Categories
movies personal writing

Why I love tick, tick… BOOM!

Murakami (image by wakarimasita)

Sometimes in life, you read or watch a piece of art that has a profound effect on you. For me, there’s been two, the first being The Wind up Bird Chronicle (and South of the Border, West of the Sun to a lesser extent), and it’s grim incorporation of magic realism and surrealism where the lines between real-life, imagination and memory are blurred so fantastically that you don’t know what is actually happening to the protagonist, Noburu. Thank you, Haruki Murakami, for influencing my writing style so heavily.

The other is tick, tick… BOOM!, directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, based on the life of Jonathan Larson, and expertly brought to life by lead actor Andrew Garfield. The latter, completely deserving of his Oscar nomination, is my personal choice to win this year (but then again, I’d have given it to him when he was nominated for Hacksaw Ridge).

Hacksaw Ridge (image from Netflix)

I’m going to be talking a lot about the plot of this movie in this article, so please go and watch the film if you haven’t already. It’s phenomenal, and I would hate to ruin some of the emotional moments for you. However, if you have seen it (or you don’t wish to heed my warnings), feel free to read ahead.

tick, tick… BOOM! is a special kind of film, and I don’t mean that lightly. It’s based on the late Jonathan Larson, of RENT fame, and his journey to get his musical Superbia picked up by a producer in New York City. Set in the early 1980’s, we follow Jonathan as he struggles to grasp with his upcoming 30th birthday, panicking at the thought that he’s wasted the last 8 years of his life writing Superbia, and that he’s chosen the wrong path by being a creative. All of this hinges on the workshop he has planned, this is his success or failure moment. This is all in comparison to his best friend Michael, who abandoned his own acting aspirations and now works a successful job at a corporate marketing agency.

The film does an excellent job at showing the stressful tightrope walk between creating art, having fulfilling relationships, and trying to keep yourself afloat by working, all at the same time. Creating is a full-time job, you never turn off, and sometimes it takes a toll living in your own world, not just to you, but for the people around you too.

For the majority of the movie, Jonathan is desperately trying to write a new song for his play, one that he’s been told by his main influence, Steven Sondheim, is missing. He toils over his computer, the flashing bar of his word document sat after a single ‘You’re’, unable to force anything from his mind to paper, all the while the time until the workshop, and his 30th birthday, ticks away. His girlfriend wants to move out of the City to a stable job, yet he can’t take his mind away from his work to discuss this drastic life change with her, his best friend, Michael, grappling with the HIV positive result he’s been given can’t catch Jonathan for a fleeting moment to inform him of his life-shattering diagnosis.

Summer 2022, mark your calendars. For dreamers, for explorers, for one-eyed bears.

Jonathan can’t do anything but work on his art, at the expense of him being present with the people around him. I’ve been there, the amount of times I got stuck writing The Toucan Man, and my sophomore novel (which is being released this summer by the way) and was unable to get out of my own head, for even a moment, just in case I lost the momentum I’d built up. I don’t talk about anything else when I’m like that, I recluse, and I work for hours at a time on my laptop, despite spending hours upon hours on one at work.

There’s a scene, where after a tense fight with his girlfriend Susan, she and Jonathan embrace, seemingly ready to move ahead positively in their relationship. This is shattered when she realises he’s mimicking piano keys on her back, seemingly putting their intimate moment to music with the intention of blasting it to the world within his musical. She fumes at him and ends their relationship then and there, baffled at his lack of emotional intelligence and inability to stop, even for just a moment.

There’s a quote director Lin-Manuel Miranda gave to the BBC that puts this better than I ever could:

“Because the dirty secret is, if you live with an artist, the microphone is always on.”

And on it is, so much of this movie has Jonathan taking notes from the world around him, from the treatment of the gay community by the government during the HIV epidemic to the words he sees sprawled across New York City. He never wants to miss a moment, a chance to perfectly word the perfect story. For Superbia to truly be the best it can be.

