How My Clay Great White Shark Was Born (…If Only You Knew…): Part 2

Nothing to do with sharks: me in clay. Doing the hair was a nightmare, I tell YOU!

…But I kept going. I was in this. I couldn’t just give up (OooOOps, Ive been a naughty boy or girl and I haven’t yet read part 1, so please take me to part 1!).

Once I’d resigned my model to being total crap, things started to go much better. It was as if the hand of doom had been lifted and the clay wanted to cooperate. What can I say, I am good at kidding myself.

Stop. Wait: I haven’t said yet what happened when I noticed the fins I was yet to create…

Yes, I had noticed the fins of my rubber model shark before of course — you couldn’t help but notice them! — but up until now, I hadn’t considered how I would make the fins and attach them to the body. The logistics of it, which now revealed themselves to be perilous! Now I really looked at the rubber shark, I saw that the fins on the shark’s side splayed out and downwards beneath the submarine-like body. What a pain for a man who thought things were going better. So you could say that this presented a serious problem…with the clay still soft, how would I attach the fins and make them strong enough to support the immense weight of the body?!

I wouldn’t, that much was clear…I was in dire straits, again…

For ten long minutes — which, as any craftsperson knows, is a lifetime in the world of quick-drying packet clay — I ummed and agghed, considering how I could magically suspend the shark in the air and attach the fins. Then a stunning flash of inspiration struck me right about the head! I would rest the shark on something so it was off the table, and then add the side fins…

Another angle of the shark now getting there…before the big disaster that dogged me a good ‘n’

Yes, I know this solution sounds obvious, but trust me: when you’re in the thick of Great White Shark model-making, you don’t always see the most obvious solutions…

Now I had solved this somewhat fundamental problem, I was free to continue my quest. This I did with gusto: my next task was to build the–

WAIT! No, scratch that: my next task was to come to terms with the fact that I had made the tail of the shark way too flippin’ long! Not only that, but the shark’s entire body was way too long. Damn that rubber shark and my extreme excitement and enthusiasm…

There was no other thing for it. I couldn’t just stare at this dodgy specimen all day. I had to make an executive decision while the clay was still nice and soft, and that I did: sometimes you have to do this with model-making, and in this case, this meant cutting my shark in half and extracting a large part of the abdominal area.

Then followed a precarious few minutes as the fate of my shark hung heavily in the balance. The bloody thing just would not stick back together, no matter what orthodox and unorthodox tactics I used. I’m disgusted with myself for saying it, for creating this monstrosity, but it looked a lot like one of those cut-and-shut cars that used to be all the rage back in the 1990s (but stopped being all the rage when they started separating into 2 when drivers were joining the motorway at 90 miles per hour. Novel, but not what you ideally want to happen. Unless you have really annoying kids in the back and it’s a very long drive all the way from Cornwall to Scotland, that is).

If I’m making it sound highly dramatic, well, dear reader, that’s because it was

Now I had the fin situation under control, it was time to pay some more attention to the head, which, up until now, had much more resembled a very angry cow. For a good twenty minutes I geeked around with smoothing the head and body into the right kind of shape, and then I moved onto the top dorsal fin and tail fins — both of which demanded a special skill-set that it appeared I did not possess.

After ten minutes, I sort of possessed it, but it wasn’t easy. I surmised early on that I would have to use a bit of cunning artistic license, otherwise the fins would be much too thin and, later, when the shark stood on them and I felt all proud and happy, they would collapse under its own weight and I would be sent frantic with annoyance and worry (and possibly embarrassment too, depending on who else witnessed my fishy shambles).

An hour and a half in and I was sweating…the clay was drying fast and becoming much less maliable!

Nothing to do with sharks — this is actually my brother’s face in icing on a poor quality gingerbread biscuit bought from the co-op on special offer (I did the face of course, you can’t buy them like this, duh). I certainly learned my lesson there.

I moved onto the gills. I really liked doing the gills, they were tough but fun. Then, horribly, terribly, it dawned on me that I hadn’t even started the teeth yet…

I needed to, and in a quickfasthurry!

So that was precisely what I did: one by one and looking like the kind of nerd that even a fellow nerd from Games Workshop would find unsettling, I cut the tiny razor sharp daggers from the clay I had left, and then, very carefully, went about putting them into position. I do not mind saying one bit that it was a monumental PAIN IN THE ARSE. You had to get the angle just right, or else the shark would be a laughing stock. Not really the look you want when you’re trying to recreate the world’s most vicious swimming predator.

