Monday, 31 December 2012

The Other End of the Year Post


Well, essentially 2012 was the year of The Copper Promise. As you might remember, it was around this time last year that I released the very first part onto the wild plains of Amazon; The Copper Promise: Ghosts of the Citadel was supposed to be the first in a series of short sword and sorcery novellas. They were supposed to be fast, written and released one after the other, and they were supposed to be short.


And then while I was writing part two, at the beginning of this year, several things happened at once to change that. Firstly, I realised that releasing each part after I’d written it just wasn’t going to work – maybe if it was a silly thing that didn’t really matter, I could get away with that, but TCP was growing more complicated, and if I wanted it to be good, I would need to be able to go back and polish. And that was the other major thing: The Copper Promise was growing. I loved the characters, who felt frighteningly real to me, and I loved the story, which had accidentally grown into some sort of weird epic/pulp hybrid.


So I threw out the idea of instant gratification and wrote parts 2, 3 and 4 in 2012. And then I redrafted, and edited, and then edited some more, and ended up with a book nearly twice as long as anything else I’d written (it’s still too long). And what happens to it now? Well, that is the question.


Thanks to some quirks of fate and a writing buddy who always seems to know what’s going on before I do (I’m looking at you, Adam) The Copper Promise ended up on the desk of the fabulous Juliet Mushens of the Agency Group, and in a sudden twist of awesomeness that I’m still getting my head around, I got an agent. Undoubtedly one of the highlights of my year was meeting Juliet for the first time (who is every bit as sharp and hilarious in real life) and hearing her quote bits of my book back at me. I mean, you wouldn’t think that would be weird, but it is. In a brilliant way. Next year proves to be very interesting indeed.


There were other things happening in 2012, of course. After ignoring it for a year I finally summoned up the courage to read and edit my Urban Fantasy book The Snake House, and much to my huge surprise I didn’t totally hate it. I also started work on a YA Fantasy book called London-Under-Sea (all weird religion, sea monsters and fishpunk) although that is on hold for the moment while I revise The Copper Promise. In non-book stuff Mass Effect 3 came out and proved that it is indeed the greatest video game series of all time, if not the greatest SF trilogy of all time, and I sobbed and cheered my way through it in an epically messy fashion. I finally watched Avatar: The Last Airbender and utterly fell in love with it.


Other, more random moments of 2012: I saw two sets of friends get married and danced at their weddings, I wore a corset for the first time and didn’t die, I oversaw new episodes of Dark Fiction Magazine, and I attended Bristolcon, which was brilliant. I got hugged by a wookie in Wales, saw my name in the acknowledgements of a real, live book (twice, technically) and partially helped nag my lovely boyfriend into taking up writing regularly again.


And that’s all I can really remember at the moment – no doubt I’ll have left something significant off the list, but all in all, I reckon I can chalk 2012 up as a goodun’. Wishing you all a fantastic new year full of excellence and joy!


Friday, 28 December 2012

The Year in Books: My Tippity Top 5 Reads of 2012

Well, we are in that tricksy limbo stage between Christmas and New Year’s Eve (or as a friend on twitter called it, Twixmas) so this seems a likely time to attempt one of those “summing up the year” posts, with notes on wisdom gained and lessons learnt. Since I have a notoriously bad short term memory and barely any wisdom I will be summing up the year by trying to remember the best books to grace my eyeballs in 2012.


(later I will do a post on writing and where I am with that, because the status of writing at the moment is EXCITING)


So, best books. In no particular order:


Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – one of many incredibly popular books I have avoided for years simply because it was always in the 3 for 2 offer at work. I know that sounds like a stupid reason, but when you spend five years of your life peeling stickers off the same handful of books you start to build a healthy resentment. Plus it was shelved in general fiction, a happenstance that can move a book down my TBR pile a few notches.

Well, I was wrong, and the shelving was wrong too. This book is science-fiction, no? A gorgeously confusing and lyrical trip through the lives of possibly reincarnated souls, Cloud Atlas is like the music being written by one of its principle characters, Robert Frobisher; we speed forward in time, and then back, always buffeted by echoes and hauntings. Brilliant, beautiful, moving.



The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller – this won the Orange Prize for Fiction this year, so I’m willing to bet it’s shelved downstairs in the more respectable General Fiction section, despite being the most fantasy book that ever fantasied. Honestly. This is your standard fantasy trope of a young hero growing to manhood and finding his calling, but told through the eyes of his friend and lover, Patroclus. It’s a vivid, dream-like book full of teenage lustings and tortured love, and the depictions of the gods are genuinely chilling.

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie – this is a book about conflict; the futility of war, the grotty scrambling horror of it and the terrible waste of life. It’s also really fucking funny, and contains the sort of characters that I dearly wish populated all fantasy books; witty, morally dubious and above all, real. The highlight for me was Craw, your typical “I’m getting too old for this shit” soldier, who faces several difficult decisions throughout the course of the book and continually tries to do the right thing, despite the hopeless shitstorm of war and muck.



The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – Yes, I’m really quite behind on this one. I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle last year and it instantly rocketed into my top 10 books of all time, so I was looking forward to this; not to mention that Stephen King is a big fan too. It’s a genuinely weird, hypnotic novel, with possibly the most chilling opening paragraph I’ve ever read. It scares and delights in equal measure, until you realise that the delights are in fact all a trick of Hill House, and you are as much under its spell as Eleanor.


Death of Kings by Bernard Cornwell – According to Goodreads I read four books in this series at the beginning of the year, but since I don’t exactly trust Goodreads or my own terrible memory I am plucking this one out for praise. The Saxon series tells the story of Alfred the Great through the eyes of Uhtred, a Viking raised as a Saxon and grown to become one of the king’s most trusted warriors. My little summary makes it sound terribly dry, but Uhtred the Wicked is a fabulous example of a first person narrative that drips with character, and Cornwell is extremely skilled at taking huge historic events and bringing them down to a personal level. If you’re a fantasy fan who perhaps hasn’t quite taken the step into historical fiction, I highly recommend this series and Cornwell’s retelling of the Arthur myths in the Warlord trilogy.


