A game of two halves – a short story

recorder and notes

I guess that now charges are being brought against FIFA members for corruption http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-32895048 it is safe to publish this satirical piece I wrote for the in house journal of a major broadcaster in the UK several years ago. At the time the editors laughed, said they liked it, but said they would not publish it because some readers might not understand the British sense of humour.

Today I say WTF. Here is an expose interview on how World Cup hosts are chosen.

Spamarama “The current affairs programme Spamarama have been granted an exclusive interview with FIFO President Schlep Fannybatter to discuss the award of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and 2022 to Qatar. Mr Fannybatter we were very surprised to get your interview request given our earlier investigation into the way FIFO members conduct themselves and your reluctance to publish the results of your inquiry into the voting process.”

Fannybatter: “A grave injustice was perpetrated in Zurich when we voted and I trust Spamarama to expose the people at the heart of this.”

Spamarama: “Really you wish to confess and apologise to football fans all over the world?”

Fannybatter: “No, I want those who have hijacked our time honoured process brought to justice.”

Spamarama: “Perhaps if you explained the decision making process for to our viewers they could judge for themselves.”

Fannybatter: “Gladly. I am sure that afterwards you will see why we are incensed. It started just like any other award process. All the executive council members entered the room, the door was locked and we all took our bung envelopes out of our pockets and put them on the table. There was the usual joking about how the suckers fall for voting promises every time. The director of finance then sorted it into piles from each of the bidders and counted the cash. “

Spamarama: “This is an appalling admission of dishonesty amongst FIFO members.”

Fannybatter: ”No this is our normal process, but what happened next has destroyed my belief in the integrity of FIFO members.”

Spamarama: “How so?”

Fannybatter: “I asked if that was all the cash as it looked short to me. I looked every one of them in the eye and some could not return my gaze. I ordered them all to strip naked and this revealed several of them were wearing money belts. In fact one of the shits who for the last 5 years I thought was a 120 kg bloater turned out to be a 70 kg weakling who had been carrying his stash with him all the time because he did not trust banks!”

Spamarama: “How did you feel about this corruption?”

Fannybatter: “I felt betrayed; I did not know who I could trust. I did the only thing a man of integrity could do.”

Spamarama: “What was that?”

Fannybatter: “I launched an immediate investigation. I broke out the latex gloves and a powerful torch and got the lot of them to line up and touch their toes. I was shocked. Hidden in the arses of some members I found Kruger Rands, Rolexs, blood diamonds and two members of the England bid team! I asked them if they had any explanation for holding back all this stuff.”

Spamarama: “What did they say?”

Fannybatter: “What could they say, I caught them `bang to rights’ as you say in England. I realised I had to give them back some dignity. I am not the world foremost sports diplomat for nothing you know. I made sure I had all the loot then I suggested we break for a quick lunch. Four hours later we were back at the hard job of picking venues.”

Spamarama: “How did this go?”

Fannybatter: “Well as you know FIFO is an organisation with principles; so I asked who we should reject on principle. It was at that point that the English bid went out of the window. We did not even bother to count the cash as we could all see that it was the thinnest envelope. I felt so embarrassed for you.“

Spamarama: “And then?”

Fannybatter: “Well we continued working through the envelopes by weight until we got to the last two. The Spain bid looked good, all in dollars and gold, none of that dodgy Euro stuff or government bonds. You can’t be too careful in this economic climate, can you?”

Spamarama: “So why did Spain loose out?”

Fannybatter: “I’m getting to that. We opened the Russian envelope and there was no cash inside, just photos of every executive council member taken through a sniper scope, cross hairs and everything. I tell you I shat myself. On the back of each photo was a brief dossier listing each person’s financial and sexual misdemeanours. The intent to blackmail and intimidate us was clear.”

Spamarama: “What did you do?”

Fannybatter: “We agreed that we had to front him out. We are FIFO for fuck sake. We run the football rackets. We could not let Putta muscle in.”

Spamarama: “Did it work?”

Fannybatter: “No. Just as we all agreed to dump the Russian bid, Putta kicked the door down and came into the room with half a dozen armed FSB thugs. He put his finger to his lips, bent two members over the table and extracted microphone bugs from their arses and discovered another member of the England bid team. I felt such a fool. How did I miss them? I am usually so careful. Anyway Putta crushes the bugs and bid member under his heal. Then he just looked up and said `Russia 2018 are we all cool with that?` His goons raised their guns. After an awkward pause I hear voices saying yes we are cool. Then he looks at me with his cold dead eyes (just like the old Pope) and turns to leave. He gets to the door and another of his goons comes in with a bag, walks up to the table and shovels half of our stash into it. That Putta he is a FSB! He is making me his bitch in front of my crew. He is power mad, one day he might even be after my job! Finally he leaves with that fucking smirk on his face. It all goes deadly quiet. I say fuck him we still have 2022. Let’s go next door and do some voting.”

