Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Firstly, the British Fantasy Convention in Nottingham on the 22nd went really well. Apart from the extortionate day rate (and apparent light-fingered antics of an interloper or interlopers) attending the Saturday was a good decision. There was an insightful panel on publishing in the genre headed by Gollanz, Virgin and Abbadon books and my only quibble was it was too damned short (I had a hundred and one questions for them but they only fielded two from the audience). It was also great to listen to the Dave McKean interview, and Chaz Brenchley’s anecdotes on the British Arts Council (food for thought, most definitely). Yep, the day-rate was a little pricey but after working out what I got from it, it was worth it. Even with the amount spent on books (about fifty quid) - which I can justify-ish but I won’t be buying anymore books now until the New Year. Not that I’m too bothered, as I have a stack of books to keep me going until 2010.
Still, I might be persuaded to purchase a short story collection coming out from Elastic Press called Subtle Edens which has tales from none other than those short-story machines from Veggie Box: Neil Ayres and Aliya Whiteley. Better still, my university chum, Dave Budd, has expressed an interest in attending the launch in London and will pick up a copy for me (hopefully signed by both Neil and Aliya, as well as any other authors who are attending – I’m a sucker for autographed books, just ask Chris Teague and Gary McMahon – I got the writers to sign We Fade to Grey twice!!).
Sticking to the more ‘ephemeral’ side of writing i.e. publishing matters, it appears that anyone wishing to buy a hardback copy of The Secret War might find it more than a little difficult. Amazon UK is now showing it out of stock, and it’s unlikely to come into stock as the paperback of The Secret War comes out this January. I also have it on good authority that the remaining stock has been bought up by collectors, so the hardback is as rare as, well, hen’s teeth. Collectors editions if you will, which I guess was the intention of the imprint - so that it will appeal to collectors and readers alike. I’ve also heard rumours that the book might be selling at silly prices next year, so the advice is “hold on to your hardbacks!” As I’ll be holding on to mine!
On a more or less obscure point, this is the first day this week that I’ve been able to put fingers to keyboard after a pulling a muscle in my neck last week. I always believed that I could write regardless of physical condition unless someone chopped off my hands or blinded me. I didn’t think a simple and innocuous injury like that could throw off my whole writing regime. But it has.
Never mind, while it’s still a little stiff, it’s pretty cleared up and I’m now on chapter 6 of The Black Hours, and running through it with a big cheesy grin. I can’t believe how easy this 2nd draft is. What did I do right? I certainly don’t remember selling my soul to the Devil of Novel Writing. The pessimist in me expects a big fucking wall to come hurtling my way at some point, but you know, the speed I’m going, I’ll either splat myself across it, or run straight through.
(I can’t say which at the moment, but my advice would be to bring a hard-hat and a water-proof jacket just in case…)
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Many months ago, Roger Morris asked writers if they ever had “writing” dreams. Prior to Tuesday, I had just the one - a pre book-launch dream that was no different to any other dream of “failure from the start”, like an actor taking to the stage on the opening night only to discover they’ve forgotten to put some clothes on, or the athlete attending their first race to discover the race was run yesterday and the stadium is empty.
In my case, I dreamt my book-launch had arrived without any books – there was nothing to read, nothing to sign, and people were suspecting I hadn’t been published at all. Yeah, that was a little odd.
But the one on Tuesday night was more so.
And worse still, the dream started at Work. (I always feel cheated when I dream about the day-job. It’s like I’ve already done six hours of work in my sleep, so why do I have to do another seven and a half when I’m awake?)
Anyway, the dream went like this:
I arrive at work. I’m late. This is odd, because usually I’m quite early. Everyone is already in the office when the lift comes to a halt on the third floor and I walk into the open-plan space of desks scrunched up together, the heavy hum of the air-conditioning overhead. So apart from being late, everything else seems normal. For a moment.