And that’s it! A special mention for The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King – I re-read the first three Dark Tower books this year and that one particularly still blows me away. Great stuff.


So what about you? What were your best reads of 2012 and what are you looking forward to next year?





Monday, 17 December 2012

Exciting Agent News: Team Mushens Assemble!


Wondrous news! I am utterly chuffed and over the moon to report that I am now represented by the fabulous Juliet Mushens of the Agency Group. How amazing is that? Juliet is brilliant and she totally gets the book. I am snoopy dancing all over the shop. 

The book in question is The Copper Promise (so now you know why part 2 has been mysteriously absent) and I’m very much looking forward to beating it into the best book it can possibly be. Probably with actual sticks and swords and things.

I may write a more coherent post about how fantastic this is and what it means for my writing in the next few days, but right now I’m going to have a celebratory curry. Happy mango chutneys to all!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Rejections, a New Perspective: Or Developing Your Crusty Carapace

I haven’t mentioned it all that often on this blog, but these days I edit the audio fiction website Dark Fiction Magazine, and over the last year or so reading submissions has given me a new perspective on the short story market.


I know what it’s like to get rejections. I even have one from Black Static which I’m quite proud of, just because it came on a slip of paper and this somehow made it seem ancient and special, and I’ve lost track of how many I’ve received by email. It’s a very painful process, and I have ground my teeth and cursed the gods and the demons and all the little goblins in between, but after a while it doesn’t hurt as much. There are those markets, of course, which you’re desperate to break and each “no thanks” email is a kick in the writerly-ball-sack, but eventually you do start to form the beginnings of a crusty carapace that protects you from the worst of the agony.


Now, as the editor of DFM I’m the one sending rejection notices, and for a writer that is a very odd experience indeed. I feel bad. I feel conflicted. I occasionally cackle with the power of it all and stroke my evil cat. Mostly though, it’s a sobering process because it demonstrates exactly how complicated a rejection can be. I have, for example, said no to plenty of stories that are actually very good, but not right for DFM, or not a good fit for the upcoming episodes. I struggle with this a lot, because I don’t want to say to these writers, “you are crap”, because even though the email will say this isn’t quite right for us, it always feels like you’re being told “you’re crap”. Often though there simply isn’t room for everything good that hits the slush pile; last year we did five episodes (four stories an episode) and next year we’ll probably do four episodes, and that just doesn’t leave much space. Every story has to be very, very good and every story has to fit the episode – that leads to a lot of rejections.


There’s a lot of crap too, of course. For every story I agonize over there’s probably another two that get chucked pretty swiftly. Most of the time someone’s had an idea for a story and hasn’t quite got the craft to tell it yet, or, being a genre magazine, the story falls into common genre patterns, such as “It’s horror! Stick loads of blood and guts and possibly some uncomfortable sex in there!” I do, admittedly, have very high standards for short stories and a lot of submissions will come a cropper, and that’s as it should be; I want DFM to host the best weird fiction, after all. Some stories we receive just aren’t SF, Fantasy or Horror at all (which puzzles me a little – the website banner is a giant green zombie person, so you’d think that would be a big clue) and some are just too long or obscure.


If knowing how these things work hasn’t quite made rejections easier for me to stomach, it has at least made them easier to understand, and a year of chomping through the slush pile has taught me an awful lot about editing as well as writing. For 2013 we’re going to announce the themes of the episodes beforehand, giving writers more of a chance to refine their stories for the magazine, and hopefully this will lead to me sending fewer rejection emails. Plus the cat finds all the cackling puts her off her lunch.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

NaNoWriMo Day 28: Fishpunk and Flu


I’m writing this now through the fog of flu (well, probably not flu – I felt a little too warm earlier today so I’ve decided it might be, because I do like to overreact like that) and the general exhaustion of the last days of nanowrimo. I’m very, very close to the end now, only a couple of thousand words away, but unfortunately I’m having to think around a wall of snot and grimness, so everything is suddenly really bloody difficult.

            Typical, isn’t it?

            This is annoying, but I’m not too concerned. I’ve a good chunk of London-Under-Sea out of my head and on to the page, and so far it’s been an... interesting experience. I’m not sure I’m getting everything right, and sometimes bending the book to my will seems nigh on impossible – I have these things that need to happen, but the characters keep wandering off and doing other things – but I sense that the bones of it are there, at least. Isaac in particular has turned out to have an interesting backstory I hadn’t even guessed at when I started, and as usual with nanowrimo the sheer break-neck pace of writing (some might even say desperation) has produced some very weird stuff.

            Which is good. Weirdness is what this book needs. We’re talking about a distant future London, flooded with an alien sea and full of fucked up sea monsters, peopled with humans who are no longer quite human. I jokingly referred to this book as fish-punk when I started writing it, but the more I get to know London-Under-Sea, the more I like the term.

            Who knows? Perhaps my feverish lurgy-brain will help! Bring on the lemsip-induced hallucinations and I might even get this thing finished.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Holy Link Post, Batman!

Busy week, no sleep, too much sugar… my brain isn’t sensible enough to give you a big fat blog post today, but I do have a series of links I should wave about, and one of them does include a big fat blog post:


I have been guest blogging over at Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review, where I talk in a meandering sort of way about fantasy maps and my own journey as a fantasy reader.


The Dark Fiction Magazine Halloween issue is now complete, with excellent stories from Lou Morgan, Emma Newman, Adrian Faulkner and Joshua Malbin – all with a watery theme. I strongly recommend giving your ears this spooky and slightly damp treat.


The cover for Adam Christopher’s The Age Atomic has been revealed and it’s a corker.


