Tuesday, 26 July 2011

On Finishing A Dance With Dragons (no spoilers)

So, that’s it. I have moved A Dance With Dragons from my “currently reading” file to my “finished” file (after having ritualistically read through the index of character names and houses- am I the only one to do that?) and I am bereft of book. I won’t do a big lengthy review or anything, but I will say it was great, I enjoyed it immensely, and that George Double R’d Martin is a wily sod. Despite the horrendously painful cliff-hangers he likes to torture us with, I can genuinely say that it was more than worth the wait. Big books take a long time to write (even small books can take a while, let’s be honest) and big excellent books with huge character histories, complicated intrigues and rollicking adventures… yes, they can take years to write. And I’m fine with that.


I expect I shall sulk for a while now, as I listlessly pick up other books and put them back down again, finding them lacking in some vital way (dragons, mainly) until I eventually have to accept the fact that A Song of Ice and Fire is pretty damn special, and I will have to read something else as we begin the agonizing wait for the next book.


Unless I just read them all again from the beginning. Then I can make a little folder on my kindle just for ASOIAF! Woot!

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Pea Roast Post: Manticores and Mondays

Manticores and Mondays is an odd little story. It was one of the first written in what I like to think of as my “grown-up writing” period (that is to say, I wrote it in my twenties and actually managed to finish it) and it owes an awful lot to one of my favourite books, Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I wanted to write something about how children behave when they are free of the watchful eyes of their parents. It’s also loosely based around tales my mum would tell me of her summer days spent in the fields behind my nan’s house.


It originally appeared in the Farrago Anthology.



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Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Heroic Bastards


Jon Snow


George Double R’d Martin’s most obviously heroic character in the Song of Ice and Fire series, Jon stands out for being relentlessly honourable and good amongst a cast of characters where even your favourites *cough* Tyrion *cough* could be considered “a bit dodgy”. As Lord Eddard Stark’s bastard he takes a lot of flack from Lady Catelyn and in a move worthy of a sulky teenager huffs off to the Wall, where he becomes a Brother of the Night’s Watch. However, thanks to being a good chap deep down and very handy with a sword, he soon gains allies and fancier weapons.

            Jon is a particularly enjoyable character because there are so many question marks hanging over him (does he have a destiny? Is he really Ned’s bastard?) But I worry for him too; honourable characters who try to do the right thing often come a cropper in Westeros.





Yes, alright, if you read this blog with any regularity then you are probably very sick of hearing about Alistair, bastard Prince and potential main squeeze of the Grey Warden in Dragon Age: Origins, but in terms of heroic bastards he has to be included. When he’s not doing relentlessly cute things like giving the main character roses or arguing with the Mabari hound, Alistair’s main function is to barrage into the centre of a crowd of darkspawn and kick the ever living shit out of them with a giant sword. He’s brave, unendingly loyal and utterly devoted to the kingdom of Ferelden, to the extent that he will quite aggravatingly dump the main character if he becomes King and feels that their relationship will get in the way of his kingly duties. Still, at least he's suitably angsty about it.



FitzChivalry Farseer


Another bastard with a thing for wolves, Fitz is the narrator of Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy, a young man gifted with both the Wit and the Skill, and a horrendously complicated and backstabby royal family. Fitz stands out for me as a fantastically likeable character, someone who you can’t help but suffer with as he grows up through the books (and wow, does he suffer. Hobb knows how to put her characters through it). He’s also a trained assassin, which makes him 20% cooler than your usual royal bastard.


Friday, 15 July 2011

The Pea Roast Post: Lights

Lights came about because I wanted to write something about the family holidays I went on as a kid, specifically the very particular atmosphere you get in a caravan park at night. The place where Charley is staying, and indeed the shower block she visits is ripped straight from my childhood; I was even told the same story Charley is listening to at the beginning, although I think it was a mischievous older cousin that passed the tale on to me.

            I sometimes think that our early childhoods become our mythologies, reinforced by the stories told again and again by family members at Christmases and weddings- “Do you remember when Daniel got us thrown out the slots?” or “Were you there when we saw the lights in the sky, and Nan fell in the ditch laughing?”. I look back on those days, and particularly the holidays we took in that caravan, and they seem both impossibly distant and gloriously strange.



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Tuesday, 12 July 2011

An Unexpectedly Sentimental Post

As a result of recent events there’s been a lot of talk online recently about whether or not writing is a business or an art, or if one takes precedence over the other. In lots of ways writing for a living (in that you get paid for it and need those cheques to pay your bills) is very much a 9 to 5 job, with as many deadlines and commitments and consequences as any other occupation. In the end, there needs to be money coming from somewhere, and when money is involved, it’s a business.