I thought I was now out of the woods. That all my preparation and intense concentration had paid off. But over the course of the next three hours I was reminded, repeatedly, that I could not leave my shark’s side for even three minutes — less it become a disaster! As the clay dried, it was crucial to be in or near the immediate area drinking peppermint tea, hovering like a trenchcoat flasher, just in case a fin looked like it might fall to one side, or the thing might collapse in the middle, rendering the whole operation pointless.

So I was to be on vigil until it ended five endless hours later. Not one of the best wait-around times I can remember, but I was damned if Iw as going out and leaving that thing to its own sordid devices after what we’d been through together. No way was I going out to have a good time, only to come back with a smile on my face to see that my shark miniature had warped and twisted into a total flippin’ wreck!

Not this shark maker.

The finished article

THE NEXT DAY

All my waiting by the shark’s side had been more than worth it. My God I as relieved. The Great White Shark was just as it had been left before midnight! Now a light grey colour and seventy-percent hardened, all the effort and attention-to-detail was set forever and not going anywhere. Or at least until some moron picked it up and said “Wow, how long did it take you to make–” and then dropped it.

I thought that was the end of the making. I thought I had really done it. But no sooner had I started to relax than a tooth dropped out…followed by another! In the end, all of them dropped out and I spent another hour gluing them back in…

Once it was 100% dry, or so I thought, I decided I would sandpaper my shark. I would take it outside and carefully buff it until it was smooth (even though Great White’s aren’t smooth, but still).

It began well, but events took a sinister twist when the left fin snapped off, followed almost immediately by the tail. With the shark in three pieces, I won’t lie…for a split-second the urge was there in massive amounts to hurl the damn thing right over the next-door neighbour’s fence. But I kept my cool. No flying miniature Great White was potentially going to maim someone. Instead, I spent another hour gluing it all back together and staying close by with yet more peppermint tea. In times of strife, peppermint tea is nearly always the answer, as I believe I have demonstrated (warning: do not drink and model-make. It will only end in tears).

Later, I would paint it as you see in the picture, but first I wanted to show the shark to my friend Ola (via picture on my phone), who is a also a huge fan of these devastating beautiful creatures. I remember the text conversation we had quite well. It went something like:

Her: “Wow! It’s amazing!” I promise I’m not trying to big myself up, she really did say something like that.

Me: “Thanks!”

Her: “…So how did you do all the rows of teeth? You know…like they have? That must have been hard.” Something like that, I think.

Me: “Rows of teeth…?”

Oh God, oh no. A horror thought struck me: Great White Sharks had multiple rows of teeth and I had done just one row each…

And I call myself a shark lover!

Go and hug a Great White Shark RIGHT NOW!

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How My Clay Great White Shark Was born (What A Pain In The Arse): Part 1

A rare photo of a Great White Shark looking gormless with that teddy-bear expression we all know and love. No wonder they hate human beings for capturing these embarrassing moments!

“I know what I’m going to make…” I said to myself. Actually I probably said it several times; probably I muttered it while rushing to finish my work so I could just get on with it. I was all excited. Inside me was the joy of a child — one of those really irritating ones who keeps poking you in the arm until you turn around and shout in his or her face all un-adult-like.

Then I announced, still only to myself, but still, it had to be announced and not just said.”…I’m going to make myself a Great White Shark out of clay!”

My oh my, it was a fine day (and that ends my bi-yearly attempt at poetry, don’t worry. How can someone spend so much time writing yet be such an abominable poet? I don’t know, but somehow I manage it easily).

I have always loved Great White Sharks. I mean, ask anyone, I’ve always loved all sharks — Tiger Shark comes a close second, followed by the Hammerhead — but the Great White Shark…this shark is different…to my mind, this animal holds a special sacred beauty which no other shark (or creature, with or without legs, for that matter) can touch. Millions of years old and sensational at all things killing-wise, it isn’t the violent misguided stereotype of the Great White which makes me love it so…no, it’s so much more than that. I love Great White’s so much I even bought the Jaws DVD box-set at full price (£9.99), even though it didn’t actually contain the original movie (just the slightly less legendary Jaws 2, 3 and 4). I know! There is a price to be paid for committment, what can I say…

Back to the day I decided to make the shark. It had been on my mind a while. Now it had to get done.

My plan seemed flawless. Using the clay-making skills I had been carefully honing since my sixth-form days — my last big clay model before I left college was a four-foot tall bizarre building where rent would have been very cheap, seeing as nobody had any floors or ceilings, although they did have gigantic windows to make up for it — I would construct an anatomically correct miniature Great White Shark to end ALL SHARK MODELS. Once the clay had dried and fully hardened, I would then paint it with painstaking precision, carefully taking the time to not insult the animal’s evolution.

