JOHN MEANEY

2.12.05

SERENDIPITY

...was a great film, cos that Joss Whedon knows how to write... Oh, no, that was Serenity. Right... Close, though... Do I mean synchronicity? Serengeti? Spaghetti? Spit it out, John...

Writing seems easier, but I'm still in first draft of the sixth book (yeah, I know you ain't seen the fifth yet) and until I've read the whole thing I won't know if it's good. Working out seems easier, but I concentrate on bodyweight calisthenics and yer actual martial arts (which Martin Sketchley's interviewing me about for Vector), which are easier when you’re lighter. But I'm lifting heavier weights as well...

What’s he talking about:?

...because it's that trance thing. Did I mention using the Paul McKenna CD? Yeah, two entries back... Well, I've only weighed myself twice since starting, and that only so I could report progress to my bro who lives in the States. Ten kilos lost in five or six weeks... Easy, and I’ve lost more since, and I’m twice as energized. Well, cor blimey!

Don't worry, I'm not going to start writing like James Joyce. (Like, have you ever tried Ulysses? And finished it? The man was bonkers.) But I'm in a stream-of-consciousness kind of mood...

Writing -- of course! -- is a kind of trance. And so is reading. That's one of the reasons I've always wondered why some writers put in-jokes and clever references into their stories in ways that make you stop and think... thereby dropping you out of the story. The best just carry you along... When John D McDonald's main series character Travis McGee used to launch off into first-person philosophical riffs about the ecological destruction of Florida or the hypocrisy of a service-based culture, or even mentioned someone else's books (McGee reading a Stephen King novel at some point), he made it part of the flow. So you can do the clever stuff, but it's best done unobtrusively. Like the simplest martial arts moves being the hardest to perfect, it's where the true craft lies.

Teaching karate a couple of weeks back, a kata lesson, I turned the experience into a story... by getting one of the dan grades (black belts), Sian, to come at me with continuous attacks, while I just subtly stopped everything coming near me. (Peripherally, I sensed onlookers smiling.) Then I asked the rest of the group to work out WHY I wasn't getting hit. That caught their attention. Then Sian tried to hit me a few more times...

I explained that I was using two key principles of blocking. (If you're a martial artist, check out the books by Marc MacYoung, which will reveal everything.) Then, as we worked through the solo forms, or kata, I showed how the same principles applied to every move, and how effective they are for real fighting. I demonstrated on another person, Colin, and mentioned that I didn't see a human being (for which I apologized!) but physics and biology.


The biology was in the way I saw him as a mass of targets (and Tim Larkin's Target Focus Training is all about this); the physics was to do with axes and torque -- I explained the principle behind all throws and takedowns -- and the concept of the centreline, which is part of the key principles of blocking. The legendary American full-contact pioneer, Joe Lewis, known for his powerful aggression, believes that offence has to be launched from a strong defence.

In karate, as in many disciplines, there are key concepts that teachers don't point out, even if they can apply them, because... well, systems grow complex, stagnate, then change or get swept away. Teaching can be storytelling, if you truly know what you're teaching. (Thanks, David, for pointing out that I was doing this in Edinburgh... That made me think.) And it's interesting that those NLP folk use what they call metaphor as a way of communicating concepts, because they're talking about stories.

Incidentally, nesting stories within stories is a sophisticated concept, used by NLP trainers and by novelists, and it has to be done just right. Karyn's Tale works as part of Paradox, perhaps... but only just. I think I got there by the skin of my teeth. In Resolution, tying the two timelines together from the start, it worked much better. And I've recently read Oracle Night by Paul Auster -- that'll be a mainstream lit'ry novel – with its mixed, related tales within tales and blurring of realities, is very nicely done.

(Which reminds me of a question I've pondered recently. Is Jon Courtenay Grimwood the most stylish writer on the planet? Don't answer this question until you've read the stupendous 9Tail Fox.)

That Oracle Night does something really bad, breaking a writing rule that I think equates to the NLP concept of nested loops, and does it deliberately so a central part of the story sticks in your mind forever, and therefore the rest of the book hangs off it. What a bastard! And I so wish I’d thought of it first...

My week in Edinburgh was the scene of another adventure – life is a sequence of adventures, hour by hour and minute by minute, didn’t you know? – because a random websurf revealed that NLP’s creator (or co-founder) Richard Bandler was in the city teaching a seminar. Feeling no hesitation about gatecrashing a venue where the paying guests had forked out real money to be, I got to meet some wonderful people – thanks to Hugh, Kate Benson, John LaValle, Owen Fitzpatrick – and above all the great Richard Bandler. Blimey. A month after I’d been into my first trance, I was chatting about science fiction to the creator of NLP. Um... Serendipity and serenity abound in our synchronous universe, that magical place that we are in and create and are intimately part of. Blimey again...

The next night I adventurously met up with loads of fine folk at Edinburgh University’s SF society, including most of the contributors to the Nova Scotia anthology, and dined with Charlie Stross, Feorag NicBhride and Ken MacLeod, which was superlative fun, and we talked about SF novels that we hadn’t written yet. Shame you weren’t there...

And that fine SF movie Serenity begins with a triple-timeline sequence that is wonderfully assured. What a great way to start an adventure. Would-be writers, ya gotta learn this stuff. Though obviously I wouldn’t bother nesting stories within stories in something as simple as a blog entry, would I? I mean... really?

Fly high, look deep, and enjoy the ride. It’s a wild one, Pilots.

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