Gatecrashing celebrity parties and being hijacked by a dead poet

This post and the links in it contain advertisements for my books.

A good friend of mine once said that writers are people who still have imaginary friends as adults. I have always believed this to be true, but it became really obvious when I started writing about Shakespeare. Even though I’m used to having fictional people clamoring for attention in my head all the time, I wasn’t at all prepared for being swept off my feet like I was by Kit Marlowe.

It all began in Liverpool, of all places. My husband and I went to a concert with a singer that he has admired since his teenage years. After the gig, we stalked one of his friends and gatecrashed the post-gig party. Now, I’ve never wanted to meet my idols, since I just know I would make a fool of myself. But my husband isn’t quite such a coward, so he went over and introduced himself. The singer was really nice and talked to him for a long while, and the memory of that stuck with me.

When I started researching for Rival Poet, I came across the only known (alleged) portrait of Marlowe. In it, he looks a lot like that singer. Rival Poet AReMulling over the connection, I decided that when Will first came to London he must have met someone he looked up to – a poet, probably. The two most likely candidates for such hero worship were Kyd and Marlowe, both successful playwrights at the time. Simply because of the link in my mind to my husband’s idol, I leaned toward Marlowe. Finally, after watching a BBC documentary where he was depicted as a madcap biker, I knew I had to go with him.

So I decided to write a scene where Will meets Kit and is really awkward – as a kind of flirtation with my own admiration for Shakespeare and how nervous I would be in his presence. It was just supposed to be a minor plot point. Little did I expect that both Will and I would fall head over heels in love with the man. In no time at all, he had completely hi-jacked the story, and in the end, the book was more about him than about Shakespeare himself.

And you know, it’s kind of ironic: I chose this profession because I like having full control over everything – only to end up at the complete mercy of people who don’t even exist!

How writing helps me get fit

It sounds like a paradox. How can writing – a very calm and quiet activity – help you get into shape?

Well, take it from me, the grand high wizard of couch potato-ness, whose only interests involve sitting or lying down. Every form of exercise ever invented bores me to death or scares me witless. And despite this, I’ve finally found a way to both get in shape and write my books simultaneously – which means I’m saving time, too!

All you need is a phone. Whether you use a dictation app and clean the text up afterwards, or a simple MP3 recording that you then transcribe, the key is to talk to yourself while you walk. This method works wonders both for my all-important first drafts (like this one) and for my fitness. Having the scenery change around me instead of staring at the screen all day helps me think up more exciting plot elements, and since I’m concentrating on my story, the walk isn’t boring. Plus I get that daily dose of oxygen that keep my brain running smoothly.

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You can combine talk-writing with other activities as well, for example housecleaning. If you haven’t done it before, it may take some getting used to, but I find that the pros far outweigh the cons.

By the way, this post was written during my walk, using a dictation app ;).

My eccentric app

I’m slowly coming to terms with the dictation app I’m using. I used to go for long walks, telling my story to an mp3 recorder, and then I used to transcribe it, but the method was too time-consuming. So I thought I’d try out a dictation app instead.

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Now, you can’t expect too much of a technology that is still in its infancy, and at first I hated it. Over time, however, I’ve learned its strengths and weaknesses. I’ve discovered what words it misunderstands most often, so that I can change my pronunciation accordingly. For example, “he” often becomes “you” for some reason. Another thing I’ve learned is to ignore most of the mistakes the app makes. When I first started using it, I immediately corrected everything that didn’t turn out the way I wanted. This meant that most of the time I wanted to spend on “writing”, I was rerecording tricky words or even typing them. It made my walks precarious (since I didn’t look where I was going) and ineffective. By now I’ve learned to leave most of the text intact and then clean it up as soon as I come home, while I still remember what I really meant. If I come across totally unintelligible gobbledegook I read it aloud, and that usually jogs my memory.

One funny thing about the app is that it tries to educate me in polite conversation. I use some “vulgar language” in my writing: yes, my characters sometimes curse. So if I say “he was pissed off” or “what the fuck was he going to do”, that’s what I want the app to write. No such thing. It changes these phrases to “he was p*issed off” and “what the f*ck was he going to do”. It even puts in two asterisks in g*d*mnit! Excuse me, but I’m the user here. I think I know what I want the text to say, okay? Besides, I’m writing in a fairly risqué genre as it is. If the app wants to change all that language to asterisks, my books will consist of little else.

But in the end, for all its faults, the app does catch about 3/4 of what I say correctly. It even understands phrases like “question mark” and “dot dot dot”. That said, sometimes it’s like autocorrect gone mad. For example, today I wanted to say “When Jamie went through his mother’s record collection, he discovered all sorts of jazz, bebop and blues.” A perfectly ordinary sentence, right? Well, this is where technology shows that we still have a long way to go before we’ve created Artifical Intelligence. Because what the app suggested was “When Jamie went through his mother’s record collection, he discovered all sorts of Justin Bieber balloons.”