Snails, Sirens, Scary Paintings, Singing Kettles

For this post I’m going to try out more of a journal format. Instead of rambling on for ages about one thing, I’ll ramble briefly about a bunch of fairly unrelated things. If it turns out too disjointed and pointless I won’t do it again – just mixing things up because that’s the kind of crazy guy I am.

I’ve been working on Project Snails for three solid weeks! Go me! After a rocky end to last year, I had an equally boulderesque start to this one – was still recovering from Project Ho Ho Ho and writing the credits song for it which took way longer than it should have – but when I finally got my butt in gear and placed it on a chair in front of a computer with my novel open on it, I found a burst of creativity waiting for me. That’s the upside of taking an extended break from something, I suppose. When you immerse yourself so fully in a project, your unconscious carries on working even when you think you’re doing something else.

AaaaahhhI’m now at 95,000 words in the latest draft. 100,000 is what I’m thinking of as the halfway mark, though considering how brutally I’ve been cutting stuff during this rewrite, I’ve probably passed the true halfway mark already. Everything’s going pretty well, though one major storyline is having to be so severely reimagined as I go that I feel as if I’m laying down railway track in front of a moving train à la Gromit in The Wrong Trousers. Also, I’m using Scrivener now. It’s pretty good, especially if you have lots of different chapters and drafts which you want to be able to quickly switch between and view side by side. Which I do.

The Sirens of TitanI’m not reading enough. As I’ve mentioned before, writing does this to me. The only book I’ve finished since my last book post is The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, so I might as well talk about that now. Having grown up ingesting The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in various forms, it’s hard not to read Sirens as a sort of precursor: wry science fiction (wryence fiction) where dysfunctional people get whisked off to various planets and moons and put in vaguely absurd situations by forces outside their control. In the process it captures some of the random, chaotic, weird beauty of life. Breathtaking imagination is on display, in for example the descriptions of the creatures that live on Mercury, and of the being called Salo; these passages ought to make most writers – myself included and emphasised – slightly ashamed of their own lack of imagination. Also, it’s nice to finally know what my parents were talking about when they used to go on about chronosynclastic infundibula. Nerds.

I’m watching the first season of In Treatment. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a show which is set almost exclusively within the therapy sessions of several different people. The characters seem so real that it feels almost wrong to be spying on them at their most vulnerable, as the show invites us to. Its more intense episodes can leave you numb and in dire need of a hug. But your investment in the characters’ progress and the weekday-based episode structure draws you back. The music is great too.

I had an incredibly unsettling dream last week. It was framed as a trailer for a horror film, though I was actually experiencing it rather than watching it. I was wandering round an underground art gallery which seemed to have no exits but was quite full of people. All the paintings were fairly normal except for this creepy painting in one room which was of a woman with a messed up face (either she had a freakishly oversized mouth or there was just a hole where her face should be). Gentle, sad classical music was playing in the gallery but whenever I looked at the creepy painting it changed to disturbing, chaotic, dissonant strings. I tried to avoid looking at the painting, but as I walked around I kept hearing the music change as the painting entered my peripheral vision. After a while, bad things started to happen – people in the room with the painting started dying, other paintings started to change – but I don’t remember many more details. The strangest thing was that the dream didn’t scare me that much at the time – as it was a trailer, I was more impressed by its scariness than scared by it – but the more I thought about the dream the following day, the more it freaked me out. Posting it here in the hopes of exorcising it from my mind, so apologies if it latches on to yours.

Our Singing Kettle spoofThe actual Singing Kettle people apparently saw our dirty Singing Kettle parody. This was mentioned in a recent issue of the Scottish Sun (the article is also online but I won’t link to it because I feel icky enough just being mentioned in a tabloid). The main emotions this conjures up are the customary shock and disbelief that come with my stupid little world making momentary contact with the larger, real world, and some to-be-expected traces of shame. At least they were nice enough to laugh it off, so we can probably stop worrying about being sued now!

Festive funsies / We’re all going to die

Quick update on Project Ho Ho Ho, the silly video advent calendar I talked about a while ago.

We’ve already had more contributions than I was afraid we might – we’re on $1,311 as I write this. But unless we get some major new momentum going in the 3 weeks we have left, we’re not gonna reach our target of $4,000.

This doesn’t matter on Indiegogo as much as it would on Kickstarter, as we still get the money we raise even if we fall short of our target; Indiegogo just takes a bigger cut for itself. Still, it would be nice to get there. If anyone reading this wants to chip in or share the project with others using their preferred medium of interaction, all us Beyonders would be most grateful.

What I really want to mention, though, are the video updates we’ve been doing. In particular, the one below. (It’ll make more sense if you’ve already watched the main campaign video here.)

I’m mostly posting it here because I’m worried all the links posted to it on Facebook, Twitter, etc. will quickly get buried, whereas this blog feels a little more permanent. (Not sure what makes me think that, but I do.) And I’m quite proud of it, so I don’t want it to just disappear.

It was basically made by three people. Me, who wrote it, and held the microphone during filming. Lynn, who acted in it and brought it exactly the kind of intensity it needed. And Gavin, who gets the credit for pretty much everything else about it, including the swirling HUD elements, gunshots and wavy tentacles. Oh, and the giant octopus laser pigeons were his idea.

