Map Your Plot

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Desk at my PhD office… it doesn’t seem to messy just because you cannot actually see the desk!

No matter what they tell us about time being a esphere instead of a line or not existing (see video below). Time matters when you are writing a story, specially if you want to make sure you are telling something that makes sense at the same time it holds the audience’s attention.

 

As a writer, I like to ‘vomit’ my first draft on the white page and then, when it’s all there, I can have something finished to work with. This reassures me into believeing this will turn into a finished piece of fiction. I see myself as a sculptor, carving out the parts I don’t need from a stone instead of creating something new and almost perfect from scratch.

Of course, having a monstrous first draft has also its challenges. I’m in the editing process of a whole novella now, and I almost dreaded to look at those thirty seven pages full of grammar mistakes and plot inconsistencies. I found that mapping the plot in terms of time (scenes first, and then what happens after what) helped a lot to decide what the hell I want to talk about with this book.

How do I map?

1. Divide Plot Into Scenes

This is easy, because this year I decided to write 500 words every day. The result? My novella is full of 500 words vignettes that are in itself scenes with a beginning and an end. I write novellas, so having almost independant vignettes (even if they all have their specific place in the general plot line) allowed me to cover a great deal in a short space (I’ve a maximum of 20,000 words). The good and bad thing about novellas? You’ve to get to the point quickly.

2. Character Building or Plot Advance?

I found that all the secenes I had could be divided in two main cathegories. Some of them were just character building, that is, they were focused in the inner feelings of a character and illustrated events from the daily life that, even if they might have appeared insignificant or ordinary, showed reasons for her or his behaviour.

On the other hand, some scenes were mostly action and ‘oooh moments’. These implied twists in the plot that affected all the characters in general.

I decided that the logical order would be to alternate these two cathegories with an increase of plot advance towards the end (I wanted it to feel climatic). As in life, not all can be exciting and fast, the reader also needs a time to breath, recover and think. This helps her to feel closer to the characters and their motivations.

3. Put It Where You See It

Nothing blocks me more than knowing I have to edit.. without knowing at what point of the story I am and (most importantly) if I’m advancing in the correct direction. The first draft is all about experimenting and getting lost on purpose (like when you visit a new city and you feel fascinated by it). But editing is more like being in a foreign city to attend a very important appointment. You want a map, you want to know where you’re going, get there and not being late. Having my plot arranged in scenes and in chronological order in front of my desk helps me feel more confident.

4. Don’t Hammer Them.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to be very rigid when you’re creating, because you never know when you’re going to have to next great idea. That is why I always fix my scenes to the wall using bluetack (instead of hammering them, basically). So I can always add new scenes or change their order at any point if I feel this will benefit the story. Knowing I can have this flexibility also makes me confident.

I know that a lot have been said about writers that like to plan until the last detail before the writing itself or others that prefer creating as they write. Personally, I like planning but also the freedom of knowing I can ‘mess up’ with my story whenever I feel like to. In the end, there is nothing more liberating that writing as if you were a child building a sand castle. You enjoy the process without being worried about the outcome. Who knows!

Also, I shall confess that I decided to start organising scenes on the wall after seeing the film Trumbo, where the protagonist is a script writer who creates Frankestein drafts  (that is, cutting here and there to join different parts. There was something in the physicality of the process (being able to rearrange your plot with your hands) that attracted me.

And talking about the film, it has a memorable scene about the difficulties of deciding the title of your own piece (something I feel very related to, because my titles are generally rubish).

 

Do you map your plot? Do you like having your notes in front of your desk when you’re writing?

 

 

 

 

Murdering Your Words AKA Editing

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A curious cow that wonders why I’m inside my office editing instead of enjoying the Lancastrian sunshine…

There is nothing beautiful or clean about the editing process – at least, not in my case. It’s a messy, frustrating and extenuating duty. But, at the end of the long day (or night) of fighting against your draft you know you’re turning that monster into a pretty piece of decent art, and that is what matters (that, and keeping your sanity in place, of course).

I used to hate editing so much when I wrote in Spanish. It just made me angry. I was very enthusiastic when writing my first draft  but then, coming back to it and realising that some parts were… well, just shit, that was not nice. So I basically went through editing because I had to, but it was a very draining process that I kept postponing as much as I could.

Now, hen I write in English, I cannot allow myself such luxury. I’m editing from day one, because I know my language can be quite obscure so I do need to revise one thousand times each paragraph to make sure it makes sense and it says what I want it to say. Paradoxically, I find editing in English much more entertaining than in Spanish. I see it as if I was carving stone and turning the ugly, shapeless rock in some unique statue.

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I imagine myself carving things such as this…

However, as I said, editing islike murdering your dear words, and there are a few things I always do to make sure the process is completed despite of my artistic vanity.

1. Read Aloud

Come on. Who doesn’t like the sound of her or his own voice? I love reading to myself (when I’m alone, I have to say, if I’m reading in front of an audience I get a bit self-conscious about my accent or my speed). Reading what I just wrote help me to change things because they simply sound better one way than the other. It also allows me to avoid cacophony and take out from the dialogues what is not essential.

2. Let It Breathe

Ideally, I’d let a text breathe for at least 24 hours before coming back to it to do the editing. This allows me to distance myself from the page so I start seeing the obvious mistakes (such as grammar or discordances). Also, the more time you can allow a text breathe, the better. Sometimes I write something I feel very unsatisfied with (I want to burn the pages and flush the ash down the toilet). However, experience tells me that if I come back to that same text six months afterwards, I’ll find many valuable passages that can be rescued. So, I’d say, never delete something. Keep everything (even what seems truly worthless) because in time you can still recycle some metaphor, some line of dialogue…

3. Bring Your Beta Reader In

Sometimes you feel stuck in the editing process. You know there’s loads of work to be done, yet you’ve become blind in front of your text and start thinking you’d rather let twenty Cumbrian spiders do races all over your body than keep editing that part of your work. Well… this is when your fantastic, awesome beta reader can be there for you and have a good read of the troublesome extract. Her or his perspective will help you narrow down your editing and identify what is not working and what actually does work (horray!)

4. Start at the End of the Page

This might be just my strange thing, but when I’m editing the same few pages on and on I get a bit (too) tired of them. Something that helps me spice up the task a bit is to start reading from the last paragraph to the first. By altering the order the text becomes slightly different and I’m more alert.

5. Choose Your Bright Period

I’m more awake  in the morning, so that’s the moment of the day when I’m more prepared (and motivated) to do the heavy editing. It’s important to do the editing with a clear mind so you can localise the mistakes quickly instead of feeling frustrated because the process is dragging on and on and it seems to never end.

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This is me after a productive day of editing…

6. Print It

This is so essential if you (as many of us do, for practical reasons) work on a computer. People may say what they want, but I see things differently when I can read them on paper (and not on the screen). Also, it makes more sense to me to grab a red pen and start crossing out sections, pointing arrows at things, doing mini comments… Also, I read somewhere that some writer said that editing on a physical page is good because the margins have reduced space. It’s not like on the computer, where you can delete and change endlessly. So you have to prioritise the areas where the bigger problems are. And also, helps you to keep focused.

7. This Won’t Be Your Last Work!

Well, hopefully not, right? Unless you’re a genius writer of a single, awesome book (like Harper Lee and her To Kill A Mockingbird, although she did write a sequel in the end) one work in your career is yet another step in a huge, steep stair… I like to think I improve with every story I wrote, so even if the one I’m working on will be better than the last, it won’t be better than the next. I think it’s important to think this not to fail in the perfectionist’s trap. No book or short story I ever wrote felt completely finished. Never. I could always go back and change this adjective, modify that scene, even add new features to a particular character… but instead of that I chose to let that story go to let other new ones come in return. It’s a pact you have to do with yourself. The end of your love story with a particular piece can occur when the professional editing is process is over and the work is published… or when the deadline for that contest or module is done. There is always an external event that marks this, and I think it’s okay to leave our pieces to approach new ones. Yes, sure, they could be improved… but remember you acquire new skills by trying new things!