Nanowrimo continues on its coffee-sodden way; I’ve popped up a rough synopsis for London-Under-Sea if you’re curious.


And that’s it! Hopefully next week I will have a more coherent set of thoughts for you, but for now it’s back to the word count.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

NaNoWriMo Day 4: Weekend Writing


Today’s writing mascot is Duncan. I imagine his writing advice would be something like: “In war, victory. In peace, vigilance. In November, too much caffeine and fingerless gloves.”

Historically I’m not very good at writing at the weekend. I have quite a strict writing routine during the week so my brain tends to flop into SUPER RELAX MODE on a Saturday and it’s a minor miracle if I’m out of bed before midday. Although I always have good intentions of getting some words down, by the time I’m dressed and awake, it’s time to eat dinner and slip into a food-induced coma.

This weekend though I have behaved myself. I’m about 2,000 words ahead of where I need to be for Nanowrimo, and London-Under-Sea is moving along at the pace I want it to. We’ve witnessed Esther’s troubling beginnings, had a quick swim around the submerged city, and met Isaac, who is smouldering in an angsty and brooding fashion. At the moment I’m feeling quite happy with where it’s going, and looking forward to seeing where this book wants to take me.

 How about you? I’d love to hear some Nanowrimo progress reports in the comments!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

NaNoWriMo Day 1: Mascots and Pigs


The first day of Nanowrimo is under my belt, along with half a packet of Percy Pigs and too much pasta, and I have to say it’s gone quite well.

            That’s not tremendously surprising, as the first day is always the easiest. Now, the third week, that’s a bitch, when you’re tired and you’ve forgotten what this was supposed to be about and you’ve bought so many packets of Percy Pigs that the people in M&S are starting to give you slightly fearful looks… but all that is a way off yet.

            I’ve had the opening scenes of London-Under-Sea in my head for a few months now, and it feels good to get them out onto the screen. With the characters walking and talking and generally getting into trouble they’re starting to fill out, to become real people, and the little details of the world are dropping into place. I didn’t know before I started writing this morning, for example, that Mr Tallow was actually quite liked by the children, or that the object Esther was remembering is a golden plate. I love finding this stuff out; it’s the joy of a first draft.

            I’m giving my eyeballs a rest now and ruminating on what might crop up on day two. I doubt I’ll be blogging every day, but I might just throw up the occasional update, more for my own reference than anything else.


Oh, and Grumpy Bear is today’s writing mascot. I should point out that the word next to him is “Sea”, and not… the other word.


Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Halloween Shorts Part 2: A Very Short & Quite Silly Story From Me


A brisk little story for Halloween - do let me know what you think!

Behind_the_Scenes_FINAL.docx Download this file

Halloween Shorts Part 1: In the Wolf's Glen by Andrew Reid


Happy Halloween, everyone! May your pumpkins be bounteous and your skeletons ripe with gore. In celebration of the most wonderful time of the year (shh) we have an excellent creepy story from the marvellous Andrew Reid. A bit later I'll pop up a story by me, and then this afternoon I will direct you over to Dark Fiction Magazine, where more Halloween treats await. Enjoy!

(You can also go here for an audio version, read by the author!)

InTheWolfsGlenPOST.doc Download this file

Monday, 22 October 2012

Big Up Bristolcon


I went to my first ever Bristolcon this weekend, which I’m pleased to report was brilliant. Good times were had, dodgy food was eaten, minds were expanded.  

At this stage I’m not a massive con veteran and I’m just starting to find my feet with these things, but what struck me about Bristolcon was how cosy it was - cosy friendly rather than cosy tiny, I mean. There were two conference rooms where the talks took place, spaces for the dealers and artists, and a huge bar, and I very much enjoyed walking back and forth across the hotel because inevitably you would bump into someone you knew almost immediately.

            I met up with possibly too many people to name, but I'll chuck a few up here - saw Fran Terminiello for the first time, who shared a bottle of wine with me and undoubtedly has better taste in booze; finally said hello to Lou Morgan, who I have spectacularly failed to meet previously despite attending many of the same events; discussed a Watership Down roleplaying game with the mighty Dave Moore; caught up with Anne Lyle, who saved me from awkwardness when I turned up hideously early (I was very paranoid about missing the train and consequently got up at 4am); admired Emma Newman’s spectacular coat; Mhairi Simpson prompted a vividly memorable conversation about, uh, green dragongs; saw Gareth L. Powell receive a monkey dressed as a fighter pilot... as you can probably guess, I had a lot of fun. And thanks to Guy Haley, who got the same train back for a little while and ensured that at least 20 minutes of my journey was filled with amusing chat (the rest of it was spectacularly hideous. There is nothing quite like 20 boozed up football fans all trying to vomit into the same train toilet).

            The panels! Also, the panels were great. I particularly enjoyed the Women in Sensible Armour talk, where the sense of “we’re not putting up with this bullshit anymore” was palpable, and Danie Ware brought up a particular bug bear of mine (namely: strong women having to have massive personality problems or issues). The steampunk panel was great too, headed by the fabulous Philip Reeve – there were lots of opinions on show, all articulated wonderfully. Plus Nimue Brown had an excellent hat.

            All in all, I had an excellent experience and felt very welcomed and included. I am a reasonably introverted person, as I may have mentioned before, and a decade or so ago the idea of travelling to a place by myself and actually, you know, talking to people I’ve never met before would have been totally unthinkable; now I’m pleased to say I can do it, with bells on, and that is partly due to the awesome and friendly writing community. Good show, I say, good show!

Friday, 19 October 2012

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop


I got tagged in a blog thing by the marvellous and handy-with-a-sword Fran Terminiello, so witness my rambling answers…

What is the working title of your 
The Snake House


Where did the idea come from for the book? 
Originally I wanted to write a story about someone who has to make a journey into hell; in the end, Felia doesn’t quite go to hell, but she goes somewhere pretty close. I also had an urge to write a book set in London, something I’d tried before and utterly failed at.


