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Travelling with your laptop

Jetting off to visit friends – hopefully, friends with a spare room, if not, at least a comfortable sofa bed – is one of the highlights of being freelance… and being a writer. I’m all about getting to the airport early, clearing security with more than an hour to spare, staking out a good bar table with a power source and settling in to do some serious, distraction-free work. But after a few delays, and one too many strong coffees, working on your laptop starts to take its strain.

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Oh no – not you again!

If it were only typing, it might not be too bad, but these days, writing means finding images, resizing, editing and moving stuff around. It means formatting, more formatting, and even more formatting and I’m doing the two-finger-dance on a touchpad the size of a packet of Camel Wides… Not that I smoke Camel Wides anymore (does anyone? Do they even still make them?).

Do I have Carpel Tunnel Syndrome?
I recently did a 3-hour delay in Stuttgart (lovely airport, btw) and I’m not joking, by the time they called the gate I was relieved. My hands had started to take on a kind of clawed raven look and the thought crossed my mind, “have I just given myself repetitive strain injury from trying to re-size an image for Twitter?”

In case you’re wondering, the general symptoms are; tenderness or pain in the wrist, with a throbbing or pulsating sensation, tingling and a loss of sensation.
Yeah, I looked it up.

But even if you don’t have CTS, which I don’t and didn’t, there are exercises you can do to relieve soreness in your hands from spending too much time clicking. I checked them out too. They do help somewhat but they’re not the kind of exercises you’d want to do in public.

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One involves pulling your index finger backward, which might make your seat neighbor think you’re about to flick a bogey at him.

The next one is a fist… I probably don’t need to explain why that’s bad. And finally, there’s the one where you hold your hand up in the air and rotate all the fingers in tiny circles individually.

Yeah, I accidentally ordered a beer that way, so not all bad.

But seriously, none of these really did anything to help my poor right hand, which by the time I landed had swelled up with cabin pressure and water retention until it looked like a novelty Incredible Hulk hand. I got into Heathrow and headed to the city, but despite the 20-minute train ride, was in no mood to open my laptop. That’s okay, I’m not so obsessive that I need to write on short train rides, but I was planning to do some writing over the weekend. There’s only so much coffee, sushi, and pedicures you can handle in 48 hours and fortunately, the person I was visiting is a late sleeper and knowing this, I planned on getting a couple of hours in before she even woke up.

But the next morning, before she rose, I spent most of my time searching out options to alleviate hand pain. Those in the know, architects, designers, and gamers, it would seem, are all about the ergonomic mouse (is the plural of mouse still mice in this context?). Anyway, after a few minutes research, I was ready to buy one, but after a few more minutes research, I realized, I had no idea where to start in this new field. Because it’s harvest time here, and the mice or mouses are all over the place. Seriously, they have categories and sub-categories; medical mouse, productivity mouse, productivity-gaming mouse. That second one sounds like a superhero. But seriously, you do need to do a little ergonomic mouse research before you decide on one.mice_21

Anyway, I’ve discovered, I’m an ergonomic productivity mouse kind of girl and without naming any names, it’s got Bluetooth and it’s wireless and it’s only just occurred to me, that it doesn’t look like a mouse at all. Right. Without the tail attaching it to my laptop, it doesn’t look anything like a mouse.

But thanks to overnight delivery, I had my new pet ready for the trip home and as it turned out, a relatively delay-free hour in the airport bar. So I got it out and a sat there with my right hand comfortably positioned at around 45 degrees to my side, with a firm but loose grip and relaxed shoulders and wrist muscles and I must say I really noticed the difference.

One thing I must mention. When they call your gate and you jump up. Do remember the thing isn’t attached.

Thank you, nice Grannie, from Texas or thereabouts for pointing out that I had forgotten my “compact”. Much appreciated.

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Hulk signing out…

Pretty Nick Worthy (Clickbait)

Hey you there! Yeah, you, reading the Internet! Look over here! I know you want to read the news or check out the crazy antics of America’s cats, but you’ll have to wait for a moment while I draw you into my website with headlines about items I know you’re interested in reading about. It’s […]

via Did cavemen create the original clickbait? And is it the secret to staying healthy? — nickclaussen.com

Here is my interview with Lissa Pelzer

Thanks for the interview Fiona!

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Name Lissa Pelzer

Age  A lady never tells

Where are you from

The UK originally, but I’ve lived in the US, France, Japan and Denmark. I’m currently living in Germany


Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?

