Sunday, 28 June 2009

The Sunday Night Writing Challenge

In an heroic attempt to get me somewhere near my word count goal today, Mr Adam Christopher (go see his blog here, it's cool: )challenged me to a "12 more lines or death!" write off. I think I did a few more than 12, because it all started to flow a little better, but here be the (slightly dodgy, unedited) results:

Mike, still rubbing his sore eyes, pulled the curtain back sharply, rattling the frame and startling the figure that crouched impossibly outside his window. It was entirely black and human shaped, but painfully thin, as if all the flesh had been burnt away and what was left was a living cinder. Mike stumbled back from the glass, a shout of panic halfway to his lips when the creature curled its long stick fingers into fists and banged on the window, twice. Burnt lips pulled back from two rows of neat white teeth and formed a single word.
The initial shock had turned quickly to anger, and Mike leapt back at the window, banging on the glass himself, but the dark figure had already slipped away, lost in the deeper shadows of the courtyard. Mike stood with his fist raised, feeling his heart gradually slowing down again. There were sooty black marks on his window.
Feeling vaguely foolish but unable to stop himself, Mike put a pair of shoes on and went down to the courtyard, making a quick circuit around the bins and patchy grass. The lights of the other flats and businesses meant he barely needed the torch on his phone, but he knew the search was pointless anyway. He knew what the figure had been. He’d had a good few weeks of normality, but now the Unseeables were back.

Back in the flat and having officially given up on sleep, Mike made himself a cup of tea and put the stereo on low, something appropriately alien sounding from a half tuned-in radio station. Even the radio gets weirder at night, he thought, and his hands shook a little as he sipped his tea. Michael Peak sat on his sofa with the curtains drawn tight again and thought of lots of things; of the work he could hide in but was too shaky to continue, of friends he could call but whose names he couldn’t remember, and the small jar of pills in the bathroom cabinet that he knew would make no difference. Michael sat up, and waited for the sun.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Bird and Tower

A brief one, since I have remembered that I've yet to talk about the novella I wrote for last years NaNoWriMo.

Bird and Tower (I hate the title, and have yet to think of a better one) is almost a Young Adult book I think, in that the main characters are young people. I didn't conceive of it as such, but writing about teenagers, and in particular, a naive, optimistic kid gave the book a lightness and mood that is very different to Bad Apple Bone. Having said that, it has it's dark and bloody parts, and I would have to investigate how much violence you're allowed in a YA novel before I really start calling it that...

Written in the frantic time frame of Nano, it has obvious pacing issues and a couple of moments where one character will drop off the page for a bit and reappear later on (not used to handling so many main characters at once!) but all in all I enjoyed writing it, and it surprised me by making me cry at the end. I would love, ideally, to write a sequel as I would dearly like to know what happens next to Quint, Aksu and Acolyte Jones, but that's in the far future I think...

Anyway. Here's a very brief and wonky synopsis I've knocked up to give you an idea of what it's all about. :)

Quint has spent all sixteen years of his life inside the Tower and has never once ventured out into the sprawling city of Ternestrad. This has never worried him particularly; the man who acts as his father, Dr Phiestus, has always taken good care of him, and the many mechanical Croids that keep the Tower spick and span provide a company of sorts.
However, one night Dr Phiestus leaves the Tower and does not come back, and when Quint accidently hatches an egg in the doctor’s storeroom, he realises that it’s time for him to leave the Tower and head out into the world. With the help of a thief, a runaway monk and a creature from another age, Quint must solve the mystery of his own birth and discover the legacy that waits for him beneath the city of Ternestrad.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

My Guilty Book Buying Secret

Most of you who know me will know that I'm a bit of a serious reader. I always have one or two books on the go, and if it looks like I'm about to finish a book without one to follow it up I start to get very anxious. One of the best things my history teacher ever taught me was to never leave the house without a book in your bag (thanks Mr Mealing!) and I have kept to this rule, even if there's no room in my bag for anything else, or I know perfectly well I won't have any time to read while I'm out (except of course that there's always time to read, even if it's just the brief 30 seconds when Marty is in the pub garden having a fag).

