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Nowadays, children are taught two key areas of development in primary school – Literacy and Numeracy. The latter of these, Maths, essentially, I can take or leave. Literacy though, I love. When I was at school, we learned The Three Rs. Despite only on of the three beginning with the letter R, this stood for Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. (I’m not going to explain with this is the three Rs. If you can’t work that out, well…)

Arithmetic has obviously changed into Numeracy, while Reading and Writing now come lumped together as Literacy.

Read – verb

1.to look at carefully so as to understand the meaning of (something written, printed, etc.): to read a book; to read music.

Write – verb

1.to trace or form (characters, letters, words, etc.) on the surface of some material, as with a pen, pencil, or other instrument or means; inscribe: Write your name on the board.

Simple definitions, for two of the most basic skills that we learn. Basic in their essence, but that through increased learning and knowledge and use become so much more than their dictionary definitions. We learn them at school as practical things that we need to know in order to be able to communicate and survive. But within their practicalities lie infinite magic and possibility. Without wanting to sound like a hopeless romantic (fuck it, I am a hopeless romantic…) the possibilities that reading and writing afford us, both as humankind and as individuals, are endless and mindblowing. They are perhaps as close as we will ever get to real magic.

Escape

At the moment I am reading ‘Matter’, the latest sci-fi novel by Iain M. Banks in the so-called Culture series. This is serious, hardcore, proper sci-fi stuff – and is the first of its kind I’ve read in a long time, possibly ever. I’m talking a whole new universe in scope: multiple galaxies, multi-level planets, alien species, different races, aeon’s of history, new cultures, all living and breathing within its 565 pages. Space opera. EPIC stuff. Banks is a master with his words, and manages to zoom out from the action to describe entire galaxies’ worth of history, culture and intergalactic relations, before swiftly and seemlessly focusing in again on the intimate feelings of his characters, and their actions in that moment.

I am completely lost in this world, and the feeling is wonderful. The history, culture(s), characters and multitude of places of this world are real. Just because it is fictional, doesn’t mean that it is fake. First, it is real in the mind of the author. Then, in the words he puts down on paper. Then, in the mind of anyone who reads it. Stephen King, in ‘On Writing’, describes writing as telepathy. This is what I’m talking about, in part, when I call it magic.

Create

From learning how to put together a few letters, then words, forming simple sentences, then paragraphs and longer passages and beyond, you (yes, you… any of you) can create anything. Most of you know that I’m writing a novel this year (for those of you who didn’t know that, where have you been?! Check it out here at the Duel blog). I am loving creating the world(s!) in which my story takes place, and enjoying getting my teeth into something bigger than what I normally write (though nowhere near as big as the likes of ‘Matter‘ and the sci-fi/fantasy epics of its type). Not to say writing short stories isn’t incredible fun, creating a well-crafted short story is a really satisfying experience, bringing characters and a story to life in a few thousand (or few hundred!) words is a pure joy.

Think

What goes on in our minds is anybody’s guess. Even we don’t know what is going on up there a lot of the time! Writing can magically transform our intantigble, transitory thoughts into concrete things; feelings and emotions pinned down onto the page with just a few words. Journalling and recording our thoughts and feelings is often a profound and liberating experience.

So, grab a book or grab a pen, and indulge in two of the three Rs. Perform some magic. Some real magic.

… or Twitter Fiction, to be a little more accurate.

Twitter is a brilliant site, based around a ingenious concept. I know a lot of people just don’t “get it”, usually saying something along the lines of “It’s just like Facebook, only just the status updates bit.” Well, in essence yes, but thanks to its simplicity it is so much more than just status updates. So much more than the sum of its parts. On top of the microblogging and social networking applications of Twitter, not to mention the advertising and marketing capabilities, Twitter is a fantastic tool for a new kind of fiction.

Writing a “novel” in tight snippets of 140 characters at a time may not be the way to go about creating fiction through Twitter, however. I have tried it, at the short-lived @onefourzero, and my friend Alice began a similarly brief Twitter story. Perhaps the idea of creating a story in the traditional sense in a non-traditional format is what stopped these stories from continuing for very long.

