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NaNoWriMo: Martyrdom vs. Trampolines

03/11/2011 1 comment

This is my first year doing National Novel Writing Month and delving into the blogosphere (it’s a real word if The Economist uses it) to get some idea of what to expect, I came across a lot of people freaking out about the anxiety and stress of  it all. It’s day three for me, or should that be DAY THREE? I’m never sure how dramatic to make the whole thing. Sure, it’s a massive undertaking to write 50,000 words from scratch in 30 days. Solving world hunger, sorry WORLD HUNGER, is also a major undertaking but contextually I think we can see that day 3 is probably sufficient. I’m employing hyperbole, obviously, but you see my point.

I’m pretty relaxed about the whole thing myself. So relaxed in fact, that unlike many people, I’m not going to blog every day about the hardships of NaNoWriMo. We live in a land of central heating and electronic writing devices, does no one wonder at these things any more? I’ll blog a few times, just so I can maintain a sophisticated air of smugness about the whole process, but I won’t tell you what particular tea to drink when writing limited third person perspective. Indeed I’ll refrain from anything remotely like that. Essentially I’m relaxed because this is a voluntary project and at the end of it I’ll have a (slightly tatty) manuscript which I’m going to try and sell. Selfishly. NaNoWriMo is not martyrdom, but it is a reasonable slog.  Look at me, on day three, writing in a slightly muddled and acerbic way about ‘the process’. This is 700 words out of my total. Anyway, for what it’s worth here are some words of wisdom on meeting the word totals each day.

I’ve set myself the task of rattling off 20,000 words per week. That works out at roughly 4,000 per day and  Saturday and Sunday off. How marvellous. So it’s day three and I’m sitting on 11,267. Monday was still October so that keeps me roughly on track.

1.  Remember to have fun – Day one involved me writing some 6,000 words and having to physically stop myself writing any more by going to the shops. That was fun, I managed to fit two bottles of chocolate milk, an iceberg lettuce, one bottle of ginger beer, one copy of the Independent, a sprig of spring onions, a tub of coleslaw, a litre of milk, two baking potatoes and a slab of cheese into my jacket. This amazed not only me, but the entire bank of cashiers. That’s probably the most excitement I’ve had all week. Say what you want about NaNoWriMo, the hardest thing is the solitude. I’ll quite happily hand in a 500 word article and hit the pub knowing fine well that I need to do it the next day, but 4,000 words a day , everyday, tends to take its toll. Embrace the little things, you will miss them at 3am when you are crying into an etymological dictionary after two bottles of red wine.

2. Hydrate – My advice is to drink plenty of water. The brain is an organ and as such it needs energy just like the rest of us. Athletes get 30% more out of their muscles by hydrating properly, so why shouldn’t we? Think of your poor fingers! Drink a glass of water right now, go on. Remember: a healthy body means a healthy mind. You will be amazed at how much impact looking after yourself will make to your word counts each day.

3. Exercise – You could also think about going for a walk in the morning, it gets the blood pumping and it means you’ll feel the benefit of a nice jumper and a cup of coffee when you get back inside. If that’s too much time out of your schedule (you’re probably going to have heart problems in later life) then you could consider an indoor trampoline. I’m reliably informed that it’s almost impossible to think about work when you are flipping, falling and bouncing around so it’s surely an excellent method of relaxation. Stretching, morning noon and night, will keep your body in a good mood. Given that, unless you plan on standing up at your desk, you are going to crush your back as you fret your way around massive contradictory plot points (or is that just me?), stretching is essential.

4. Eat healthy – If you can’t get totally psyched about black olives, feta cheese and lettuce, then I pity you.

5. Start smoking – Most people these days think that smoking is a little old school. Now, sure, it’s terrible for your health and runs contrary to every other piece of advice but think about it like this: a lot of publishers smoke, outside, on their own.

I ran out of ideas after number 4, so I’ll leave it at that. Good luck to everyone taking part and I’ll see you on the other side.