Having been a bookseller for a long time, and now working for a sort-of small publishers, I love bookshops. Like all good, decent people. Recently though, I have been doing a very bad thing.

I have been buying books off the interwebs. You know the one. Named after a really big load of trees.

This makes me sad, because when I worked in a bookshop, buying books off the internet was really only one step up from buying them from a supermarket (which is always evil, by the way). Not because Amazon really is the devil, mind, but because when the book trade struggles it's the proper bookshops that get it in the neck, and find it difficult to compete- bookshops have to persuade you to get off your bum and come in the shop after all, whereas Amazon just needs you to roll your eyeballs over the screen.

However, since leaving the bookshop and entering the big wide world of being a bookbuyer, I have discovered the way in which Amazon really kicks the ass of bookshops- range. Like I said, I'm a serious reader. When I discover a new author I like, I tend to go through their back catalogue, as I am with China Mieville at the moment. I wanted to read Iron Council, and given that Mieville is a pretty famous sci-fi/fantasy author I thought I wouldn't have any trouble finding a copy in my nearest bookshop.

Did I buggery.

The bookshop nearest to me is small, so perhaps this is slightly unfair. Mieville writes huge honking doorstops, and you just can't always give up that much of the shelf to one author (believe me, I know this very very well). But once I started to look I realised that not only were there lots of very important and obvious genre books not represented, but that the shelves were exactly the same as they'd been every time I'd been in over the last 6 months. If I was waiting for them to stock more than just the most recent Charlie Parker P.I I would be waiting a very long time.

The problem is (and this is something else I know from personal experience) too much emphasis on the sort of books that arrive in crates and piled in pyramids at the front of the shop; the Richard and Judy choices, the latest celebrity biography, the newest novelty book in the vein of The Dangerous Book for Boys. If you want the first part of Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy you're stuffed, but if you need 20 copies of a ghostwritten biography of a vacuous celebrity twat you're laughing.

This is dangerous for bookshops because, dare I say it, the people who read the celeb bios and misery memoirs are less likely to be the sort of readers who need a book in their bags at all times, and are therefore less likely to be back in every week for their fix.

I fully understand the need to supply the "watercooler books", but the terrible truth of it is; if I can't get the book I'm after, eventually I will trawl the interwebs and discover how easy it is to roll my eyes over lots of books I hadn't even thought of buying, and bookshops (beautiful, amazing, irreplaceable bookshops) lose a few more sales.

Come on! I'm an addict, be my dealer.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

A Boy of Blood and Clay?

A small update, because I've left it far too late this evening and after a couple of glasses of wine I'm a wee bit sleepy, but it's been a while and there has been some progress.

I've hit the 10,000 word mark on the new project, which is, well, not that much really. If I was sticking to my NaNoWriMo schedule I'd be way ahead, but at least I've been adding words every day, which I believe is more important than the overall wordcount. I find that as soon as I have a few days off, getting back into the book is a harder and slower process than it needs to be. So if I only do a few hundred words one day, it's not a disaster because at least I'm still thinking about it and forming the story.

I'm currently working on chapters 3 and 4. These first few chapters are largely about introducing the characters and the situation, and not too much about setting the scene; because both Bad Apple Bone and Bird and Tower were set in entirely fantasy worlds, I had to spend a large amount of time sketching out the world the story inhabited, but as the new project is set in London, this is not so much of an issue. That's not to say I'm not bothering with "building the world", because I love this city and it's lots of fun to write about.

One thing I am having difficulty with is the title. I know it's not essential to have one in place at this stage, and certainly Bad Apple Bone was a good number of words in before the title came, but it is irritating. "The Odd" was originally chosen because I had a vague idea to base the journey of the main character on the Odyssey, but that idea has been pushed aside a little in favour of less wanky ideas. I still half like it as a title because it refers to the odd nature of the story, but... I dunno. My only other reasonable idea has been "A Boy of Blood and Clay", which is appropriate, but possibly a little long.

So what do you all think? Stick with The Odd for now, or give A Boy of Blood and Clay a try?