And then I notice my colleagues. They are all happy. I mean all of them. And they’re drifting around, dazed and happy, clutching books to their chests. It crosses my mind that a book-club has been around that morning, off-loading novels for a couple of quid each. One of the staff (for the sake of anonymity I’ll call him “Bill Jones”) accosts me with an inane grin and shoves the book hard into my ribs with glee. I look down expecting a Bernard Cornwell novel, but discover it’s not. The author’s name is Bill Jones. And the cover looks like some Andy McNab-style thriller.
“I’m published!” he says with laughter.
“Bloody hell, you are,” I reply with genuine pleasure. “You never told me you wrote books, Bill.”
“I don’t,” Bill says dreamily, taking the book from me. He runs his hands over the cover like it’s the most precious thing in the world. “This is my first one.”
I watch Bill wander away, feeling a little bewildered which turns to bemusement as I remember everyone else is clutching a book. I immediately think I’ve missed Bill’s book-launch or something, so I accost Janet (again, a made up name…).
“Hey, Janet, I see you’ve got one of Bill’s books too,” I say.
Janet looks at me like I’ve grown a second head. “Bill’s? No. This is mine.” She places her book in my hands, and bugger me if it doesn’t have Janet’s full name on it and some strange ‘Love and Horses’ title plastered in a racy-red across the front.
“You’re published too?” I ask, my voice faltering.
“Isn’t it wild?” she replies, walking away.
I notice Derek and Ian chatting in the corner. They too are clutching books. Books they’ve written. Books that are published. One’s a historical novel, the other a Sci-Fi. One is published by HarperCollins, one by Orbit.
Jeremy bumps into me. “Sorry, Matt…” He pauses and then brings out his book, some non-fiction tome about growing potatoes the “organic way”.
I back away from him. “For fucksake, Jeremy, is there anyone in this office who isn’t published?” I ask, and my voice rises loudly at just the moment everyone else’s falls to a whisper. And they’re all staring at me. Staring at me while holding their books. Books they’ve written. Books that are published. And I might as well be standing on stage without any clothes on…
The dream then moved on as dreams do, to something equally obscure and irrelevant, but for a time there was something genuinely unnerving about coming to work to discover everyone else was published.
Now I’ve since asked a few people what this could all mean, and the interpretation that gets me thinking the most is the one where “just being published is not enough for me; I want more.”
I admit, I’m ambitious, but I’m pragmatic too and have never believed I would be a bestseller writer. I’d like to be, I can’t think of a writer who wouldn’t, but never arrogantly assumed I would. I was content to be just published, and that being published is fun. But the dream tugs at something deeper. Maybe on some level I believe being a published writer makes me stand out from the crowd – I admit there is a little welcomed attention - but to quote The Incredibles, “when everyone is Super, then no one is.”
Perhaps it’s not enough just to be published anymore, and maybe my ambition is driving me forward. My writing has certainly become more significant in my life – after sacrificing hours in the day-job, a decent foreign rights sale and schedule of planned novels I would be pretty imprudent if I didn’t treat it as more of a hobby and make the most of it. I've come quite far now, and I would feel utterly ungrateful if I didn't give this whole venture my best shot. There are others behind me who would kill for this opportunity, or chop off an arm, or sell their Grandma.
I read somewhere that writing is very much about momentum. Take too long and you falter, losing the ground you’ve made up. It could be this dream is telling me to get on with it. And I have. On Monday I started the 2nd draft of The Black Hours which should take me till Christmas to complete.
How’s that for ‘getting on with it’, eh, my annoying subconscious-self? Now please, leave my dreams alone. I get the message.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
I read quite a lot of short fiction. I even subscribe to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction so each month I have half a dozen short stories and novellas on tap. And that’s without the web and Writing Magazine and the publications from the British Fantasy Society and… I’m getting side-tracked here. My point is, that for most of the writers featured in all the above publications, short fiction is where they’re introduced to readers. I discovered Stephen King through a collection of short stories, and then I moved on to his novels - which, let’s face it, are pretty much longer versions of his short stories. Brian Lumley was the same. As was Jonathan Carroll and Clive Barker to a lesser degree. The strength and style of their short fiction drew me to their longer works, and I wasn’t disappointed.
If I’m going to go down that same path and use short fiction to advertise my longer prose, then would I muddy the waters too much by seeking to publish fiction that doesn’t reflect my novels?