What genre does your book fall under?
Too my own surprise, I suppose it’s Urban Fantasy with strong elements of horror.


Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 
I never really picture actors as my characters while writing a book, but if a fabulously wealthy Hollywood producer gave me a fat wad of cash to film The Snake House, these are the people I’d suggest (I will never reveal how long I spent agonizing over this):


Zawe Ashton as Felia Jones


Ellen Thomas as Wilhelmina Sunbow (although she’d have to be aged up rather a lot)

Maggie Smith as Katya Orbison

Miriam Margoyles as Mavis Bickerstaff

Damien Maloney as the adult Stanley Cubb

Robert Sheehan as Hob

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 
I’m cheating slightly here, but:


Felia Jones is less than pleased to be moving to a run-down council estate with her mother and half-brother – she is even less interested in the ravings of three old ladies who claim she has the “sight”. But they know a darkness is growing at Cornwall House, a shadow of a past so terrible it has been forcibly forgotten, and if Felia Jones can’t face it down they may all be lost.

Because what happened on the third floor left a scar that won’t heal, and the Snake House is hungry again.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 
I would love for it to be published in a way that means I don’t have to make the cover…


How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I wrote the first draft in two months, thanks to the slightly unhinged process of Nanowrimo.


What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? 
The Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch has a similar feel (London, magic, weirdness) as well as Kate Griffin’s Matthew Swift sequence.

Who or What inspired you to write this book? 
I really wanted to write a horror novel, or, in a way I felt it was expected of me; I’ve written lots of short horror stories, but all my books are fantasy. Let’s see, I thought, if I can maintain the creepiness. I’d also done a lot of reading on serial killers (cheery stuff) and I really wanted to explore the nature of evil and what lies behind a monster.


What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
There are three brilliant old ladies in this. And there’s a sequence that genuinely still freaks me out big time, despite having written it myself and having read it several times now. Oh, and the last couple of chapters make me cry.

What stage is your book at now?
It’s been read by my lovely beta team, and it’s been redrafted twice, so now it is winging its way out into the wider world, hopefully to find a home somewhere.



Here we go! Tag, you’re it:

Andrew Reid

Adam Christopher

Emma Newman

K.T Davies

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Stories From Another London - One Eye Grey anthology

I'm pleased to report that my short story London Stone has made an appearance in the latest collection from that delightfully ghoulish penny dreadful, One Eye Grey. Details below!


Press_Release_stories_from_another_London[1].docx Download this file


Tuesday, 9 October 2012

NaNoWriMo - A November of Novel Adventuring


Yes, it’s that time of the year again.


And I do appear to have signed up, partly because I can’t bear not to, and partly because I do have a new book project waiting and raring to go. It’s exciting to browse the forums again, reading about everyone prepping for the long month of madcap novel writing to come. It may not work out this year – things are a touch up in the air for me, in several ways – but I think I’m going to be there at the start line at least, fingerless gloves and cheap Halloween sweets in hand.


I’ve participated in Nano for the last four years. In my first (2008, I think) I wrote a short children’s book called Bird and Tower. Next up came Ink for Thieves, a book I still love and hope to find a home for, followed by Dead Zoo Shuffle, a book I’m not that massively keen on these days but isn’t entirely hopeless. Last year I did the Beta month of Camp Nanowrimo, and followed that up by doing the official month too, managing to write the entirety of The Snake House in two months, which was something of a record for me.


And as everyone starts to get excited, there’s usually a wave of cynicism about Nano too, and I’ve seen the first trickles of this. All those amateurs, moan the weary cynics, thinking they can write. 50,000 words isn’t even really a book, and they’ve never even heard of editing…


Sod that, I say. Yes, a lot of young people take part in Nanowrimo, and yes, lots of them might be writing some rather familiar re-hashes of boy wizards, angsty vampires, and demon-hunting hotties, but so what? It’s very easy to sneer at these things (and at fanfiction, although perhaps that is unwise – fanfic led to the biggest publishing hoo-ha of this year, after all) but I’d much rather see people (particularly young people) getting excited and making things, than, say, the umpteenth wannabe farting Wannabe by the Spice Girls on Britain’s Got Talent. Or maybe that’s just me.


Besides which, Nano teaches you all sorts of important stuff if writing is where your soul rests. So the first book you harass into life via Nano might not be that great – it might even suck the big one – 50,000 words will still show you all sorts of wonders you’d never even have guessed at on November the 1st. Plus, Nano shows you (albeit in a slightly extreme way) that it is entirely possible to fit writing into your life, and that is often a wonderful and life changing thing to learn. It certainly changed mine.


So come, mighty Nano Vikings, with your cups of coffee and writing mascots, let’s go kick November up the plot bunny!

(and while you're here, tell me how you prepare for Nano)


Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Where do you get your ideas? And all that jazz.


Supposedly one of the most exasperating questions a writer can get is “Where do you get your ideas?” Presumably this is because we’re not allowed to answer with: “My grandfather bequeathed to me an ancient and magical book, and within these goblin-encrusted pages new ideas breed like rutting succubae…” or “I stole them off my mate”. I have to admit I can’t recall ever having been asked (although I do occasionally get: “You enjoy that, do you?” and “Why, Jennifer, why?”)

I think it’s a largely impossible question to answer, because most of the time we just don’t know. I was considering this yesterday when I started writing a short story out of the blue. I haven’t written a short for yonks, and when the initial flurry of activity had died down, I did stop and think: “Where on earth did that come from?”

You’d think there would be something. Was I looking at a particular word at the time, or was it the tinny beat of someone’s MP3 player that triggered it? I don’t know. The thing is, short story writing is like hunting an animal, something lithe and speedy with a twitching nose and twisty little horns. Once you get the scent of this shy creature, you’re off, streaking through the forest after it; you follow it wherever it twists and hops and leaps, and you can’t stop until you’ve got the bugger.