Tribune Set To Close After 75 Years Of Publication

Historic journal may have struggled with modernity, but is the Old Left now an ‘irrelevance’?

Tribune, the flagship left-wing journal whose editors have included the likes of Aneurin Bevan, Paul Anderson and Michael Foot, is fighting for it’s life as a recent “cash injection” has failed to increase circulation. Staff at the weekly title are preparing for it’s imminent closure unless last-minute financial backing can be found. The paper has reportedly struggled with the advent of online content and, unlike political magazines such as The Spectator and The New Statesman, has failed to attract a wealthy backer to keep its profile distinct over the last twenty years.

It seems rather sad in a way that a publication with such a long history, of whatever political leaning, is falling by the way-side at a time when a robust opposition should be forming on the Left in Britain. Perhaps though, despite a Centre-Right coalition in power and political gains from the SNP and BNP across the UK (indicative of a shift to the right in harsh economic times?), the old Social Democratic Left is becoming a shadow of an age past?

Tribune is perhaps most famous for George Orwell’s ‘As I Please’ column, (that is certainly where Alhimself first discovered it) when Orwell was Literary Editor there in 1943. The paper has been in circulation for some 75 years and was founded with a staunch anti-fascist bent. Some of Orwell’s finest essays, including Confessions of a Book Reviewer and Books vs Cigarettes first appeared in the paper.

Following the Second World War, with Bevan still involved, the paper become associated with the “Bevanite” branch of the Labour movement and regarded it as the flagship journal of the “soft left”. According to The Guardian, it was selling around 6,000 copies a week by the 1980s (historically not a time of rampant Leftism) and remained around that circulation for the next decade, but since then it has sold far, far less and in recent years has struggled. Yesterday’s Radio 4 Today programme shed some light on the reasons for the closure, where Lord Michael Dobbs argued that the Left was “irrelevant” these days. Whatever the case, it’s seems sad that a journal with Tribune’s publication history should fade into the twilight when online journalism is taking such strides in bringing political debate forward.

Tribune Publications is intending to establish and maintain a web-site which will run automatic feeds from other left-of-centre internet sites but the six full-time and part-time staff will lose their jobs. The company is currently owned by Kevin McGrath, a former Labour Party candidate for the European elections in 2009. He bought the paper a couple of years ago from a consortium of trade unions. According to the Press Gazette, the holding company filed for bankruptcy in December 2008 and it was McGrath who saved them from liquidation at that time. McGrath has stated that the staff are free to carry on with the publication, and that:

“If they wish to continue to run Tribune as a co-operative, [I am] prepared to transfer the company and the archive of 75 years editions to them free of any historical debt.”

It is believed the staff are now considering such an option but with a deadline set for today, October the 28th.

Live! Roller Derby! Auld Reekie Roller Girls Home Bout: ARRG’s Twisted Thistles vs ARRG’s Cannon Belles

Auld Reekie Roller Girls travel teams are facing off this weekend, in  a bout that many have waited a long time to see. Here at Alhimself we are excited about the prospect of an Edinburgh Roller Derby Home League in 2012, so this bout will certainly be something to whet the appetite in anticipation.

The bout will see the two teams face off against each other to ensure that both are skating their best heading into the 2012 season, when these two teams will represent the best of ARRG across the UK and beyond.

“We are immensely lucky to have so much talent in the ARRG league,” said Belles (for whom Alhimself will be rooting on this occasion) captain Bruise Leigh. “But these two teams have never been pitted against each other. What better way to hone our bouting skills for 2012 than to take on this fierce and formidable team?”

Thistles captain Crazylegs said, “We’ve faced teams from Glasgow to Stuttgart, but the Belles are sure to give us a run for our money. If anything, we’ll all probably be harder on each other because we know it’ll help us get ready for next year. This is going to be very, very fun.”

Next year marks a new era for ARRG with the introduction of home teams, which will play each other in a series of tournament-style bouts. The travel teams comprise the league’s best players, who take on the challenge of representing ARRG in external bouts in addition to playing on their home teams.

