, I’ve long been a fan of structure; as a reader, once I recognise it, I find it reassuring (and in the case of Cloud Atlas, it took me until the midpoint of the book to realise what the author was doing, but when the penny dropped, it did so in a very satisfying way), and as a writer – you knew I’d get to this eventually – I find it very useful.

I’m a plotter, through and through, and like to have a pretty firm grasp on where the story’s going before I set down even the first line; I’m not one of those people who conjure up characters and then set them off into the environment of the story and see what happens – as novelist Sarah Perry says at about 2m38s in this podcast…

… the characters are plot devices; they’re adrift in the sea of the story, and they can no more shape the tides than you or I can.

And from a writing standpoint – and especially working, as I do, in the crime/thriller genre where plot is key – there’s something very useful about having a structure to work to; that might be a simple three or even five act structure, it might simply mean having the story starting and ending at the same place or in a similar way to hint at some idea of symmetry, or whatever, but if you have a structure sorted out ahead of time that lets you know what you should be writing about next, then that’s very useful indeed.

My most recent completed novel, Captives, was very deliberately structured from the outset of the writing process, because I knew that I wanted to have an investigation taking place in the present day, but I also wanted to detail the events which led up to the start of the story, to give a sense of what the stakes were and of the players involved. Rather than do this through infodumps disguised as dialogue or anything like that, I opted to alternate sequences set in the present with flashback chapters which grew progressively closer to the inciting incident which happens a couple of hours before the start of the first chapter; once I’d cracked that approach, it made things a lot easier – though I still regret the fact that as I counted down from ‘Twelve years before’ to ‘one day before’, I couldn’t make the time-jumps involved align with a reversed version of the Fibonacci Sequence… though given how pretentious that sentence looks when typed out, maybe that’s for the best.

So, as you can imagine, I was keen to see if I could take the same approach with the next novel (working title: Refuge). Once I’d had the characters sketched out, and the sequence of events worked out, I wondered if it would be possible to create a structure which would serve the story – as the book’s about a kidnapping, I wondered if I might be able to rotate the narrative point of view so that we’d hear from The Detective, then The Kidnappers, and then The Kidnappee, before rotating back to the Detective again. I’m particularly keen to make sure we spend as much time as possible with the Kidnappee, as it often feels that people in such stories run the risk of being little more than a MacGuffin, or ‘item’ to be retrieved, and I wanted to avoid that.

However – and you’ve probably already spotted this – the problem with this idea is that (non-spoiler alert) the kidnappers and the kidnappee unsurprisingly spend a lot of time in the same locale, so whilst I could convey a fair amount of detail on events by jumping from our detective to the villains, there’s little additional material (save for internal monologue and the like) that would be conveyed by the jumping to the kidnap victim. I’d effectively end up spending 2/3 of the narrative time on the baddies and their environment, which would make it hard to describe what was going on outside of that without the book becoming excessively long.

However, given that the story is in itself a ‘ticking clock’ tale with a set ending looming on the horizon and moving closer in stages (akin to most films featuring weddings, for example: the wedding is a fixed point in time and everything we see is drawing us closer to that), it did occur to me that having a race against time which is also viewed through the fragmented narrative of rotating POVs would perhaps be too much to put on top – and given that (again, non-spoiler, given the genre expectations) the paths of the Detective and the Kidnappers will inevitably cross, whose narrative section should I include that in? The Detective closing in, or the Villains realising that things aren’t panning out as planned? I wasn’t sure.

Ultimately, I’ve decided to keep it straightforward, shifting scene as required whilst trying to maintain the sense of a countdown, and to find other ways of including the relevant background information and internal monologue of the Kidnappee. We’ll see how it goes – and given how cathartic and therapeutic it’s been (for me, I mean – I’m sure this has been less so for you) to discuss it here, I’ll see about reporting back on how well (or otherwise) it works out.