However, there are several examples of fictional Twitter accounts, that provide an entertaining slant on the microblogging format. What these profiles have in common is a running theme, much like a novel or short story, and at least one recurring character (that of the character who is tweeting, in other words narrating the story) that ties the tweets together.

The idea here is tight writing, but loose narrative.

Partly what makes Twitter so great (for its more general uses as well as a platform for perpetual, on-going fiction) is the restriction of 140 characters to each tweet. This makes the writer focus on what needs to be said, the message that must be portrayed to the readers. In the world of fiction, while many others love to fill their prose with interesting adjectives and long, intricate descriptions) there is a major school of thought that suggests simplicity to be the way to write well. I, personally, write my stories in this way – focuses on short, simple sentences and clear, bold writing. Twitter forces you to write like this, which makes it brilliant for fiction writing.

Next, by tying these tight snippets of prose with a loose narrative (sticking to one or two themes, maybe using recurring characters, referring back to things that have happened, working towards a possible ending) it is possible to create a rather compelling story. Not one in the traditional sense, but one that exists in a kind of real time, where the reader can follow along with events as they unfold, and where they are never very far behind the author in knowing what is happening.

Here are a couple of examples of what I’m talking about.

@timelostbatman

Batman… lost in time. Pretty self-explanatory, but it allows for a brilliant story. This is an example of just how loose the narrative of Twitter fiction can be. There is no real plot here, simply the events that happen to the character of Batman (already an established, recognisable character) as he travels through time. The narrative theme of time-travel allows the author of this Twitter feed to play around with what Batman would do or say if he was involved with famous people and events from history, allowing the story of a superhero lost in time to develop as it goes. Yes, there is no Beginning, Middle and End, but this is still entertaining and is still fiction.

@manvszombies

I LOVE this Twitter feed. The on-going story of the last remaining man on Earth, the sole survivor of a zombie apocalypse, who tweets his accounts of the zombie-filled wasteland which constitutes the end of the world. Each tweet contains a new insight into the world as we know it, if we were all turned to brain-craving zombies, and allows its protagonist to riff on zombie movie conventions as well as producing a compelling and very funny “journal” of a man trying to survive in a zombie-filled world.

@tophattedcad

What would the Victorians make of Twitter? That is the question that someone (couldn’t possibly be this guy…) has asked, and in a rather Steampunk take on our modern technology, written up in a hilarious take on the Victorian gentleman, sharing his nefarious deeds across the Internet. The result is a very funny and entertaining story following the life of a wicked cad, who brags of his bodice-ripping conquests and moustache-twirling villainary. What’s not to love?

@Agent_Tweets


If you need help, and if you can find him (he looks just like every other pigeon out there), than maybe you can hire Detective Agent Tweets. *cue music*. He’s the pigeon PI who isn’t afraid to wade through the bird shit to find justice.

For those of you not already following @agent_tweets, this is me. A crime-fighting bird who shares his daily grind on Twitter is exactly the kind of thing that me and Rob come up with while we ramble on about bullshit. But hopefully, those of you on Twitter (and if you’re not, please give it a try…) will follow along, enjoy Agent Tweets’ hard-boiled, cynical detective work, and groan at the sure-to-be-terrible bird puns that I come up with. And please feel free to offer your help, and let him know if you have a crime to be solved. (That’s another awesome thing about fiction on Twitter, it can be interactive, with readers actually shaping the story as it progresses…)

Hope you enjoy these, but especially Agent Tweets! He has been known to shit from a great height on those who criticise his policing, so be nice.

Nothing Much

These are two words that I say faaaaaaarrrrr too often. But I’m giving them up.

Every time, it seems, that someone asks me what I’ve been up to that day, that week, the past month, my answer is “nothing much.”

How pathetic, really. Besides my paid job (which rarely fills over 35 hours of my week), I am interested in so much stuff, but you wouldn’t think it because I never seem to do any of it! I love to write, of course, but even that doesn’t happen that often. Even this month, the first month of my Writing Duel with Rob, I haven’t written nearly as much as I should have done (something I’ll talk more about over at the Duel blog in a couple of days, when the end of the month rolls around and I will be posting my first monthly update on how it’s going – including a less-than-impressive word count). I should be writing every day, but I haven’t. Not even close.

