Nov 30, 2012

Romantic advice required version 2

Based on various bits if feedback I've made some changes to the "Gottlob's story"  short story in Good stuff. I thought people might be interested in this, so I've highlighted the changes in the text. Many thanks for the input, I think it has definitely improved it. 

Nov 26, 2012

Romantic advice required

I mentioned last week that I wanted to do another back-story about Gottlob and Madeleine and their relationship. I decided to try my hand at writing a fairly romantic piece as it is an area which is difficult to do without becoming tacky and sentimental. This is something of an experiment and feedback is very much wanted.

So sharpen your claws and tell me what you love/hate about the next short story under Good Stuff Short story 2 Gottlob's story, part 1.
I have decided to split it into two parts so I can see what you think and perhaps build your feedback into the second part.

Nov 17, 2012

Creativity - getting James past a writer's block

James in trouble...
I have to tell you about a very interesting tool which I learnt from a friend of mine, Carola Scharvogel. Carola  does a lot of work in the area of creativity and she taught me the Free Writing method recently. What’s interesting is that Free Writing is something that you can use to try to come up with possible solutions to any problem or issue that you might have. It got me past a small writing block that I ran into last week and helped me generate some interesting ideas, when I used it to analyse the marriage of Madeleine and Gottlob Thomas, two of the novel’s central characters.

After I had outlined the main characters in my post on November 10 I found I wasn’t really clear about the relationship between these two. I had said they were separated but were still friendly with each other. What had gone wrong? I thought about this when sitting on the train for a couple of days on the way to work but found my ideas were going nowhere. Boring sex life, affairs, incompatibility, work pressure, scurvy, leprosy, dengue fever (these are some of the thoughts that come into my mind when I sit on the train which is bringing people back from the airport…), all my ideas seemed too obvious.  But after sitting down one day and using the Free Writing method on the question “What is the problem between Madeleine and Gottlob?” I managed to reach the following conclusions in only ten minutes:

1) The two still love each other. There is actually a large amount of affection and respect between them, but…
2) Gottlob is impotent. He says it’s down to a distaste for the 21st century and its sexualisation of everything. But actually it’s more to do with leaving his job at the university in the philosophy department. He hates the fact that everything in contemporary life must pretend to have a financial ROI and the question that he and his students was constantly asked by other people – “What can you do with philosophy?” – has reduced him to a state of mental and physical impotence. Working on the railway is a way for him to escape this pressure.
3) Gottlob hasn’t explained any of this to Madeleine (partly because it’s not even clear to him that this is the problem), so she feels rejected. His impotence makes her feel unattractive and old. This makes the charm and flattery of Tomi (see cast list, earlier post) very appealing.
4) They are living in separate flats because Gottlob doesn’t feel it is fair of him to stay with Madeleine. She should be free to find somebody who can give her the affection and companionship she wants plus a sex life. Of course he doesn’t tell her this, so Madeleine is left guessing his motive. She gets this totally wrong and concludes he must be a closet homosexual.

I hope I’m not disappointing anybody here and you’re feeling “…and that’s it?!?” I see a lot of scope here: I think Gottlob’s excuse (oversexualisation of our society) is an interesting theme. I think the attitude of so many people that only through studying subjects like economics or business studies are you able to do anything worthwhile and anything else is redundant is appallingly common. And I think the problems caused by incompetent communication and making assumptions offer lots of comic potential.
I expect in the course of writing the novel these four pointers will be developed further or maybe even dropped, but the Free Writing technique managed to help me come up with some useful possibilities. The picture below shows what I managed in the ten minutes time I had:

If you want to try it with a problem of your own, this is how it works:

Free Writing

1 Take a large piece of paper (A3 is best).

2 In the centre draw a circle and write the theme, if possible reduced to one word.

3 Write down anything that comes into your head connected with the theme. Thoughts, emotions – anything. No corrections!

4 If you can‘t think of anything, write “I can‘t think of anything!“ or draw wavy lines.

5 After a max of 10 minutes (set an egg timer if possible, so you get a shock), stop and read everything that you‘ve written. Highlight anything that seems relevant to the issue. The time limit is very important. This small amount of pressure helps you to focus your thoughts.