Or, you can do as the Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez and dedicate half of your life to write and the other half to edit what you’ve written… it’s a very personal choice!

I won’t lie. I don’t love the editing process, but  it is the scary forest I have to cross to bring  to the other end of the writing journey. So I’m sort of accepting that is an important (and sometimes enjoyable) part of being a writer.

And how about you? Do you have any tips to share? If you write in a second language, do you find easier the editing process, as I do?

Emptiness

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What’s better to fulfill the heart that a beautiful sunset?

Lancaster gives us sometimes a glorious sunny day in which you feel you want to celebrate, no matter what. And so I did.

I went out and walked under the sun and the nature, letting them nurture me. I’ve been feeling so disconnected and sad lately, but still sunsets make me feel blessed to live here, so I feel grateful for that.

I was going out with two people I know, both of them from completely different backgrounds and situations. We were talking and suddenly both of them started talking about the same things that have been worring me for so many months now.

Emptiness.

Disconnection.

How can this be possible? I thought the fact of not having enough money for living on my own in a foreign country was causing me all this distress. But perhaps it’s something else, if these people who -in many aspects- are in a position that I wished for myslef, keep feeling the same.

I read Pure recently. Andrew Miller is one of my favourite authors. His novel Ingenious Pain was a great inspiration to my writing (in fact, it almost convinced me I didn’t need to write my Gothic Horror novella when he had already touched many of the themes I wanted to address and in a better way!)

Pure tells the story of a young engineer in 18th century France  who goes to Paris to make his fortune. (Like me, going to Lancaster, which is less fashionable but yet…) Once there he’s called in Versailles (no less!) to recieve a very special task… They want him to empty the cementery of Les Innocents, a place in the middle of the town were people had been ‘throwing’ bodies for centuries.

Digging out so much death, carcasses, bones and misery is quiet traumatic. Not talking abot ghosts superstitions and so on.

But sometimes, I guess you have to dig out ‘all your deads’ to breathe pure air again.

Another thing that has been inspiring me lately has been Brené Brown interview in Being Boss. I know I’m always talking about this podcast, but it’s been my running companion since January and I have to say it’s saving my life in these days. It brings me what I need: a boost of inspiration that fills my emptiness.

I loved when she spoke about the Hero’s Journey (the monomyth, Joseph Campbell) and the fact that nobody can skip that dark second act in the journey. To advance, we must go directly to the bottom, where all the shit gathers, and that it is. (Pardon my French, as they say).

Have you read more books about emptiness and disconnection? Sometimes there is nothing that explore ‘the whole’ instead of pretending that is not there, and literature is a safe tool that also allows reflection…

I can think of some:

Sputnik My Love, by Haruki Murakami: A young aspiring writer (Sumire) looking for inspiration and fighting against her unrequited love for an older woman.

1984, by George Orwell. This book doesn’t need an introduction. It gave me a depression when I was just 14…

Persepolis, by Majarne Satrapi. About being an immigrant… the bright and dark sides.

Blindness, by José Saramago. A book everyone should read because it’s simply brilliant. Imagine a future in which everyone goes blind but just one woman? I could also be read as a metaphor of how disconnected we are from each other in this society.

Journey.  A videogame you should play when you’re feeling sad and disconnected, as it was precisely created to combat feelings like that. As a person who normally doesn’t like videogames (I’ve terrible coordination skills that are necessary in most of them) this one has been fascinating me for almost a year.

Can you think about more? Have you ever felt empty? How do you nurture your soul?

 

 

On Balancing Work + Art: Inspired by Allison Ranieri

Writing while you have a full-time or part time job that has nothing to do with it?

Well, I know about that! And so does the talented Allison Ranieri.

Recently I got PhD funding but because I’m studying in England without being English – how do I dare! – it doesn´t come with a monthly payment to help me eat and sleep in a sheltered place and things like that.

