Tag Archives: SFF

Breaking all the rules

I’m currently working on my 7th novel (since being published – not including all the trunk novels) and something weird has happened. I’m breaking some of my own rules.

You have to write every day. You have to plan every book. You must not plan the story, let it flow organically. You need to set a daily word count. You should write to music. You should write in silence. Write in different places. Don’t have a set routine, be organic. Write in public. You absolutely have to get scrivener (or another program) in order to write. Use cards on a white board and plan stuff that way.

There is not one way to write a book. I need to make that clear because the most common questions I’m asked by writers trying to get an agent and then get published are focused on the above. Do I have to write a 100o words a day? Is it better to write in the morning or afternoon? Should I write with music? Should I work on more than one book at once?

Find your own way. Find what works for you. My way might not work for you. I’ve included a few conflicting statements above as I know some people who plan and some who write organically. Some who write in silence, some who need music. The following in my approach. It may not work for anyone else except me.

I always write at home, on Word, and nothing else. I plan my books, start, middle, end and milestones. The creative part comes in the leaps between milestones. I make notes in a notebook, on post it notes, on my phone, on scraps of paper, then write them up, and collect them together. I plan my stories. I always write with soundtrack music and can’t write with any music that has lyrics. I tend to write most days but am not rigid about taking a day off and I tend to set a daily word count for myself as I have deadlines. The word count keeps me moving, keeps me motivated and I constantly have one eye on the calendar. All of those are my rules and that’s what works for me. The music and being at home helps get my brain into a familiar space and off I go, sort of like muscle memory.

For my 7th novel, I’ve broken quite a few of my own rules. I found out when I started I couldn’t write with any kind of music. Nothing was working, which at first had me worried. So one day, after I’d revised my notes so many times I knew I had to actually write something I just tried it without any music. And suddenly it worked. The words started flowing. I had a new rhythm. I didn’t care why it was working only that it was working, so I continued. Months later I’m still writing this book without any music.

I’m tweaking my chapters. I never do this. When I sit down to write, I look back at what I’ve done on the previous day, I might tinker with the last paragraph or two, if it’s mid-chapter, or just glance at it if I am starting a new chapter. Then I move forward. Always forward so I finish a first draft and don’t get stuck in the endless cycle of trying to make it ‘perfect’. A first draft is never perfect. It’s always a mess. As Terry Pratchett said ‘A first draft is just you telling yourself the story’ and I absolutely believe that. The reworking comes later to make it flow and make it into more cohesive whole.

But this time I’m…tweaking things. Not to the point where I’m frozen and stop, but overnight, or when I’m away from the keyboard, I’m running conversations or bits of the previous day in my head, then I rush back and fix it that day, or first thing the next day. I’m still making good progress but this is very new and different. It might be because it is set in a new world, and I am still discovering it and the characters, but I also think it’s partially because this is a new style for me.

No music and polishing as I go. The first draft is still going to be rough, no doubt, but I’m happy with it so far. Ask me again in 6 months when I start to revise it and I will have a different answer, but it’s good to feel that way right now. I’m still planning and I have a skeleton plot which I’m following. I still set daily word counts and I still take a day off when I feel like it, especially if I’m tired or the well is getting a bit dry. A rest and complete break really can help me recharge the batteries.

So, somehow this time, it’s all new and different and fresh, despite it being my fifteen or sixteenth novel. I’ve honestly lost count at this point. But the important thing is it’s working and I will finish this first draft as planned. Stop worrying about how other people do it. Find what works for you and just finish the book.

Comments Off on Breaking all the rules

Filed under Books, Writing

David Gemmell Awards

David Gemmell Legend Awards - SnagaDavid Gemmell was and is a huge influence on my work. More so than Tolkien, which many people cite as being their main foundation, Gemmell showed me many worlds where the main characters were not always perfect people. Long before anyone coined the phrase Grimdark, he was writing about grey people in difficult situations.

The longlist for the three awards are now available and you can vote, online, for free, by visiting this page. You can only vote once on the long list.

Battlemage is on the list for the Morningstar award. This is the award for the best début fantasy novel.

The cover for Battlemage has also been nominated for the Ravenheart award, with artist Steve Stone.