There’s a fear that I’ve got that I think backpacks off this, and it’s the same as the overarching theme of the movie, time. Artists are always recording for their work, because they want to get all of their ideas out before the time runs out. For Jonathan, sung excellently in the opening song ‘30/90’, it’s the thought of turning 30. For me, it’s not putting my ideas out into the world before the knell tolls. Jonathan Larson, died from an aortic aneurysm at just 35, the morning before RENT first previewed off-Broadway. He never lived to see any of his success.

The worst part of all of it is that it kind of proves his point.

He was the epitome of the tortured artist, he worked in a diner, not being able to bring himself to work for the man. He didn’t want to create for conglomerates who wanted people to buy what they couldn’t afford, or shove unhealthy products down their mouths in the name of money. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me feel guilty, wondering whether a past version of myself would shake his head in shame just as Jonathan would have.

I can see parallels between Superbia and my own teenage novel Pawns of the Gods, both ideas thought of out of teenage idealism, a product of their time, convoluted beyond belief just for the sake of being different, but the idea has been there for so long that it pains you not to see it realised. I’ve fought, and still fight with that novel, and I do hope someday I’ll be able to release it and do the story justice, not just for me now to be proud of, but for me all those years ago.

There’s a quote from this film that sums up being an aspiring writer so well that it makes me well up everytime I hear it. Jonathan’s agent, Rosa, says it to him after nobody is interested in producing his then life’s work, ‘Superbia’.

“You start writing the next one. And after you finish that one, you start on the next. And on and on, and that’s what it is to be a writer, honey. You just keep throwing them against the wall and hoping against hope that eventually, something sticks.” – Rosa, tick, tick… BOOM!

It’s a daunting prospect. Nothing of mine so far has taken off, but I do what I have to and I go back to the drawing board, and I start again. Maybe someday something will stick, maybe it won’t, but if I can look back on a bibliography that I’ve written myself, that I poured every shred of my heart and soul into, then when the knell finally tolls, I’ll die a happy and fulfilled man.

Categories
personal writing

Covid, Books, Bo Burnham and Burnout

Hello all, it’s been a while since we’ve spoken here hasn’t it? The last time I worked on a blog post was in December of last year. Which was, at the time of writing, eight months ago. Yikes. Some blog ay? Sorry about the wait I guess.

I do apologise for the delay, but I promise I was working on something worthwhile. I’m sure the majority of you reading this have already seen, but I self-released my debut book, ‘The Toucan Man’, and honestly the response has been both humbling and overwhelming.

Before I go into the book, and what it means to me, I just want everyone to know how thankful I am about it. I’ve sold a total of 25 copies, which may not sound like the largest number in the world; but considering that it has only been a week or so and I haven’t put any money into marketing yet, I’m absolutely blown away.

Every copy sold is another reason for me to go at it again, another reason to keep trying to make the dream a reality. I worked myself to the bone on ‘The Toucan Man’. It’s a piece of work I wrote, edited, formatted and revised myself (bar a few special people that can be seen on the copyright page); the only thing I couldn’t do myself was design a decent cover, which my friend Dan Kendall did, you can find his website (and his excellent portfolio) here.

Being honest, every picture of you lot holding the book or piece of feedback you’ve sent me over DM has made the whole experience worth it. I don’t write for money, I never have, I write to tell stories; and the fact that you all came out in droves to support me makes me feel like the luckiest man in the world.

So genuinely, thank you. Yes, especially you, blog reader.

A bit of behind the scenes on ‘The Toucan Man’ is that it’s a book based on my grandparents, the characters of Ernest and Eloise, especially their backstories take a lot of liberties from them, so too does the love that they shared. Avoiding spoilers, what happens in the first few chapters is a mixture of the truth and how I feel like I’d cope in that situation, and where my mind would go after so many years of being so reliant on somebody else.

