Out to Lunch or on to something?

Every writer knows what it is to create in a vacuum, producing material that few people may ever see. One way around this, to paraphrase Mickey Rooney, is to go and put on a show yourself.

Kathrin Smirke (I know, neat name for a comedy performer!) has taken this to heart by creating, writing, starring in and producing her own web series (two on the site and another in development).

Check out www.outtolunch.tv and you'll find two films: The Pot Brownie and Pink Toilet Paper.

I won't spoil the plots, but I will say what I like about the episodes. The production values are great, the pieces are a little quirky, there are some laugh out loud moments and it makes a nice change to see something on the web that isn't just a swear-fest. (And yes, I know that comes across as a little ironic to anyone who's ever been stuck in traffic with me.)

And most of all, it's great to see someone getting out there and actually doing something creative, unlike some of the bitter and twisted bastards I encounter in the more run down parts of Netville.

Now, how can I make a sketch out of that?

Flip side

A little while ago, I was asked to be a judge in a writing competition (or 'contest' for our American friends). I'm by no means an expert, but I know what I like. The trouble was, there was an awful lot of what I liked. Some stories challenged me, others amused me (always an easy route into my psyche) and some just nailed a sentiment or an idea.

How do you choose though? The answer, you'll be pleased to hear, is 'with great difficulty'. Different things can put you off a piece of writing (and we're skipping font, size, sticky finger marks and the other usual culprits - lavender oiled paper person, you know who you are). The process is highly subjective and it pays to continually remind yourself that you're looking for good writing. Not necessarily the way you'd write - I'd go further and say that different is better.

But... time and attention span are finite and inevitably little filters start applying. If a lot of the spelling is bad, it makes you question whether that's the tip of the iceberg. If the word count is beyond the competition limit, that's another strikeout. If the competition subject requirement has been ignored or is such an obvious shoe-in for a previously written piece of work which barely mentions the theme that you want to shout FOUL, that's a strikeout as well.

Then it's crunch time, when I and my fellow judges weigh up the respective merits of the finalist entries. It's the time when you offer up your favourites and find out other people rated them too (arguably, a good sign) or hated them (arguably, also a good sign).

And the creeping idea that won't go away, as you eventually make some person's day (because, like Highlander, there can only be one) and shatter a few other people's hopes, is that this must be a lot like being a literary agent. And when some of the other entrants, not unreasonably, ask for feedback so they can improve next time - or try and retrospectively argue their case - you realise you're treading on other people's dreams (of being a writer) and everyone's as vulnerable as WB Yeats.

A Bug's Life

Today I discovered three things:
1. Ebay ads don't live forever - they get sent to the internet Knacker's Yard.
2. My CV / resume has still been referring out to a link that's been knackered, which might explain why there hasn't been a flurry of similar ad work hitting my inbox. (Well, that's one explanation...)
3. A blog is a good place to archive old material where it can live out its dotage without fear of extermination, at least until the internet reaches meltdown. (Come back Arpanet, all is forgiven.)

The following is an ebay ad I wrote for Kyle, who had decided to part company with this, his much loved vehicle. His brief was for an ad that was original, witty and memorable. I went for a character piece and, with a little tweaking, here's what the finished article looked like. He received inquiries from across the US and sold his Beetle - everyone loves a happy ending.

2001 Volkswagen Beetle- New, Burberry

If you’re looking for a car that makes a statement, then look no further. Yep, this is it – the vehicle of your dreams – a classic 2001 VW Beetle with Manual Transmission. Nothing short of showing up to your destination in an Iron Man suit will get you more attention than being in this car. James Bond may have his Aston Martin, Batman his batmobile and the Scooby Doo gang their mystery machine, but you, my friend, you can have a designer car that will never go out of fashion. Because it’s never been in fashion – no, it’s in style.

