Keynsham Writers 2.0

After a busy few weeks (including a big question mark over wether we should move area, and how the workshops I helped facilitate for clients were going at work, etc, etc) I forgot all about the writers group kick-off meet I’d organised until on the day; which is not like me at all.

As it happened -and despite zero expectations- the venue worked out and the people worked out (as in they came – there was no exercise involved!). I’d picked the place I assumed would be quietest on a Monday night on Keynsham highstreet. OK, so there were only 4 of us, but nobody dropped out, and an extra person turned up. Plus, they all seemed nice and friendly, reciprocal, and two were already published! Chats and drinks ensued, despite no format imposed by moi. We set up a rough structure for upcoming meetups, had a few laughs and went on our merry ways.

I’ve tried Meetup dot com to organise the group before, but their business model seems to be an automated tool inviting a bunch of people to your new group (regardless of any real vested interest or commitment on their part) so you think you’re making it a success from day one. Very few of these “interested” parties communicate or turn up (I myself am a member of many groups I’ll probably never interact with). Once Meetup has invited folk its algorithms deem appropriate, they join (this can be as simple as clicking a link in an email). Meetup then warns you that you need to pay more when you inevitably max out your members on their lowest tariff. It’s already expensive, soooo no. Just no. I went for a Facebook group and page, which requires a bit more legwork and marketing, but they chucked me a free £5 budget (with the caveat that I could only trigger a “boosted post” about my writing group if I forked out £5 of my own cash to make it up to a tenner). I haven’t distributed any flyers/cards on the high street yet, but did ask for the updated group to go in the local paper, which is free to do and hopefully we’ll gain some more traction from it.

Which goes to show that literally anyone can pull off setting up a group with a small amount of effort, especially in this technical age. OK, so it may all go belly-up from hereon in unless I pull up my socks and regulate it, but there you go. My choice, really. I’m sure you can do the same! If it does continue positively then I’ll post updates and tips on writers groups as my experience grows.

Keith Flint

For me and many others, things are not OK. Sometimes they are, but we don’t fit in and rarely feel quite right (whatever that is).

I get bouts of death anxiety. I always have. It got almost unbearable the year my childhood died, circa 2016 and early 2017. Death had taken my cool aunt and cleared out a chunk of my (and my peers’) childhood icons. In life I’ve felt underprepared for most things; anxiety and social isolation are like comfortable slippers. The kind that slowly cut into your ankles and shut down your vital systems one by one. So I was pretty fucked off to hear another one of ours, the tortured soul Mr Flint (apparently – I had no knowledge of his depression until this point) had taken his life.

It’s important to get things out in the open. Society does so much damage. We don’t talk about death (in the West), we ostracize and outcast people. Often by saying nothing or labelling the depressing shit as depressing shit we don’t/shouldn’t talk about. We only speak about pointless shit instead. We put up those fucking “Just be OK”/”Everything is la-dee-da all of the time” throwaway Social media posts that might as well have been assembled by the cat unicorn thing from the Lego Movie. We are ultimately discouraged from giving a balanced view of our world. I’m not saying we should mope all the time -and I for one do much too much of that already- but let’s put our thinking caps on and act appropriately.

Fuck you, death. And fuck our inability to cope with it. And you, depression. And the not showing emotion thing we all know is shunned, especially if you’re a man. As a clever race, we’re still so backwards.

And another thing. I did not know Keith Flint personally, but he stirred me and a whole crowd up into rapturous togetherness in a way I have only felt a handful of times in my life. I felt a horrible knot in my stomach as my girlfriend had idolised him more than I*, and as she doesn’t subject herself to the news and was working from home, I knew I’d have to be the one to break the bad news. Plenty of people found The Prodigy and Keith vital before we had, but that didn’t stop his death being a nasty, gut-smacking blow. It’s OK to be sad about someone you’ve never met checking out, despite what society would sometimes have you believe. If you got something from that person – hope, inspiration, anything, then that counts. Here’s hoping that as decent human beings we can learn to admit. To cry and be lonely and fucking depressed without labels and stigmas. No, I mean it. Without labels and stigmas. That we can be accepted without being in such a shitty place we don’t want or know how to go on. That nobody will listen or care. That we may have the chance to turn things around when we’re standing on the precipice.