Grief is something I’ve unfortunately experienced a lot of in my short 25 years on Earth, and ‘The Toucan Man’ was my way of putting that into words, as well as being a love letter to the people who showed me what love was in the first place. I tried to tackle anguish the best I could, how different people deal with it, the sense of abandonment, the feeling of needing to find something to fill the person-sized hole in your life afterwards. My hope is that the book can help someone, someday, slowly come to terms with their own loss, and that certain avenues aren’t healthy ways to deal with it.

I’ll stop being so depressing now, you’ve probably had enough of that.

Another fun fact is that the name is a double entendre, let me know if you’ve figured it out.

File:Guinness 250th anniversary poster, Belfast - geograph.org.uk - 1138788.jpg
Guinness 250th anniversary poster, Belfast (Albert Bridge, 2009)

For anyone that cares too, I’ve finished the first edit of my follow-up novel. This is one that has ascended the word count of novella to a full blown piece of literature. I’m not going to give much away other than the fact it is a historical fiction based in the Soviet Union, and that it’ll hopefully be released next year. Keep your eyes peeled, it’s already a piece of work I adore and one that has expanded on the experience from my debut to become a more well-rounded novel. There are a lot less kinks at this stage than there were at this point in ‘The Toucan Man’, which tells me I’m hopefully getting better? I’m excited for you all to read it. I am trying to become an actual novelist, and I’ve got a fair few more ideas in the tank yet so I’m going to trudge on into the future grinding them out! (Hopefully being read and growing an audience, but who knows.)

In news to some of you too, I caught COVID recently (despite being twice vaccinated and being careful), so me (and my girlfriend) have been in isolation since the books release, so outside of the messages I’ve received, I’ve had no human contact with anyone. So really, all of your support has been amazing, especially during a time where I’ve been inside again, with little else to think about.

Bo Burnham’s favourite book, probably, if he read it.

Like most people I’ve been a bit obsessed with ‘Inside‘ since it’s release onto Netflix, and honestly my opinions on that special could be a whole blog post in itself. If you haven’t already, go and watch it, have you been living under a rock or something? The special is funny, it’s existential, it sums up lockdown, modern society and being a creative in ways I wouldn’t even know how to start expressing in a book, never mind through comedic songs. It’s a chaotic masterpiece, so just go and sit on your couch and put it on already.

Speaking of creativity, I’m already trying to start book three of my little self-published repertoire, but between writing two books in the space of a year and having the disease that managed to break down society as we know it, I’ve been struggling to get into the flow of the story, so I might be a bit more active on here for a while as I ease myself into another big project. Keep an eye out for early 2022 though, for the next (already in the works) release. If the reaction to my sophomore effort is half as good as the one that greeted my debut, I’ll be absolutely buzzing.

Thanks again to you all. When I started up this stupid blog last year I’d never dreamed that I’d accumulate over 2,000 views, and that the initial support and gradual growth would spur me on to write my first book.

Which you can buy here, if you haven’t already ❤️

Or potentially leave an Amazon review? I’m waiting for a few of those to roll in before I start marketing it!

Or review on Goodreads, if you’re that way inclined!

Soppy blog over, thanks for reading and thanks for supporting me.


Andy

Categories
personal writing

Why I Never Finished My Book

While studying in my first year of university, like most young writers who dreamt of fame, I began writing a novel. The name? Pawns of the Gods. It was a religious themed epic inspired by the Fallout universe. This post-apocalyptic young adult novel was to be my magnum opus. It was a story of an angel sent down from the heavens as the Earth was tormented by Judgement Day, to assist a girl corrupted by Satan himself to end the impending reckoning.

The concept sounds incredibly cringe looking with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. It is key to remember however, that young adult post-apocalyptic novels a-la Hunger Games were all the rage back then. I was also 18 years of age.

Although admittedly, I recall giving it Christian themes as my way of making it ‘edgier’ – and to put my A-Level in Religious Studies to good use.

Crucifix Illustration

I worked hard on and off on the novel for the next three years.