I know, I know, it’s not what you’re used to. And people will point and stare, right? Let them gaze on you with envy. Your *sshole neighbor, the douche bag at the lights in his 911 Turbo and every John and Jane on the milk and eggs run to the 7-Eleven. This car makes all other vehicles seem like they have attention deficit.

But it’s not just a pretty face (okay, bodywork then). You want amazing gas mileage? This car has it. Point B from Point A, this car gets you there comfortably and in style. And yes, this kind or originality takes some getting used to. But it drives really well.
Which is great because you'll want to pull away quickly at intersections before the crowds gather. There’s only so many times you want to appear on your local news channel: cool car holds up traffic again; owner of most awesome car in world hassled for autographs in 50mile traffic jam. You get the idea.

So how did I end up with a car like this?
Was it a bet, a creative girlfriend who thought she knew better, or the last VW model in the showroom? It's a long story. Let's just say that I lost the bet, my girlfriend dumped me - for some *sshole conceptual artist - and I worried that all my angry tears might damage the interior.

It was a great car for me, with many happy memories of my two-faced ex, including the tear-stained night she left me, and the time I parked outside a retirement block and the residents all thought they'd developed vision problems. This car will tell you who you're friends are. Chicks love its originality and, by extension, yours (even if you don't have any).

In fact this VW is everything my girlfriend wasn't - it's economical to take on the road, a pleasant ride and handles well. You won't regret it. So why am I selling it? Well, let me say three words to you: Vegas, Road Trip. That’s right, this dream of a car will not only make you happy but the proceeds of the sale will enable me to fulfill a long held ambition to get wasted in the capital city of planet wasted.

Wanna know more? Then here are the specs:
1. 2001 VW Beetle Manual Transmission – so you can play at being in Herbie, only without Lindsay Lohan for company.
2. Roll up windows – kinder to the environment and good exercise for arms.
3. Hardly any "luxury" options – because with a car this good, every drive is a luxury experience.
4. Gets ridiculous, unbelievable gas mileage - honestly. You’ll be laughing all the way from the bank.
5. Runs great – renowned VW engineering.
6. Has tinted windows - otherwise known as counter-paparazzi intelligence. And great for looking mysterious at the lights.
7. Neuspeed Air Intake – yeah, like either of us know what that means! Just know that it’s great for the car’s performance.
8. Cloth interior, no rips or tears, a few coffee stains – lived in but loved. Kinda loved in.
9. Original owner – yes, I was its first and it’ll always respect me.
10. Clean title and title in hand. Sir VW.
11. Only 134,000 luscious and affordable miles on the clock.

The wrap can be removed, but I can't imagine why you would ever want to remove it, you might even make it angry. And you won't like it, when it's angry.


As the picture shows, a little foraging can remind you why living in the countryside is such a pleasure. The onset of autumn is a time of reaping what was sown both literally and metaphorically - the things that grew, anyway.

One glance at my trusty spreadsheet tells me that it's been a mixed harvest. I have lost business for the first time, but learned valuable lessons in the process. I have done spec work which led to nothing. I have narrowed my focus and drawn back from the scatter-gun approach. And I've fallen a little out of love with Craigslist. Not the site itself, which is as entertaining and thought provoking as ever. But the return on my investment of time and effort there is decreasing so it's time to adapt and seek new markets.

As you may have noticed on this blog, I'm in the early stages of a new novel and enjoying the process immensely. This book is different in that I already had the chapters plotted out at the start and now I'm weaving in new and alternate story lines. It should also be a standalone work.

Meanwhile, in another part of town, I was delighted to have made the long-list in literary agent Kate Nash's first 500 words competition: http://slushpilemountaineering.wordpress.com/2010/08/10/great-novel-openings-the-longlist/

And a short story of mine will shortly appear in the first A Word With You Press anthology - http://www.awordwithyoupress.com - and I'm waiting to hear (that phrase is surely the writer's constant companion) about some short fiction appearing in two other publications.

I'm heading in the right direction, but I could still do with a few signposts.