Friday, 29 April 2011

The Tasty Joy of Finishing the First Draft

So, I finished the first draft of Dead Zoo Shuffle a couple of days ago. The last few chapters took a little longer than I anticipated, although so far every single book has been the same; you think you've got the ending all figured out, and then it throws up a few little surprises just when you're convinced you're on the home stretch.

This book has been an interesting journey. It was my first attempt at crime (er, as a genre, I didn't do any actual bank robbing) and  my first attempt at novel length first-person narrative. It was the first book I planned chapter by chapter and my first real experiment with the trappings of science-fiction. And I think the risks paid off, at least in terms of how much I enjoyed the writing. In many ways I feel like I found my voice with this story, or the beginnings of it.

There's an awful lot of work still to be done, of course, with the editing and redrafting already looking to be a big job, and there's plenty of stuff I know needs to be tightened, or added, or cut entirely. Unusually though I'm looking forward to it (remind me of this when I actually come to edit the thing, I'm sure I'll be less enthusiastic then).

So now I'm putting Dead Zoo Shuffle aside for a short time while I finish polishing Ink for Thieves. I'm also starting to put together notes on a potential fantasy/steampunk novel called The Iron-Haunted Heart, a project that's been bouncing down my mental rapids for a while now (no, I don't know either) and fiddling about with a couple of short stories. I said in January that this would be the year for editing and submitting, didn't I?  So as much as I might like writing books and then putting them in a drawer to forget about, I do believe it is time to embrace the red pen...

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

In Praise of HBO's Game of Thrones


First of all, I should probably state straight away that I’m an enormous fan of George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. I read them at the beginning of last year after hearing endless praise for the books, and immediately fell in love. Here was a fantasy series that knew people, one that was driven by fabulously written, utterly believable characters. There were no totally blameless goodies, and even the really bad baddies, the ones who you totally despised and hated with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, could end up being your favourite characters three books later. A Song of Ice and Fire is an excellent series because it gives us unforgettable, believable characters and it gives us staggering, heart wrenching surprises.


So, in the long tradition of the rabid fan, I was either going to violently hate the HBO adaptation, or love it. I’m pleased to say it was the latter.


We were lucky enough to go and see the Bafta screening of the first two episodes, followed by a Q&A with Sean Bean, Mark Addy and Harry Lloyd. It’s fair to say that Marty and I were entranced from the very beginning, and I may even have had a bit of a lump in my throat at the title sequence, a beautifully appropriate whoosh across the map of Westeros, where locations such as Kings Landing and Winterfell pop up as little clockwork confections, reflecting the machinations of power and the complexities of the story. Really, it totally gave me a fan-boner.


And that’s how I’d describe the whole thing really. For someone who adores the books, seeing the places and people brought to life with such love and attention to detail is like some marvellous, hour-long fangasm. The casting is nigh on perfect, with the young actors who play Jon Snow and Arya Stark standing out as particularly impressive, and in Peter Dinklage I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect Tyrion. The sets and the landscapes all look lived in, evidence of a fantasy world that has a long and relevant history, and everywhere you look there are details that let you know this is the story that George R.R Martin was telling in his books; Catelyn wears a fish-shaped broach on her dress, the sigil of the house of Tully, the spinning sun of bronze in the title sequence shows the defeat of the House of Targaryen through the symbols of deer and dragon fighting to the death, Winterfell is grim but sturdy, with Dire Wolves haunting every corner… a large portion of my second viewing was spent excitedly pointing out these details to Marty and the living room at large.


Obviously, as such a big fan it is difficult for me to tell if I am giving you an unbiased opinion, but I do also believe that this is good telly, well made. And as fantasy and genre fans I think we need to give it a bit of support. After all, how often to we get something like this? A fantasy series with actual money spent on it, on a channel known and respected for its approach to drama? A traditional fantasy series, in fact; a secondary world fantasy that is set entirely within its own reality with no links to Earth or Earth history. How often do we get that? I shall you-  bloody never. So as a fantasy fan I will be clutching this series to my bosom and lavishing love upon it, for Game of Thrones deserves it.


If you’d like to hear more of what we thought, including much appreciation for Sean Bean and his ability to wear leather and look rugged, you can listen to our Box Room Game of Thrones special below (podcast contains plenty of swearing, but no significant spoilers). I also invite you to admire a picture of us watching Game of Thrones for the second time at home, wearing our Greyjoy and Targaryen t-shirts and drinking mead. Yes, we do love this programme.



Monday, 11 April 2011

The End Is In Sight- A Small Writing Update

I’ve not done a writing update for a little while, so here’s a wee quickie.


Dead Zoo Shuffle currently stands at 98,000 words, and is reasonably close to being completed- I would say between another 5,000-10,000 words and I’ll be able to write THE END in a giant font and dance around the room. I already know that DZS will need a heavy beating with the editing stick, not to mention the addition of an entire subplot that needs to go in there somewhere, so the work is far from over. Still, I’ll be glad to have the first draft under my belt at least.


This is a strange stage. Now that I’m so close, finishing the book seems, for the first time, inevitable. At no other point in the first draft do I feel like I’m definitely going to get to the end. I spend most of the draft convinced that I will lose all energy and enthusiasm and splutter out at around the 65,000 word mark (I usually get this feeling most intensely at the 60,000 word mark, funnily enough). So this is a nice place to be. Another week, two weeks, and I’ll get there if I keep plodding on. Although, Marshall and Zootsi have been so much fun to write that I’m glad there’s going to be at least two books in the DZS series - I couldn’t bear to part with them at the moment!


So I'm thinking I need to develop some sort of writer's ritual for finishing the book. You know, type THE END, sit back, light a cigar. Or have a glass of wine. Or break open that special box of chocolates. Or sprint round the block banging a saucepan with a dessert spoon whilst singing Lady GaGa's Bad Romance.

Any suggestions? And if you're a writer, do you have a ritual?