Given how writing’s an essentially solitary process, and how every 100,000 words is probably more like 300,000 or so re-written and edited and generally switched around in the writing process, talking about it in this way is very probably just an attempt to provide an almost contemporaneous ‘director’s commentary’ during the process of writing it. Which in itself could be distracting – and is often the reason I cite (with varying degrees of truth) for my infrequent blogging.

Thanks for reading this long sprawling post, and if you have any thoughts, insights or tips on structure, or examples of great structures which amplify or serve the story, please do leave a comment below, I’d like to hear other viewpoints on this.

But enough musing and prevarication: back to the actual writing… 

This Admission May Connect In Some Way To Me Not Getting Married Until I Was 37 Years Old

As readers with long memories and brain cells to spare may recall, just over a year ago, I got married.

One of the many benefits of this was that I now have (and indeed always wear) a wedding ring – because, obviously, when this cat’s on the prowl, the ladies need to be warned that hey, easy, I’m a married man!. Yes, that’s definitely the reason. Anyway, bear my be-ringedness in mind while I scoot off at what will appear to be a tangent…

The building where I work in London (which is a very hush-hush-top-secret-oh-all-right-I-admit-it-not-that-big-a-deal-building) has a pass system, as many buildings do nowadays. You use your pass to get in, and on the way out, the method is a bit less hasslesome – on the basis that keeping people out is more important that keeping them in, I guess. So the usual way I leave the building is to press a large button set into a nearby wall, and then open the door.

However, these buttons are usually green (for go, I suppose), and as a pathetic comic reading geek who’s aware of the superhero Green Lantern, who recharges his power ring (stop giggling at the back) thus…

… you can probably imagine how I envision myself as I punch the green exit button at work with my left hand.

Several times a day. Smiling to myself every time I do it. Oh yes.

Hey, I’m just being honest with you. And anyway, they’re talking about a Green Lantern film starring Ryan Reynolds, so the character’ll probably be like Iron Man in a couple of years. Lunchboxes and pyjamas for the kids, you wait and see… and probably in adult sizes for people like me too, let’s face it. The emotionally and intellectually stunted male is a sizable market. In every sense.

Indian Summer Holiday: Part Two Of Two

Previously in the blog: on their rather belated honeymoon, Mr and Mrs Soanes have arrived in the Indian holy city of Varanasi, in time for the 2009 total eclipse of the sun. Now read on…

Varanasi – also known as Benares – is one of the holiest cities to followers of Hinduism. The belief is that if you die in Varanasi, you’ll be released from the wheel of life, and instead of being reincarnated, you head on to … well, a better place.

The River Ganges runs through the heart of the city, and the faithful come to bathe in it from many miles around, as you can see:

Just a little further along the river from these pictures, on what are known as the ghats, cremations are held; the bodies are wrapped in white burial shrouds and a fire is lit (accelerated with large amounts of clarified butter), and the deceased is cremated. It’s seen as disrespectful to take pictures of the cremations, so we didn’t – but I was particularly interested to find out that the cremations are supervised by one family, who make a considerable amount of money from this, but because of their bottom-rung status in the very strict caste system, are seen as ‘untouchables’. I can’t imagine people of such obvious wealth being social pariahs in the same way in the west, and a part of me almost prefers the fact that money, rarely, isn’t the yardstick of a person’s standing… I said almost.

Every night in Varanasi, they hold a ceremony to honour the sunset – and, I suspect, to seek its rise the following morning – on the banks of the Ganges. We were able to attend this the night before the eclipse, and had really rather good seats, as you can see…

But we were up early the next morning to see the solar eclipse. The sun was due to start being obscured around 5.30am, and so we were up at stupid o’clock to see it, but I have to say it was worth it. And many other people clearly thought this, too – there were thousands of people on the banks of the Ganges to watch it:

As I say, it was well worth seeing, and being where we were for one of the longest eclipses expected in the next century or so was pretty startling. By now you’ve probably seen the footage of the eclipse (most of which was filmed where we were, as many other areas had cloud cover spoiling the event), but in case you haven’t, here are a couple of snaps…