The day we shot it was fun, but since I’m much better at talking about pain and strife than about fun, I’ll focus on the writing. Basically, we (the advent team) were trying to think up ideas for updates, little nuggets of video we could release at intervals to encourage people to give, or at least give us an excuse to further badger our Facebook friends for money. (If you’re interested, here is another example, with me dressed as a woman.)

Since this campaign sort of depends on convincing people we’re funny, the emphasis in these updates was supposed to be on comedy. But I have trouble with comedy. “We’ve noticed!” you heckle. “I… um… shut up,” is my cutting put-down. Trying to write a pure comedy script is, to me, like trying to row a boat using only one oar: technically possible, I guess, but only to someone more talented than me. Same goes for pure drama – what is life without humour? I can’t seem to be entirely silly or entirely serious. They’re two sides of the same coin, totally dependent on each other. In my view, there’s nothing that can’t be joked about, because joking about something doesn’t necessarily imply that it’s not serious or that you don’t care about it. Likewise, I can’t turn the serious side of my brain off even when thinking about the silliest or most trivial subjects. Put simply, I’m not a very versatile writer.

So I came up with the message from the future idea as a way to combine silliness and seriousness: an update treating something inherently ridiculous and trivial – the Advent Calendar – as if it were the most important, profound and life-changing thing in the world. When you watch Lynn’s performance, it’s actually pretty dramatic – it’s only when she reminds you of the utterly ridiculous context, as she does at points throughout the video, that it becomes funny.

Of course, it’s also a parody of various tropes from popular culture – post-apocalyptic survival, time travel, earnest monologues to camera. Some of this was probably because I’d been watching too much Battlestar Galactica, though I did ultimately resist putting in a nerd-pandering line about frakking toasters. Parodies are another way of being funny without just being funny; they can be fairly dramatic scenes in the style of some genre or specific text, but with one subversive element thrown in that makes the whole thing absurd.

Now I’m thinking up sketch ideas for the actual advent calendar, and my favourite idea so far – while it will hopefully be funny – is also quite philosophical and potentially melancholic, to the point that I’ve actually felt kinda haunted since I came up with it. But I also have an idea that’s about someone sitting on a toilet so, y’know, it all balances out.

Webseries hopes and fears

Before I opened up the edit again yesterday, it’d been a while since I’d really thought about Project Chippy, though I’d been peripherally aware of it gnawing away on my mind like a hamster on the bars of its cage. I haven’t been able to make much progress with it lately, partly because of university but mostly because of some stuff we/I messed up last year.

Some weird people in Project Chippy.

All I’ll say about Chippy for now is that it’s a webseries, starring me as a detective, Heather as a mysterious girl, and Euan as a mysterious guy. I’ve written three episodes of it, and we filmed most of what we need for them last summer.

I’ve referred to the webseries as a comedy-drama, though this isn’t an ideal fit as it’s not aiming to be laugh-out-loud funny – the “comedy” tag is mostly there so we can get away with being vaguely absurd and pleasantly quirky. (There really aren’t enough genre labels to cover the whole spectrum of possible tones, but I might get into that in a later post.) From what we have so far, I’m happy that we seem to have captured the tone we were going for rather well.

However, we weren’t so good at capturing Heather before she moved to Canada, so we’ve only filmed episodes one and three, leaving a big hole where most of episode two should be. This was silly of us.

Another thing I regret is that in writing the first three episodes I was probably too focused on setting stuff up for later in the series. As I’ve mentioned, I have trouble keeping projects from becoming overly ambitious, and even though this one was specifically designed to be manageable, following the patently unmanageable project I’d been working on previously (which turned into Project Mirror), it still got a bit out of hand. Even if we do end up filming loads more episodes and playing out all the storylines I’ve set up, I’ll still feel that the first few are not as strong as they could have been, had they been written with more of a focus on being entertaining in their own right, rather than setting up every little character detail for later.

A scary young man in Project Chippy.

Ah well. The series was always going to be a learning experience, and I decided early on that we should embrace that and carry on rather than go back and try to fix every mistake. So carry on we shall!

When Heather returns, albeit briefly, I’m hoping we can get episode two filmed – possibly her parts of episode four as well, if I’ve written that by then. That’ll give us a nice 3-4 episode taster, which should help us decide just how appetising the series as a whole looks, and whether we want to continue it when we get the chance.

In some ways I’d love to. Heather’s character is one of my favourite characters I’ve ever written, and has a lot of backstory that I’d like to get out there. Of course, the cast and crew are made up of my favourite people and working with them on silly stuff always makes me feel like I’ve somehow swapped my life for that of someone luckier.

I’m also excited about some of the insane ideas I have for later episodes, though I’m currently in the awkward position of not quite knowing how I’m going to get the story from where it is at the end of episode three to where it needs to be to incorporate those plots. That’s the sort of thing I’ll inevitably end up working out when I’m supposed to be doing something else. Apologies in advance to the Beyond Studios Advent Calendar!

Anyway, one way or another you’ll probably see the first few episodes of Project Chippy later this year. Please don’t stare at my bald head.