Last weekend I was in Dublin for Writers Game, a new conference focused on bringing together writers of different disciplines — books, film, videogames, graphic novels, and virtual reality — to share our experience and learn from each other.
I was asked to deliver a talk, and as my career encompasses all of those disciplines and more, I focused on how exactly I’ve been able to do that (spoilers: mostly saying yes to new and interesting proposals despite not knowing what the hell I’m doing) and the skills I’ve developed along the way.
It was quite well-attended.
But I wasn’t just there to pontificate; I spent the rest of the weekend sitting in on other talks and workshops by the other speakers. The audience was hearteningly diverse and young, most of them just starting out in their careers — which was great to see, but I know some of them wondered why someone like me would join them for, say, a lecture by John Dawson and sit there taking notes.
The answer, of course, is that I’m still learning all the time. We all are. To call on an anecdote I used in my talk; at the age of 80, Pablo Casals — one of the greatest cellists of all time — revealed that he still practiced for four to five hours every day. When asked why, he replied, “Because I think I’m making progress.”
It’s the same for any creative worker worth their salt, including writers. The day I think I’ve written something perfect is the day I might as well hang up my keyboard — because either it’s true, in which case why risk writing anything else; or it’s not true, in which case I’ve become delusional (shush) and lost any ability to judge the quality of my own work.
Case in point: the conference’s main guest speaker was bestselling novelist Glenn Meade. Now, most of what Glenn had to say — over four separate talks throughout the weekend, by the way, that man earned his spot — was stuff I already knew, and that’s to be expected. Every good thriller writer understands the principle of “rising action”, for example, or the importance of making your protagonist do whatever they absolutely fear the most.
But halfway through one particular segment, Glenn said something — just a turn of phrase, a way of describing a principle — that sparked a sudden thought, which in turn helped unlock a thorny problem in my next novel that I’ve been chewing on for the past couple of weeks. Cue me flipping to a fresh page in my notebook and missing the next couple of minutes of Glenn's talk because I was jotting down notes to solve said thorny problem. Sorry, Glenn.
Would I have eventually solved the problem myself anyway? Sure, probably. But it would have taken me longer, and frankly I’m annoyed with myself for not figuring it out earlier anyway. And that’s the point; no matter how experienced we might be, sometimes we’re so wrapped up in a maze of our own devising that we can’t see the wood for the trees. A new perspective, or a refresher on story basics, can work wonders. We’re all still learning.
KEEP ROLLINS, ROLLINS, ROLLINS, ROLLINS
Last year I wrote a piece for GIG OF MY LIFE, a charity zine produced to benefit victims of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing. Editor Danny Smith gave us the title theme, but left its interpretation up to each contributor.
So the Rollins gig I wrote about isn’t necessarily the best gig I’ve ever been to, or even my favourite — that honour is reserved for things like Paradise Lost/Sepultura at Rock City, or The Sisters of Mercy at Wembley Arena, natch.
But Rollins, as anyone who’s seen his spoken word gigs will know, has a knack for getting inside your head. There aren’t many gigs I’ve been to that rewired my brain in this way*. So, given the context, it seemed appropriate.
* Although Alien Sex Fiend, also at Rock City, probably came closest ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
A new-ish book format designed to be read one-handed by commuters. Trust the Dutch, forefathers of modern graphic design, to come up with something like this. I doubt it'll catch on, but I love it anyway.
If you follow me on social media, you know I sometimes post pics of meals I’ve made. I’m no Gordon Ramsay — barely a Guy Fieri — but I enjoy cooking, and can knock up a thing or two. After posting the above dish, a tomato and beluga lentil curry, I was asked for the recipe. So, seeing as you can use just about any main ingredient you like with the same curry base, I figured why not:
https://antonyjohnston.tumblr.com/post/179865063022/tomato-and-beluga-lentil-curry-serves-2-after More food pics (and lots of dogs) at http://instagram.com/antonyjohnston/
AEON TIMELINE NOW AVAILABLE FOR iOS
Not every writer needs timeline software. Even if you find making timelines useful, you could of course use pen and paper. But making edits and changes to an analogue timeline is a real pain in the neck, so I prefer to use software.
I’ve been using and recommending Aeon Timeline for years — very little timeline software is aimed specifically at authors, but Aeon was designed from the ground up for fiction, including the ability to filter by character, separate timelines into story arcs, and literally create your own calendar if you’re writing an SFF work that requires it. It’s pretty brilliant, not to mention rock-solid technically; I’ve used it to plan and keep track of everything from THE FUSE to the COLDEST graphic novels to the Brigitte Sharp books.
Aeon Timeline recently launched on iOS, and while I don’t have a need for it there myself, if you’re the sort of writer who works mostly on your iPad, you should definitely check it out.
I WANT TO DISCONNECT MYSELF: