Tag Archives: wizards

Something new and doubt

I’ve just sent in the first draft of something totally new to my agent for her feedback. This is still fantasy, but the story is not set in the same world, there aren’t any mages in this book and it’s a bit different in terms of style and pacing. Now comes the waiting.

It was both refreshing and scary to start something brand new. Clean slate means no preconceptions and a totally new world where everything is shiny. There’s so much for me to discover and build. New characters to create. A whole new continent to populate with towns and cities. I spent so much time thinking about random things like heritage, architecture, trade and industry, weapons and armour. The list is endless.

It’s liberating but I also need to make sure that everything I create fits together in a cohesive and logical manner. It always baffles me when people who don’t read fantasy think we can basically write without rules and do anything we like, as if readers won’t mind that none of it hangs together. If anything fantasy authors have to work harder, especially when it comes to things like magic. It has to make sense, there have to be rules and costs, otherwise any time there’s any kind of a threat in a story someone can just wave their hand and the problem is solved.

The scary part comes from the little voice inside that wonders if I know what I’m really doing and if the first time was a fluke. That little voice of doubt is healthy, but it’s also a jerk. I think every sensible writer has doubts (any sensible creative person really) and if they don’t then we’ve all seen what kind of monsters they turn into (see Hollywood for example). Whether it’s your second book or your twenty second, if you don’t have doubts then it means you think you’re perfect and everything you write is gold and that is scary. Doubt is fine, it keeps me sharp, it keeps me hungry and it keeps me moving forward. But there are times when I have to point out to that little voice that I’ve gone a lot further than thousands (maybe millions?) of other people.

Even now I meet an endless stream of people who when they ask what I do and I tell them I’m an author their response is ‘Oh, one day I’m going to write a book.’ That one line has many connotations. When people say it now I just smile back, because I’ve done it. I wrote the book. I got the agent and then the book deal, and as of June this year I will have had 6 books published.

It’s not arrogance. It’s me reminding myself of how far I’ve come and what I’ve achieved. I put my money where my mouth was and I did it. It took a long time. Many years. Many failures. Many false starts and rejections. A lot of sacrifice and effort. But I’ve done it. They really can’t say the same.

So I still have doubts, but for now I’m going to ignore that little voice, put my head down and get on with writing a new book.

 

 

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End of an Age

Just a quick update post to say that I’ve just sent off the amended proof for Magebane, book 3 in the Age of Dread trilogy. So that’s the end of the second Age in that world and, for now at least, the end of the story of those characters.

I started writing Battlemage many years ago, and even though it doesn’t seem like all that long in terms of when the books came out – as Battlemage was published in 2015 – it was back in maybe 2009 or 2010 that I started writing it, so it’s almost been a decade for me. I didn’t send it off to agents until 2013. At that time I was just another hopeful aspiring writer and it was just another book (book 7 or 8?) that I had written and was sending out to literary agents. Six books and a novella later, here I am. So, what have I learned since then?

Here’s my top 5 things I’ve learned about traditional publishing. This is just my perspective so others may disagree with some of this.

1. Traditional publishing is slow

By its nature, the business is fairly slow because there are a lot of moving parts. A book goes through a lot of different stages in the publishing machine before it pops out the other end on bookshelves as a finished thing.

Self publishing is a lot faster, but it requires that you spend a lot more time and energy on aspects of the book beyond writing it. At this stage I’d prefer to let others handle the bulk of that work, be it editing, marketing, coordinating with bookshops and suppliers. I am still involved in some stages (editing etc) but there are many parts of the process I know nothing about and am not consulted because I don’t need to be, such as storage, shipping, pricing etc. My job is to write the book so that’s what I am focusing on.

2. Traditional publishing is a mystery

There’s a lot more information online these days compared with when I started, but from talking to other writers trying to get that first book published, there’s still a lot they don’t know. Some of it is also contradictory which is scary and people are afraid to do the wrong thing in case it messes up their chances. From my perspective, there are many aspects of the business that I still know nothing about and others that I am still learning about, such as lending rights and overseas sales. Did you know every author in the UK and Ireland gets a few sheckles every time you borrow their book from a public library? I know, right!

My advice is, if you’re not sure, ask an agent or author. We’re all fairly approachable and with social media it’s so easy to get an answer before you press SEND. I asked an agent a few questions via twitter to clarify something before I sent off Battlemage. So it’s worth double checking.

3. First impressions matter

Related to number 2, people still ignore clear instructions. If you are sending a submission to an agent and their name is John, don’t call them Johnny, or Jo-Jo, or mate, or pal, or something witty and hilarious. That’s going to turn them off immediately, and even if you’ve seen other people call them that on social media, you don’t have a relationship with that person. Don’t assume. Be professional.¬† Also if they say send 3 chapters, don’t send 5, because that’s where the story really gets going!!!

