This is not what I planned for this week's post. Not that I ever plan these posts in any depth, but I wanted to move away from digging around in my memories.
I do want to say thank you for all the lovely messages of support responding to the posts I've done in the last few weeks. I know I still have people I need to reply to, but I wanted to do that at a time when I could come up with the right words. Communication is hard.
Instead, I'm writing this after spending an hour on Facebook Live working on the Moomin House project. I wanted to do a test run when barely anybody would notice, so I just jumped on Live without planning or warning, just to work through some ideas and see how it went.
This is a shift away from talking and writing about my past and life on benefits. Instead, this is all about my PhD, ancient magic, materiality, and some of the theories I've been working on for the last six years.
I should start with a bit of an explanation behind the Moomin House Project before I go any further, and why I thought it might be interesting to start sharing some of the ideas behind it and my PhD—not to mention how building a toy house relates to magical objects and texts from first century Roman Egypt.
The Moomin House Project
About this time last year, I got obsessed with a series of adverts on Instagram promoting a model-making subscription project from DeAgostini. I'm sure they've been around for years, usually putting out these build-your-own miniature ship, car, etc., where you get sent a few parts a month over however long it lasts.
I tried to put myself off the project. I looked up the company, and they seemed legitimate. I read all the comments under the adverts, all the critiques about the cost. Of course, they get you to sign up with a cheap first issue (99p) and then gradually increase the price over time.
But every time I looked at Instagram, I'd see these adverts and I so wanted to do this. I wanted to make miniatures, something I've always been fascinated by (and, yes, I've read The Miniaturist). I love tiny reproductions of things, especially when they actually work.
Eventually, I caved. I saw the advert one too many times, and I figured that it was fine to pick up a new project if I was in the process of finishing my PhD and would have more time.
Also, I realised, I could associate it with my PhD, because I'd be effectively learning about a process of physical making not unlike the texts and objects I'd studied, and the materiality philosophers and theorists I've been reading for the last few years.
That Was Then, This Is Now
It took so long for the first package to arrive. I don't think it showed up until January, in fact. Then it was only Moomintroll's bed, and Snuffkin's tent. The second package involved constructing a small porch for the front door. It took me a while to break through the barrier of my own nervousness about starting (what if I screwed it up and needed replacement parts? What if I was terrible at making?). When I did, I found that, in bursts, I really enjoyed working on it.
So, this has been in the background of my life for the last year. Every month or so, I get sent a package with four "issues" of the Moomin House project. When I have a long stretch of time when I can work on it, I sit under a standard angle lamp with some tools I got from a Gundam kit, and work on building various parts of the project.
As I come around to a year from subscribing, I have two out of three floors done, and a huge array of tiny furniture. It's a lot of fun. I do stop for long periods, during which time the packages mount up in the office and I feel that lingering guilt that I'm not working on it.
The Facebook Live Idea
Then we come to this latest, maddest idea. I've been toying around with the idea of making videos talking through my ideas about how the materiality of magic, modern ideas about materiality, and the process of making something, are all intertwined. But I couldn't figure out the best way to go about it.
I suspect I'm already overloaded with projects, and I'm aware that, these days, video-making isn't really a cheap amateur sport. It's expensive to get setup and do the lighting and editing. I also wasn't sure what effect it would have on my brain. Would I even be able to sit and talk about materiality while actually building the Moomin House?
Turns out I sort of could. I should really have thought through camera angles, lighting, and bringing up the completed parts of the house to show off effectively. I also needed a better title than just "Building a Moomin House". I should explain what I'm doing in more depth and maybe even provide a reading list.
At the moment, I'm considering doing a planned one, where I actually give some warning that I'm going to be doing it. Tony is out next week, so that would be a good time to pick.
Meanwhile, Building a Full Plot
The last few weeks have been... a lot. Writing out and then releasing stories from the darkest moments in my adult life has been incredibly cathartic. I don't know if it's doing that itself that's changed my relationship to creativity or if it was just going to happen anyway, but things have changed.
I've tried to take the pressure off myself a little by not having such intense goals as "write an entire novel series". Instead, I've been reading books I love and re-reading my favourite authors. I make notes of quotes that really stick out to me, lines and styles that appeal in some way.
I have, finally, managed to build a full plot for this Amnar novel about Maali and Arandes I've been working on for the last forever. I've gone back to using the Story Grid approach, because it's the most detailed in terms of how it tackles each section of a book.
Specifically, I dragged a copy of their Action Story book out that I'd had sitting on my shelf for ages. It's expensive, for what it is, and some of the notes on how to write confuse me a little. I work with impenetrable magical texts all the time, and I was stumped for ages by the description of what to do right after the midpoint break. I ended up watching the midpoint of Die Hard to understand what they were talking about.
That said, what I like about Story Grid as a method for plot is that it is well-paced throughout. Other methods, like Save the Cat and the like, are good, but leave vast spaces within the plot without much in the way of guidance. I'm sure some people don't need it. But I struggle, and keep getting stuck.
What I did this week was to write out, by hand, each of the twenty obligatory scenes (according to Story Grid), and then put in one sentence descriptors for the scenes I'd got worked out. I got stuck at the halfway point or thereabouts, which required some research and thought and, if I'm honest, Moomin House building.
I was searching for inspiration. It came in the form of following through with more exercises from the Sense Writing course (I'll save that for another post), and watching a series of documentaries on the National Geographic channel. When that inspiration hit, I wrote out a new version of the obligatory scenes. I spent Thursday night transferring them into Plottr, which is finally coming into its own as a planning tool.
The next stage is to start breaking down each scene. I'd never have done this in the "old days". Twenty years ago, I'd have trusted myself to just ride the wave of creativity.
But that's not possible now. Maybe that'll come back in the future, but my brain doesn't do that any more. Instead, I'm going to try to build structures for each scene that help me figure out anything I don't have yet, and provide me with a scaffolding to write around.
That's going to take more time, but I hope that if I'm able to do set up a decent scaffold for the dynamics of the scenes and the whole story before I start, I won't wander off or get lost and stuck like I did in the summer when I tried to write the whole thing. Being able to keep writing consistently is the fundamental goal of this process, although it wasn't when I started. But that's the power of doing something like this. You never know how it might turn out in the end.