I must confess I was very annoyed by this – even when many would tell me I’m lucky enough because if I was not from the EU I could have never applied for this money in the first place!

I don´t understand these rules – I’m leaving my mother togue to write in English, are they not impressed by my sacrifice?

But then I wathed Allison Raineri’s YouTube series ‘A Week in the Life of an Illustrator (Working 9-5 Day Job) Challenge. And that was very inspiring and made me think about all the positive aspects that come from (trying to) balance a daily job and your true passion.

So let’s get started!

1. It brings experiences.

Experiences

Even Emily Dickinson – who was said not to leave her house in years – surely did many other things apart from writing such as taking care of the home, her siblings’ children, her elder parents, the garden and so on… Unless you’re St Kevin (and you decide to hide yourself in a little cave in Glendalough to meditate/write for years and years) you need to do other things in order to keep getting ideas for writing. In fact, I see the writing/artistic process as something that includes at least three parts:

  1. Compost. You need to go out there and get both shitty and wonderful experiences. Meeting new people, travelling, experiencing new things… but also suffering disgraces and all sort of scary events (like my Cumbrian spiders) open your mind to new worlds of ideas.
  2. The craft. Getting your hands directly into your creation.
  3. The response. Unless you’re St Kevin, your art will get out there and you’ll recieve a response. This will shape new projects and can be scary, drainning but also immensly inspiring.

 

2. Time becomes meaningful.

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If you have all day to write chances are that laziness and procratination are going to get in your way. The daily grind is something feared by many (I include myself). At the end of the day, combining writing with other activities you must do means that whenever you have that single hour to write you’re going to take the most of it (instead of checking out Facebook). I think that´s why people like Kathleen Jones – an amazing poet – managed to launch a great writing career even when she had to take care of four children and provide for them!

3. It Makes you more productive.

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You take every chance yo go out to research, to interview/ask someone who you admire, to try new productivity techniques… Whenever you’ve all time in front of you to spend is very easy to accomodate to the routine and think you’d do that great thing tomorrow. When it’s not the case, you’ll probably try to grasp the first opportunity you get – because it might be the last one!

4. We’re all humans.

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Last but not least: perfection doesn’t exist. Allison always starts her day in these videos doing a lot of to-do lists because she wants to get the most of her day. However, most of the times she struggles completing them. I could feel so related to it. It’s good to make plans to stay focused, but oh, life happens. And sometimes things just get crazy.

Being organised is fundamental to balance work and art, but what is even more important is to acknowledge from the very beginning that we’re all humans. We’re going to miss points in our to-do lists, we’re going to lack inspiration in the most important moments, we’re going to break down at some point in the way… And then, when that happens, it’s important to take a breath, rise and keep walking. Having the motivation clear helps us to advance the path, even if it’s tiny step after tiny step. But never stopping or leaving.

5. Get it all done and then enjoy!

Relax

Working, doing art, getting inspired… sometimes you might feel restless (I do, at least). So I also like to stop and do nothing for a while, because otherwise I know I’d just burn myself out (it has happened before). For instance, at least once or twice a week I like to take my evenings free and lazy around reading, playing games, meeting friends, watching movies… Something that I don’t need to take very seriously – because art is, at the end of the day, my most serious occupation, and that can feel a bit like a huge rucksack at my back.

I think that when we’re starting our artistic path is very easy to feel discouraged. We could see around us people already making a living of it and feel like it’s a question of pure luck (and we’re not the chosen ones) or that we’re not talented enough (as these people are). But the truth is, the ones who make it are the ones who are (above all) persistant. Everyone has stories of endurance and dark moments behind – a famous example is J K Rolwing, or you can also listen to this inspiring interview from the Being Boss podcast with the writer Tommy Walker – who at some point thought about living with his family in a tent in the woods.

What I love about Allison Raineri’s series (and all her videos in general) is how she manages to offer honest advice for people like her, who might not make a living just in illustration but are willing to try – and succeed! It’s a pleasure to see how talented and passionated she’s, and definitely I can translate her feelings and aspirations into my writing journey.