Also, and here’s a really big one that I’ve seen a lot, if an agent is a woman, don’t address the person in your email as Mr Smith. Time and again I see aspiring writers shoot themselves in the foot. Agents get thousands of submissions every year. They will drop yours and move on to the next one if you can’t follow instructions. Don’t give them an excuse. If, for example, they request 5,000 and your first 3 chapters are 5,500 words long, then yes, by all means contact them to double check that kind of thing. Take the tine to read the guidelines and tailor each submission to suit their requirements. Be professional, don’t try to be funny or their mate. The best thing you can do is send them an awesome book that really gets them excited.

4.Be the best version of you not the best copy of (Author X)

Don’t claim to be the next JK Rowling, Terry Pratchett etc, or even worse, claim to be better than them. Maybe, perhaps, there’s a very very VERY slim chance you will be more successful than one of those authors, however, don’t say it in your submission letter to anyone. Ever.

Here’s the truth. The market is crowded. A lot of books are published every year. It’s a tough business. I’m not saying that to scare you but to make you aware of reality. Publishing is super weird because it’s a business, so they need to make money, but it’s also built on imagination, the creative meanderings of authors. So you need to keep that balance in your mind. Bring the best version of you to the table. A unique voice, created from your own personal experiences and your imagination. In time your work might be compared to various authors, and that’s fine, but you shouldn’t be trying to emulate others because you think it’s a winning formula. It’s the same as when people try to chase a trend. “I read 20 sparkly vampire novels last year, so he’s my vampire novel which is 100 times better than all of the other ones which were awful!” You may laugh, but I’ve seen this kind of thing. No, really, it still happens. So, focus on being you, not someone else.

5.Getting published is only the beginning

As I said the market is crowded. Getting noticed is difficult and even before that first book has been published your agent and publisher will want you to start work on the next book. I’m now writing my 7th novel since being published and at the same time as doing that I was editing book 6. Depending how fast the books are being published there will usually be an overlap. If you want writing to be a career then you need to produce a body of work and that means you’ve got to keep writing more books. Writing is definitely a marathon, both to produce a finished novel and to build a career. So, with that being said, I’d better get back to it. Any questions, just ask.

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Mageborn competition winners

JMageborn by Stephen Aryanust a quick post to say I’ve chosen 5 names at random and the following people have won a signed copy of Mageborn!!!!

1) Cyberdechu

2) Lauren Maharaj

3) kaladanuk

4) theamazingmrg

5) psoans

Please email me your full name and postal address to receive your copy to stephenaryan56 [at] gmail.com

 

 

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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.

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Achievement Unlocked: Blacksmith

Here’s the thing. I write fantasy books for a living featuring warriors and wizards. In every single book there are many characters waving weapons around. Swords, axes, bows, daggers, the occasional mace, spears and all manner of weapons designed to main, mutilate and murder. But I’ve never done a day’s work as a blacksmith in a forge in my life…..until now!

BLACKSMITH badge

 

 

 

The moment I entered the forge the smiths all asked us level 1 noobs, what we did for a living. I then spent the rest of the day apologising for everything wrong in my books about blacksmiths, making weapons and forges. I do research but some things are always going to be wrong. The owner of the forge, John, promised to seek out my first book and read it. So I had to apologise to him some more.

I wouldn’t say I got everything wrong, but just like any other craft or skill, unless you do the thing, you won’t know what it’s really like. Just talk to Mike Shevdon about archery in films and TV and he’ll put you straight! I’ve done 2 years with a recurve bow so I’ve already unlocked my archery achievement. Now I know slightly more about being a blacksmith than before but there’s still an awful lot to learn before I could comfortably say I know 1) how a forge works and more specific to me 2) how to make weapons.

One of my birthday presents this year from back in March was an experience day in a forge making something. I thought it would be great fun to make my own sword. In one day.

A Sword in a Day

Every professional blacksmith is now laughing at me a lot. Making a sword takes time. A lot more time than one day, which I didn’t have. The people on Forged in Fire make it look easy because they’re professionals and they have something I lacked – editing. It also takes skill and precision, neither of which I naturally possess when it comes to working metal. Nevertheless, I had one day in the forge and at the end I was determined to come away with something. It’s a sword to be sure, but we cheated. A lot. Ultimately the goal was to have fun, learn about being in a forge and have a great experience which I did.

Here’s the other thing about being a blacksmith. It’s hard work. It didn’t help that by chance I happened to be in the forge on one of the hottest days of the year so far, but hey, I didn’t know what the weather was going to be like in early July in the UK. It could have been raining or cloudy.¬† There might have been snow on the ground. By chance it was hot in the morning and then over 30 degrees in the afternoon and it was even warmer in the forge.