What is Roller Derby? I hear you cry. Well I asked the people at Auld Reekie to explain:

“Roller derby is an all-female sport that involves teams competing on an oval track in a series of ‘jams’ – two minute periods that see teams of five players each battling to score points. During each jam, one player on each team is designated as the ‘jammer’ who scores a point for every member of the opposing team she passes.

The sport requires a punishing array of agile and athletic skills, from zig-zag blocking moves to body slams to all-out speed-skating. To perfect these manoeuvres, skaters commit to several hours of practice every week, paying for gear and practice space out of their own pockets.

While it has its roots in sports-entertainment-style exhibition bouts going back as far as the 1930s, modern roller derby has reinvigorated the game with a grass-roots DIY ethos that puts the passion for athleticism front-and-centre.

The trend finally reached Edinburgh in 2008, when a small group of women founded ARRG. The Edinburgh league now averages at over 80 skaters, and is run purely on the volunteer efforts of its members.”

Saturday 29th October 18:30 – 20:30. Tickets are £5  (Free for children aged 14 and under) from:

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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spion Kop

The new film adaptation of the seminal espionage novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré owes as much to its sterling British cast as it does to the erstwhile foreigner at the helm. Rarely does a film trust its audience as much as Tinker, Tailor and the decision to hand over the directing to Tomas Alfredson (Let The Right One In, 2009) has unleashed what one hopes is the first in a line of intelligent adaptations of le Carré.

George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is a retired cuckold thrust back into the grimy world of the secret service in order to track down a Soviet double-agent. Smiley is out to clear his own name in the eyes of his mentor, Control (John Hurt), who sets the benchmark for paranoia in “The Circus” of 1970′s MI6.

Secret service hoods Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds) and the insipid Estherhase (David Denick) comprise a cabal that Smiley must crack in order to track down the Russian mole. Each actor would be comfortably capable of carrying his own 90-minute vehicle, but here, every line is spoken by someone at the top of their game.

In 2002, when we were treated to the first of a trilogy of Jason Bourne novels adapted for the silver screen, the watchword was realism. James Bond had been replaced by a more cerebral, realistic spy and the aesthetic was as gritty as Bond had been glamorous.

It is hardly surprising that The Bourne Identity, voted the second greatest spy novel of all time in Publisher’s Weekly, should have made such a compelling trilogy. It certainly started a trend away from the meretricious world of Sean Connery’s MI6 spook and paved the way for Daniel Craig’s more spartan incarnation. It is also telling that topping the list was The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, the prequel to Tinker, Tailor.

With Tinker, Tailor the trend to nullify the Semtex and amplify the drama has taken us well beyond the measured assassinations and explosions of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne masterpiece: now we are in a world of people and places. We are introduced to a Budapest frozen in time, minarets sizzling in the distance while godless agents fill the bazaars. Alfredson casts London in a starring role and his unobtrusive selection of 1973 signifiers deftly builds the heavy atmosphere of a world on the brink.

Peter Straughan and his late wife, Bridget O’Connor, cannot be commended enough for constructing a screenplay that refuses to yield to the excess of so many modern thrillers. There is nothing unnecessary here, and Alfredson uses these restrictions to scintillating effect. Smiley has no words for the duration of his retirement, instead there are glimpses of vanity and isolation played out through bus-shelter reflections and lukewarm cups of tea.

This Tinker, Tailor is a period piece, far removed from Alec Guinness’ Smiley of the BBC adaptation. That was a contemporary drama, this is the Cold War re-imagined and endowed with hindsight. It hints at smoking rooms and bacolite rather than action or gadgets, and one can’t help but feel transported into the surrounding darkness.

Keep an eye out for some excellent supporting roles from the legendary Kathy Burke and the magnificently versatile Stephen Graham.