On top of that, even the so-called “less-important” stuff, I haven’t really been engaging in. I’ve hardly read anything of late (except two amazing graphic novels, Parker and The New Frontier, loaned from Rob, in what I now expect to be a  sabotage attempt on my novel-writing). My running has completely fallen by the wayside, I haven’t been out yet this year, despite getting running gear from my Dad for Christmas.

Also, I haven’t been very productive with all the little “life admin” stuff that always seems to get in the way of everything else. In fact, it DOES get in the way of everything else, when you let it build up and build up. Maybe that has been part of the problem. Since 2010 started I have felt slightly apathetic about a lot of things, including the Duel, which is such a big thing for me this year. And this really started to get me down until last week or so, especially as I had been SO excited about writing my novel since we announced the project back in December.

Anyway, enough is enough. You won’t be hearing me say “nothing much” from now on. This week and the last I have been slowly getting back into the writing, still not writing anywhere near as much as I would like to be doing, but at least words are getting onto the page, and I am thinking and engaging with my novel a lot more. I have written a new article for Fuel Your Writing, which should hopefully be up soon, and I am already planning my next one. I am re-reading David Allen’s fantastic Getting Things Done, and generally being a lot more productive. Every day I know exactly what I am going to be doing, and in the main I have been completing everything that I have wanted to do each day.

Apologies for my confessional and rather self-pitying post, but just needed to get those things off my chest. I am really feeling a lot more positive than I was a few weeks ago, so time to kick 2010’s arse, yeah?

So… me and Alice just went to see Kittie.

We both loved Kittie when we were teenagers. I was 17, Alice was 15, and it was in the peak of the so-called “Nu-Metal” era. Bands like Limp Bizkit and KoRn were huge, and moshers clashed with charvs across the playground. And Kittie enjoyed they moment in the sun, although amongst the people we know, only me and Alice liked them.

This, as follows, is how we came to see them play live tonight. We both follow the Twitter feed @thefuckingword, which uses vulgar examples to teach its followers new vocabulary every few days. A couple of months ago, the word of the day was “brackish”. What this word means is irrelevant. ‘Brackish’ is the title of probably the most famous Kittie song, and was certainly the song that the crowd wanted to hear at the gig tonight. Reminded of Kittie by this one word, Alice decided to look them up on the Internet, wondering (primarily) when they split up.

They never split up.

Going through several line-up changes (unfortunately losing their original bassist Talena Atfield) but always retaining the original duo of sisters Mercedes and Morgan (the drummer and lead singer who had started the band) we discovered that Kittie are still going strong, have recently released a new album, and were touring and coming to Newcastle in the not-to-distant future. Cue tonight, and this gig, and me and Alice reliving our teenage years.

The gig was absolutely INCREDIBLE! Truth be told, neither of us expected it to be anywhere near as awesome as it was. We really only went tonight to see what had happened to a band we used to love. Instead, we discovered that we still love that band. And, perhaps more significantly, we completely regressed eight years for an hour and a half.

While Kittie played tonight, we were literally both transported back to our teens. Alice was 15, I was 17. We had school work to worry about, sure, but that was it. No adult stresses. No jobs. No responsibilities. We were completely lost – in the music, in joy, and in the past. It was truly an amazing gig, not just because of indulgent nostalgia but because of the sheer energy that the four girls brought to the stage, giving everything to the performance.

Despite not playing ‘Brackish’, the gig was just bloody awesome. And, in fact, I can understand them not playing their most famous song; the song that they are essentially known for. They must get seriously sick of playing it, and for people asking for it.

They did not disappoint in the slightest. They put on one hell of a show, and made old fans completely fall in love with them again. Me and Alice only really went to see them because we thought it would be a laugh to see a band that they were both so in to once upon a time. Instead, they ended up blowing us away, and giving us a genuinely awesome night.

Thank you, Kittie. From us now, and from our teenage selves. You kicked our arses.

So, I’m a few days late, but HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!

Two thousand and Ten, eh? Or is that, Twenty Ten? There seems to be some debate on this (let’s not even get into the argument on whether the past ten years should be called the Noughties…) and, for what it’s worth, I quite like the latter, but let’s not get hung up on such small things. It may be a new year, but the rules of this blog remain the same – Never Too Serious. Hopefully you’ll see me continue that ethos throughout the next year. I hope to make you laugh, make you think, and make you keep reading.