One just before –

– and a couple during the eclipse itself (slightly distorted by the effect of the camera, I think, but you get the general idea):

It was, in a very real sense of the word, amazing to behold, and at the moment the moon completed obscured the sun, a gasp-stroke-cheer went up from the crowd, myself included. It was genuinely startling to see, and I have to admit there was a tiny part of me that wondered if the sun was going to come back out… and I wasn’t alone; Varanasi is one of the cities devoted to the god Shiva, who’s linked with the sun, and so when the sun started to emerge once again, the cheer that went up made it like being at a football ground when the home team has just scored; people were very happy indeed.

The path of the moon over the sun was pretty much from NNE to SSW, but oddly enough the local papers reported it with the following pictures:

Hmm. Looks like the press are pretty much the same the world over, eh ?

That’s probably enough self-indulgent posting for today, so I’ll stop taking up bandwidth; if you get the opportunity to visit India, though, I heartily recommend it – there’s something overwhelming to all the senses about the immensely busy cities, but the way religion is such a strong part of daily life is almost refreshing, and I found the history and scenery really interesting. It’s very apparent that there’s an enormous amount of poverty – oddly counterpointed by adverts by expensive consumer durables, both on TV and in the teeming streets – so I was kind of mindful of being a ‘poverty tourist’, if you know what I mean. That said, it is, from the admittedly small section of the north of the country we saw, quite fascinating, and we plan to go back.

Okay, I’ll shut up about India now. The usual self-absorption and snark will return tomorrow.

He’s Back… And You Never Even Noticed He Was Gone

Well, the ongoing updates here should have meant that you didn’t even know I was on holiday – that’s a professional level of service, I know – but I have been, and now I’m back.

Where was I, you ask? I’m glad you asked…

That’s right, Mrs Soanes and I went on a rather belated honeymoon to India. I’ll post more pictures, and some simply gripping travellers’ tales, over the next few days.

In the meantime, you may have seen about the longest total solar eclipse of the sun this century which took place this week. We were there, and it was awe-inspiring; our view of it, over the Ganges in Varanasi, was as you can see at about 0’29” in this BBC video:

Because, y’know, nothing says ‘romantic honeymoon’ better than the sun turning black and darkness cloaking the face of the earth.

This Web Is Big Enough For The Both Of Us

I’ve mentioned his skills as a photographer before, but my official wedding photographer and pal Toby has started blogging.

As well as being skilled at filling SD cards with choice images, Toby’s rather a fan of eastern philosophy and the more ambient end of the musical spectrum, so I’m certain that his blog will provide a counterpoint to, say, this blog, which is all too often a series of cheap digs at things in the public eye, with the occasional comment on things related to writing.

So, hop over to his blog for a less sarcastic, and more mellow, outlook on things.

Now I’ve said that, I bet he posts something brimful with venom and bile. He’s contrary like that…

Welcome To 2009. Would You Like A Cup Of Tea?

Well then, another year gone, and a new one started. Oh 2008, we hardly knew ye.

I’ll spare you a full run-down of which of my semi-resolutions I fulfilled, though paradoxically I got a whole load of things which weren’t on my list done (and I mean writing stuff, not things like, say, getting married). Ah well.

But rather than pick over the bones of 2008, I shall instead redouble my efforts – by this time next year (clenches fist, raises it to a thundering sky), YOU ALL SHALL KNOW MY NAME!

(For nice reasons, I mean, nothing bad.)

But, to each and every one of you, a very happy 2009, and may the year bring you everything you could ask for – as well as a few surprises.

Some Fireworks For Guy Fawkes’ Night

I, for one, certainly see no reason why Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.

(Pictures taken from our wedding firework display)

As Was Once Said Of The Radio, “The Pictures Are Better”

Oh, all right then – click here to see more pictures from our wedding, this time on the Flickr account of our rather talented photographer.

If you want more, you can always try to be-friend my lovely wife on Facebook, but I’d imagine you’ve probably seen more than enough of the day by now, right?

