Tuesday, 27 July 2010


A sort of updatey blog post today.

Progress on The Steel Walk continues in patchy fashion. I have to admit, writing for an hour in the morning before work does appear to work, and I’m certainly getting more words done on a regular basis than I have ever done before. I’m up to around 63,000 words at the moment, which is traditionally where the story grinds to a halt and I wrestle with the idea of just jacking the whole thing in (A Boy of Blood and Clay imploded at this point). Fingers crossed, that hasn’t happened yet, but I do know from the previous two books that the last 40-50,000 is always a bitch, and it certainly isn’t going to get any easier.

In happy news, I’ve had another short story accepted by The Hub, which should be in the next issue. Hurrah! I’ve been reading George R.R Martin’s short story collection Dream Songs, which is equal parts inspiring and daunting. I think what impresses me the most about his short work is that with many of them I could see an entire book written about the characters featured, or just set in the worlds he has created. I’d love to get this sense of scope in my own work, but I think that’s a way off yet.

I have also been thinking about blank-spacing. You know how you often find that ideas occur to you when you’re doing some sort of monotonous physical task and you’re not thinking about anything in particular? It’s day dreaming I suppose, and it’s an important part of a writer’s life. I notice that a lot of writers talk on their blogs about going for walks (especially when stuck for ideas) and this often helps them on their way. Justin Cronin, author of The Passage (soon to be gracing tube carriages everywhere, no doubt) came up with most of that book while out running. I have found that I often come up with short story ideas while I’m in the shower or washing up (this rather suggests that I need wet hands to think of anything good…)

Anyway, it appears that simply sitting and staring into space is not enough; we need to be physically occupied, as if once our bodies are distracted our brains can start thinking again. I have decided to call this Blank-Spacing- mainly because it sounds all business wordy and more official than Day Dreaming, and it sort of describes how you need to empty your head about before excellent ideas fill it up. When I was little, I used to ride my bike around the close on an endless circuit with one of my soft toys stuck in the basket, and I used to tell him or her stories as they occurred to me (usually it was Louie, Donald Duck’s green baseball cap wearing nephew, or Mousie. I think you can guess what sort of toy Mousie was).

Ideally I’d like to go for a few walks, or perhaps take up skipping. Or knitting. Or kung-fu. Or break dancing. This blank-spacing/day dreaming period is quite vital I think, but what with life and writing already taking up all my time, it is very difficult to allocate a decent amount of time to it.

I’d love to know how other writer’s handle day dream time. Is it vital to you? Does it happen when you’re supposed to be doing other things? Do you consciously pursue it? Tell me!

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The Voices in Your Head

Some writers hear their characters in their heads. Have running conversations, arguments, even have to put up with particularly pushy characters complaining about what’s happening in their story. I know this because I read about it all the time on other writerly blogs. It’s fondly regarded, I believe, as a sort of eccentricity that comes along with being a writer- if you write stories, you’re probably not alone in your head.

This makes me worry that I’m doing it wrong. My characters don’t talk to me. They’re not my friends and they don’t keep me company on the bus home by complaining about the state of my shoes or harassing me to get on to the exciting scene. This doesn’t mean that I don’t think about them, because I do, very much, but always in the context of the story. When I am following the story in my head, day dreaming where it will go next, I am observing the characters closely, and feeling what they’re feeling, but they don’t talk to me.

The reason, I think, (and this sounds weird) is that it wouldn’t be canon. My characters don’t know who I am because I don’t exist in their world, and my world wouldn’t make sense to them, so they don’t chat casually with me either. Eri Fellsmith lives in a world of swords and the walking dead- I’m not sure what she’d make of a receptionist from South East London, other than my clothes are really strange and I can’t hold a sword to save my life. It just wouldn’t be authentic, to me, which is why my mind seems unable to make that leap to conversations in my head.

Does any of this make sense? Does anyone else out there not hear the voices, and wonder if this will make them a less competent writer? Any writers who believe that it is essential to the writing process?