6 Copy the interesting passages onto another sheet and think how they might be useful / developed further. If necessary, repeat the process with one of the new ideas.

Try it out; it works on anything.

Nov 13, 2012

Posting comments - it's never been easier!

I've relaxed the posting requirements. It's such a bore trying to type in the mystery password that I decided to get rid of it. Hope you all approve...

Nov 11, 2012


Well, finally here they are, the key players for my novel. Or at least they are at the moment. But I don't guarantee that they'll stay in place, sometimes they get up, walk out and somebody else comes in. I hope the list sounds intriguing...

Heroine - Madeleine Thomas

Mirrors, Venice, KR 2009

47, Madeleine is English but lives in Munich and works for the Munich Tourist Authority. She is married but separated from Gottlob Thomas. They have one child, Ferdinand. Her greatest strength is her ability to spot the hole in an argument. This can make her very annoying to live or work with. Although she likes her work she is dubious about the benefits of modern tourism and is very critical of what she calls the “Easy Jetset”. She studied History of Art which is why she came to Munich to do a doctorate, which she never completed.

Ally number 1 – Gottlob Thomas
52, Gottlob works for the railways as a train conductor on the night trains crossing Europe. He is a former philosophy professor who decided to do something different when his university department was instructed to teach a supplementary course on the practical application of philosophy to business administration students. As he already had a great love of trains, it seemed like a good move.

Ally number 2 – Ferdinand Thomas
17, lives alternately with his mother and father, depending on their mood. He finds them both extremely annoying, especially the fact that on the face of it they seem to get along perfectly well. What is the point of being separated in that case, he asks? He thinks it would be more responsible if they fought, at least that way he might be able to get some sympathy from the various girls that he tries (unsuccessfully) to date.

Ally number 3 – Irmgard Hopper

Rider Waite Tarot cards

82, Irmgard is a reader of Tarot cards. Madeleine met her when she first came to Munich as a student because she rented a room from her in Schwabing. Madeleine, Gottlob and Ferdinand regularly visit her to make sure she’s well and she acts as a surrogate mother / grandmother to them all. Irmgard is very sure of her esoteric abilities. Madeleine less so. 

Dark figure 1 – Jeremy Fisk

55, Jeremy is a senior director at Report International, a large media empire. Formerly the boss of Nicholas Atkinson, Madeleine’s brother, he is not happy when Madeleine starts asking questions about his death several years after the event. He seems to fear that something might emerge that could embarrass him.

Dark figures 2 – Paul and Colin Atkinson
66 and 59 respectively, Paul and Colin are extremely annoyed with Madeleine when she starts suggesting that their younger brother Nicholas is still alive. This would force a rethink of the comfortable story that they have told themselves and their circle over the years.

Dark figure 3 – Colonel Ivan Kaiec

Peggy Guggenheim, Venice

58, the Colonel is now a very respectable and wealthy owner of hotels and villas in Croatia with a lot of influence in Balkan politics and good connections to the European Commission in Brussels. His rise to wealth and prominence dates from the end of the civil war in Croatia. Madeleine’s inquiries about her brother are very unwelcome.

Ambiguous figure 1 – Timothy Arnold
Timothy is now approaching 63 and is asked by the Department for British Export Development to do one last job for them when Madeleine starts to make herself unpopular with the Colonel. (See also short story “A Spy is Born” under Good Things).

Ambiguous figure 2 – Tomislav Lederer
42, Tomi is a very charming and attractive freelance journalist who takes an interest in Madeleine’s story after a chance encounter in a hotel bar. But where do his interests really lie?

Ambiguous figure 3 – Nicholas Atkinson
Wellington boot, KR, 2009
Is he alive or isn’t he? If he is, why is he in hiding? Was it something he found out in Zagreb in the mid-nineties? Or was there some other reason for his disappearance? Or is it all in Madeleine’s head?

I think I need to do a short story about Madeleine and Gottlob. At the moment they aren't clear enough to me. Just what is their problem?