The Dissertation Diary – Preemptive Stress

So this week has marked the beginning of something many people live with every day. The commute. I have traveled each day via train from the Home Counties commuter belt into London for work. Admittedly my travel over the past week has been incredibly” easy with no problems and a satisfactory experience. However it has brought to light the question that no one particularly wants to have answered. What the hell am I going to do once this is all over.

The obvious answer is to be a writer. Therefore it is also the most pointless. I could spend a lifetime trying to become a writer, but I could also spend just as long trying to recover from what I have written. For example, J.K Rowling will forever be tainted with “this isn’t as good as Potter” reviews. It’s best not to think of these things and just let them happen.

The question that seems more pertinent is: What kind of writing do I want to do and how can I make a living from it? Somehow I have become a journalist. I wrote a blog once on video game music I like, that led to writing reviews and opinion, that led to sports punditry which has led to submitting articles for the London Evening Standard and The Guardian. This is all in the space of two years. When I started this mad quest for further education and dream following, I had had the grand idea of writing for TV. I still have that idea, but so much has happened in the past 2 years, to me and in general, for me to really know what I want to do.

This problem translates itself to my writing and to the story. How do I write it? What kind of voice will tell the story? Is the story funny, sad, endearing or just plain dull? What perspective should I write from? In essence my entire confusion on life, my insecurities and my eternal question of “What do I do?” is copied into my work. It is shown by the text and the way the characters behave, speak and how I fill the gaps in between. One thing is certain, both me and the story have an ending pictured. It’s just trying to get there that’s the trouble. If Stephen King was reading this right now, he’d probably tell me to get on with it and don’t be afraid of the beast you produce, just let it flow. So I will.

Since writing this, I got a train home… Drunk. Of all my commuting experience, that is by far the worst. Naughty alcohol.

Sean

Word count: 10

Reading: Bright Lights, Big City – Jay McInerney

The Dissertation Diary – It Begins

Good day to you internet world. I hope this post finds you well.

So this morning I got this grand idea – partly to keep me sane and partly to practice my craft – to create a diary for my final year at university, centred around my final project. Most commonly known as the ‘dissertation,’ I’ve decided to do mine as creative writing rather than a research based piece. Yes, I can hear you all screaming “easy option” at me. It’s not an easy option, as I’m sure the next years’ worth of these posts will serve to prove. So, inspired by this book I’m reading right now about creating such a weblog (Just a Geek – Wil Wheaton) , let me begin THE DISSERTATION DIARY.

Of course this wouldn’t be indicative of myself without something fairly stupid happening. Naturally, it happened immediately. The Dissertation Diary rolls off the tongue thanks to its alliteration. However, it doesn’t suit my fast paced iOS6 based existence. So I decided to privately shorten the name for my own reference to the Double D. That’s right, no more than thirty seconds into this blogs’ theoretical existence, I had reduced it to a breast based pun. Similarly I also realised as this would be updated fairly regularly, it could become home to my intrinsic pessimistic nature. For example, some life advice: When the Oyster card machine says “Next time, why don’t you top up online?” – Don’t. What seems like a grand painless idea is nothing but 30 minutes of website based agony for you to find that the payment won’t go on to your Oyster until after 24 hours so you arrive at the station expecting to be topped up, aren’t, and have to manually top up anyway, costing you more money… You know, those kinds of things.

Which is what led me to conceive the project idea I’m doing. It has come to my attention that my stories suffer from one flaw. They are all fairly melancholic. Something bad happens, has happened, is going to happen, or twists to happen. It’s part of the curse of creative writing courses I suppose that, whilst learning to do new things, expand your craft and work out what you’re good at, you terminally end up at some kind of vitally depressing moment. It wasn’t until I wrote up a stand-up routine recently that I realised I can shift this part of my work into my naturally endearing self-deprecating stage persona. For once, I actually know what I’m doing with a story, or at least where it will end up.

Writing is a horribly depressing deep dark hole where you start typing with seemingly no real guidance as to where you’re heading. It’s an amazing adventure, coupled with complete and total despair leaving in its wake a plethora of half baked ideas, cast-aside moments and many bottles of whatever world/craft beer I’m preferring to our pathetically mass produced shit this week. (At the moment, Samuel Adams and Jeremiah Weed Root Brew). So it’s amazing that for once, I have not only the idea, but the end as well! I have the exact moment in my head for where this story will finish. All I need to do is guide my three characters on their journey (literal and metaphorical) to that point. Whilst at the same time showing progress, criticism, editing nuance and a distanced relationship with my baby. Coupled with doing the rest of the university work I have to do, forging a career and constantly reading. Which reminds me I need to thank Stephen King for his advice. Apparently having a book in your bag all the time is the subject of ridicule among my friends. Who knew?

So, that’s it. I’ll end this post as I hope to end every post in the Double D. With a word count for the story and what I’m currently reading. For this entry, I’ll also show you what I’ve read over the summer that’s helped me to nurture this germ of an idea.

Geronimo!

Sean.

Word Count: 0

Reading: Just a Geek – Wil Wheaton

Summer reads: The Hunger Games/Catching Fire/Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins; On Writing – Stephen King; Black Dogs – Ian McEwan; The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald; Ready Player One -Ernest Cline; A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking; Watching Baseball Smarter – Zack Hample; A Catcher In The Rye – J.D. Salinger.

The Five Point Guide For Being My Facebook Friend

I felt a bit reticent over creating a post about facebook. I thought it might seem, although I’ve been at it for a while now, that I’m joining the “facebook is dead” and “anti facebook” bandwagons. So I’ve changed my tack a bit on broaching this subject. For some background, I left this particular social network, by choice, for a month. I came back after I lost my phone and the need for any kind of social discourse forced me to reactivate it. It’s amazing in this time of email and ease of communication that you might as well be a hermit in a cave if you don’t have facebook, a mobile phone or both. I personally am a complete twitter convert. So the first thing I did was to attach my twitter account to my timeline, limiting the amount of time I’d need to be on it. But alas, I got drawn in and had to comment on things and like some stuff and I felt as dirty as Hugh Grant must have after getting caught.

But my hatred is still there and the constant feeding my hatred gets is on facebook every day, in fact, every few hours. The thing is even though we all discuss it in private and hate it; everyone still does the same thing. Which made me wonder if my generation skipped this annoying trait of social networking indulgence and just learnt what to do, as every other generation seems born with the ability to generally annoy me more than Jo Whiley does – which is a lot. So I thought it might be best, instead of ranting and just generally venting, to create a small five-point guide for beginners on facebook, especially those befriending me. Consider it if you will as an informal pamphlet on facebook etiquette.

1) Don’t like your own statuses.

This may sound incredibly silly. But, simply put, if you like your own status then you are either really stupid or a completely egocentric garish amoeba. You don’t talk to your friends and say “I’d like some pizza” followed by “Yeah I’m awesome, I like this.” So don’t say it on facebook.

2) Be careful what you get tagged in.

One of the most annoying things is when you get automatically tagged in a picture that shows how many people have visited your profile or what love heart you are. Or more recently what Game of Thrones House you belong to. If you have that much time to waste on these pathetic additions to the timeline then you really need to recheck your life, go to a library and get a book, or simply get out of bed and go for a walk. They aren’t entertaining and they certainly aren’t entertaining me.

3) If you have a problem with someone, keep it to yourself.

Ok so this is probably the hardest one out of all of them. I’m certainly guilty of it. But if something’s wrong with your relationship with friends, family, ex’s, whatever, then keep it to yourself. Firstly, I honestly don’t give a toss if you’re getting annoyed, unless it directly affects our friendship or me. Secondly, don’t follow it up with “I can’t say” or “text/call me” as then you are as big of a twat as the person who was annoying you. Don’t bring your shit into the public domain if you haven’t got the balls to actually mention it. If you’re trying to send a “message” to the dickhead that’s annoying you then try calling him/her and tell them yourself.

4) Speling and gramma

It may shock you to know that 100% of the people on facebook in the UK have either been in education or are in education. If you really have trouble spelling words correctly or using correct punctuation without a character limit, then you should really spend the time you are on facebook over at the BBC’s GCSE Bitesize website to give you a reminder. Unless that is you are intentionally mocking or trying to be funny. In which case stay on facebook and don’t come back into the real world. We did those jokes years ago and they aren’t funny anymore. Slang I will allow as long as it fits the character of the person saying it. For example, I can’t see my status being updated in a language only Snoop Dogg could create or understand. Speaking of which, don’t quote TV people’s catch phrases. People used to do that in public in pubs before and they really were the worst type of fool.