A previous clay-making attempt…click my brother’s face to read about it. If you like. No pressure. Really

But the very act of doing so panicked me immensely. There were so many things to remember…to remember to remember…among many, many things which had to be right or else internet shark experts would come down on me like a ton of bricks, I had to 1) remember to get the shape of the head just right and 2) get the length of the fins right, too. I also had to make sure that 3) the shark was not too thin or too fat, and that 4) he looked supremely ferocious, but not so ferocious that my model only added yet more weight to the compelling yet inaccurate argument that Great White Shark’s are good for nothing but shredding human beings into tiny pieces for no good reason (they’re good for much more, and actually inhabit a unique role in the watery eco-system as a whole, don’t you know. And no, I didn’t rip that straight from Wikipedia. I adore my sharks, so I just knew it).

I began by ordering my clay — it was all very well talking about creating a Great White Shark model, but until I had clay in my possession it would be easy to wimp out and do a zebra, or a measly elephant (though the trunk would be a tricky conundrum, there is no doubt). There were two options: the big bag of brown clay stuff like what we’d used in sixth-form, which I actually preferred, or the more expensive individual packets of clay which you can easily order online. Both have their good and bad points. Although the big bag of brown clay would have been a better self-black-mailing device sometime in the near future, if I did go and wimp out — it cost more and would look very imposing, staring at me from the corner of the room, mocking me for not daring to open it like a man — I quickly decided that the small packet of clay would be better suited. It’d dry a hell of a lot quicker, which could be bad news all round, but I always find there’s something great about pressure and lack of time when working with clay. It forces you to focus more, and from that focus comes a conclusion of wild thoughts and imagination which you just don’t get when you spend hours and hours procrastinating about what to do and how to do it. The panic brings the best out of you.

Opening the packet, I was actually quite nervous. That may sound quite utterly stupid — I was on my own, and if it went wrong nobody but me and the mangled attempt of shark would know about it — but I can’t stand throwing things away. I’m bad enough with old T-shirts from years ago that hold some nostalgic significance which I can’t actually remember. With stuff I have made, if I throw it away, it doesn’t just feel like I wasted my time, it feels like I wasted a part of my soul as well.

I know, us bloody creative types

Ah, I didn’t say about the model yet. I wasn’t going to make my shark just from a picture, oh know. You think I’m stupid? Not me. I mean, I would have done if I’d had to, but seeing as I had a small rubber shark (given to me by a then-girlfriend from years ago when she sponsored Derek the Great White Shark for me, swimming somewhere in South Africa, who knows where Derek is now…I just hope he is happy… ) to give me some semblance of help, I decided to model my shark roughly on that. There would have to be adjustments in form, of course — the rubber shark had a very dodgy bent tail and wasn’t a Great White or any other shark I recognised, but more a hybrid of every shark that had ever existed — but the essence of the idea was there, at least. All I had to do was craft a beautiful model out of clay based on that.

Hmm, simple…

Immediately upon beginning, I was besieged by a feeling that may be familiar to you…one of Oh no, this is horrifically difficult…more so than I could have ever anticipated! Actually it was probably the culmination of many feelings — dread, excitement, fear and loathing of my own stupid obsession with sharks that has always got me into model-making trouble — and for a few minutes it had me eating out of the palm of its decrepit paralysing hand. There I sat, rolling clay into more or less pointless sausage-like shapes, hoping that if I rolled it just right, the shape of the Great White would magically materialise out of nowhere.

Which it didn’t. Many other shapes materialised — the shape of a Giraffe’s foot, for instance, and what looked like a Mountain Gorilla’s giant nipple ,maybe — but the Great White, as in nature, eluded me.

IMAGE OF SHARK TO BE REPLACED SOON!
I care, I really do. I even spent a while finding a picture that was the perfect compromise between aggressive and majestic. I could have so easily uploaded a hideously frightening photo of one launching out of the water, and I wanted to, oh I really did, but I restrained myself.

Take me to Part 2 right this minute! Or, if you like, read about my novel

Breakout

When I decided I wanted to become a ‘real’ freelance writer, I had absolutely nothing to lose. My bank account was zero — it would have been less than zero, but my bank manager refused to give me an overdraft of even £10… — I had no other work commitments, and my days were spent writing a novel and only writing a novel (well, sometimes I watched TV, but mainly I just threw myself into the book as a way of keeping myself busy). Anyone who says you don’t need money is lying and has money. Without it, life can be very grim indeed…

At the same time, I feel utterly ridiculous about complaining. The area where I live is about as middle-class as it gets. Sure, the remains of working-class Britain are all around me — in the park with the 1980s play-area which stands like a grim reminder and is rarely used, for instance — but nobody in my street is going to starve.If they are it’s their own stupid fault — Waitrose is 15 minutes away for anyone who can be arsed.

