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I have returned.

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Playing with perspective in the salt flats. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

Having spent six months exploring twelve countries across two continents, taking hundreds of buses and dozens of planes and of course using my own feet to walk an indeterminable number of miles, I’m finally home. It feels strange to be back – but a good strange, I think.

Travelling exhausted me. It broke me, it humbled me, it pained me. It was the best thing I have ever done. I’ve met amazing people, seen beautiful places, and lived out some amazing experiences. If you get the chance to get away, to explore the world, even if it’s just for a month at a time, do it.

Did I get any inspiration? Hell yes. Did I write? Nowhere near as much as I would have liked to. But yes, a little, and I hope to share the results soon.

I trust 2017 is now firmly in the back of your minds, and I hope 2018 treats you right.

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I’m writing this from a motel room in Banff, Canada.

Roughly three weeks ago I quit my job. Over the next six months I will be travelling through Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.

And so this blog will come to an end. Or maybe not. Certainly an indefinite hiatus. Ideally I’d like to update when I can over the coming months, but more than that I’d like to keep writing several projects as I travel – short stories, longer pieces, as well as general impressions and observations along the way. It’s going to be hard enough for me to devote time to that.

I’d like to thank those who have regularly read my posts on here, especially those who have taken the time out to give feedback, positive and negative. And perhaps some of you will still be around if/when I do come back.

All the best,

Nick

Quick update: I haven’t given up, I’m just busy.

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Very busy. By the end of this month I will have submitted work to seven literary magazines, publications, short story competitions, etc, etc. Each with a different piece of work entered. And there’s more to come in October and the rest of 2016. Some stories have been kicking around for a while. Some already existing pieces have been rehashed and reworked into more coherent wholes. Others are completely brand new. Some of it I think is pretty good, some still needs more work, and some of it won’t go anywhere, but I have a bit more choice and perspective over what has worked and what hasn’t.

(I’ve had some good news already but I can’t say more that that right now)

It’s been intense (and a real strain at times) but I am slowly building a small body of work – whereas previously I just had a few nice prompts on a blog. I’ve loved working on the prompts and updating the blog in general; the occasional complimentary comment from readers and the photographers I’ve been inspired by are fucking great to see, and I really appreciate them. But at the same time, they won’t get me anywhere. Where am I trying to get to? I don’t know. But I do like writing stories and if I want to take things more seriously I need to push myself.

So I apologise for the lack of content, now and possibly in the next few months, to the few who do regularly visit my blog, and to myself, because I do enjoy writing here. But I’m doing it for the right reasons.

Also I’m 26 today (fuck!)

Posts have been running a little dry recently as I’ve been away; Sark Folk Festival last weekend, and the weekend prior to that, Glastonbury. My recovery has been slow and difficult, and while there was much fun to be had, I just don’t feel human anymore.

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Glastonbury 2016 was a lot tougher than previous years (I blame the mud)

But the reason for this post is not an opportunity to complain about the “Great British Summer”. A couple of months ago I entered a small writing contest, hosted by author Curtis Bausse, who challenged writers to submit a short piece based on the following passage from his book The Cats);

A long time ago, when life was tolerable, almost good, he had two cats that kept him company. How old was he? Seven? Eight? Before his father began to question the worth of his existence. Back then, presumably, he was cute, almost as cute as the tabbies. He never knew what happened to them but they disappeared, both of them, all of a sudden, and he was left only with an inconsolable sadness.

More information on the contest can be found on Curtis’s site here. I chose a rather dark take on the passage, detailing a rainy night in a diner for the central character as he returns to the hometown that brought him so much pain, for the funeral of his estranged father. (Note, I haven’t actually read the book of which the extract is taken from.)

I did not win, but a group of us – around 20 – impressed Curtis, and guest judge Atthys Gage, enough to suggest bringing our selected stories together to create an anthology.