However, I still believe it is an art first and foremost. This occurred to me yesterday when I finished reading Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Trilogy. These books have been a happy surprise for me- a romping dark ages adventure with romance, betrayal, bloody violence and all that good stuff, but also curiously moving. The books talk a lot about legends and humankind’s need to believe in something, even if it is a fallible man who happens to good with a sword, and I find myself still thinking about that book and those characters today. I’m sure, in fact, that they’ll stay with me for a long time, and that’s art, if you ask me.


I’ve mentioned it on here before, but Lemony Snickett summed up how I feel about writing in an especially excellent Nanowrimo peptalk- the full version of which you can read here. When I’m feeling troubled about why exactly we do this and how I can possibly drag myself through another page of editing, I read those words and remember that I do it because making things feeds my soul.


“Writing a novel is a tiny candle in a dark, swirling world. It brings light and warmth and hope to the lucky few who, against insufferable odds and despite a juggernaut of irritations, find themselves in the right place to hold it.”

Friday, 8 July 2011

The Pea Roast Post: Barleycorn

There are two main influences behind Barleycorn, a story which is quite short, not so sweet, and one of my favourites.

            The first is Jeff Noon’s wonderfully strange novel Vurt, which my brother bought me for my birthday when I was about 16 or 17 I think. It was a book unlike anything I’d read before and it left me feeling both exhilarated and slightly ill; if you’ve never read it, I highly recommend you grab a copy, although don’t blame me if you feel woozy afterwards. I was fascinated by Vurt’s mixture of dreams, drugs and mythology, and a lot of that stayed with me.

            The story is also based around some trips to the countryside I made as a kid, although I don’t think I was ever quite as sulky as the narrator (I hope not, anyway). For me the countryside seemed tremendously wild and green, and we did indeed make little dens within the crops, which I imagine cheesed off the local farmers no end.


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Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Pea Roast Post


I have decided to do a series of re-posts (or pea roasts, if you will) of older stories- stories that have popped up in other locations, or haven't been seen for a few years, or perhaps have just been hanging around on other pages of this website, loitering and causing trouble. I'll do one story each Friday, with a bit of a dvd extras introduction (where the story came from, influences etc) and it shall appear in a slightly more readable format.

This is mainly because I want to give some older stuff a bit of an airing, but also because... Pea Roast! Post! Love that title. So see you tomorrow for the first Pea Roast!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Women and Wizards- The Warlord Trilogy by Bernard Cornwell (potential spoilers for the first two books!)


I’ve just finished the second book in Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord trilogy (a gutsy and gritty retelling of the Arthur mythos) and a bloody good read it is too. I’ve still got Excalibur to go, which I shall be reading as swiftly as possible before A Dance With Dragons comes out, and indeed these tales of swords, beards and heroism make a lovely almost-fantasy appetizer for the next George R.R Martin book.


What has impressed me in particular is the quality of female characters in the first two books (The Winter King and Enemy of God, go and grab copies) – previously my only experience of Cornwell was via the TV series Sharpe, which my partner is a big fan of (I rather like it myself), but it has to be said the ladies in the series don’t have a lot going for them. His first wife, sure, the Spanish rebel who kicked ass in her own right, she was excellent but inevitably she didn’t quite last the whole series, and then after her most of the female characters in Sharpe (the TV series, at least) are consigned to breathing heavily in garments not made to stand such stresses and throwing themselves (understandably, perhaps) at the eponymous hero. Even worse, one of his wives turns out to be an absolute rotter, who simpers and faints and gets off with Wesley Wyndham-Price instead.


However, in his King Arthur stories Bernard Cornwell has given us a cast full of extraordinary and interesting ladies; characters who are perhaps more memorable even than the male characters you remember from the Arthur mythology. There is Nimue, Merlin’s high priestess and childhood friend of our narrator- she is clever, ruthless, intermittently mad, and utterly determined. The portrayal of Guinevere is a fascinating one, as we meet a woman who is beautiful and knows it, and has infinitely more ambition than even Arthur himself- a woman constrained by the times she lives in, and looking for ways to break out. Even Ceinwyn, who could easily have been a winsome blond princess with little else to do but be the caring one, keeps things a little subversive by taking a vow never to marry, and instead takes her own path through life.


This is more like it. And there’s tons of other stuff to admire about the books of course, particularly Merlin, who is devious beyond measure and very, very funny, and Cornwell gives us a portrayal of pagan Britain that feels real, even if it is nearly impossible to know exactly how it all went down. I’m expecting to zoom through the third book now, and only partly because I know Westeros is waiting for me at the end of it.


Oh, and if you haven’t done so yet, please do check out the short story I posted below… it’s not Arthurian Fantasy but I am very close to 100 views and every plug helps! ;)