This article was published in its original form on

Categories: Articles, Blog

Alhimself @ The Traverse: New Season, New Writing

As you may know, we here at Alhimself are big fans of The Traverse, and with October seeing the release of The Traverse theatre’s winter season, I thought I’d look back at some of the best shows they had on offer in the Autumn and look forward to some top shows from Scotland’s new writing theatre (which also happens to be one of the best bars in town).

Coming up this October, the return of A Play, A Pie and A Pint .  The fourth season of the successful program, has five world premieres by the UK’s hottest new playwrights. The performances take place at 1pm from Tuesday to Saturday, which gives you the chance to spend your lunchtime watching a brilliant 45 minute play – with a pie and a pint – simple as that. To whet your appetite check out Katie Douglas’ Dig, a tale of economic hardship and the struggle between pride and providing. Also highly recommended is Leo Butler’s Eternal Source of Light, which promises to explore birth, life, death, and the prospect of an afterlife in just forty-five minutes.

Some of Autumn’s best from The Trav included I, Malvolio & the award-winning The Wheel, for interviews with Zinnie Harris and Tim Crouch, check out The Traverse’ podcasts here.

The Right Way to Spend A Pony

or Why I want £22 of your money. Right now.

In October last year Edinburgh University Settlement, who owned the building that The Forest occupied at 3 Bristo Place, were declared bankrupt and forced into administration. The administrators put the property on the market and are currently trying to sell it. As part of that process, they terminated the Forest’s lease, giving them six months notice. Their last day was Wednesday 31 August. It’s been empty now for twenty days, but that isn’t the end.

The Forest is a big part of this city, it’s a free arts space in Edinburgh and it’s always been good to me. Sure, it’s full of vegetarians and people with dreadlocks (some people don’t like steak and combs, who knew?) but it’s a publisher, a disco and after the closure of the Roxy Art House it’s all we’ve got to stem the tide of faceless corporate pubs and expensive empty conference centres dominating the future of music, literature and community spirit.

They don’t want to leave their home of eight years in a listed historic building, so they’ve launched an appeal and they have managed to raise well over £30,000 so far.

Maybe you’re a Forest fan that is directly affected or maybe you’re an ex-pat who loves Edinburgh, whatever the reason you should help buy the Forest because right here, in 2011, with all the s**t that’s going on is an opportunity to make a difference to the arts scene.

Ryan Van Winkle, who’s one of the brains behind the campaign (and literary pistolero to some, Spanish language Bruce Campbell to others) had this to say:

“We are in a pretty amazing time right now — a decade ago no one would ever have thought it possible to raise £70k in one month but thanks to the wide reach of the Forest, the massive tentacles of the internet, and thanks to sites like ‘WeFund’ where you pledge and don’t pay unless the campaign is successful — I actually think we have a shot.”

The pledge system will only take your money if they reach the target, so in essence it won’t cost you anything unless the Forest hit their target, and if they do then you will have taken part in an amazing venture! If you need any more encouragement, take a look here.

But what if they fail? What if I only donated a tenner? I thought you wanted twenty quid?

Good question(s), and the answer is simple. I want you to put your hand in your pocket for The West Port Book Festival as well. They run an awesome free book festival for the last three years and they are doing it again, come hell or high water, and you can make the difference to this adventure too. They want it to stay free, and when you consider the line-up of year’ past and that a ticket for one event for the Edinburgh International Book Festival costs £10 by itself, a tenner for a whole festival of delights is a total bargain!

Edinburgh is the home of artistic endeavour in Scotland, let’s help keep it that way. All I’m asking is for £20, you’d spend that in the pub in one night. If you spend it today on these worthwhile projects you will be making an impact that will last for a very, very long time.

Now that you’ve waded through all of that, if you’re still with me, I shall reward you with news of a poetry competition worth £2,500 – the Fifth Annual Troubadour International Poetry Prize – which costs £5 to enter. If you do win, I’ve some ideas about where you could invest the money…

The West Port Book Festival will run from the 13th-16th October 2011 and full details of the programme will be available here tomorrow.