I’m delighted to have been included on this list and the winners will be announced in September at the Fantasycon event in Scarborough. As it happens I am attending this event, so I will be cheering on the others and either celebrating or crying into my beer, depending on the outcome!

So, get voting. The longlist closes on 24th June. The shortlist for all categories then opens on July 8th for the final vote.

 

Comments Off on David Gemmell Awards

Filed under Books, Events, Writing

February’s Podcasts

As mentioned last month, the Podcasting network I am involved with has had a face lift and a kick in the pants, and now we are back on track with a regular schedule and more new content.

Pete Rogers, my co-host on Bags of Action had some very nice things to say about then new website and new logo. You should be following his posts anyway so take a look at his website. This month’s episodes are:-

CBO – Episode 170 – In honour of our first guest on the new Crash Landing, our main feature is about our favourite detectives from film and television, plus all of the latest news from geek culture.

Bags of Action – Episode 17 – Big Trouble in Little China – the classic John Carpenter, Kurt Russell film about weird things going bump in Chinatown. It’s a film full of weird magic, karate kicking, cheesy one liners, weird CGI things, flying men, swords, guns, lots of punching and even the odd romantic moment!

Crash Landing – Episode 1 – The first of a new monthly podcast. Every episode we maroon a guest on our crashing spaceship. They have one hour to salvage humanity’s most important cultural artefacts before they crash land on the planet of their choice.

Comments Off on February’s Podcasts

Filed under podcast

Ok, but what is it about?

This has been bugging me for a while. That’s probably not the best way to start a post, but there it is. It’s not something new, and it’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, but it was recently brought to the front of my brain again by the big changes in comics, namely DC comics reboot/relaunch of their new 52.

Overall, I’m a big fan of what they’ve done. It was the right thing to do, rather than a piecemeal approach which they’ve tried in the past, and it has reinvigorated their sales and the interest in their characters. Some of the new comics didn’t succeed, which was bound to happen as they launched 52 ongoing titles, and those that didn’t connect with an audience have been cancelled and replaced with new titles. We’re currently onto the 3rd or 4th wave of titles being cancelled and replaced and there are some new titles very due, but I think only one of them appeals to me. There again, that is not a dig at them. Not all of the comics are meant for me. I’m not the target audience for every title and therefore won’t enjoy all of them. There is something about the latest wave that made me question some of the decisions made, but I’ll come back to that. I’m highlighting DC because they’re at the front of my mind at the moment but this is actually a more general question for all forms of creative writing.

Ok, but what is it about? This is a question I’ve asked a thousand times before about films, TV shows, books and more recently comics. There’s often the tag line, or blurb on the back of a book, or listing and preview on a website, which gives you the highlights, it might even give you the story, but my next question is always, ok so what is it about?

I should preface the rest of this post by saying not everything has to have a deeper meaning and be a rich tapesty that is speaking to you on multiple levels. Sometimes it’s just about scaring people or blowing things up. Sometimes it’s just there to make people laugh or to entertain them. Sometimes you just want something light after a heavy or busy day at work, a screensaver for the mind is a phrase I recently heard that comes to mind. I should also point out that I’m a big fan of action movies. I loved The Expendables and I’m a huge fan of Stallone and Arnie movies. That being said, when I read something, I usually (not always) want there to be more than the tag line. I want it to have meaning, or purpose, or at least to be about something with engaging characters. The back of a book tells you something about what to expect. The inciting incident, the characters, the world, and it might offer you a few clues as to the what, but most often that comes in the reading, which for me is part of the enjoyment.

Also, the what can be different things to different people. Readers see beyond what the author intended and the printed word. They read between the lines or they see something that sits on a parallel to what was presented and it reflects something in their own life creating a special connection to the material. Maybe it reaches them on some emotional level and they feel something. There are many books that are just good rip-roaring adventures with clever characters outwitting the villains, but my favourites, the ones that stick with me, are those where the characters feel so real I wouldn’t be surprised to see them walk past me in the street.

This brings me back to DC’s newest wave of comics. Rob Liefeld is a well known figure in the comics industry, mostly for his art and for being one of the founders of Image comics, but also for being a very outspoken individual. I respect him for his accomplishments, but more recently I really like the way he asked DC difficult questions about some of their new titles. They asked him to take over and reinvigorate some of their flagging titles and he basically asked them – ok, so what is this character about? All of the characters he was asked to look at had been around for decades but the characters, their stories and their purpose were not clear.

