It took four days of writing and an additional day typing it up on the laptop but I have just completed my first story. The first draft that is. It’s come in at 5,389 words, some of which are editorial notes so they don’t really count. Is that long or is it short? I have no idea. It feels short but it is just an episode of a greater story set in a novel that is still bubbling away in my head.

It’s also light when compared to the four days I spent writing it but the truth is I never really wrote for more than a couple of hours a day. The final session I wrote 900 words in 90 minutes. That’s probably just shy of my goal: 2000 words in three hours writing. I don’t write that fast or that long yet but that’s okay for now.

I want to talk about the myriad details that went into creating the story, all the cosmic gears that fell into place to drive the writing but without the actual story in front of you I’m sure it would be very boring. And since only the first draft is complete I’m not ready to ‘open the door’ so to speak.

I will say a couple of things on it though. The working title is “White Mist. Red Evening” (sounds like chengyu, those four character Chinese idioms. I wonder how it translates in Chinese). The plot was inspired by a dream fragment, a visual that defied the odds and stuck with me upon waking. It happened to also come with (or was that later?) a single word in English, “banaca” (don’t ask me, I have no idea why). Combine with some Magic and running it through the old Japanese translatorfier and I had the basics of my story.

The characters actually came earlier, out of one of my sewing projects, but they were just minor characters waiting patiently in the green room of my mind.

The final piece came when I was sitting in the library. I was working with Candy Wars, my first story that I’ve mentioned before. King says that you have to keep riding the wave of enthusiasm when you are writing a story. You need to keep momentum otherwise the characters grow stale and you’ll lose the passion. I was doing that for Candy Wars but I hit a wall which will require a bit of ground work on my part.

So I was sitting on a couch stuck for inspiration. I sat there and let my mind drift, almost nodding off at times, for an hour and a half. I had been watching the people come in and if you’ve ever been to Customs House library you’ll see that all the newcomers do the same thing and that is they take touristy photos of themselves standing over the model of Sydney set into the floor.

I’m not sure how or what but something clicked and I had my setting. There was even a guy sitting next to me on the couch dropping f-bombs every second word over the phone. He made it into the story too.

I did worry that I was not following King’s advice to stick with the first story. Of course having started the second one, should I then halt its momentum and slog away at the first one? In this case I think the answer was clear and it worked out but I can see it could be a nasty dilemma in the future.

The story seemed to flow from scene to scene as the ink flowed from pen to paper. One funny thing did occur while I was writing. I ran out of pages in my notebook which was a first for me as a writer. Then the ink ran out of my pen. These are good things to happen to a writer (so long as you have more of them).

Another piece of advice from On Writing is that once you finish the first draft you should put it away for six weeks or sufficient time to come at it with fresh eyes when it’s time for the second draft. So I’m going to put my baby into the incubator for a couple of weeks at least. Sleep tight.


The Valencia Incident

Last night the police contacted my parents about an accident involving my brother’s car. Thankfully for us they had made a mistake in the number plates of the car involved and my brother is safe. Following this scare I am sharing this account of my own brush with death. I’ve wanted to pen it since reading Stephen King’s account of his own life-threatening incident where he was struck by a van and was severely injured. Thankfully he survived. I got lucky too.

My account may not be completely accurate. Memory is not so reliable and hell, I got hit by a car. Besides, I’m a writer. I’ve a creative license and I like to use it.

The Valencia Incident

Spain 2009. My friends and I are holidaying and that morning we had taken part in La Tomatina, the famed tomato fight that takes over the Spanish town of Bunol. After heading back to our hostel in Valencia and cleaning the tomato juice from our ears we headed out to a club for our final night on tour. The previous night was the Water and Wine Festival in Requena and I had imbibed copious amounts of the latter libation. It was a wild night and suffice to say I nursed a terrible hangover the next day which meant I was not touching alcohol this night out at the club.

A quick aside. If you want a hangover fix, try a tomato fight amongst thousands of people crammed into a single street. Maybe it doesn’t have to be tomato. Oranges perhaps? The adrenaline will brush aside any of the lingering symptoms of hangover. But wear expendable clothes.

I was tired and bored at the club, so me, Smack and his fiancée, Queen decided to take a taxi home. As we crossed the street outside the club a car came around the corner. It was a pedestrian crossing so I assumed we were safe. Assuming that others are following the same rules as you is a great way to get yourself in trouble. But of course that’s what society is so what can you do?

We saw that the car was not slowing down despite our incredulity so we hustled to get off the road. I remember reaching the safety of the curb (another silly assumption) and thinking to myself Alright. We made it.

How wrong I was. All I remember is the sensation of something pressing into the back of my leg. My foot seemed stuck to the ground and so I toppled forward.

The next thing I remember is the gurney being raised and then I was in the back of an ambulance. At some point someone tested my reflexes by running something along the base of my foot but that might have happened on the ground. At this point I was lucid enough to text message Smack, GET IN HERE RIGHT NOW. I was scared by the unknown and wanted the support of my best mate.

I’m told that the car was being driven by a drunk driver. It had mounted the kerb and struck me; I had hit my head on the ground and was lying in a pool of blood. I was unconscious and having a fit for a couple of minutes, my breathing slow and shallow. Smack thought I was going to die. Then I relaxed and my breathing strengthening.

One more metre per second, one more metre or maybe just a foot and maybe I wouldn’t be here right now to type this. It was a close thing. There is a world of difference between life and death but the line dividing them is a thin one indeed.

Queen had rushed back to the club to get help and my other friends had soon rushed out. My good friend BFG had stripped out of his new Zara shirt to wrap it around my head to staunch the bleeding. Thanks BFG!