And then when you’re sitting down, picking fresh deer meat from your teeth (or idea meat, see what I did there?), you stop and think: where did that come from? And for that matter, where am I? Because now there’s no following the trail back, and even if you did, there would just be more of the same forest, looking back at you blankly.

That’s why writing can sometimes be so frustrating, because there is no faking that out of the blue moment. Not even if you think really, really hard (I’ve tried). What you do end up doing, I suspect, is building up a set of weapons with which to encourage these reluctant ideas from your flighty subconscious. In the past, I have found the following to be helpful: going for a walk, having a shower, reading a really good book, flicking through a copy of Brewers Phrase and Fable (always worth doing anyway), being somewhere quiet, being somewhere noisy, looking at art, and getting a decent night’s sleep.

I think we all develop our own tools, and you instinctively go with what works. Because really, as long as the ideas do keep on coming, I’m not going to think too closely about where they come from. The tricksy little bastards.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Guest Bloggery and Book Sluttery


My post about the best Stephen King movies is now up at Insatiable Booksluts - bloody good fun to write, that. :) I am well chuffed to be appearing on a site with possibly the best name ever. 

There are a whole bunch of excellent posts over there at the moment in celebration of Sai King's birthday; I highly recommend a browse, O constant reader. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Relaxing and Holipops and Stephen King


Last week I had a mini-holiday with my lovely bloke. We saw friends, drank too much, ate some ice-cream, watched some jousting, and even spent a couple of days in Brighton, one of my favourite places. It does me good to be near the sea I think; the sound of waves crashing on a shingle beach is one of those odd memory triggers, and instantly I am nine years old again, badgering my nan for another quid to go and play in the slots (we also spent a good couple of hours rediscovering the joy of tuppeny pushdowns and earned a whole five pieces of useless tat for our efforts!).


So I managed to relax for a bit. I’m not very good at being relaxed… now, I can hear some of you snortling from here, and yes, it is true I can give off an aura of being so laid back I’m horizontal (hush, you) but I’m normally thinking about stuff. I’m normally being worrisome. I do find it very hard to just, you know, turn my brain off and shut up for five minutes. But for a little while, sitting on Brighton Pier contemplating a polystyrene cup of mussels and watching the blinding sunshine on the water, I managed it.


Of course, then I got home and immediately started making to-do lists and generally panicking about all the things I needed to finish, but then, you can’t have everything.


One of the things I needed to finish was a guest post over at Insatiable Booksluts, who are having a Stephen King week at the moment. Pop over there and have a look!

My post is going up tomorrow I believe (very 19) so I’ll flag it up on here as soon as it appears.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Being a Geek, Being an Angry Geek, and Being a Tiresome Assclown


You know, I am quite proud to be a geek. I grew up a geek, with my glasses and my Star Trek novelizations tucked under one arm, and yeah, I got bullied for it, but it didn’t stop me. And these days being labelled a geek isn’t the insult it once was – we rule the cinema listings and reading comics is cool now – and yes, I am proud to be a geek.

I see being a geek as being filled with enthusiasm for something. Loving a thing so much – loving a story, essentially – that you want to know all the details of it, that you spend time discussing it and pondering the history of that story and its future. You surround yourself with stuff that takes you to that story in an instant; this is why my desk currently features action figures of Garrus, Marcus Fenix, Duncan from Dragon Age, and The Chamberlain from The Dark Crystal. It’s why above my desk there is artwork from Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and the Discworld books.

I love being a geek, and I consider other geeks to be an extended family. My people, if you will.

Which is why I’m filled with dismay when fandom seems to tip over into trolling. Yes, we’ve all had our moments of being horribly disappointed with where the story you love is going. Anyone who knew me a few years ago knows all about my extreme upset over the end of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I threw the book across the room, I wrote essays on how outraged I was. I had, in short, a tantrum of silly proportions. I didn’t like Prometheus either, and spent days afterwards listing all the many ways in which it didn’t make sense. But...

But at no point did I seek out the creators of those things to hurl abuse at them. Why not? Because that’s not what being a geek is about. If I can have a moment to be a little bit soft? Being a geek is about love, not hate.

Currently we have a situation where Steven Moffat has left twitter, due, apparently, to the amount of angry abuse hurled at him over the Dinosaurs on a Spaceship episode of Doctor Who. And this isn’t the first incident of fandom throwing its toys out of the pram in an unpleasant manner. If you follow Bioware on facebook (and I’ve mentioned this before) then you will know that any post is blanketed in comments about how fucking shitty the end of Mass Effect 3 was, and how Bioware are shit, and how they should all die in a fire because of it. Or the weird section of Supernatural fandom that reserves a special kind of hatred for the actor’s wives. I mean, come on. If we’re adult enough to operate a keyboard and enjoy the nuances of fiction, then we’re too adult for this nonsense.

There’s nothing wrong with being disappointed or even angry. Of course not. Rant about it all you like. Sometimes we get angry because we love something so much - my anger over the end of the Dark Tower was all about how much love I'd put into the series. But there is a line that once crossed means you are actually behaving like a pissy little child with poopy pants. A pissy little brat that enjoys bitching about something and spreading misery, more than they ever enjoyed the story. I didn’t spend secondary school being bullied for that to be part of being a geek, thank you very much.

So, you know what? To me, these people aren’t geeks. I take that label, the label that means so much to me, away from them, and instead give them the title of Tiresome Assclowns. Geekdom is better than that.

Monday, 3 September 2012

To Plan or Not to Plan, And Other Meanderings


I haven’t blogged for a while because I haven’t had very much of use to say. I’m like one of those Magic 8 balls that comes up with gems like “Maybe later”, “Buggered if I know”, “I’ve no clue” and “um...” when shaken.


