East of England - update 17th July

Hi all!

Here's where we are with East of England. Those of you fine folk who have already pledged to the support the book should have received an email spelling out some of this, so apologies for any duplication. As noted in that email, Unbound break down their route to publication into ten stages:

  1. Funding target reached

  2. The final draft of the manuscript is delivered.

  3. The editor edits. And edits.

  4. Cover and artwork design begins.

  5. The copy editor reviews the manuscript for consistency.

  6. Typesetter formats manuscript for printing

  7. First proofs come back and are sent to the proofreader

  8. Final edits are made

  9. Artwork finalised

  10. Final proofs go to press

Where are we? We're at stage 3 of that process. I delivered the manuscript of the novel at the weekend (after two full drafts and what felt at the time like a thorough tidy-up), and it's now in the wildly-capable hands of its editor. Those who pledged to have their (or a loved one's) name featured in the novel have had the appropriate name included... 

There'll now be a period of to-and-fro between the editor and me, first on the overall structure of the book, and then on the writing at the level of paragraph, sentence and word. Basically, the editor acts as a critical friend / constructive critic to help ensure that East of England a) makes sense b) is great c) doesn't have any errors / mistakes / unwarranted weirdness in it.

This part of the process will take a few weeks, not least as it's summer and we'd all rather be outside making sandcastles and flicking towels at each other than being hunched over a laptop, grumbling at a manuscript.  

There'll be update emails from Unbound throughout the process to publication, and I'll do the same, hopefully explaining stuff along the way. 

In the meantime, writing on other stuff continues apace. I'd tell you more, but I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise. 

The pledges / pre-orders will remain open to let other fine folk get on board to receive the acclaim and glory that being a crowd-funder and an arts patron brings. So, if you either want to get copies for others, or simply like having multiple copies o the same book on your shelves, you can make those pre-orders here

Also, if you're so minded I thoroughly recommend pre-ordering (also from Unbound) my brother Maxim's book Field Notes




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On cliches

Cliches (or, if you prefer, clichés, because though the accent's a bit old-fashioned, it points the way towards pronunciation) aren't all that bad.

Not all the time, anyway.

Because they're well-known, a cliche can convey meaning directly in ways that are mutually understood. They're fast, and to some extent ready-made, so we don't have to think about them. These pre-assembled language chunks are ready to go. When we're speaking they can be useful for all of these reasons: immediacy, intelligibility, efficiency.

If you were a lexicographer, you might refer to cliches as being examples of lexical phrases; pre-prepared language for easy insertion. Not all lexical phrases are cliches (there's polywords such as "at any rate", and sentence heads and tails like "Could you just..." and "...if yo don't mind", that are raring to go to start off or complete an enquiry) but all cliches are lexical phrases.

That's why we use them. Over time, the individual words within a cliched phrase have become fused together into a single entity. The phrase "avoid like the plague" might once have been funny, because the Black Death is best skirted around for all kinds of health-troubling reasons, so there's an amusing and perhaps jarring exaggeration to a social or other situation that one might not want to get involved with. Through over-use, though, any novelty or invention associated with the phrase has been worn away. All that's left is the base meaning of "avoid".

In everyday speech then, cliches have their place. Heck, in drama or fiction, a character using cliched terms might be useful, either for reasons of immediacy or because it tells us something about that character (their lack of imagination, for example).

However, someone who can only converse in cliches, whether that person's real or fictional, is going to get boring to be with sharpish. And if you're the writer, and cliches infest your writing (both dialogue and descriptive) then it's you that are boring. And boring writers don't get read.   

So here's what I do. Maybe it'll work for you. Perhaps you've got a different approach to cliche; if so, share!

In the first draft, I don't worry, but I'm mindful of the potential for cliche. If one appears in a sentence, and it's immediately apparent that it's there (not as easy as it may appear because if I'm writing, then I'm often too focused on getting the words down than to fully appreciate what words are actually appearing on the left-hand side of the cursor) then I'll sort it out.


I'll tell you in a minute.

If I can't operate straight away, then I'll flag the sentence up. I'm a Word user, so I'll use the comments facility to leave myself a message. Then I keep writing.  

Between the first and second draft (and usually the day after writing the first draft, as my routine is to re-read the previous day's work, and then sort out any typos and vivid language no-nos before getting on with the fresh day's word count. I remove the comments as I work, to tell myself that the issue's been seen to. 

Now, there'll doubtless be over-used phrases that'll get by a first or even a second draft, but with a little distance from the words, some focus, and a thimbleful of creativity, then cliches can be eradicated. 

My way of approaching cliches is to look for a way to twist the original slightly; just enough to retain the intended meaning, but with something - anything - that makes it different. Here's an example:

Ist draft: as pretty as a picture

2nd draft: as pretty as a photograph/landscape/portrait/cameo/mugshot

Not very creative perhaps, but there's a few options to select from, and I'd argue that each of them is better than the over-used "picture". And that's just from playing with one word. Can we do better than "pretty"?

And of course, the phrase "as pretty as a picture" is a simile. Any form of modifying word or phrase (adjective, adverb etc) should be scrutinized also. If it's needed, fair enough, That's your justification to use it. If not, and it's just an easy word that's inveigled its way in during first-drafting, then there's an easy edit to be made.