The first big news of 2010 – a reminder that the Duel is under way! I’m sure you all know by now (please follow the link and read the opening post if you don’t) but I have challenged my good friend Rob to write a novel over the next (now) 363 days and counting, in a writing duel that will end when the clock strikes midnight in just under a year’s time to close 2010. One of us will become published, and one of us will turn into a pumpkin. Or something like that. In any case, it promises to be a lot of fun, with the added benefit that we should both finally write the novels that we have been putting off for a while now. Please follow along – here, at the Duel blog, and @chrisvsrob for those of you on Twitter. Updates shall be signposted as usual, on our own respective blogs, Twitter (just me), and our Facebook pages.

To kick us off, Rob has just written a short post to whet your appetites, outlining the theme and story of his novel. He gives nothing away, aside from a few typically brilliant character names (Rob is a genius when it comes to naming characters) and the general idea that his story shall be a Steampunk story WITH SUBSTANCE – something the genre seems to be lacking. His novel The Invention of Steam will chart the origins of a Steampunk era, where history veered off course and ended up in a world of clockwork gadgets, ray-guns and aerial Zeppelin battles.

I’m really, really excited about this Duel – and I hope you all are too. If you’re not, you certainly will be after reading what Rob has in store! I definitely have a fight on my hands. What will be interesting is that mine and Rob’s fighting (writing!) styles are very different, and so are our proposed stories. Stay tuned to this blog, and the Duel site, for the introduction to my novel in a couple of days.

Hope your resolutions are going well – we’re already 4/365ths into the New Year!

A couple of weeks ago, my brother James and my Dad went to Marsden Beach, and for a fleeting hour, James became an artist.

A statue of stones.

In less than an hour, James built this statue out of a selection of stones that he found lying about on the beach, inspired by the work of Andy Goldsworthy, for his final project for his Art class at school.

I love this. The statue looks fantastic, with the stones of all different shapes and sizes, and I especially like the big round rock in the middle. But, not only do I love the statue, but even more I love what it represents.

This is what creativity is all about.

It also shows just how easy it is for anyone to create something. I am not saying that James didn’t use any skill to build this – obviously it required a keen eye to pick out suitable stones to use, and a steady hand to balance them one by one on top of the other. But, all James really did was to go down to the beach with his Dad, wander about and gather some stones together, and then take a deep gulp of sea air, and start playing.

Experimentation and play are the key components to being creative. They are both fueled by, and produce, inspiration, and also lead to increased motivation as the thing – whatever glorious thing it is: a story, a song, a pile of stones – grows and changes and becomes something. Something real. Less than an hour before the pictures here were taken, that statue, that piece of art, was just a thought and an idea floating around inside my brother’s head.

Just for fun. Made while Dad was taking the pictures of the first.

Creativity is so accessible. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has the capacity to create. I’m not saying there is no such thing as talent, of course not, but just look at how easy a piece of art can be made.

I don’t have the resources to be creative.

These rocks are already on the beach. You could make a statue using twigs and sticks if you were walking in the woods somewhere. And if building isn’t your game, pick up a piece of paper and a pen. That’s all you need. So much can be created with pen and paper. People, monsters, epics, opuses, worlds, dreams and nightmares.

I don’t have the time to be creative.

This took an hour. An hour. You can’t spare that? One hour every week, just to get out there and have fun and get some fresh air and to play. Take your family. Take your friends. Take your dogs. And if you don’t like the beach, grab a cheap notebook, go to the local park and write something. An hour. That’s all you need.

I don’t have the talent to be creative.

Creativity is not reliant on talent. Creativity is reliant on play. On experimentation. On dreaming. And, ultimately, on action.

And everyone can do those things.

Well done James!

Thanks to my very awesome friend and writing duel opponent, Robert Smedley, Never Too Serious! now has a logo.

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE it. Rob made it without me even asking him. I hadn’t even considered having a logo for the site, but he felt that it’d be nice if I had one. And what a logo! I hope you all like it as much as I do. I genuinely think Rob has managed to capture me and the spirit of this blog in one simple drawing.

Thanks again Rob!