Because of the age of many comic book characters their back stories are often complex and muddled, but with the best of them you can still pinpoint the why. Batman’s is a story about vengeance and justice. Righting wrongs and protecting the innocent. Stopping tragedies from occuring like the very incident that created him. Superman is about hope, inspiration, the human spirit and (to me at least) a message that we’re all the same regardless of our skin colour, religion, gender etc. Equally I can point at specific titles from the 52 and I know what they’re about once you strip away the costumes, the fighting and the gadgets. The latest incarnation of Batman and Robin is really a story about fathers and sons, about bettering yourself, about living up to expectations, about absent parents, and so on. Most of those points are from Damian’s point of view and there is also the other side, with Bruce trying to reform his son and prove to him that people are worth saving, rather than destroying, as his grandfather would have him believe. It’s a fascinating and quite unique dynamic, and that is what would make me come back rather than a new Batmobile or to see them fighting the Penguin or the Riddler.

Comics that feature teams, where several well known characters work together, are sometimes less complicated and more about entertainment and facing bigger enemies, but they can be about family, duty, honour, responsibility and so on. The problem, for me, comes when there are five or six or seven team books from the same publisher and they all start to look the same. Some DC comics team titles are very distinct. Suicide Squad is a disturbing and dark team book. They’re lifers, people who will never be released from prison, getting a chance to make some small amends. The stories are about redemption and very grey, where they go on missions the heroes wouldn’t be able to stomach. Justice League (or JLA) is the blockbuster movie of team comics. It includes the biggest heroes and they go after the biggest villains, and so on with a couple of the other team comics.

One team book was recently cancelled (Justice League International) and in the latest wave of replacements comics, another team comic is taking its place (The Ravagers). Even more recently another team book was announced (Team Seven). In both instances I asked the question and didn’t know the answer. Even from reading the blurb, looking at the characters and knowing quite a bit about their background (because I’m a DC fan of old) I kept asking, so what is it about? And I don’t think they really know. I’m happy to admit that I could be proven wrong and will say so in public. I’m also willing to admit I don’t know everything about the new books and all of this is from an outsiders perspective, but at the moment I just don’t see the appeal of these new titles. And by that I specifically mean, as a fan and potential reader, I’m trying to find a reason to pick up these new titles and am not motivated to because I dont know what they’re really about. I like some of the characters involved, but that’s not enough for me.

DC are trying lots of new things, they’re experimenting, they’re taking risks and throwing characters together that don’t normally interact to see what happens. All of these things are great and to be commended, but for something to have any kind of longevity, I don’t think that’s enough, especially when there are lots of other team comics out there. And that’s not even taking into account titles published by other companies and then all of the other titles in different genres. Rob Liefield asked DC similar questions about the titles he was asked to work on (Hawkman, Grifter, Deathstroke) and he is now trying to give a definitive answer in each case. Whether or not he succeeds, and whether or not the stories are good, is irrelevant. Someone is asking the right questions and is trying to give a clear answer and provide a reason to make you interested and pick up the comic.

I’ve ended up focusing more on comics than I anticipated, but that’s only because I have more info about it than other areas but it’s all still relevant. All of this made me look more closely at my own work and think about the dreaded synopsis. I actually think it’s the worst part of writing a novel. After spending months (or possibly years) of working on something, of immersing yourself in a world and breathing life into the characters, it feels like a hideous betrayal of all that invested time and effort to then condense it down into a sentence, soundbyte or a couple of paragraphs. But you have to do it. You have to scrape away the top layer, and dig below the surface and then keep digging until you can answer the question. I’ve yet to see a publisher or agent’s submission guidelines that want a one line hook, so it doesn’t quite need to be Ocean’s Eleven meets The Godfather, or whatever, but you do have to pare it down. And that doesn’t mean just a list of the main plot points because that list should bring you back to the original question.

Am I closer to writing the synopsis to my novel? Well, a little bit, but I am now thinking about the project in these terms and once the first draft is finished (and I’ve revised it a lot thereafter) I’m going to sit back and see if the actual novel that I ended up with is the same as the one I started out planning to write.