Thanks Allison, and thanks to you all for reading this post.

Anyone else out there balancing work and art? I’d love to hear your experiences. Let’s share tips!

 

You are not alone: Write in the language you want!

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Some people ask me why I write in English, when I know it’s going to be twice as difficult to have a writing career in a language that – I don’t have a problem to admit this – I’m still learning and ‘conquering’.

Well… There are many reasons and none at all, but summarising:

  1. I love travelling and I wanted to get out of my country (and English is a lingua franca).
  2. Publishing/getting a writing career in Spain was getting too complicated and depressing.

Truth is, sometimes I feel alone, as if I was a painter using some colours that just I can see – so for other people they are invisible, and artists have to live for their audience as well, so that’s a problem.

Thousands of times I’ve been told that my setences are awckward or that I’m not using grammar in the conventional way. Those are the moments when I feel that writing in another language has challenges I won´t ever overcome because I cannot see these kind of things unless someone (a native, usually) points them out for me.

But… I’m happy, because I’m not alone. When I was doing a Creative Writing MA I used to feel I was the only one struggling in this second tongue to tell stories, and it was pretty frustrating. Thank God, I met other people along the way who were in my same position and inspired me. I seem to be the only one who feels so apologetic (and even an impostor sometimes) because I write in a second language. Whenever I meet other ‘wandering writers’ they seem to be proud of choosing this path and – what is more – usually they maintain they feel more confident writing in English than in their mother togue, something that doesn’t happen to me (so far).

For those of you struggling (or enjoying) writing in English even if it’s not the first language you learned I wanted to bring a compilation of all the interviews we made so far in our radio programme to wandering writers from all over the world. There are tons of valuable advice… Enjoy!

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Yamuna Venugopal

She’s a very intense writer who always manages to reach your heart with her simple – yet powerful – prose. She was born in India but came to Lancaster to study Creative Writing. She was my writing pal there and taught me a lot of things about writing. People liked a lot the way she blended Indian English with her writing – in dialogues and descriptions – as well as words from different Indian languages. Reading her stories was like having a free plane ticket for one of the most fascinating countries in the world. I think from her I learned to bring things from my own culture into my writing.

 

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Leonor Macedo

She’s a Portuguese writer who likes fantasy and YA. She grew up reading English writers such as Neil Gaiman, so that´s why she finds natural to write her dystopian novel in this language. Also, she points out the publishing sector in Portugal is very small. If English is going to give you more chances to write and live doing what you love, go for it!

 

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Monica Guerrasio

What I loved about Monica it’s how easily she talked about writing in both languages, English and Italian (her mother tongue). Since I started writing in English (almost two years ago now) I had felt the need to surround myslef with English books, English cinema, English friends… you could almost say I’m afraid of Spanish as if it was going to ‘pollute’ my English! But sometimes I feel sad about it (hey, Spanish is also cool…) Monica made me think that perhaps switching between different languages just depending the country you’re in can be done. She was also very convinced about translating her own stuff from English to Italian and vice versa. Definitely, something that inspired me a lot, because I can stop seeing languages as ‘enemies’ and start using them in a more complementary way in my art, just as I (try to) do in this blog.

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Oscar Delgado Chinchilla.

Oscar was my other writing pal from the MA. What can I see? He’s an amazing Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Steam-punk writer. Check out his stuff there and you’ll get what I mean. He said that writing in English he felt he could be more honest. I also feel I approach writing in different ways depending on the language I write in. Perhaps in English I can be more distant from what I write so I can see the picture and its mechanics better so the final result it’s better (or I feel so). Oscar is also a model to follow because he’s a uni professor (my current goal) and he has this easy way to explain and transmit things in a way that is useful but honest, so you can trust each piece of advice he gives.

We are not alone! These four people really inspired me to continue this journey. They might be the next big name out there, but in any case I’d say that someone who’s so brave as to try writing in another language and sometimes travelling thousand of miles leaving families and friends behind just for the sake of a dream it’s pretty serious about it… Go you!