So I have no useful answers to any sensible questions you might have, but I am in that sweet zone of novel writing that comes just before you start the actual writing, where the place and the characters and what actually happens are all in a glorious flux. Sometimes I think I like this stage the best because nothing is quite nailed down yet and I’m still chasing research across Wikipedia (lately I have been looking at prehistoric sea creatures, the tallest buildings in London, and how gills work), while the characters are slowly forming in the green room, arguing over the biscuit tin and making endless cups of tea (there’s a girl called Esther who isn’t sure what she is, and a grumpy boy who isn’t happy with my decisions about his hair).


Planning though, planning’s the bitch. How much is too much? To plan everything within an inch of it’s life, to know the outcome of every decision and squabble, or to “pants” it and make it up as you go along? These are questions I’ve jousted with before, of course, over and over, and these days I use a mixture of both disciplines – know just enough about where you’re going to get started, and then see where the journey takes you. This is the way that seems to make sense to me, but I’d love to hear from anyone who is a planning purist or a dedicated by-the-seat-of-your-pants-er; how do you approach your next book?


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Writing, Telepathy and Merricat's Sugar Bowl


Since I’ve been editing and reading more than writing at the moment, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes me stick with a book. More than that, actually, what makes me love a book. There are lots of things, of course, but I think part of it is writing that really makes you see.


When I was a kid I wasn’t tremendously fussy about what I read. In fact, I would read anything left in front of me for too long, including my grandad’s newspaper, my nan’s historical novels, cereal packets, instruction manuals… These days I’m a lot pickier, and I will dismiss a lot of books out of hand because they don’t grab me in the first few pages, or give me a clear idea of what my mind should be looking at. Does this make sense yet?


In Stephen King’s book On Writing (which is a great read even if you’re not interested in the writing process) he talks about how writing is the truest form of telepathy, and I think that’s what I’m trying to get at. Through words on a page the writer attempts to convey to you what is in his or her mind; when the writing is really good, you see it vividly, almost as if you were really there.


Not all fiction works this well. Sometimes you plod through a book and although you enjoy the story and like the characters well enough, you never really feel like you’ve been transported. You never experience that delightful sense of dislocation that comes when you’ve been so immersed in a story that coming back to reality is a serious jolt to your sense of self. I love that. I search for that when I’m looking for a book to read.


Terry Pratchett is a good example for me; the Discworld has always felt like home, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg are practically family. I can see the Chalk and I know the streets of Ankh-Morpork. When I was reading Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House I felt disorientated right along with the characters, and in an even creepier example, the section where the House tricks them all into being relaxed and happy, I felt relaxed and happy. That is a strange and wondrous piece of magic right there.


Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (one of my all time favourites) was almost like a fever dream, full of vivid weirdness – I could see Merricat clearly in my mind’s eye, and will see her forever, I suspect. You know when the writing really sings – the world around you drops away and you’re with Merlin in the crystal cave, or trawling through the haunted halls of Faerie in search of the man with the thistledown hair…


George R.R Martin said that we write fantasy to see the colours again, to speak in the language of dreams, and I think that’s what I’m looking for when I’m reading (and when I’m writing too, of course). Writing is magic, like friendship and My Little Ponies.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

A Few of my Favourite Things

I am not an especially girly girl.

No, it’s alright, I’ll wait here while you pick yourself up off the floor. It’s a shock, I know.


I’m not a girly girl, at least not in terms of the media’s perception of what is girly, anyway. I have no interest in shoes, only the required minimum of interest in clothes (you do have to wear something when you leave the house, after all) and I never had a crush on a boyband member when I was a teenager (true story: in primary school we were all asked to name our favourite band or pop singer – pretty much everyone else said Michael Jackson or New Kids on the Block. I said Frank Sinatra. See? I was a hipster before hipsters were invented. How hipsterish is that?).


Anyway, the one slightly girly thing I do love is make-up. Make-up and smellies, as my mum would call them. I was pretty late to the cosmetics thing, remaining a tomboy until I was about 17, and then I discovered that make-up was sort of like painting your face and then I was well away. So for today’s blog I thought I would randomly list some cosmetics that I absolutely cannot do without, just to have one post that isn’t about writing or video games.



Geek Chic Cosmetics: Captain Tightpants eyeshadow

Really, how can you resist a set of eyeshadows named for Firefly characters? I got really overexcited when someone pointed out this site to me – geeky references and make-up? Heaven! All the eyeshadows I’ve ordered from here have been top quality, but Captain Tightpants is worth a special mention because it’s become my “everyday” shade – a lovely shimmering copper that goes with my hair. Plus it’s relatively cheap and you get loads of it.

Veil of Twilight perfume sampler box from Black Baccara

Tiny vials of perfume oils with fabulously gothic names. My favourites from this collection are Nosferatu, Raven and Boneyard – winsome, mysterious scents with a hint of the macabre. And when someone asks you what perfume you’re wearing there is a particular pleasure in giving them a sinister look and hissing, “Poisoned Pudding, if you must know!”

R&B from Lush

Hair conditioner of the gods. The only stuff that has ever successfully tamed the frizz puff that is my hair, R&B is also amazingly good value – you only need a tiny bit rubbed into your fingers to sort out your barnet, so the big black pot lasts forever. I take it with me in my bag everywhere. Oh, and it smells lovely too, all fruity and creamy.

BAD Gal eye pencil by Benefit

This is my one big indulgence. Lord knows I can’t afford anything else from Benefit but this kohl pencil is worth the investment. Chunky and smoky, the line is such a lovely deep black, I’ve never found another pencil to rival it. Plus it actually stays put most of the time, instead of migrating down your cheek somewhere (you will notice that the one in the picture is now worn down to a nubbin). 