The title is to be decided (it will be cat themed due to the subject matter), and several rounds of proof-reading are currently underway, but I don’t think the finished anthology is too far off. There will be no profit gained for each participant (anything earned from the project will be going to charity), but that was never the point. It’s been flattering to be selected and involved, and so beneficial to be working and learning from like-minded people. It’s a small-scale project but I hope to learn a lot from the experience.

Once more is known, perhaps a release date and title, I will post another update, and of course will announce when it is done and available to purchase. Like I said, it’s not a huge deal but this will be the first time a piece of my work has been ‘published’ in anything other than this blog, so personally, I’m really excited going forwards.

Updates (and general progress on everything) has slowed this month. But for good reason – I just returned from a two week holiday (a week in Miami South Beach, followed by another week in Cancun, which coincided with Spring Break). Too many burgers, nachos, cocktails, tequila shots, late nights, sunburn… It was a welcome break from work and the typical winter weather we see here in the UK, but I’m absolutely knackered now and in dire need of detoxification.

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Me (the goon) with some Mayan architecture (the pyramid). You can check out my instagram (add @nickjparr) which contains a few more photos from the trip.

There is a potentially exciting joint project in the works, but I’ll hold back on sharing that until more has been confirmed. But the usual updates should start flowing again soon.

Cheers!

Wahey! January, the month in which depression, suicide and crushed dreams are at an all time high (unconfirmed data), is out of the way for another year. Now February is here to ensure we remain cold, wet and miserable for another four weeks. In case you hadn’t noticed, winter is not a season I’m fond of.

December isn’t too bad. You’ve got the run up to Christmas and New Year and the parties to keep you sane. But then January brings in the realisation that you are another year older and still a useless dickhead. On top of that, it’s really bloody cold and everyone keeps ranting on about new year, new me. As well as the sickening knowledge that this will be par for the course for the next three months. I’m all about the summer. I have more energy, I’m more sociable, I’m more active, I look better, I feel better. If we can all pull through February and March, it’ll soon be in spring and before you know it summer will be upon us. I’m already planning to use as many of my 25 days of holiday in order to take best advantage of the warm summer months as I can.

As my posts recently have been very text-heavy, here’s a lovely picture of my Croatian adventure last summer. More sunny times soon please.

Desperately trying not to forget times like these.

Desperately trying not to forget times like these.

Anyway, this is just a bit of an update really. My job is still going really well and I passed my probation just before Christmas. I’m heading to London next weekend to visit a few mates so that should be a laugh and raise my spirits. My ‘aims’ for the coming months, as I covered in a post just after new year, are going fairly well. I’m reading a lot more; January saw me finish Child of God by Cormac McCarthy, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and The Thing On The Doorstep and other weird stories by H.P Lovecraft, and there’s plenty of material I want to get read in the coming months. I’m also writing as often as I can and this blog remains pretty active. I’ve been trying to add a post every week or so; depending on how much I’ve got on at the time, it might be more or less frequent. Don’t ask about the gym though.

Another side project I’ve taken on is to teach myself to use Corel Painter. It’s a digital media/art based software in which drawings and paintings can be created. I’ve bought a graphics tablet to accompany it, and while I’ve got extensive experience using the Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop/Illustrator/Indesign) due to my degree in architecture, a program like Corel is very new to me. I’ll write about this in more detail in a separate post, but I’m very excited and have some ideas I’m looking forward to trying out.

So yeah, that’s me right now.

The Start Writing Fiction course with the Open University I have been participating in officially ended the week before Christmas. I’ve only just finished in the past few days due to other commitments over the hectic festive period. But here it is. I’ve put my final story in a separate post (which will follow this one), but the rest of the highlights from weeks 7 + 8 are all below.

Week 7

Formulating and sharing technical opinion: In between the various writing exercises we have undertaken through the course there have been plenty of opportunities to read passages by famous writers and encouraged to give our opinion on the techniques and language they use. Here we were asked to discuss in less than 200 words, two novels we had read in the past; one we liked and one we disliked.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy is a violent journey across the US-Mexican border, set in the 1850s. McCarthy has a fantastically scrambled and unorthodox writing style interjected with moments of stunning, verbose, flamboyant prose. It was a style that took me a while to get used to, but it combines fantastically well with the world in which we find these murderous, merciless characters. The use of violence will turn many off, but it is not gratuitous; in fact it is vital to tell a story of war and conflict during a time of terrifying hate and suffering.

Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 is a book which I could not finish. Critically acclaimed and considering a must-read, I found I had to force myself to keep reading. Whilst I was reading, I was kept entertained, if a little confused as to exactly what was going on. Characters come and go; introduced, given an amusing anecdote, and moved on. 100 pages in and there was still no real plot, just witty observations and interactions. I don’t want to write it off just yet, and I appreciate that it’s a very well-written novel that a lot of people love. I don’t know, I think I will come back and give it a go in a few months time.

Two very different novels.

Two very different novels.

Editing and reviewing your story: Week 7 gave us hints, tips and encouragement to keep working and editing our short story, which was to be assigned and critiqued by our fellow writers in the final week.

For my first draft, I came up with an outline of a story or scene I thought I could complete within 1000 words. I wrote and wrote, without worrying about spelling, grammar, layout, or even the quality of the actual prose; I just rambled on to get it finished. By the time I had, I was at 1400 words, eek. Have a lot of cutting down to do.
I am satisfied with the way I build my characters and describe their settings and surroundings, but I cringe when I make any attempt at actual dialogue. It always seems a little cheesy and clichéd. I may cut down on speech, or perhaps try something completely different. It might be a bit risky but as it is the dialogue is clearly not working and is far too ‘wordy’.

Editing revisited: Again, another chance to step back and give an account of how the writing and editing process has been going.

I’m happy with the way I’ve described the setting. Point of view is sort of an omniscient narrator, who lingers with the protagonist but also observes other characters.
My issues come, as I’ve mentioned previously, with the dialogue. Having real issues making it believable. Reading the Jazz extract has certainly helped. I may cut down on dialogue for this particular assignment but I will keep practising it, as dialogue is a vital part of interactions between characters and writing in general.

Week 8

I’m going to post my short story as a separate post, otherwise this post will end up far too long. But I will post the feedback for it here.

Your own thoughts: Before we received the feedback from our course mates, we were asked to give a review or general thoughts on our own story.

As with many of you, I found the 1000 word limit quite restricting. There were only two characters in my short story, yet I feel they are somewhat underdeveloped. However there is certainly some clear conflict between the characters that I hope will interest the reader, and this is certainly resolved in the conclusion.
As I’m so far behind I do feel I’ve rushed this last task a little. I’m pleased with most aspects of it; it’s not perfect, and the story lends itself to being a lot longer. But I’m looking forward to getting some constructive feedback on it.

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Tricia's review

Closing thoughts: I was sceptical of how much I would get out of this course. I thought there was generally a good standard of discussion, and the quality of assignments that I gave feedback on were on the whole impressive. There were quite a few on the course for whom English was not their first language, which made reviewing some of their stories difficult, but there was always a passion and enthusiasm for writing. I saw very little negative comments during the course; almost all criticism was given constructively and taken in graciously.

Most importantly this course has been fantastic in giving me (and I’m sure many others) the confidence to share my work. I’m no longer worried or scared about someone not liking it or receiving negative feedback. It’s all useful and will only serve to make you a stronger writer. For me the next step is to continue to read frequently and write as often as I can; be it short stories or working on a larger project.

I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into 2015, with a Christmas belly and a slight drinking problem. and now the festive season is over we have January, a cold, wet, miserable excuse of a month. Happy new year everybody!

Dressing up as Frenchman for New Year. Still not totally sure why.

Dressing up as Frenchman for New Year. Still not totally sure why.

Resolutions never work, and the shame of your inevitable failure to become fitter/healthier/less addicted to X will make you feel like you shouldn’t have bothered. So I’ll casually sum up what I’d like to try to achieve over the next few months. No lists, no bold ambitions. Just manageable, bitesized chunks.