I first thought seriously about a career in writing during university. I was mesmerized by Patricia Highsmith novels and idolized her work and her lifestyle.


Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I go in and out of phases of considering myself a writer. Once I had a job as a content writer, churning out 3000 words a day for a salary, then I felt like a writer!


Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?

Patricia Highsmith’s Talented Mr Ripley. I desperately wanted to create a character than aspirational.


Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?

I try for an economic, plot driven style, but know that…

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Top 5 Writing Tips from Patricia Highsmith

I luuuuuve me a little bit of Highsmith… The prose is so economic but oh so gripping. She creates truly hateful characters, in whom we recognise people we also may have held deep, 182782032dark dislikes for, people we may have fantasised about ‘doing away with.’ For some, reading Highsmith is a kind of therapy, but for others it’s a master class in how to create teeth grinding tension with a satisfying conclusion. I’ve learnt a lot about writing just from reading Highsmith, but my favourite 5 of these….

1.”The Germ”

Highsmith described the origin of her stories coming to her as a “germ of an idea”… that she would have some tiny small piece of inspiration and then have to grow it out until the story followed. This is an excellent way of seeing the beauty in a good book. All too often  popular books are created instead of written, and seemingly through an arrangement of ticked boxes. Hook – Push off – Tension – Relief. The self-help writing books also endorse this formulaic method, so it’s no wonder, so many books seem to be lacking the fundamental element of a burning idea.

UnknownLooking out down on to the beach at Positano at 6 am one morning, Highsmith saw a young man with a towel over his shoulder walking alone on the sand.

This was the germ for The Talented Mr Ripley. A single soul walking along a deserted beach at day break. Where had he been and what had he done?  Where was he going and to do what? My mind reels at the thought of the process that she would have gone through to ultimately arrive at Tom Ripley. Was he an American? He’d have to be – she was still a young writer and hadn’t started imaging foreign heroes. How did he get there? Was he wealthy – no that’s dull. How did he feel? How did she feel in this town of judging glances, where if you say you write you are compared instantly to Positano’s other onetime residents Hemingway and Steinbeck? She put her thoughts and feelings into this vessel and grew the oak tree that became TTMR.

I’m a big fan of this germ-theory 😉 When you get a twinkle in your head, you can turn it over and over for years before suddenly it becomes what it became.

2. Ignore the rest of the world…if in doubt throw you typewriter out of the window

When Howard Ingram goes toTunisiato write a script in the ‘Tremor of Forgery’, things start going down back in the USA. A friend commits suicide and his girlfriend is probably having an affair. But Howard doesn’t get on a plane to dive right into what could have been 2949a different plot. He stays put. He starts working on a novel and as he waits for a letter from the girlfriend to explain what’s going on, he sorts out his plot and accidentally, possibly kills a man with a typewriter. Luckily this gives him lots of opportunity to explore feelings of guilt. In this example, I see the power of not following the expected plot line but rather fighting against it, letting it build and build until your protagonist is ready to tackle it. Because if we all dealt with our issues right away, we wouldn’t have any.

3. Write about what you know and if you find something you want to write about and have never done it…Do it.

In the Suspension of Mercy, Sydney Bartleby actually makes the lady next door suspect him as murderer to harness the feeling of being a suspect. He buries an old carpet, he acts dodgy as hell. The old dear ends up keeling over out of terror and pretty soon the cops really do think he’s killed someone. This fake body burying thing always struck me as something Highsmith actually did. Because she doesn’t skimp on the details, just as anyone who’s ever carried a drunk friend out to a taxi or tried to move a wardrobe knows, they are heavier than they look and the pure strain and fear of having either one halfway up the stairs and wobbling is enough to lead to blind panic.

I like to imagine Highsmith is heavy boots and a thick jumper, pacing around Montmachoux, pulling on a rolled cigarette, looking into damp wooded lots and “setting her jaw” as she would say, trying to work out if you could stash a body in there. I wrote a passage a few years back about someone fighting and being killed as he slipped down a set of icy  concrete steps in Stuttgart, Germany. The scene is set in a real place, the steps rise up between pre-war apartment building and cross two roads as a short cut. I saw them everyday from the bus I took to work and I kept telling myself, I have to get off the bus and stand at the top of those steps next winter to see if it looks as scary as I think it is. I was so thrilled when I was invited to a Christmas party shortly after and realized as I followed the map that I was at the top of the steps. I almost turned around and went straight home.

