Sleepless nights…

…often mean productivity for my writing, as those hours whiled away lying in bed usually include a whole host of images and ideas running through my mind.

Last night, I came up with a title for my novel. (I’d had a working title, but I wasn’t especially fond of it.)

Of course, I still would have liked to get more sleep.

To use ‘think’ or ‘feel’? That is the question.

(feel: perceive, emotion, etc. / think: rational reasoning, objectivity)

I lay awake at night for at least an hour before my mind can usually quiet itself enough for sleep. And last night, my mind was muttering about something that had annoyed me.

That thing? People consistently using the phrase “I feel…” (or “How do you feel…”) when they really should be using “I think…”. I want to shout at them: “Feelings are for emotional states, and temperature!”

When someone says “I feel safer” in regards to (for example) airport/airline security procedures, that doesn’t mean that they actually *are* any safer. They may feel safe, but there is no proof that they really are any safer. A colleague asked me recently, “How do you feel things have been going?” I’m not going to say “I feel fine.” I’m going to say “I think they are going fine.” I have thought about it, and feelings don’t enter into it. If the situation isn’t working, it’s not working because something needs to be fixed.

Additionally, consider how strong a statement sounds when ‘think’ is substituted for ‘feel’. The latter ranks up there with ‘I believe’. I will give more consideration to an idea that has a rationale and facts behind it than something which is based entirely upon emotion or a belief.

Book review: A Very Private Gentleman

…aka. THE AMERICAN. By Martin Booth.

I picked this book up at a friend’s place and with just the first line, I was hooked.

High in these mountains, the Apennines, the spinal cord of Italy, with its vertebrae of infant stone to which the tendons and the flesh of the old world are attached, there is a small cave high up a precipice.

I’m not usually a fan of first-person novels, but I do think this one uses the form well. Reading the words of the Gentleman enabled me to discern his way of living (meditatively, with caution) from the careful style of his writing. The events that occur also help to illustrate, but the feel of his narrative lends a great deal to his character. (After finishing the novel, I cannot see how George Clooney could have been cast. I shall have to watch the film to decide whether or not he was the best choice. I don’t know that Clooney is quite old enough yet.)

To summarise the plot without giving too much away: The Gentleman is on his last job as a gunsmith (though what he does cannot truly be explained by only that one word), as he wishes to retire. He has come to an Italian village to complete the work, with his cover being that of a painter of butterflies. Thus, he is called Signor Farfalla (Mr Butterfly) by the locals. He occasionally indulges in interludes with Clara, a young woman who moonlights as a prostitute.

The novel is almost meandering, not a thriller in the sense that the reader might expect from seeing the movie tie-in cover, where George is running and has a gun in hand. The plot twists are unexpected which makes for a satisfying ending.

Star rating: 4 of 5.

The trouble with Sophie

In the first incarnation of my novel (now happily binned), my main character was a Canadian art history student. Unfortunately, no matter what I did to make her more interesting (including more of her back story, giving her more interests, etc.), she just wasn’t compelling enough to carry the narrative. My writing was struggling as a result, and I could not make it believable that a cosmopolitan Parisian would be intrigued enough to pursue a relationship.

So, Sophie lost her main protagonist status, and has been relegated to a secondary spot. The novel has done well since then and I don’t even mind having to start over. She still has a role to play in the new draft, but she is not required to provide her point of view. I’ve left that up to two other more compelling characters.

What would I do without Google StreetView?

Some of my first research for my novel started out as recreational travel. I traveled to Paris in June of 2003 for 10 days. The city enchanted me, and it seemed the perfect place to set a story. I did visit museums (the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre), and some of the other tourist areas, but I was mostly inspired by a visit to the well-known jazz club Le Bilboquet, just off the Blvd St. Germain. (Unfortunately it no longer exists at that location.) But, my memory isn’t photographic, much as I might wish it.

Google Maps, especially the Street View, is a godsend. In my original draft I had a character looking out over the Seine from the Left Bank. Rather than guess at what that view might be, I took a peek with Google. It turns out that where they were standing was right across from the Louvre. So instead of coming across as a complete idiot author who doesn’t know Paris, I was able to properly set the scene.

Sophie’s gaze was drawn to the Louvre, whose windows glittered in the orange light of the sun that was beginning to set.

“I love this city. Sometimes I wish that I never had to leave.” She leaned on the low stone wall, looking over the water. He leaned beside her, his eyes mostly on her, flicking occasionally to the museum and the river.

“Why don’t you stay?”

She turned to him. “What would I do here? I’d have to find a job.”

He shrugged. “Everything’s possible.”

“Is it?”

“Of course. How badly do you want it?”

Most of what I find out via Google Earth isn’t used in the actual writing, but gives me enough background information to write with confidence. If I know that walking from Saint-Sulpice church to Shakespeare & Co. is going to take an average of 15 minutes (20 for the laggards), then I know that I can put in a lot of conversation without the Parisian wondering how I was able to get almost half an hour’s worth of conversation into a five-minute walk.

Google Earth is also fantastic for wowing your non-computer-savvy relatives with the awesomeness of having them look at their own house online, or finding out how they can get from the middle of the prairies to London, England. (It involves a lot of swimming.) So, +1 internets to Google!