5) Pictures of you. Not your family album

I’ll be honest, when I get married or a have long term partner, I fully expect my parents to pull out the “long lost” baby pictures album to show me at my worst/most naked. I do not expect my parents to jump onto the nearest computer and log in to facebook to show them my baby pictures. The fact that baby pictures exist on facebook in abundance is already well mocked. But consider for a moment the effect this will have on your child. In a completely made up survey conducted by a completely made up agency, because you’ve put your baby and child’s pictures on facebook and haven’t checked your privacy settings, over 1 million completely made up paedophiles have found your child’s picture on a google search and bashed out some completely made up semen. What if your child grew up knowing these completely made up facts?

Ok so that’s a bit extreme and sometimes it’s fine for a family picture or to show that you’ve just had a child, or if they’ve done something really funny (like the youtube videos have). Otherwise, please don’t. I am willing to bet that you have somewhere a physical photograph of a family member (parent or grandparent). Imagine if your child doesn’t have this, doesn’t have the physical connection to that person with an actual photo that they can frame, show off, hold in times of need, talk to and look for inspiration or guidance. Imagine instead that you log on to facebook and can only mouse click backwards and forwards away from it. To me, I think that’s rather sad.

There are probably a lot more things that will eventually annoy me and that I will scorn facebooks’ millions of users for. But until I work them out or they become blatantly obvious, just stick to these points and we can be friends… Virtually, of course.

Will Defiance Defy or Defile?

Defiance.

It seems like a brilliant idea and a brilliant concept.

Here’s a “bring you up to speed” bit. SyFy in the US (the people that have brought you Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, Eureka, etc.) are launching a new show called Defiance over Spring 2013. Its premise is that aliens crash on a near-future Earth with an ark of animals and people and begin to terraform and cohabit with the humans.

Fair enough. But they are also releasing a game. Not a tie in, but a constant companion to the series. The game is set in a different city to the TV series (game in San Francisco, TV in St Louis) but it runs side by side with the TV universe. The stories, mythology and events of the series happen at the same time in the game. Characters jump from the series to the game and back out to the series to talk about what’s happened in the game. It’s what they call “Transmedia.” The game itself is a Massively Multiplayer Online First Person Shooter (MMOFPS) that will be on 360, PS3, PC and will have an iPad version. Here’s the website about it that gives you all the info and videos that you need. http://defiance.com/en/

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This has been in development for 4 years. In that time, from the TV perspective, SyFy made and cancelled at least two major (costly) series; Caprica and Stargate Universe. They’ve ended Eureka and have given a very big paycheck and primetime slot to Vince McMahon for WWE’s Smackdown. That fact that this isn’t a tie in and the whole duality of both the TV and MMO game makes me nervous because it is completely new territory. The game doesn’t make me nervous at all as a single entity. The game, if it’s a good game, will succeed, regardless of the TV series. Or it won’t (e.g. APB).

This is where my fears lay however, the TV series. For those of you who know anything about how television works you may get this immediately. For those of you who don’t, here’s how it goes:

  • Big series is developed. Lots of money goes into it.
  • Series premieres to rave reviews and large audiences. TV rakes in advertising money and distribution rights.
  • TV Execs immediately commission second series.
  • Series begins to fall mid season where not much happens. Viewer numbers tumble.
  • Series goes on mid season break. Viewers get annoyed with pointlessly long gap and forget series.
  • Series returns with more viewers but less than the premiere. Execs move it around the schedule to get best audience, but ultimately lose it because they keep moving it around.
  • Viewers fall completely with only peak at the end of season inevitable cliffhanger.
  • Second series starts and audiences drop to a third of what they were.
  • TV Execs continue to move the show around, hoping they stumble upon an audience like they’re drilling for oil.
  • Series is cancelled by mid season break.
  • Avid followers begin uproar; execs cite how much money they’ve spent.
  • Series ends and Execs have stirred the fans into such an angry frenzy, they’ll bleed money from the huge DVD sales.

That’s pretty much it. With a show idea like Defiance, it has three major problems that will lose the casual massive audience it needs to prevent that from happening. Firstly, it’s Science Fiction. This is a harsh but true problem. With the exception of Star Trek: The Next Generation, there hasn’t been a successful mainstream Science Fiction show produced in the US in recent times that has kept a casual audience. In the UK, Doctor Who may be the only example of this. But as soon as you start putting in aliens, spaceships or whatever, casual audiences turn off. Secondly, its allure is innovation. This works incredibly well in a movie environment where it is a one off. But once its been done, its old and people will forget it. For all of Avatar’s innovation for example, there is hardly anyone that will argue that the story was more wooden than Joan River’s face. As a TV series, Avatar would have been a very expensive blue turd.