The Mischief is a story set in the near future, ten minutes into the future if you like, and it’s a dark piece with no uplifting coda to speak of. It’s quite stark. It’s emotive. It’s not really nice, but then sometimes I tend to find entertainment in the darkest of corners.
While The Secret War and The Hoard of Mhorrer are not comedies, nor are they overly dark, grim books. They’re historical fantasy adventures. They’re pure escapism, heroics, swashbuckling; one reviewer called The Secret War “real lads stuff,” and who am I to argue? It is a lad’s book, and The Hoard of Mhorrer - while being a little more cerebral than the former - again is a boy’s own adventure story.
But that’s not all I write. And The Mischief is one of those stories that does not reflect what is published by Macmillan New Writing. So what do I do? Do I go ahead and seek publication of a short story I’m quite proud of; do I confuse any readers who like The Mischief enough to seek out The Secret War which is nothing like this short story?
I could go under a pseudonym, sure, but if I do, I won’t exactly be selling the writer “MFW Curran”, would I?
Rub-a-rub-rub. Nothing’s ever simple, is it? I can see this being the first story to go out under the nom de plume, Frank Wallace.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Know the facts:
What is a writer?
A writer is an outsider who retreats into a world of their own making, often playing out fantasies of global domination or more sordid scenarios. It’s important to remember that being a writer isn’t illegal and only offences committed by the writer are socially unacceptable.
Why do young people write?
Young people write:
· to be creative and to flex their imagination
· to withdraw into a world of their own creation rather than someone else’s (writing is a sign of social alienation)
· for the delusion of recognition
Most addicts live in seclusion, only interacting socially with other writers (while this is acceptable behaviour in adults, this should be discouraged in children). Writing addiction can lead to obsessive behaviour especially later on in life. Some published writers go on to other obsessive behaviours such as Googling their own names, and checking Amazon rankings.
Being a writer – the fantasy and reality
Because of icons such as JK Rowling and Philip Pullman, young people see writers as role-models. They see that being a writer is an acceptable alternative to getting a real job i.e. having to work in an office or a factory. This view is quite distorted due to the influence of the Media.
The reality is that writing addiction can ruin lives and families. Writers are not often successful and very few become respectable such as JK Rowling. Others can become embittered by their experiences and some writers might sink low enough later on in life to become ghost writers for celebrities. An addiction can force someone to spend most of their waking life writing something that no one else wants to read, which can influence mood-swings, obsessive behaviour with mailed correspondence, and in worse cases sporadic vandalism at book stores.
Know the signs:
Here are some examples of changes in behaviour to watch out for:
· Excessive use of paper and pens
· Requesting a copy of Microsoft Word for Christmas
· Bookishness – (though not always; sometimes children just want to read. Parents shouldn’t assume that reading is the first step to an addiction with writing. Parents should treat this sign sensitively and not cause the child any undue embarrassment by forcing the child to watch TV instead, play video-games, or send them outside to play).
· Early onset of eccentricity
· Buying the Writers and Artists Handbook
· A gradual disinterest in anything lowbrow
· Quoting prose or poetry at inappropriate times and the use of good English in the home
· A sudden disinterest in Sports at school
· Pale skin from lack of sunlight
· Calluses on fingers due to constant typing
· Bohemian fashion sense
· Atrophy of legs due to sitting for prolonged periods
Other things you should know:
One in five people addicted to writing will at some point attempt to contact a literary agent for advice. Please note that literary agents will not always discourage your child from writing, and some will actively encourage them, making them believe they can make a living from their addiction. This will only exasperate the problem. Should you suspect your child is trying to contact an agent or a publisher, you should speak to them calmly and warn them that it might end in disappointment or further obsessiveness. The last course of action will be to confiscate all postage stamps and speak to your local post office should your child attempt to post their manuscript again to another agent.
What you can do:
There are many options open to a parent if they suspect their child wants to be a writer. The right teacher can discourage a child from writing anything interesting, and might even crush their egos enough by advising them that they will never get anything published. Another ploy is to use reverse psychology. Tell the child that you are thinking of writing a book also and this may discourage them into thinking that writing ‘really isn’t cool’.