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Book Meme!

Here we go! This one is doing the rounds at the moment, and it gives me the opportunity to waffle on about books for ages. Excellent stuff on this meme over at Unbound: http://hagelrat.blogspot.com/2010/07/meme-with-relish.html and at Adam Christopher's Blog: http://www.adamchristopher.co.uk/

One Book That Changed Your Life

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams- I read this when I had just started senior school I think. I’d had one life changing book previous to that; The Lord of the Rings had blown my tiny little mind the summer before, and caused me to dump the chronicles of Narnia faster than a very hot thing. LOTR opened my mind to the idea of epic adventure, of truly risking your life for a noble quest, of heroics and true love and all that good stuff. Hitch Hiker’s Guide had a more subtle, but altogether deeper impact, because it gave me an adult sense of humour. I don’t mean I developed a love of knob jokes, but rather that my idea of funny was utterly changed. Over the course of that book I think I grew up a bit, and it introduced me to science-fiction too.

It’s also the sort of book you can read over and over again at different times in your life and get something new from it every time. Douglas Adams gave us a gem with that book, and he remains my hero because of it.

One Book You Have To Read More Than Once

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett- I’ve read HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy around about 30 times now. Consequently, I don’t think I can read it again for a very long time without going slightly loopy, so for this one I’ve elected Good Omens. I have two copies of this book- the pristine one signed by Mr Pratchett and the copy that has since fallen to bits due to endless readings. It’s enormously funny, full of absolutely memorable characters and even has some nifty things to say about nature, nurture, and humanity. Odd phrases from this book continually float around in my mind, so that I will often think “Buggre ye alle this” when I’m stuck doing something boring, or think of Crowley when I hear Bohemian Rhapsody.

How could I not adore a book that combines two of my favourite authors?

One Book You’d Want On A Desert Island

The Stand by Stephen King- Now, if I was really stuck on an island I’d want quantity as well as quality, and The Stand certainly has that. I love that King appears to have avoided all editing on this book (well, mostly. I’d make sure I’d have the uncut edition) and gives us the juicy details on all the characters and shows us the world falling apart in widescreen. This is King at his absolute best, introducing us to characters we know and love within a couple of pages, then taking us with them on a truly harrowing journey beyond the end of the world. I remember them all, and what they went through, as well as if a good friend sat me down and told me the story.

If nothing else, at least I could reflect that I’m only stuck on a desert island, which isn’t nearly as bad as dying of Captain Trips.

Two Books That Made You Laugh

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson- I don’t read much non-fiction. In fact, thinking about it Bryson is about the only non-fiction I do read, and that’s because he is both laugh-out-loud-on-the-bus funny, and incredibly knowledgeable. Small Island is my favourite because he’s writing about England, and even though I haven’t actually been to all of the places he talks about, the familiarity of the peculiar English character had me giggling like a loon. Gods, we are a strange bunch. An American with a deliciously dry sense of humour, he understands us better than we do, and managed the near impossible task of making me feel patriotic. Even if it’s only for our near obsessive love for stodgy puddings.

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe- These little books have me in fits all the way through. Written for a bet to impress a girl (supposedly) they contain more thrilling pirate action, monkeys, and prize winning hams than you can throw your wooden leg at.

One Book That Made You Cry

A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R Martin- Alright, I’ve cheated slightly with this one, but I think it’s worth noting that as a whole, this series has caused more actual blubbings than anything else I’ve read- even a few in public! I read them only recently, finally giving in to the general hubbub of praise surrounding the books, and my goodness… they were an absolute joy. Apart from when I was crying, obviously.

The thing is, Martin is excellent at creating characters you really love (Tyrion might be one of my favourite characters in a fantasy book ever) and then really putting them through absolute hell. I had the misfortune to read about the Red Wedding while on the way to work- I had to catch my breath and stare furiously out of the window so that no one else on the bus would see me struggling not to cry. Strong stuff. Excellent stories.