4. “You don’t write a book with your little finger.” -You’ve got to commit.

This is a straight dig from Tom Ripley about Marge Sherwood’s writing schedule. When Tom asks Dickie where Marge is, he tells him she is having a good day with the book and suggests that she is on a roll with her work. In the same breath he remarks that she might come along to the beach after lunch. PathighWe all know this type of writer, faffy types (as my mother would say) who seem to spend more time at Nanowrimo socials than at home in front of the computer and we snigger with satisfaction when Tom makes this remark. However, we are all guilty of occasionally being this type of writer, so it cuts both ways. It says, I know what is needed of me to be satisfied with my writing efforts and I am still not doing it, not always. This is a very important lesson from Highsmith and one which I hear in my head whenever I switch off the computer to read an episode of The Killing (I haven’t quite mastered Danish yet

5. Move on.

In Plotting and Writing Suspense, Highsmith shares with the reader her failings and talks about the stories that never got published. While trying to put the idea out of my head that I should immediately rush off to the archives in Switzerland (kidnapped publisher in tow) and demand to see these silenced masterpieces, I am reminded that if Highsmith was able to shelve her failures definitely I should be able to do so too. I spent 7 years on and off trying to write one particular novel that contained my own alter-ego. He became so diluted by all the experiences I imagined for him that he was almost translucent at the end. I recently had some boxes sent over from the UK and found reams of pages of the same-same but different chapters. Literally years of work… for nothing. However, my first impulse was to write it again…. properly this time!

Highsmith would give herself 20 opportunities to publish a story and after the 20th rejection she would take “a few days” and then start fresh. With this in mind, I resealed the box and put it back in the wardrobe to try to forget about it. Of course I failed and spend 10 whole days over the Christmas break,  rewriting it, 14 hours a days, for no reason. After all – just because I’ve learnt the knowledge from the master, doesn’t mean I mastered it myself.

This is what real crime tastes like

Book Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

In this ambitious imagining of the Lizzie Borden case of 1892, Sarah Schmidt fleshes out the conclusion, which was always assumed, but never proven. The case was a national obsession, when a 30 year old live-at-home daughter from a nice town in Massachusetts axed down her father and step-mother, because famously, the jury decided, a woman was not capable of such a crime.

UnknownLooking back at the story from a true crime angle, there was very little for Schmidt to build on. Facts like Lizzie owning pigeons, burning her dress, her considering purchasing Prussic Acid the day before etc. are oft repeated in the Lizzie Borden files but there’s only so much you can do with these bones without creating melodrama. So it was a pleasure to read Schmidt’s take on the emotional and mental state of the presumed killer.

In a Venn diagram of the Lizzie Borden of this book and the real Borden, the circles are probably a good mile apart. The Lizzie we find here is a bouncy woman-child, manipulative and psychopathic and doesn’t ‘look’ much like the black and white photos of the frizzy haired Borden. I always imagined Borden as a cold and calculating killer, someone at the end of her tether, who had just enough distance from herself to hope she wouldn’t be suspected. This is Borden re-loaded, licking droplets of blood off her hand like a cat, laughing hysterically within sight of her murdered step-mother and without much mention of the trial, getting away with it.

As a psychological thriller, it certainly delivers. Schmidt makes Lizzie easy to hate and despise while we root for her sister and the maid throughout. The story is really well built up to include possible motivations for murder from both the maid and a hit-man, but of course, the reader never entertains these as prospects unless we consider that Schmidt intends to derail the story. Of course, Schmidt doesn’t need to tell us, Lizzie did it, but she did need to land the story and she does this well and as stylishly as would be possible. However, because a few ‘red herring’ threads were started to build the story, it would have been nice to have seen these land satisfactorily too. I was a wee-bit miffed that Bridget didn’t get her tin back or than the story ended before the hit man gets into Lizzie’s new house.

One word of advice, don’t let the awkward first few pages distract you. I didn’t know if the maid was meant to be Italian, Caribbean or what when I first started reading and I assumed she was around 60 and that Lizzie was meant to be 14 (for some reason). I did nearly close the book but I’m so glad I didn’t. The maid is 26 and Irish. Lizzie is her real age of 30. JSYK.