I was taken to hospital where I remember my black CK jeans being removed, shorn right up the length of the legs. You know that old piece of advice from someone’s mother. Always put on clean underwear when you leave the house because you never know when you’re going to be struck by a bus. Well it turns out it is good advice. I distinctly remember being pleased to get compliments from the nurses on my blue satin boxer shorts with red love hearts all over them.

Only one of the nurses spoke English and in a mad world of the unfamiliar I grabbed on to her like a lifeline. She translated the doctor’s words for me. I remember her telling me that they were going to have to insert a not-so-thin probe into somewhere thin and not-so-used-to-entry-of-foreign-objects. They said that it was not going to be comfortable. Scared, I asked them if it was going to hurt. It did. But apparently whatever reflex they were testing for was still working and to this day I’m thankful for that.

I remember having my head shaved so that they could stitch my scalp together. I think I remember the eight staples going in.

During the night I complained to the nurses who didn’t speak English. Somehow I dredged up my limited Spanish. Frio. Frio. I tried to convey that I was cold or hot or that my head hurt. The compression bandage that was probably keeping my brain from swelling was uncomfortably tight. The nurses did their best and what felt like hours later I think I got some relief in the form of drugs.

I was told that a head specialist was going to come in and run some CT scans on me. I don’t remember much of the scans themselves; a shame, but I in high school I’d done work experience in a radiology clinic so nothing too new there. The wait for the scans and then the doctor’s opinion of them seemed interminable. In fact there’s not much worse than lying in bed not able to sleep when you yearn for nothing more than the oblivion of sleep. It’s the same whenever I have that afternoon coffee.

The news was all good and I was released the next day. Most of my friends had flown on to Ibiza but I went to stay with Smack and Queen. I gave my thanks and said my goodbyes. I even got a photo with my guardian angel though I’ve shamefully forgotten her name.

When I was released from the hospital I had only the clothes I’d come in with so I tried to pin my jeans back together. They didn’t hold together too well and I ended up walking in jeans with incredibly high slits in them, much like an incredibly risqué dress. The fashion hasn’t seemed to have taken hold in Valencia. My white shirt was blood stained and I must have looked to the locals like I’d been in a fight for my life. Well I do like to attract attention when I walk down the street. The blood stains washed out and I still have the white shirt I was wearing that night. Not so my love heart boxers unfortunately.

Ignoring common sense I was desperate to continue my holiday (don’t let getting hit by a car stop you). The next stop was a week of partying in Ibiza. I couldn’t fly for concern over blood clots in my head so I booked a ferry to rejoin my friends. Dancing in clubs with a bandage around the head makes for an interesting spectacle. Many took it to be part of my costume. I had a great time singing and dancing with friends in Ibiza and don’t regret making that decision, immature though it may seem. Even as I write this I’m listening to and watching Big Bang and 2NE1 video clips and I just want to get up and sing and dance. There’s an energy in it; it’s food for the soul and that’s something I hope never to lose as I get older.

To this day I’m not especially careful about crossing roads. I was right back on the horse so to speak. I am more aware that you need to look after No. 1 but it’s impossible to live without making some assumptions about society operating according to certain rules. Down that path lies paranoia. We walk the street taking for granted that we don’t have to be on the constant lookout for rogue cars. And for the most part it works. Truly there is no avoiding some of the things life throws our way. You just have to deal with it. Hopefully we are prepared.

A Hole to Work In

There are a couple of rules for writers that most people could guess at. One should write every day. Secondly, you should have a place to write that is free from distractions. Well these are not really rules but they are truly great pieces of advice, especially for fledgling writers such as myself. I’m talking about the second rule today but it is related to the first anyway. If you’re going write everyday then it helps if your writing place is easily accessible.

In his most excellent book On Writing, Stephen King prescribes a writing environment free from distractions. No phone, no copies of the latest novel you’re reading, no internet, no blogging and definitely no Facebook. In fact since I’m currently using good old pen and paper for a first draft I can probably do away with the whole computer. A prison cell in other words. If your cell has a window it had better look onto a brick wall or empty car park.

I must say that I agree with the above in theory; I just haven’t gotten around to installing a prison cell or buying an office for writing. Instead I usually write lying on the carpet of my lounge room or at the kitchen table when I’m in house. Other places I’ve written are in a secluded park (like a secret garden) under the train lines between Milsons Point and North Sydney, on the couches of various shopping centres, in libraries too (Steve actually says park benches and library carrels should be last resorts).

Recently I’ve been most productive when I take my notebook and pen to the Westfield shopping centre and choose a café I haven’t tried. I like to people-watch over a coffee and although there are lots of people and noise all around I find that once I start writing these are quite easy to tune out. I don’t bring the latest novel. I don’t have the internet to tempt me.  I order an espresso (which obviously doesn’t last very long) and get down to business. The Westfield is only a short walk from my home though rain still proves to be a deterrent for getting to my writing place.

Provided it’s not too busy the café staff will let you sit there for hours having only ordered one coffee. The only problem with this is that if I have the coffee late in the afternoon, say 4pm, I have trouble getting to sleep that night. But that’s a probably a good thing as it pushes me to do my writing earlier in the day. Steve gets his 2000 word quota written in the morning and then has the rest of the day to do other things which seems like a good goal.

The beauty of writing is that you can do it almost anywhere so really all it takes to write consistently is discipline (maybe I’ll write about this when I have some). But café writing combines some fun activities and while I haven’t found my Elephant House yet (none of the cafes in my area have the right vibe), cafes as a group have been where I’ve gotten some good writing sessions in.