It’s also worth noting that A Song of Ice and Fire has also given me the biggest number of “OH MY GOD WHAT THE CRAP- ??!” moments. Seriously good books.

One Book You’d Wish You’d Written

American Gods by Neil Gaiman- One of my favourite books of all time, so yes, it would be lovely if I’d written it. It contains all the stuff I’m crazy about; mythology, gods, horror, mystery and weirdness. It’s the sort of book that pleases me deeply as a reader because it gives you credit- there’s stuff running all the way through that’s right there for you to figure out, if you can see it. Each time I read it, I see a little more. I would love to write something that has so many layers to it, and uses the wealth of folklore and mythology so well.

Just before A Boy of Blood and Clay imploded in on itself, I realized it was my own sort of American Gods- a London Gods, perhaps. I hope I can finish it one day.

One Book You Wish Was NEVER Written

Dark Tower 7 by Stephen King- I don’t want to speak ill of books really, especially not when two of the books in this series are some of my absolute favourites. But let’s be honest- this is an easy choice for me. The last book in a series of 7 written over, I dunno, a very long time indeed, this was the biggest disappointment I’ve ever read. I can’t really go into why without major spoilers and getting all narked about it again, but suffice to say that I’d rather have had no ending than the one we got. This is a book where Stephen King himself interrupts before the final chapter to tell you that you probably won’t like the ending, so maybe you’d be better off not reading the rest… The only book I’ve ever thrown across the room at the finish. And it’s a really big book.

Two Books You Are Currently Reading

Storm Front by Jim Butcher, Dream Songs Part 2 by George R.R Martin- I’m also reading The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe, but I’ve finished the first part so I’m taking a little break (apparently “fantasy literature” means completely bananas, but I am enjoying it). The first Harry Dresden book is great fun so far, and G.R.R.M is a master of short stories.

One Book You’ve Been Meaning To Read

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury- I’ve wanted to read this since I read Stephen King’s comments on it in Danse Macabre, but for some reason I’ve never gotten around to it. One of the panellists at Alt.Fiction mentioned it in the Genre Books You Must Read panel, so I really need to get my arse in gear.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

From the Dark Side Anthology

Hello all! I was very naughty and missed my blog window last week. I know, I shall send myself off to bed without any tea tonight. But to make up for it slightly, today I have a super exciting blog with links and a video and very exciting news! See? I'm not all that bad.

The From the Dark Side Anthology is very close to being released. Soon you will be able to get your mitts on some excellent short horror fiction and poetry from some up and coming authors of towering talent and amazingness. And I have a story in there too. If you would like to see some excerpts to get you in the mood, do go along to http://jennybeans.net/ where our illustrious leader Jennifer Hudock has been putting up some groovy little teasers of the fiction on offer.

It's not just about getting some chilling stories for a weeny amount of cash though- the From the Dark Side Anthology has been put together to benefit the Office of Letters and Light, http://www.lettersandlight.org/ . Now anyone who's been reading this blog for a while will know that I am a huge fan of NaNoWriMo, that crazy event in November where thousands of writers get together to encourage, cajole, bully and often bribe each other towards writing 50,000 words in a single month. Without the Office of Letters and Light we wouldn't have NaNo or any of the other lovely events they organise- events that encourage everyone to follow their creative dreams and get that secret novel out into the open where it can breath. These are important things, if you ask me. Their Young Writers Programme in particular opens up the world of writing to kids- I wish when I was little there had been such a fabulous group of people around to say "You go ahead and write that Unicorns in Space Saga- no one else will be able to tell that story quite the way you will!"

So watch the trailer, read the excerpts (mine is here http://jennybeans.net/2010/07/02/from-the-dark-side-excerpt-jennifer-williams-the-twin/ ) and then treat yourself to a copy on Friday 9th. Because we all deserve a bit of dark lovin'.