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Thirdly, the idea of the computer game will possibly end its appeal. The risk is that the show begins to cater to the universe its in rather than the audience itself. The casual audience will scatter immediately leaving only the gaming audience who will either be a large community that love the game and find the TV show a distraction, or a small community that enjoy both equally but not enough to keep SyFy pumping the money into it.

I really am interested to see how this pans out because it’s a major risk from SyFy. But with great risk comes great innovation. If it works and it’s successful, it will completely rewrite the entertainment industry. Which will probably lead to Fox doing exactly the same thing, only much cheaper and with no care on what the show is about. But I fear that the American big audience, which it is mainly aimed for, will disappear. All that will be left is a core cult of people that the TV execs simply cannot justify spending multi-million dollar budgets on.

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This is an intriguing multimedia proposal, but there is one other side note. Near-future alien/human crossover shows never last very long or aren’t very good. Examples being Alien Nation, Earth: Final Conflict, V, Alf… Ok maybe not Alf, but you get my point. Even the Terminator series only lasted for two seasons and those were human looking robots! There is an often mistaken theory in all walks of the entertainment world. If you throw enough money at it, it will be successful. I just wonder if the money spent on this could have been better spent on developing many new series instead of one absolutely mega blow out. We shall see.

Edit: Just discovered Bear McCreary is doing the music. It will be awesome.

The Piano Man – A Short Story

… May became December
But, even in December, I remember
Her touch, her smile, and for a little while…

The pressure in his fingertips relaxed on the piano’s keys just as his voice began to ebb away. The lyric hit a spot in his body, somewhere he couldn’t place. Between his spine and his ribcage and just above his stomach, but it wasn’t quite there. He clenched his fist and imagined he could fit it right into the spot. “Are you going to finish playing that?” the voice called from behind him.
“How long have you been there?” He kept staring forward at the mahogany.
“Since you started. You’ve been stuck at that part for the past five minutes.”
He looked down and sighed before turning to face the voice. She stood in the archway of the room. All the chairs and stools were turned up on the tables and the brooms were resting against the bar. He had no idea how long he’d been alone in the bar. Even though the light was dim, he could still make out the heels and her dress, a reddish colour, with only one strap over her left shoulder. Her brunette hair was curled and fell to left side starting where the strap finished. “What do you want to hear,” he asked “a little San Francisco?”
He turned around and pushed his hands out, ready to play.
“I want to hear the end of that song,” she replied.
“How about some Moon River?”
“The end of that song.”
“Steppin’ Out?”
“That song.”

He let out a big breath. “I know. Some Lady is a Tramp.” He started playing the song. She walked over and just before he started to sing, she slammed her hand on the high notes. The discord made his hands recoil to his sides. “Why can’t you finish it?”
“I just can’t.”
“Why not?”
“You know what song it is. Don’t make me spell it out,” he became irritated.
“Why?” She became insistent.
He turned to look at her sharply. “Because it’s a lie,” he shouted. “It’s a fucking lie.”
She looked into his eyes and looked right through him. “You know it wasn’t how I wanted it to be.”
“And how did you want it to be?” he sarcastically asked, “Fields of flowers? Weekends away? Or just a quick feel in the back of the car?”
“I don’t know how I wanted it to be. Just not what we had.”
He turned back to the piano and blew out his cheeks, trying hard to vent the fist shaped spot in his body but it wouldn’t budge. “Look, I believe in the songs. That’s why I’m here all the time, playing this old thing. It’s my lot. I have to do it, no one else can.”
“I know,” she conceded, “I wouldn’t change you for the world. But do you really believe that the song is a lie?”
He looked down at the keys in silent admission. She lifted her hand and stroked his hair behind his ear. “Just play the end,” she whispered to him. A whisper that, no matter how hard he tried, he could never refuse. He put his hands back on the piano keys where they had stopped before. He breathed in and realised he couldn’t sing the higher notes and resigned himself to go with a lower register.

… She loves me.

He had to swallow after finishing the lyric. The fist-sized spot grew in intensity.

Once again it’s Paris
Paris on a Sunday
And the month is May.

He finished the song’s final flourish with little effort, relaxed his fingers once again by his sides and lowered his head. She reached over to his ear once again and whispered to him.
“Some lies are worth believing in.”
She gently kissed his cheek and began to walk away. He didn’t look, but he listened to hear how far away the sound of her heels were. They stopped briefly and he knew she was back at the archway. Finally the sound started again and faded into the distance. She had left. He heard a faint tap and looked at the piano keys. A single tear had escaped his eye and hit the middle C. The spot in his body had shrunk a little back to the original fist size. “So that’s how you leave,” he muttered, unsure if he was referring to her or to the spot. He put his hands back to the piano, began to quietly play and sung in his deepest, effortless voice.