Anyway, here’s an awesome cruelty-free male grooming products company called Kings, whose founder mentors and champions men’s mental health and what I’ve been rabbiting on about. And here’s the man doing his thing. May you continue to shine brightly and inspire, wherever you may be:

“Normal” business will resume next blog.

*Keith singled her out in a gig, mouthed something she’s pretty sure was “I like you!”, kissed her on the lips and proceeded to lick her hand. Pretty rock n roll, really! She also spent most of sixth form drawing and painting him and plotting a stake-out outside his mansion.

Tools of the trade: Aeon Timeline

As detailed on the official Aeon Timeline website, it is a tool for writers, project managers and legal practictioners to plan, visualise and analyse data.

Aeon Timeline
Participants and arcs in Aeon Timeline

I’ve always had problems recording and recalling dates and times for my story and characters, without losing my notes (and my shit), which is why Aeon timeline is such a fantastic bit of kit. For me it represents the missing piece of the puzzle. I can now record births, deaths, important story and world events and everything in between visually, all in one place and -I’m tempting fate here- without creating massive plotholes; or at the very least, having an easier way to root them out.

Alternative views in Aeon Timeline
There are several different views in Aeon that are useful depending on how you work.

One of the best features for me is that Aeon can link directly to Scrivener, another great writing tool, enabling you to drag across all of your chapters and plot them on a timeline. You can create “arcs” (e.g. a character arc) on the timeline, so everything can be compared, collapsed and exapnded fludily in one view. You can zoom into minutes and seconds and out to your heart’s content. You can jump between important story milestones in the form of shortcut buttons. Births/creation dates can be defined, and also assigned to locations and any other entity; so you can see how old anything is at any given time on your timeline.

Plotting tension in Aeon Timeline
Plotting tension in Aeon Timeline

I’m still learning the intracacies of the software, but I have it down for basic stories without crazy otherworldly calendars, although this is entirely possible and I’m sure there are plenty of comprehensive online tutorials out there if that’s what you need Aeon to do.

Managing entities in Aeon Timeline
Managing entities and birthdates in Aeon Timeline

Aeon Timeline is not free, but there is a 20 day trial period (link below). You don’t need to put in any card details to try it, so there’s no risk of forgetting and being hit with a sudden direct debit. At the time of writing a full copy is £42 ($54). It is a one-off fee and for my money, more than worth it for all of the time it has saved, and no-doubt will save going forwards.

Here are some ace videos that helped me get up and running with the basics of Aeon Timeline:

Setting up Aeon Timeline as a writer. This is a simple, practical and no-nonsense guide to getting set up, without going too bonkers or expansive!

A tutorial on synching Scrivener directly to Aeon so your chapters appear within it on your timeline.

If you’re not sold on Aeon Timeline or it seems a little too much like overkill, here’s a discussion around other timeline software.

Tools of the trade: Scrivener

Scrivener is a writing tool that allows you to organise your novel into chapters and scenes and format your manuscript for publishing (among a bunch of other stuff). It can be purchased out-right for either Windows or Mac, and for iOS there is an App for writing on the go, which will allow you to synch things up. For a more expansive explaination of what it can do, please see Apple Insider’s pretty rad article (and yes I’m bringing rad back).

I have a Mac, but unfortunately an Android phone so no app for me. However, there’s a workaround that involves synching to Dropbox as a middleman. It works pretty well, especially with a light wireless keyboard if you’re on the move (provided you don’t mind using it in conjunction with a small phone screen).

Check out Scrivener’s prices

See the Scrivener overview

I don’t work for these guys, and it’s always worth checking out the competition, so here’s a few alternatives you may want to try (and it looks like at least one of them is free, so may be a good place to start).

In time, I intend to join up the dots with these ‘tools of the trade’ blogs to present a bible of the tools and methods I use when tackling a novel-length (and indeed series-based) piece.

Of course, if you know any other great writing tools or tips, please give me a shout in the comments!