Have you ever tried to write in a second language? Can you be creative in English? Let’s share experiences!

 

 

 

Climbing mountains and writing

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This landscape is one of the reasons why I chose to live in Lancaster…

Last week I went to Grassmere to do hiking. Hiking and writing are two things that I equally love and feel scared of. There’s always something beautiful about seeing mountains from the distance and thinking: in two or three hours, I’m going to be at the top. It’s also beautiful to imagine yourself with your own book in your hands: somehow the idea has made its way through paper and words.

But, what happens in between?

1. The desire.

All books and walks start with that desire, curiosity, wanderlust. Your life woul be ten times easier if you just stuck to routine, or job, or the simple things like eating and sleeping. But somehow you’re not enterely satisfied. You need to do something crazy like climb a mountain and write a book. Why? It’s not about survival or  being reasonable or realistic. But, who cares? You want to. So that’s why you decide to start up the journey: going towards the mountain or opening a new document in our computer.

 

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2. The peak between the clouds.

You know this moment when you’re still down in the fields and you are surrounded by mountains and an endless sky? You’re still happy and curious but one part of you is thinking: ‘there’s no way I can get so high.’ You want to laugh, turn back, have a couple of drinks in the local pub and go home to watch a film. It’s also easier to turn on TV than defy the blank space of the page. But it’s not going to happen – leaving – because the peak between the clouds is still too fascinating. Too attractive.

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That bag stands for myself in the picture.

3. Climbing.

Now it starts the fun part. The village and the field behind, you can just see one hill after the other. It might be easy at the beginning, but you know this is just the start of hours of struggling between you and the mountain. And then, zas!, you discover a beautiful view. Because that’s the joy of writing and hiking, the sublime might just be around the corner. Just as I started climbing in Grassmere I discovered this beautiful place where the mountains reflected in a big lake creating another world down the waters. The same way, once one starts writing a piece there is always an initial revelation.

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4. No way back.

There’s always a point when you find yourself climbing using hands, feet and mouth if necessary. You try not to look down – there are just crags and cliffs – and focus in each little step. The hand here, the feet there. I imagine myself going down, breaking my neck, or my leg, or even dying. ‘Young writer ends her days in the Lakes.‘ I can already read that in the local news. And, most important, I know there’s no way back. I would like to say: OK, I’m going home. But I know there’s no way I try to go down through those risks again, so the only solution is to keep going until the top (even if it seems there’s never going to be one). The same happens when have passed the mid point of your novel: you cannot leave it there even if what you have produced so far feels like crap…

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5. The peak?

After the difficult part, when you believed you would never make it, comes ‘the peak’. And I’m saying it like this because it’s never ‘the peak’. THE peak is still a little bit further away but at this point you need to sit down, enjoy the (already) astonishing views and take your time to eat some well-deserved lunch. This break always feels like the best part of the hiking. All the previous suffering is forgotten and you feel truly grateful for being alive. In writing happens something similar when you finish the first draft of your novel or piece. You feel you have done it, you feel like a hero. There’s still so much way ahead, but for a brief time it feels like a nice conclusion. The idea is already on the paper. The thoughts have turn into letters. Now, it’s good to remember we need to keep walking. If you stay too long high in the mountain just looking at the views you start feeling really, really cold and dump. In writing, the first draft is merely the door to editing and rewriting. So let’s keep going!

6. THE peak!

This can be a tedious part in the hiking. You had lunch but the hills are still there, one after the other. You start thinking why you bother about climbing, I mean, you already got the nice views and all, does it pay off to get to the peak? Who’s going to care in the end? When you are telling the adventures of the hiking to your friends next day you can always say you reached the peak anyways. I always tell myself these things when I’m dragging my body to the peak. It never seems good enough to deserve the effort at that point. In a novel, the editing process can be equally grueling. You always reach the point in which you just want to throw the whole damn thing into the bin, I mean, who cares? The world already got Shakespeare and Clive Barker and José Antonio Cotrina. But then…

Then you reach THE peak. And I’m not going to explain but that feels about because if you have reached THE peak in hiking and writing you already know it and if not… you need to discover it for yourself.