… Some day, when I’m awfully low,
When the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you
And the way you look tonight.

Why I Write (Or How To Escape Drudgery)

I commit to paper (virtually) these series of disclosures that will exonerate any wrong intent that might be perceived by you, the reader, about me. That is not to say that your judgement is incorrect or ill-concieved. But more an act of rebellion over cowardice on my part against your (societies) vacuous designs.

Commercial gain and the acquisition of wealth is of course a factor in my decision to return to education. It is a factor for my intended career also, albeit not an overriding one. For this, I am guilty of the highest crime. Becoming a subject of society in order to transcend it. Should it mean that any work I create be lauded in culture despite it being akin to bodily waste then so be it. You can argue that culture also creates the artist, and that I will be the one laughing.

From the high and mighty dreams that I possess for artistic aspiration, there is a thinly veiled attempt to escape the world I lived in. To start a new in fresh pastures. To climb above what money and demons decide is ‘good’ for me. You may consider it Marxist almost in the realisation of myself as a subject.

The importance of academia has become paramount. To me especially. When you look at the people I admire-the people I aspire to be, to emulate and to better-the knowledge of English and that of writing is absolute. I want this knowledge. I feel that I need this knowledge. My syntax is not yet properly formed…

The desire to produce this future culture for you, the reader, was and still is my overwhelming motivation. The fascination that my dream has happened to others, for their success and prosperity, motivates and inspires me to look upon this path with a keen eye. The years of subservience in to the capitalist 21st Century culture has born nought but rage and distain for myself. The towns we all inhabit are, for me, the embodiment of purgatory and I will provide for you (society) the escapism from this that you crave and desire for many years. This includes the realisation of you never even contemplating that I was one of your own. Or that there is more out there than the sign that welcomes you: “Welcome to [insert town name]: Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

To summarise, I want to get a degree. I want to write for Television, radio or novel. I want to make a difference or impression somehow. I wanted to escape the place where I lived, I was born and where I will not metaphorically die. These were the same feelings I had when I started this journey nearly 18 months ago and this will not change. I can just word it a lot better and a lot more fancifully now.

Wave To The Cars

Little explanation here. I had to use some given words twice and in different contexts. The words were: wave, exhaust, cream, surround, cement & pearl. This was for Portsmouth Uni, but I didn’t go there as the big smoke was too much of a lure. So here it is!

“Wave to the cars, Graham.” His mother said to him. “Don’t breathe in the exhaust fumes Graham, they’ll kill you.” “Don’t add so much cream, Graham.” He always grew distant in his hearing when she spoke in that tone, slowly fading her out and replacing her moaning with a song in his head. Usually the last thing he heard on the radio would surround his senses. He never understood that. How the song would cement itself in his head. Her mouth would move and the words would be silent. The pearl jewellery would jangle from her earlobes as her jaw moved more and more furiously as she realised he wasn’t listening. He would be sent to his room and there he would think of all the things he could do when he was older. Get a car, move out of the house and travel away. Just to escape the whining. Eventually he did of course. She would phone after he moved out and he could just imagine her face over the phone as he continued to ignore her, staring at the non-intrusive cream wallpaper he had decorated with. Feeling fulfilled with all the expensive things that money could buy. Surround sound system, widescreen television, lava lamp. He always wanted a lava lamp, but his mother would never let him have one. Now he had one in the cement covered inner-city building where he had decided to make his home. His mother would never come to visit of course. She hated trains. She was always disturbed by the wave upon wave of faceless people milling around aimlessly without any great purpose. Graham would try to make her visit but she would exhaust all the options until he gave in and went to see her. Then he would sit there whilst she whittled on about this and that. Who did what and why they did it. What was on the television that night. Nothing changed and he longed to be away from her again. It’s almost fitting, he thought to himself, that in the end he would be alone with her. Just the two of them with no one else. He drowned out all the sounds again. Except this time there were no songs. Nothing at all except silence. Horror of what he had taken for granted all this time. “Pearl Smith.” He said out loud. “Mother of one, lover of all.” He chose the words without any thought but seeing them in stone hit it home that she was the best thing that happened to him. With a little bit of shame and apprehension, he turned away from the gravestone and walked away and waved at the cars parked by the church. Just like she told him to.