Other options you may wish to consider is banning the use of computers for anything other than surfing the internet or playing games. Enforcing a strict policy of “if it’s sunny you’re playing outside” might have a positive effect during the few days of sunshine in the summer. Forcing your child into a sporting activity may also divert energies and attention from writing into something more productive and more sociable.
As a final option, try taking your child to a local bookshop or library and show them what happens to addicted writers who reform. The sight of so many jaded faces looking morosely at the aisles of books from authors who have made it, might discourage them from that wayward path.
Disclaimer: The content above does in no way reflect the beliefs of the blog owner, the blogger's publisher, the blogger's mum, not all the blogger's friends, and certainly not me.
*(Note: don’t you just love Government Leaflets? Looks like we’re back to the glory days of the 50’s)
Monday, September 01, 2008
It struck me last night, while I was stewing in the mother of all traffic jams on the M25 that I treat my plotting/writing the same way I navigate through traffic. On Sunday I attended the christening in Surrey of my Best Man’s son, William – a catchy and heroic name, I say (ironically I am William’s godfather, so I’ll be putting aside first editions of the Secret War books for him on his fifteenth birthday).
The return journey to Sheffield was the worse car journey in living memory due to intense flooding on the M25 and the slip-road to the M1. After three hours of going nowhere, I navigated Sarah off the M25 and headed quite blindly towards the M40, trusting my instincts rather than the cack-handed and insular traffic reports coming out of the London local radio stations (it seems odd to me that no one puts out competent traffic news on BBC Radio on Sunday when you can get it every hour during the week – don’t people drive on Sundays?).
As darkness fell prematurely from the rain-laden storm clouds that were hammering everything into submission outside, I guided us through a couple of small towns and villages on a winding route that any Sat-Nav would be proud of. Our journey into the unknown took us through local flooding (we were lucky – a half hour later two villages we passed through were closed to the public) and further into darkness, until we emerged after 30 minutes - to some measure of relief - onto the M40 which was pretty bloody empty.
I couldn’t fucking believe it. If only that message had been conveyed to every driver heading north up the M1 – to divert onto the M40 – then Europe’s largest ‘car-park’ would have been only half as bad. I was relieved and enraged in equal measure. Sometimes I marvel at how Britain became an empire. Was it pure bloody luck? It certainly wasn’t common sense.
Anyway, quibbles aside (and back to the writing)… I’m an impatient sod, I really am. I can’t stand waiting around, especially in queues. In that respect I’m definitely not British, because Brits do queues very well. It’s not just about being polite, it’s about having the common sense to seek an alternative. And that’s what I do with my writing, I’m pragmatic when it comes to problems with plots. Take the current book for example. I’ve been looking through the plot of The Black Hours and while it runs rather well, the last acts need addressing because they sit uneasily on the cross-roads of fantastical adventure and hard-boiled thriller. The rest of the book is indeed a straightforward “what if” thriller, but the last three chapters are quite OTT in terms of what went before. I’m reminded of those James Bond films such as Moonraker or Die Another Day, when it all becomes too excessive, and while The Black Hours doesn’t go to that extreme, it does sit uneasily with what happened before, as though the last scenes of pyrotechnics makes light of what is in fact a very dark story.
So, without staying in the traffic jam i.e. being clogged up with an unwieldy ending, I’ve decided to go on a mystery tour, guided only by instinct, my sense of direction and an idea of where I want to end up. It means radically changing two chapters, but then I’m only starting the 2nd draft here, right? So I’ve plenty of slack to make those big amendments. I’m sure I’ll encounter some flooding here and there, and get bogged down in the odd dead-end, but it feels right. It felt right to head for the M40. It feels right to change this ending and not dupe the reader into a potential Hollywood-mishap of excessiveness.
It does change the book from being a historical adventure into something sterner, but a writer should always work for the story, rather than work the story for the writer, don’t you think? Otherwise you can become quite, quite lost - or worse: stuck in a jam that goes nowhere.