Vaseline pot

Essential thingy! Like my kindle, this is never more than six feet away from me at any time. Sorts out dry skin, chapped lips, vanishes make-up mistakes, looks vaguely suspicious in your handbag… my mum recently gave me a Vaseline gift set, such is my dedication to the small greasy pots.

Anyone else have any cosmetic essentials? There’s always room in my handbag for more…

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Vague Olympic Post


There’s quite a lot of sport happening in London at the moment, I don’t know if you’ve noticed. I’ve even watched some of it – mostly the stuff you don’t see very often on telly, like the synchronised diving, or the judo (which looks like full body contact thumb war to me). It’s lovely to see everyone enjoying it and generally having an ace time, and I love that London is essentially having a slo-mo sports festival; there’s a lot of cheer in the city.


One of things that all this sport makes me think about is how much I am not a  sportsperson. This surfaced briefly as a twitter discussion last night, but competitiveness generally makes me very uncomfortable – not because I think it’s bad, but because I’m just not wired that way. There’s been some incidents of competitors contesting goals, points, medals even, and there’s been footage of people celebrating their hard won medals, only to have it taken away because someone else contested it; cue hugely disappointed faces, misery, despair. I’m not sure that I could do that to a person, especially not after they’d done all the jumping about and cheering. Ah, you may say, but what if you’ve trained every day of your life for 4 years for it, all focusing on this one moment, all to be the bestest competitor of all… but that’s my point, I suppose. I’m not that person.


There was also the interview with the poor chap in the Judo who lost his match in one devastating throw (interviewing him directly afterwards was pretty unfair, in my opinion). I can’t imagine dedicating so much of your life to that one moment, just to have it snatched away from you – it’s terrifying, and incredibly brave. At least if you spend years of your life writing a book and the publisher you desperately want to take it on rejects it, there’s still other publishers, still other people that might love it as much as you do. It isn’t over, and the thing that you made will always be there.


So, I suppose what I’m taking from this is: the athletes in the Olympics are brave, and not just for wearing lycra; making things is great because they remain with you forever and are not diminished by comparison to other things; and there was little chance of me ever enjoying P.E anyway.


ps) I've decided that I love the weird Olympic mascots, specifically because they look a bit like baby Great Old Ones.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Ramblings on the Goodreads Hullabaloo

My brain is full of editing at the moment and I’m not very capable of forming reasonable sentences, so here are a few random thoughts in place of a proper blog post.


There’s a lot of unpleasantness flying about over Goodreads at the moment – it’s a site that I’ve only recently started to dip my social media toes into, and although I have yet to pay attention to even one of its recommends I do quite enjoy updating my book reading status; adding those extra few percent to my progress bar is so satisfying…


Most of the drama basically boils down to “authors are whiny babies who need to shut up” vs “reviewers are sadistic bullies with an agenda”. I think maybe we need to step back and consider the equality of the reader/writer relationship. Maybe, just maybe, we should try and reconcile the idea in our minds that they’re both equally important. Without writers, we’d have nothing to read. Without readers, there would little joy in writing (I know that we all say we write for ourselves, but in the end, you want to share that world, don’t you?)


I suspect we’d all avoid getting our knickers in a bunch if we could remember a couple of things:


Writers: Just ‘cause you’ve written a book, doesn’t mean it’s pleasant to lord it up over everyone.

Reviewers: Just ‘cause you’re reviewing a book, doesn’t mean it’s pleasant to personally attack the author.


The thing is, and I think we forget this on the internet quite often, you are totally free to say what you like. Of course you are. But please do not be all shocked if you say shitty things, and then people point out that you are saying shitty things.


We can all chuck our tuppence worth in. That’s what freedom of speech is.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Why a Book is Like a House, and I Can't Juggle


I was in the pub with my brother a few months back and he asked me how you go about writing a book. We were, at that stage, reasonably tipsy, approaching that point in the evening when taking part in the pub quiz seems like a really good idea, even though there’s only two of us and I’m terrible at all geography questions. After all, how can you fail when your team name is Simply Williams? (Or Simple Williams, as I suggested afterwards).


My brother is a very practical person who thinks in, I think, a structural way. He works at the Globe Theatre making sure all the sets and props do what they’re supposed to, and designs awesome stuff with a 3D programme on his computer (he’s frighteningly clever, despite our general failure at pub quizzes). That sort of thing boggles my mind; I can no more design solid structures than I can juggle chainsaws or solve a Rubiks cube – I don’t have great spatial awareness, and tend to walk into the walls of our flat when I’m thinking a bit hard.


So I tried to think of a way of explaining it to him. I couldn’t at the time, because I was drunk, but I’ve been considering it since and I have decided it’s like this:


It’s like building a house in your head.


Only, you have to imagine all the parts separately, and then you have to keep imagining them all the time so the thing stays up. So, you have to create the foundations in your mind (for me, the foundations are probably the characters) and then you have to keep them there, solid, in your mind, while you build the walls and the floors and the windows and the roof (or the plot, the sub-plots, the side characters, the character motivations). And then when you have the structure, and you can see it all in your head at once without having a nosebleed, you can start decorating; you imagine the wallpaper and the hideous floral carpets, the curtains, the tables, the doors and the funky fireplace with a dead body wedged up inside it. You can see the details, like how a certain character speaks, their foibles and liking for cheese, and the theme is like the central heating system, winding through the house and keeping it cosy.


Eventually, you must be able to see the house in its entirety without effort. It must become as familiar and lived-in as the house you grew up in, and you will know what is hidden in every drawer and shoved down the back of every sofa, even if you don’t need to show that to anyone.


And that’s what our books become, I think; a home inside our heads. And if we’re lucky, other people will want to come and stay there for a while too.


Which is what I would have said to Paul, if I wasn’t drunk.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Mysterious City of Bookville

Looking back through the blog today I found an entry where I talked about starting Bad Apple Bone back in May 2007. Since that was my very first book, this means that I have now written 7 books in 5 years. This seemed a bit mad so I went and wrote it down again to see if it actually made sense.