Photos From Our Wedding

Thanks to the speedy work of our friend and wedding photographer, I can cheerfully present the following for your amusement…

Jules is my wife now, in a very real, and legally binding sense. That being the case, you may well wonder why she’s smiling.
As my expression reveals, I can’t quite believe my good fortune. And that’s as true now as it was on the day.
The Best Man, The Luckiest Man, The Bride and Bridesmaid. I fully expect this picture to be in the next issue of Tatler, probably in the Society News column.
I told you we’d practiced for the First Dance.
I’ll stop there, rather than posting dozens of pictures, but in case you hadn’t guessed by now, we had a terrific day, and I’m very pleased and proud to be married to Jules.
Or, as I prefer to call her at any given opportunity, my wife.

My Wedding: Part Three Of Three

Previously in John’s life: John has married Jules, but within a number of hours, the bride is holding aloft a knife, with a meaningful look in her eye…

After the Wedding Breakfast, we cut the cake (which is not some childish fart euphemism. Honest), and posed for more photos. Actually, I should talk about the cake – it was designed and made by Claire Lewis, and instead of being made of fruit like many cakes it was a chocolate sponge, because, well, neither of us are big fans of fruit cakes (except as a slightly offhand description of our family and friends), and it was our day, so nyer. Anyway, it was a yummy cake (hopefully I’ll have some pictures to share soon).

The tables and crockery were cleared away, and after a while it was time for the First Dance. I’ve capitalised those two words for a reason. As Jules and I stepped out onto the dance floor, and our DJ filled the air with the strains of Nat King Cole singing The Very Thought Of You, something which no-one in the room knew was this: for the last couple of months, Jules and I had been having ballroom dancing lessons (at the place they rehearse for Strictly Come Dancing, no less). I don’t have any innate sense of rhythm or anything like that, but with the help of our dance teacher , we’d got a few moves choreographed. The lessons aren’t cheap (though nor are they particularly expensive), and practising at home had been quite hard work and sometimes frustrating as my feet and brain had refused to co-ordinate, but I have to be honest and say that as we started to move to the music, as planned, I thought that it had been worth every single penny.

“They’ve been practicing!” at least one onlooker said, and as we reached the middle section of the song and Jules and I circled each other – with an ease that was born more of muscle-memory than mental-memory, at least for me – I felt a great, big, stupid grin spread across my face. Shortly after that, of course, the DJ invited other people to join us on the dance floor, and we were swiftly surrounded by stumbling clods who got in the way of our finely-honed performance, but I decided to be indulgent of the amateurs. Ahem.

The final timetabled event of the wedding was one which the weather literally threatened to put a damper on, as at 10pm last Saturday it was raining heavily, but most of us stumbled outside (some folks stayed indoors and pressed their noses against the glass) to watch a Firework display. It was soggy, yes, but the Fireworks chaps went ahead anyway, and I’m very pleased that they did, because the display was great – lots of sparkly explosions to sate my wife’s desire for shiny things, and noisy booms and bangs and bright lights for … well, the likes of me. The display went on and on, and was frankly fab value for the money. At the end of it, in spite of all my English reserve, I cheered and applauded.

And after that it was drinking and dancing until people could take no more (but they didn’t seem to resent this treatment). And that, m’loves, was my wedding day, and as well as meaning everything to me on an emotional level, it also went really well on a practical level (the only thing I would have changed would be the weather, but that’s not something which is exactly controllable). A lot of people say that their wedding day’s the happiest day of their life, but rather than condemn the rest of my life to run a second-best to last Saturday, I’d have to say it was the happiest day of my life so far.

So, with the exception of the inevitable posting of a few choice pictures from the wedding as soon as I get hold of them, that’s about it for blog posts about the wedding. Well, maybe. I’m sure I’ll have some blistering insights on married life to share… ahem. Coming up, a return to the usual parade of cheap shots at people and things in the public eye, and self-indulgent posts about writing and life in London.

…I bet you can’t wait.

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