Spamarama: “What did they say?”

Fannybatter: “What could they say? The day was turning into a bummer and I had to salvage the situation. So we start getting back on track counting envelopes for 2022 and just as we are about to make a decision, fuck me if that door is not kicked in and there he is again. Deja fuckin’ vu or what? He walks over, puts me across the table and extracts a microphone bug from my arse! Quatar he says. You must be fucking joking I say. They’ve never even seen a football there! No problem he says. Then he puts the bag he took our stash in back on the table. Not again I’m thinking. But now he opens it and turns it upside down and all the loot falls out. `A present comrades’ he says. Cheeky cunt. His goons leave and come back in with shopping trolleys full of designer handbags. `The bags are for your wives, the contents for you’. Fuck me if there is not the keys to a Lear-jet in each of them. `A small consideration from our good friend Ali Babba or whatever the fuck his name is’, says Putta with a grin. The day ends on a high after all.”

Spamarama: “So let me understand, if it is not the bribery, intimidation and corruption of FIFO you want us to expose what is it?”

Fannybatter: “Have you not heard? I thought it was a done deal but it turns out the Arabs now want to move the competition to Christmas. They are taking a fucking liberty. You must stop them!”

Spamarama: “Schlep Fannybatter, thank you. Money to the usual place?”

Fannybatter: “Yes please but I must insist on cash only. With that Wiki Leaks bastard around you can’t be too careful.”

 

This is a work of fiction. All resemblance to people living or dead is entirely accidental… apparently.

 

For more free stories see www.samflint.uk

Who the f*** are you?

people

Pardon the rather blunt headline but it goes directly to the issue I wanted to talk about.

How important is it for the reader to know the writer’s identity? Does it really matter if the reader can put a face to a name? I know most authors cringe at the prospect of putting their photo on their website. Having just done this myself I wanted to capture the issue while it was fresh in my mind. It goes beyond a general apprehension about the reader seeing my hideous form and on to how this affects their appreciation of my work. It should not matter off course and all authors hope that it doesn’t. But if we can rightly judge a book by its cover and it is the authors job to make sure it represents what the genre expects, we are all stuffed when it comes to how what we look like affects out brand. (Plastic surgery not being an option for the majority of us).

In theory I could be any of these people below.

people

The problem is as soon as you stick your mug shot on your book or website you create a potential disconnect between reality and the readers mental image of you. They may be disappointed with this discrepancy and its all the authors fault off course. `They’re too young/old; male female; black/white; tall/short etc etc to say what I’ve just read.’ In this social media obsessed world it is pretty easy to see if people are at odds with their brand. Writing used to be a profession where it was possible to escape this judgement but that is disappearing. Is that a good thing?

Take these two for instance. If they were around today and people checked out their Facebook pages before deciding to read their work would they have achieved the success they deserved?

William Shakespeare

`Mr Shakespeare you must really settle on a genre. Stick to the comedies, you just don’t look like an author of political thrillers.’

MaryShelley

 

 

 

 

 

`Ms Shelly this book about a monster is not what the audience expects from a lady. Can you make it more Austen’ish.’

This post stems from the angst I had in putting together a few pitiful words for my obligatory biog page. I was going to say this there but that is not the appropriate place for people seeking just name rank and serial number stuff. I toyed with the idea of a headshot wearing a black balaclava with eye and mouth holes. Whilst this might have been a good ploy for the thrillers I’m not sure it would do much for the romance stories. Least not the type I write anyway. In the end I wimped out and did what everybody else does.

So I’ll ask the question again. Are you happy or disappointed when you can put a face to the name you have been reading? Or is it irrelevant as I think it should be?

Writing is rewriting

timeline
This is my third post in a short series on how I write. In the first post I talked about how I generate story ideas. In the last post I explained how I sequence them into a plot with a timeline and a three act structure. In this post I will share how I actually do the writing. The picture below shows my writing tool kit. 
recorder and notes

My writing kit

I have a pretty old Windows laptop that makes a lot of noise and generates heat, which is good in winter as my writing room gets cold. I used to write in Word as most people do but I found the way Word deals with your book as one monolithic chunk of text too cumbersome. Once you get beyond the 10,000 word mark you need something a bit more flexible. I’ve come to use Scriviner which for these who don’t know it is a mix between a word processor and a writing project tool. I’ll talk about how I use Scriviner in another post but for our purposes here lets just say that it is how the words get stored in story form. It’s the end of the process I am going to describe below. 