I want to be more active, but not so much that it feels like a chore. If I don’t feel like it, or I’m tired, I won’t force myself to go. I don’t have the willpower to become one of those guys for whom the gym is their religion. My work offer a reduced gym membership that I’ll take up, but I can’t see myself going more than once or twice a week. Hey, it’s better than nothing.

I’d like to eat a bit healthier. I’m not going to go crazy and radically alter my diet, but small steps like preparing and taking in lunch a few days a week, eating a bit more fruit, drink more water etc. Buying sandwiches every day seems a bit unnecessary and it’s so easy to spend a fiver every day, and if you start to add that up over the weeks and months it’s…well, yeah, bloody expensive.

I want to read more. This will be easy. I love reading. I got a tonne of books for Christmas and I’ve already read one of them. It would mean cutting back on a few distractions, like watching TV or using the laptop before bed, but that’s a habit I should get out of anyway. A few years back I would have set myself a stupidly unrealistic challenge like 52 books in 52 weeks. I won’t set myself a target…but yeah, I’ll be reading a lot more.

I want to write more. The Creative Writing course I enrolled in has reignited by passion to write, what I’d like to do now is dedicate more time to actually sitting down and typing a few hundred words. When I say write more, I guess I mean both using this blog as well as personal projects. A short story or two by the end of this year would be a nice target to aim for.

Don’t worry so much about money. This might seem a bit unusual; usually you see resolutions promising to spend more sensibly. Nah, fuck that. I’ve just come back from seeing friends in London, and it made me realise I should make an effort to see them more. Living in Guernsey means its expensive to get off this rock, but if I want to spend a weekend in London with mates or go up to Manchester to watch the football, why should I let that stop me? I’m already making plans for trips away later in the year, and it’s the amount of holiday I’ll have to take rather than money that is my primary concern.

And I absolutely promise I won’t try to stop drinking. Because that would never, ever happen.

Our NYE crate of booze.

Our NYE crate of booze.

It’s been a while.

Almost certainly a delirious midnight selfie in my Brighton cave earlier in the year.

Almost certainly a delirious midnight selfie in my Brighton cave earlier in the year.

I started a new job last month. Five weeks in and I haven’t been sacked yet so I’m doing something right. It’s not where I would have imagined myself 5 years ago when I first set off to Brighton with naive aspirations of architectural fame, but I’m enjoying it so far and I think there’s a lot to look forward to in terms of progression and opportunity. And the best thing? It has nothing to do with architecture. Without going into any details, it’s quite a varied position, predominately dealing in IT and business systems. With no formal IT qualifications to my name, I feel a little lucky to have snagged such a position. Excited to get stuck in.

Anyway, work recently sent me to the UK for two weeks which is why I’ve been a bit slack in updating this place. I’ve been constantly thinking about it, and I think I have a couple of ideas to add over the coming weeks which could be pretty cool. I’m by no means a perfectionist, but I like to do my research and editing before posting anything on here; I find it really difficult to smash out a couple of hundred words and just release it without much thought. So there are a few posts in development (there may even be another one posted tonight…) and several ideas brewing for the near future.

I’ve also started a free online creative writing course with the Open University. It’s only eight weeks, all takes place online and in comparison to an academic qualification, is pretty worthless in the grand scheme of things. But it is something I’ve always been interested in, and a bit less demanding than trying to do a full English Language and Literature A level, which is still on the to-do list. Next year maybe. The aim is to take it seriously, and use it to hone my literary skills as well as receiving feedback and critiquing work from other aspiring writers. I’ll be writing about it in more detail around the weekend, and depending on material and time it could be something I write about weekly or bi-weekly.

La Corbiere, Guernsey, 02/11/12. About 10 minutes walk from my house, and it doesn't always look this nice.

02/11/12. About 10 minutes walk from my house, and no it doesn’t always look this nice.

And because no one will be interested in reading a wall of text, you’ll notice I’ve added a few photographs. Words are no fun without pictures to go with them.