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?