Bad Apple Bone

Bird and Tower

Ink for Thieves

The Steel Walk

Dead Zoo Shuffle

The Snake House

The Copper Promise

 (Not counting A Boy of Blood and Clay, which stalled at the 61,000 word mark, or the steampunk novella)


So, madness. What I really need to do, undoubtedly, is find more time to edit as well as write. Ink for Thieves is shiny now, and The Copper Promise is in the midst of a huge tidying session, but I’d really like to spruce up The Snake House (weird YA horror) and possibly even persuade Dead Zoo Shuffle (SF crime) to be a readable book at some point. Crikey, that’s a lot of work.


I was talking with some tweeps on twitter today (shh, that’s totally what you say) about what you learn with each new book, and how even the ones that don’t go according to plan (I’m looking at you, A Boy of Blood and Clay) can act like weird story sonar – you might not have found the Mysterious City of Booksville this time round, but now you’ve got a better idea where to look.


No, I don’t know where I’m going with that either.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The First Draft Is Done!


That is to say: the first draft of The Copper Promise, all four parts, is finished. 

I am drinking wine now, toasting Wydrin, Frith and Sebastian, and looking forward to beating the whole unwieldy thing into shape with the editing stick.

*snoopy dance*

Friday, 29 June 2012

The Copper Promise: Latest News and Also Cartoons


Time for a quick update from Admin5000!


So, the last Copper Promise post was a few weeks ago now and I think I was on Chapter Three of part four, which I had yet to give a firm title too. Well, a month later and I’m on Chapter 25 and part four appears to have morphed into Upon the Ashen Blade, which hopefully means I am making progress – quite a lot for me actually, as I seem to have finally developed a system of writing in small bursts that has boosted my word count. Hurrah for that!


I’m into the endgame now. There will be perhaps another two chapters (the endings always take longer than I expect them to, so take this with a healthy pinch of salt) and the first draft of The Copper Promise, in its entirety, will be complete. At which point I will probably crawl into a dark room and hide under a pillow for a while, making small uncertain noises as I contemplate the editing job that must take place.


This book has turned into a monster. Wydrin would probably find that hilarious, the moo.


In other news, isn’t Avatar: The Last Airbender amazing? I’m aware that I am horribly late to the party on this one, but we’ve just started watching series 2 and I’m a bit in love with it. The writing is great and utterly persuasive (how much do I adore Zuko already? It’s ridiculous), the world building and mythology is top notch, and the animation, which benefits from a lovely clean anime style and healthy dollops of slapstick, is just an absolute pleasure. New favourite thing!

Friday, 22 June 2012

New Flash Fiction Competition at Dark Fiction Magazine

Just a quick note to tell you that we've opened a new flash fiction competition over at Dark Fiction Magazine! The theme this time is Hidden History, and the deadline is the 13th of July. I bloody love reading fresh flash fiction, so please do get your entries over to us as soon as. 

We'll publish you and everything!

It'll be ace!

Go go go!

Friday, 15 June 2012

Kissy-Face and the Horizontal Charleston


So, how much sauce do you like with your fiction?


I’ve been thinking about this lately, partly due to the marvellous Sam Sykes talking about romance on his blog, and partly because it’s a question that will inevitably come up when you’re writing most types of books.


I am not a huge fan of romantic fiction, by which I mean actual wild horses and possibly even hot things driven under my fingernails would need to be involved before I actually read any. This is, obviously, due to my own tastes and predilections, and no reflection on romantic fiction or even rom coms or what-have-you, it’s just the way I am. I sometimes wonder if this was because the only books that weren’t mine in the house where I grew up were often Mills & Boon, and I was still at that stage where the sight of a bloke with his muscles bulging out of a torn shirt was firmly in the “Eeew, stinky boys” category.


I suspect my other problem with it is, particularly in regard to films, the female character is so often a) the only girl in it, and b) only there to be the love interest. You see, as soon as a woman turns up in some films, you instantly know that she’s going to be getting off with the main character at some point and boom, half the plot is immediately obvious. No surprises for you, young lady! I hate that sort of thing.


However, having said all that, I like a sprinkling of the lovey dovey stuff, I do. Love is, after all, often the biggest and most significant emotion we feel in our human lives, and to have that missing from stories would make no sense at all. It’s who we are, of course it should be there. The question is, how much?


One of the things that interests me as a writer is the flirtatious relationship, the sort where there is a definite attraction and significant looks are exchanged, but no one is quite sure where they stand. I’m thinking here of Mulder and Scully, and even Niles and Daphne, or, you know, Moonlighting. I always enjoy those sorts of relationships because there is always conflict. I enjoy less those sorts of romances where the main characters meet and instantly fall in love (Legend by David Gemmell is the example I’m thinking of, although I should make it clear I loved that book – not for reasons of romance, mind). When the two characters have arguments, fights, saucy looks, uncomfortable-situations-where-they-might-have-to-spend-the-night-together-in-a-damp-cave, then it’s always interesting.


But what happens then? Do we want it resolved? And how much… resolution… do we want to see? I distinctly remember losing some of my passion for the X-Files when it was fairly obvious that they did in fact love each other, and general opinion is that Frasier jumped the shark when Niles and Daphne got married. Not everyone will feel this way, of course, but I wonder if anything is quite as much fun once the conflict is removed. Sex scenes are a tricky subject too, particularly in books – again, it’s an important part of human life and certainly needs to be in fiction, but once the pants are on the floor and the chandelier has been firmly rattled, where do we go from there? What else is there to anticipate?


I’d love to know what people think about this. Do you love the lovey-dovey, or do you prefer a seasoning of it? Does sex in a book ramp up your investment in a character to another level? Or do you go for the quick snog and lovers-torn-asunder type of deal? Tell me!