I’d managed over 50,000 words in the end. Not only that but I’d had some good feedback on my work from family and friends who I’d deemed worthy enough to read segments of the story.

One day however, I just stopped.

Weeks and months went by and I never touched the thing. I tried to start it up again but with no luck. All that remains now is a half-finished rough draft printed and stuffed in a box, with a few story notes either stapled to it or scattered in various notebooks.

An unflattering end for my magnum opus.

There are a few reasons why I stopped I suppose, the number one being that I fell out of love with the written word for a time. University made me loathe writing after years of adoring it. Journalistic writing is formulaic and structured in a top-down boring way. Essays weren’t much better, and SEO is horrendous for a creative writer.

Instead of feeling like an escape from my other writing, it became a chore amongst them. I’ve spoke to many graduates about this phenomenon since my realisation. French students lose the passion to learn it for a while, art students put down the brush while philosophers rest their weary minds. I set down the pen, and I didn’t properly pick it up again until I started this website.

I think burnout is inevitable, especially after three non-stop years of pumping out creative work and you’ll find that those that didn’t burn out then, will do so down the line eventually.

Secondly, life just got in the way. Your post-university 20’s are some of the craziest, messiest and most intense years of your life. I had no time to sit and write my novel. As a kid I often wondered why all the authors I read were 30+ years of age. Other than experience and years of practice – it’s because younger writers are too busy living their own lives, never mind writing someone else’s.

Then there’s the issue of length. Every wannabe writer has Googled “how many words are in a novel?” and from experience I can tell you this is 100% the wrong approach. You should never measure your creative work by obligatory lengths. This ‘novel’ should have been a novella, yet as it was beginning to draw to a close I extended it because I didn’t believe it was ‘long enough’.

I make myself sick.

Remember the Shawshank Redemption? Barely anything to it. The same applies to the Very Hungry Caterpillar. I’m not comparing my teenage works to these behemoths of literature, but you understand my point right?

The Very Hungry Caterpillar [Board Book]: Amazon.co.uk: Carle, Eric, Carle,  Eric: Books

Finally, my love for the idea just… went. I lost my spark with it. The piece was a literal telling of a mental battle of somebody very close to me at the time.

The would have been ending to the story, captured what eventually happened in real life. In the end it was too painful and real to dust it off and finish it. In a sort of poetic way, because of those events the story had already finished. There was nothing left for me to write.

I’ve moved on to other projects now, this website being one of them. Hopefully the next story I tackle, I’ll be able to show off the complete work, rather than half-finished drafts.

The moral of the story? Pawns of the Gods was a massive learning experience for myself as a writer, despite the lack of cohesive ending to the project. Maybe one day I’ll go back to it.

Whatever sort of creative you are. Just keep creating. It might be terrible, or you might not even finish it and move onto something else, but you’ll always learn and get better.

Oh and don’t be scared to show other people your terrible work – even if it’s scary.

So here is an excerpt of that very novel:

The beast stood staring at the light that shone before him, expecting to see his mortal enemy, the one that imprisoned him since the creation of this world. The Wicked was about to get his revenge. The demon was taken aback when the light began to materialise, the figure was about the same height as the girl he had struck with his hellfire only minutes before.

The light solidified revealing a scruffy brown haired boy, dressed in
a sleeveless tunic of crystal white and sandals to match. His arms were muscular but lean, and a white bow was held in both of his hands.

The angel pulled back his bow and took aim at The Wicked that stood before him. The boy’s wings burst out from behind him in a wave of blinding white light. He looked carefully down the light blue arrow, with his matching sapphire eyes and took aim at the demon in front of him.

“Time for you to die” The youthful angel screamed as he fired his shot toward the crimson demon.

*chefs kiss* What incredible dialogue.

PS. In my head the angel was literally Pit from Kid Icarus.

Nintendo's games of the decade: Kid Icarus: Uprising
Copyright Nintendo.