And does the sentiment even need to be there? Cliched writing can be filler. Stuff you write as you're working out what it is that you're really trying to say. Can it be cut? If so, then delete.   

So, a) I try to be aware of cliched phrases, and b) leave myself notes to act on them later if I'm not going to do that work immediately. Then c) I make a change small enough to keep a relationship to the original, but sufficient to keep the language as fresh as I can.

If I can, I cut.

The best cure for cliche is to read more. If you read other people using particular phrases, either repeatedly or jarringly, then that's something to remember for your own practice; not to use those constructions yourself.  


Books by me are here, by the way: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eamonn-Griffin/e/B00XJEK2PC


A little cool is cool, but...

So, I caught up with the new Quentin Tarantino movie, The Hateful Eight, the other day. This isn’t a review blog, so I’m not going to do the standard film review stuff; instead, a few thoughts on the movie (spoiler-free, just in case) and what the film – on its first viewing – indicates.

Now I like Tarantino’s movies in the main. He’s an avowed movie fan, he’s a repository of geeky arcana as regards certain types of cinema, and he’s got an interest in genre cinema. His movies tend to be crime or revenge-filled violent dramas with healthy side orders of comedy and opportunities for grandstanding performances, the rediscovery of somewhat neglected actors, and quirky-but-apposite soundtrack cues. Tarantino likes to mess with time; analepses and prolepses abound as we zip back and forth temporally.

The Hateful Eight’s a long movie. In the standard release version that I saw, it runs 168 minutes. There’s also a roadshow version, that’s not getting much of an outing in the UK, featuring another twenty minutes of footage, plus an overture, intermission and an entr’acte (that’s the bit of music played at the end of the intermission to get you back into the movie-world). The roadshow’s presented in Super Panavision 70, a seldom-used film format, and one revived in production and projection terms for this movie. So, the geekiness runs deep.

The Hateful Eight wears its influences proudly: the plot’s a mashup of Tarantino’s debut Reservoir Dogs and John Carpenter’s The Thing, and these story influences are evidenced in the casting, with Michael Madsen and Tim Roth from Dogs and The Thing’s lead (and regular Carpenter collaborator) Kurt Russell top-billed. Sydney Pollack’s Jeremiah Johnson is also an influence, in part of its storyline, its production design, the location work and in the use of an overture, intermission and entr’acte.  

For various reasons, eight people are holed up in a backwoods trading post, waiting out a blizzard. Matters soon turn ugly.

Now, this is a movie that could have been wrapped up in the same 99 minutes’ length of Reservoir Dogs. Here though, we’ve got a flick that’s got a full additional hours’ worth of material (and an hour twenty if you see the longer version). And, boy, does your behind feel the impact of the extra time.

In a Tarantino movie you expect a little loquaciousness from at least some of the characters, and you certainly get that here. You get a story about stories, about the telling of tall tales round the fire. And that’s all good. But it does go on. And on.

You get a movie divided, like Tarantino’s latter flicks, into chapters; another overtly novelistic device. Plus, a director voiceover at the halfway point, presumably another aid to bridge the gap between the two halves, but also a pointer to new plot information. Now, Eight isn’t a movie that benefits from this; the second half’s decision to mix matters up temporally and plot-wise might well have been better dealt with by dealing with the storyline in strict temporal sequence. It feels tricksy rather than organic. Plus, it pulls you out of the movie. I found myself, in the second half of the film particularly, being aware that I was watching the film, rather than just watching it. That immersive spell that cinema should cast over you had been broken.

I was mulling this over afterwards. Not just in the what-would-I-have-done-differently sense of thinking, though there was some of that (cut the film down to an hour forty-five maximum / lost most of the outdoor stuff, which, though great-looking added little to the film / recut it into temporal order / fixed a couple of nagging plot issues / swapped the genders of one pair of characters). But also in the how-did-we-get-here stakes.

So, a few thoughts.

First, Tarantino is indulged. Since Jackie Brown (still his best), his movies have been allowed to get bulky. Kill Bill 1 and 2, Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained, and now The Hateful Eight. All of them. There’s good stuff in each of them, but these are films of bits and pieces, and often as not better dipped into and out of than watched in their entireties. The exception of his latter output is Death Proof, which is at least mercifully short, though was originally intended as a double-bill under the Grindhouse banner with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror.

Second, he seems to have lost the people around him that were useful checks and balances. Lawrence Bender, his original producer, hasn’t a co-credit since Inglorious. Sally Menke, Tarantino’s long-time editor, died in 2010. Roger Avary, screen-writing collaborator, fell by the wayside in career terms early on. One gets the feeling that there are fewer and fewer people prepared to sit down and say “Yeah, this scene’s great, and it’s funny, but do we need it? Does it tell us anything new? Can we lose it for the sake of the film?”                    

Third, that a little cool is cool. But too much cool leaves you cold. Enough with the quirks and the longeurs already.

So that’s what I came away with after watching The Hateful Eight. A little bit of renewed purpose as regards my own writing. Both to listen to those internal and external Jiminy Crickets who act as useful and necessary checks and balances to our excesses and to our indulgences, and to act on their advice. Sometimes, though it may be trite to say it, less is more. Make the plot or character point, then move on.  

So, thanks Quentin. I enjoyed the movie (and I’ll keep watching your films) but they help in showing what doesn’t work as well for me just as much as showing what does.