7. Missing the hills.

Yep. Remember all that suffering when climbing? You never thought you would miss such a thing, would you? Well, there’s just something worse than going up murderous hills… and that’s going down. Becasue the possibilities of sliding and suffering a bloody death increase in 267%.  In writing this is the moment when you want to put your piece out there and realise than the process of getting it published is much worse than getting it written. Because there are so many things you cannot control and don’t depend at all on you. It’s part luck but part hard-effort – believe, if something I’m learning from interviewing authors in The Writing Life is that all of them worked incredibly hard before they had that ‘lucky’ coincidence or encounter with an agent/editor. So even if you feel you’ll die, go slow but don’t stop. You need to get out of the mountain (or get your story out there) at any price. That’s why you climbed it in the first place!

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Can you see the tiny daffofil in the rock on the river?

8. Those sweet vallies.

And finally you’re down there. You find the path and everything is easy, too easy in fact. The mountain is behind and you already miss it. You feel happy with yourself but already start thinking about the next hiking, and promise yourself you’ll do it as soon as possible because damn it, it feels so, so good. Whenever I hold a book in my arms I feel incredibly proud but at the same time the story has been detached of myself. It’s not ‘interesting’ anymore. I need something new to ‘get me high’ and that’s writing another book!

 

Do you like hiking? Does it inspire your writing in any way?

 

 

 

 

 

‘Elk Tongue’ and The Revenant

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“The main character, his name was Elk Tongue. I went to the director and said, ‘What parent in their right mind would name their kid Elk Tongue? It’s like naming your kid ‘dumb ass’ (…)”

Leonardo DiCabrio has earned his Oscar. Not only because he ate raw bison liver but he also learned two new languages for his role: Pawnee and Arikara – spoken by Native Americans in Oklahoma and Dakota.

This was something I liked a lot in The Revenant – apart from the beautiful landscapes and its intensity. I think the reason behind it is that Alejandro Iñárritu is its director. He’s not American, but Mexican, so he had to learn English first to be where he’s now – in one of the highest postions in Hollywood, I’d say.

Iñárritu is a multilingual director – yey, we’re an increasing number! He has made films both in Spanish – Amores Perros, Biutiful – and English – Birdman and Babel, a film that has much to do with languages and communication.

We’ve lots of languages in this film, including French and Hardy’s own personal dialect – seriously, I could barely understand his character, John Figtzerald.

In The Revenant   US is no man’s land, where invasors – French and English – figh their way, massacring the Native American’s tribes, who in turn attack back the best they can. In this not very welcoming place Hugh Glass – who apparently existed back in the time – stands out as a man who married a  Pawnee woman and is taking care of their son – although nothing of this seems to be historically accurated.

At the beginning he’s attacked my a bear protecting her two cubs – wonderful CGI, for a change. To me this violent attack was a metaphor of the North American’s invasion. Can be blame the bear that is trying to protect her offsprings? Native Americans were protrayed as the bad guys in so many US Westerns – I think it’s outrageous. At least Iñárritu is giving them a much decent role in his story.

Coming back to Hugh Glass, he’s a very literate man: he speaks Pawnee, and it’s this language precisely – and not his native English – the one that  brings him encouragement in his darkest moments – he imagines his wife talking to him. He also speaks Arikara which, arguibly, brings him his much desired revenge.

Alejandro Iñárritu took special care of the accuracy of Native American languages in the film. Here it is an interview made to one of his advisors, who explained to him why calling his main character ‘Elk Tongue’ was not the brightest idea.

So there you go. If you go to a foreign, dangerous land, bring with yourself a conversational phrase book. You never know when you have to scream for help or ask permision to share a raw bison recently hunted…

Have you watched The Revenant? Could you understand Tom Hardy?