So, I had nothing to lose. And it was then that I came up with a tactic for getting freelance work. Or, what some might call A CRAZY SCHEME. Rather than answering numerous Gumtree ads — a technique which had proved relatively pointless, because, as any fledgling writer knows, it’s almost impossible to get paid for writing when you’re completely inexperienced in the professional field — I decided to go straight for the business jugular: the companies out there that might want a writer like me.

So that’s exactly what I did. I wrote a basic form letter, adjusted it as I landed on various web-sites — I began with furniture-making companies, as I noticed many of them had utterly rubbish content which could be greatly improved — and sent a lot of emails.

By a lot I mean thousands. I can’t remember how many exactly, but it had to have been at least 3,000. In the end I lost count.

What happened next?

I received emails, and not all of them were friendly.

In fact…around 70% of them were along the lines of “please don’t ever contact us ever again.”

Emphasis on the ever.

I won’t lie, I was disheartened. It came as a blow. Had I expected a thousand people to write back demanding I start writing content right away? No. But equally I hadn’t anticipated such a barrage of negativity. It wasn’t like I was selling Viagra or printer cartridges made out of organic Amazonian tree-matter. Or Japanese-lady-boys.

Thinking about it now, the Amazonian tree-matter thing isn’t such a bad idea after all…

Then, one day, a week or so after those manic days of emailing, something amazing happened.

If I’d have had access to a large boat I’d have gone to the front — along the way grabbing any woman who was available, and wasn’t scared of water, of course — and done a Titanic “I’m the King of the world!”

I had to read the email twice. It was just too…positive. This email was very different to the others. It wasn’t a Yes, exactly, but it also wasn’t a direct No. Instead, it was something in-between. In the long-run, it transpired that it would be the start of a great working relationship between me and a fine furniture-making company — one who I have now written numerous articles and web-site copy for.

The lesson? Persistence pays. Don’t listen to anyone who says otherwise. They are completely and utterly wrong.

Unless they’ve been trying to shift Viagra…

New post up: understanding writer’s block

Writer’s block eh? It can be a right pain. And it happens to everyone.

——

Let’s start with this:

1) In my opinion, writer’s block is not one universal thing. It’s completely different and personal for every writer. Therefore, reading lots of posts on the subject, from lots of different opinions, may do you absolutely no good whatsoever…

MORE OF THIS, PLEASE

Get Typewriter Respect

I’ve had a headache for 24 hours straight now and frankly it’s a bummer. The last time this happened — I have M.E., and this is one of the most frustrating symptoms of it — was around 7 weeks ago. Because of the lack of concentration it’s taken me literally a day to write this relatively short post…more annoyingly, I’ve also managed to do hardly any freelance work or any promotion for The Number 3 Mystery Book. That’s my next mission, but tonight I wanted to at least try and produce something.

INTRO

It’s shameful that children are growing up not knowing how so many fantastic novels were written. This isn’t really about that — if it was I’d be in serious danger of ranting so much that my skin might actually flake itself off in an effort to get away from me as fast as possible — and it’s not that much to do with the writing process either, but it’s something that might be of interest.

DEAR CHRIS, I WOULD LIKE TO READ THIS POST

Guess what? You can buy ‘The Number 3 Mystery Book’ now on Kindle!

It’s a strange feeling actually having a book for sale…right now, if I am honest, I still feel a bit numb about it all. But that’s OK. There’s plenty of time to (hopefully) get excited in the coming days and weeks.

You can buy it at Amazon here.

Right now if you own a Kindle and live in the USA, UK or Germany, you can have it delivered digitally for around $1.

As soon as I can actually keep my eyes open long enough I’ll sort it out for the ipad and other digital devices. Then, hopefully within a couple of weeks, it should be available in paperback too.

Watch this space for an index of Mystery Book related posts soon…

Sticking up for Stephen King

Some things in life simply defy all known explanation. One would be how chickens make eggs — a feat which would require the combined intelligence of all the scientists in the world, yet a single chicken manages it in just one day, and it can’t even walk in a straight line! Another would be why no company can make a pedal-bin which lasts forever. A third would be people who slate Stephen King…

READ THE REST!