2 Comments

Filed under Comics, General, Writing

A roundup of 2011

More and more I find myself sounding a lot like Arkwright from Open All Hours, both in terms of being a grumpy old git, but also because he used to say ‘It’s been a funny old day’ quite frequently. Well, it’s been a funny old year. Like the last five years really, my job situation has been unstable and uncertain. I realise this is not something that is unique to me, and in fact the whole country (and the world) is going through a vast raft of problems, but I’m going to be selfish for a bit since this is my personal blog.

So, I’ve had a funny year in terms of jobs once again. My last contract ended and I was on the dole for a little while before I found something else. A former employer got in contact and it was both a step into the past and a step forward as new opportunities have opened up. The future in terms of my job situation is still not clear, which is disheartening and taxing, it means I can never completely rest and always have one eye on the calendar, one foot out the door of any place I work, but there’s not much I can do except knuckle down and get on with it. I’m sure another job will turn up, I just hope it’s sooner this time rather than later.

Job stuff aside, it’s been an interesting year in terms of my creative output. One comic book project continues to chug on slowly, but I also started a brand new comic book partnership. It was something I had been thinking about for a long time but only made steps to implement very recently. Why I didn’t do it sooner I have no idea, and now I wish I had. Pete Rogers and I have been co-writing something and whether or not this particular comic project is a success I think we both want to work on something else together in the future.

My work on the latest novel continues but this year has helped bring a certain level of clarity to it which I think was previously lacking. I’m more certain what my book is about. That sounds kind of obvious, and surely I should know what it’s about if I wrote it, but as a friend of mine said, there’s the story and then there’s what the book is about. I know what I need to do to finish the first draft and I’ve already drawn up a list of corrections for one of the many polishes, although now I’ve seeing them more as clarifying what I originally meant, or added specific details to make it clearer. After that and a few more polishes are complete, I’m going to give to a small group of close friends to read. I’m also not going to put a time limit on when I think the book will be finished and ready to submit to an agent. This is probably the hardest thing about the whole process for me, as I want this book out there, want to get on the road, want to be moving forward, but I think I have something special and need to make sure I’m 99% happy with it before I show it to an agent. I’m never going to be 100% happy with it. There will always be bits I want to tweak endlessly but I’m still a long way from reaching that point.

I’ve also started work on another creative project in a more professional capacity, but I’ve signed a bit of paper that means I can’t talk about it much. This will change in the first quarter of next year, so I look forward to being able to give a few more details, but at the moment it’s another iron in the fire, it’s another opportunity for me that could blossom into something else. I’ve definitely got more eggs in more baskets going forward into next year and I just hope that one of them pays off so I can spend more time doing something I love. I would love to be one of those lucky people where their passion is also their job.

Comments Off on A roundup of 2011

Filed under General, Writing

A new beginning

Hello, and welcome to my blog. This is going to be a real mixed bag with all sorts of different posts. I have bits and pieces all over the internet and some of those will continue but this blog will serve as a collection point for all of those plus other stuff.

Previously I’ve written book and comic reviews on my own book review blog, then I joined up with Mark over at Walker of Worlds before it went on hiatus, and I briefly stopped over at Floor to Ceiling Books. Since I’m still an avid reader and always have one book on the go, I will be continuing to post book reviews, but they will be on here from now on.

Since July 2007 I’ve co-hosted a comics podcast. We focus on comics beyond the mainstream superhero titles, as well as genre TV, movies and geek culture in general. Comics are a big part of my life, I’ve been reading them for over 20 years and I love the medium. Like many comic book fans I started in a familiar place with superhero titles but since then have gone on to read across a broad range of genres. Since I’ve always got at least one comic on the go, I’ll be posting comic reviews here as well. I’ll also post links and updates about the podcast which we’re still doing.

Attached to the podcast is a SFF book club for listeners, where we alternate between an older or classic work of SFF and then switch it up to a new modern book, something from the last ten years. So I’ll mention that on here from time to time as well, so please join in with that if you like the current selection or send in suggestions for the future.

On top of that I’ll be posting more general stuff, posts about my current writing projects (at the moment I’m nearing the end of the first draft of an original fantasy novel and I’m working on 2 comic book projects), and anything else that is on my mind.

1 Comment

Filed under General