Start by hand

I am a lousy typist; 60 wpm and 40 mistakes and this gets in the way of my thinking so I can’t do a first draft on the computer. The first draft is always handwritten, usually on the back of a printed draft of a previous work. The plus of this approach is that I can and do write anywhere. In pubs and coffee bars, on station platforms and in public libraries where they won’t let you plug into the mains.  When I get into the flow there is a joy in being able to race ahead in the story without the computer pointing out all my spelling mistakes and poor punctuation. I don’t let the grammar get in the way of revealing the story. Rewriting is where that gets fixed. A consequence of handwriting is that my productivity will never get beyond 4000 words in a session. That is about half a days handwriting by which time I am physically and mentally done in. I usually average 2000-3000 words although sometimes it can be half that. My target is not to complete the word count but to finish the scene. There is a sense of achievement is being able to tick off one of my post it notes and to look at my timeline becoming more marked up. This is what it looks like at the end.

scene edits

Timeline showing scene edits

Each line on the note represents an individual draft and the circle says I have incorporated comments from my beta readers. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Because of my lack of typing prowess I dictate my hand written draft into the computer. I use Dragon dictation software to transcribe the recording from my little Olympus dictation recorder.There are lots of versions of both and I would recommend going for the cheaper models especially if you are not sure this is for you. Argos and Amazon often have offers on both. I use a small lapel mike so I don’t have to hold the recorder to my mouth and this works fine. I find speaking the first draft helps me to pick up on anything that sounds odd or poorly phrased. I don’t correct it on the recording I just note it on the draft. It takes about an hour to record 3000 words and about the same time for the computer to transcribe it. You train the Dragon software to understand your pronunciation and it does get better over time, but there are still typos and it won’t put in any punctuation you’ve missed out. I’ve tended to wait until I’ve completed the whole book as a hand written manuscript before I start dictation. This means there are limits of how much speaking I can do before the voice starts to go and then the Dragon software makes so many mistakes that it is not worth using it in the first place. Usually I can record 10,000 – 12,0000 words a day and while I am sitting in front of the TV in the evening the Dragon software is transcribing those scenes in about three hours. I can finish a book in about a week. (The recorder has a huge capacity and can easily hold a hundred thousand word plus book in its memory. You can also download the MP3, WMA or WMV files to your hard drive via a USB link to your computer. (I plan to try recording my first audio book version with the recorder but that’s another post.)

Editing on screen

My next stage is to edit the transcript on the screen. I’ve saved the Dragon files as separate work documents titled by the main action in the scene as described on my post it notes, e.g. `Hannah and Tito are kidnapped.docx‘ I copy and paste these scenes into Scriviner and get the running order (see the left hand margin on the pc screen in the picture). I start to read and edit the story in its running order. This will be the first time I have run through the story from start to finish. I may have created the manuscript draft out of sync, especially where I want to make sure that I tie up the consequences of what happened in Chapter 2 with the results in Chapter 7 even though the intervening chapters have not been written. In this edit I discover that: I have called the same person by different names or different spellings; I have repeated the same dialogue in different places; I have gaps in the plot that need new scenes to fill; I have a killer bit of text that now seems out of place and should go into the out takes file (nothing is ever thrown away). I address the errors, punctuation and fact checking issues and then I print out a Word version and leave it for 24 hours. This first computer edit can take as long as the dictation to produce.

I come back to the Word document with my readers hat on. I read the story for enjoyment and ask myself is that what I wanted to write. If it’s not I make a note on the typed manuscript of what needs to be fixed. By the end of this read through the text is a blood bath of red pen and post it notes. There is probably not a page without some comment on it. This is where the real writing starts. I start my rewrite in Scriviner dealing with all the comments I have made. When I am finished I take a snapshot (version) of the each section of the text, add some on line notes about what I have changed and change the colour of the flag for the document. This approach allows me to assemble a draft using any versions of different scenes. All this happens in Scriviner. I don’t think that is possible in Word. I leave this third draft for a week before I read it again. I make my final changes and than that is the end of the book I set out to write.

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Next it is over to my beta readers to find out if it is the book they want to read. From Scriviner I output a Word manuscript version and then do some global edits. Scene titles are replaced with chapter numbers, page layout is titivated etc. I produce a pdf of this version to send to my beta readers. I’ll talk more about the challenge of beta readers in another post. It is nice to know what they liked but it is more important to me to find out what they found Confusing, Unbelievable or Dull (CUD). My next draft is about taking the CUD out of the book. There is a real challenge in dealing with this feedback and not just about being over sensitive to criticism of your baby. If the reader is a friend rather than a fan of the genre they you have to try and mediate what they say, although they will help you to spot gross errors.

I will let the de-CUD’ed draft sit for about ten days before revisiting it. This is my last read and a final sense check before it goes to an editor. To be honest I am a  bit bored with it by this stage and my enthusiasm is moving towards my next project so I am looking at this one in housekeeping mode making sure that all the ancillaries for publication have been completed. This is really checklist stuff. What comes back from the editor hopefully the comments are about points of detail not questions about plot and structure.  Once I’ve taken those on board I use Scriviner to product the publication versions in various formats. But that’s another story.

Well that’s my process, what’s yours?

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