This is well-written, meaty, authentic feeling, page-turner of a book and I lost a few hours to it when I should have been sleeping. I imagine, if you knew nothing about Lizzie Borden, then this book would be an even better read. But either way it is a good one.

 

Manly Stories Mainly for Men: Rivers of Gold and The Graybar Hotel

Two interesting looking books popped up on my Kindle this week: Rivers of Gold by Adam Dunn and The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins. Both sounded gritty and noir-ish for different reasons, so I was pleased to give them a go. After finishing, I had a strange feeling, kind of like waking up after being hit by a plank of wood to find a credit card receipt for 20 shots of premium tequila in my pocket.

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I guess you could say that’s my masculine side coming out. I felt like a man – a manly man. Because, these books are just that – totally – manly.

32620303The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins
First up, this is a collection of short stories written by a current inmate serving life without parole for a murder during a ‘botched’ house robbery. The first thing you notice in this collection is how well it’s written. This isn’t a teenager writing fan fiction, this is someone who knows their craft, and I suppose he should as he has an MFA from Western Michigan University. This book isn’t actually out yet and the publishers have asked that no quotes be shared, but I’ll just say this, the authority of the stories just melts off the pages.

The setting is mostly Kalamazoo Prison, Michigan and the narrator seems to be often the same person interspersed with an Arthur or a George as he tells us their stories too. He takes us through a wide range of experiences from Processing to spending time in Quarantine before being sent to a prison, to the prison itself. It feels dramatically realistic, but there’s also a smattering of the supernatural too.

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Where this book really shines is in the glimpses of insights into how an obviously intelligent and educated man mitigates the monotony of life in prison. Early on, ‘I’ tells us he isn’t normally a sociable person, talking for no reason, but in jail, you have to be, as there’s nothing else to do. And I think many of us could imagine this of ourselves (imagine it and shudder). So in order to reconnect with the outside world, he calls random numbers collect (he doesn’t have any personal contacts he can call) in the hope that someone on the other end will talk to him for 15 minutes, or at least let him listen to the traffic noise outside their house or the background TV and this as an idea is mesmerizing. In a nutshell, this book is mesmerizing, like been taken for an experience which I hope I’ll never encounter, but for which I’m grateful for the advice. It reads partly like a diary, partly like a philosophy.

However, a couple of factors got in the way of absolute pleasure. First off, there’s the issue of the author. If you want to learn more about him, check out Bullmenfiction.

The phrase, “I shot a man dead who had no business being shot” shows up here and this reeks of a lack of genuine remorse. If I went to someone’s house and shot them without any reason, I hope I could muster up a little more emotion than that, but hey. The other issue is the short story format. I wish to high heaven, this were a novel, but alas, I’m guessing Mr, Curtis doesn’t have his own personal MacBookPro in his cell with all his research and files neatly organized in coloured folders. And you know what they say, if you don’t want short stories, don’t read them. It’s a free world – for some of us.

Rivers of Gold by Adam Dunn

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Okay, hold on tight. NYC 2013. Man in a taxi thinking about money and sex. My first impression of Renny was that he was a fat, boring version of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho travelling through an NYC that seemed recognizable to me. But wait, it’s meant to be a dystopian future version of NYC after some huge financial crash and an over running of drugs… It’s always tough when fiction falls short of reality.

Now there is a storyline and once you get into it, it is good but it’s hard to get past the layers of (to a woman) boring man-stuff. There’s a fashion in women-centric novels at the moment for including the recipes of the foods the characters eat, and in Rivers of Gold, there is so much talk of cocktails that I felt it was just the same need being fulfilled but differently. The sex talk is grim and sounds like it’s coming out of a middle aged, over fed man who is partial to botox, as in ‘no thanks, I’m late for a spin class’. But I can imagine plenty of guys really love those scene. Plus Renny gives girls head, so that make him a modern-thinking man, right?

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But enough of the man bashing, because Rivers of Gold is a good book. Dunn has some great ideas and thoughts, which translate well on paper as the thoughts and ideas of his characters. He can also write well and in this age of self-publishing, that has to be recognized.

Naturally, this book, both these books, are populated with men and deal with how men think. The women are superficial, attractive or sexual characters or remarkable because they’re not attractive or sexual. I read and enjoyed both books on a surface level, but felt a little out of touch with the context and emotions.

Maybe this is just how guys feel if they read an Alice Walker/Munro collection. To each their own. Thank God we don’t all like the same stuff!