The Riddle of Steel

So I started with a big chunk of steel. No, I didn’t fold my own metal. Then I used a grinder to shape the tip of the sword and after that came the toughest part. After heating up a section of the metal one piece at a time I then firmly began to hammer the edge flat on an anvil. Now, at the start of this process, I had a piece of metal long enough for a 5-6 foot longsword. After 3 hours of working the metal I hadn’t really progressed very far. Partly because it was hard work and very hot, but mostly because I was a total beginner and it’s really not that easy. So we chopped off a chunk of the steel and made it a slightly shorter sword.

Here’s the other thing I didn’t realise. When you start beating the metal one way it tends to bend, so I then had to flip the steel over and beat the other side to try and create a straight weapon. Then flip it back to do side 3 and flip it again to do side 4 of the same section before the metal grew too cold. If you didn’t manage it in the given time then the metal had to go back into the fire to heat up. Repeat and rinse. Over and over. For hours. So, my blade is kind of straight. Just don’t look down the length of it!

So, short of time, I skipped a bit and then jumped to using an axle grinder to sharpen the sides of the steel and give it an edge. This got me up to about 3-4 foot. There was the option of making the crossguard, but with the time remaining and my skill level, it would have been basic. So I opted for something that looked a bit cooler and was pre-made! Normally you’d continue shaping the rest of the steel, cut the tang, work on the grip and pommel but we fudged a few parts with welding and the like. The end result looks like a sword and it is actually fairly sharp (in places) but it’s not a weapon I’d use in a real sword fight as it might break.

I haven’t named the sword yet but feel I should at some point. Overall the day was enormous fun, I learned a great deal, have an even healthier respect for blacksmiths and weaponsmiths than I did before and I came home with my own sword. All in all a pretty good day which is why I look so smug.

finished weapon

 

 

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What happened at MCM

Last weekend was the super busy London MCM Comic Con. For those who’ve never been it’s a massive event at the Excel Centre in London with tens and tens of thousands of people in attendance. I’m always amazed at how many people attend and again it was slightly overwhelming to walk through the vast crowds, many of who were dressed in cosplay. I’ll be honest, I didn’t recognise about 50% of the cosplay because many of them were from anime, computer games I don’t play (you can tell how old I am because I still call them computer games!), comics and other things I’ve probably never even heard of. Even so it was amazing to see the time and effort that people had put into their costumes. I saw several women with fairy-like wings that moved independently with some sort of motor. Very clever and creative.

Both Marvel and DC had a presence at the show this year. Marvel had taken over a whole section and had lots of cool things you could do, as well as see, including some costumes from the Thor Ragnarok film and forthcoming Black Panther film. There were also some cool statues of Captain America, Spider-man, Iron Man and the Hulk.

When not mooching around the show trying not to buy everything I went to a couple of talks and was delighted and charmed by Hayley Atwell. She was funny, warm and spoke about her time on the Marvel films and Agent Carter with great affection. It was wonderful to hear about how her relationship with various actors, such as Chris Evans, had developed over time as they’ve now worked together in the same universe on several films.

I was also on a few writing panels during the weekend alongside other science fiction and fantasy authors. Below are a few photos from our panels ,as well as Ed Cox attempting to get everyone to put on a serious author face. Without a doubt the funniest panel during the weekend was one moderated by RJ Barker. The audience, and everyone  on the panel, had no clue what was about to hit them and it was hilarious. Ben Aaronovitch was in tears several times and Guy Adams had a few funny rants.

The weekend was a lot of fun. I got to spent time with some old friends, met a few faces and came home exhausted but happy. I must thank Travis from MCM for inviting me back again and maybe I’ll see you at the next event, which is the one day Sledge-Lit festival in Derby on Saturday 25th November.

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Thank Book For podcast with…Stephen Aryan

Thank Book For Podcast Normally I’m the one recording the podcasts and interviewing the guests. This time it was my turn to be a guest on the Thank Book For podcast with Tom Bissell and Gemma Todd.

Listen here to find all of the episodes.

We had a lot of fun recording this and there was a lot of chat off mic as well which could have gone on for hours.

In this episode we talk about some of my favourite books, writing in general, different styles of writing, comics, films and remakes, and guilty pleasures.

Listen to my episode here

 

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It was the year of……

Coming up on the end of 2014 is making reflect about the last twelve months. It’s certainly been an interesting year with big highs and lows, but I’ll focus on the good for the most. Back in February (which seems like decades ago on one hand) I announced my book deal with Orbit. Since then I’ve been working really hard on editing book 1 and that’s nearly done now. Nearly. I’ve one final round of proof-checking to come and then it is out of my hands.

The hard work by myself, and other people, has gone on for years now, which sounds weird to say but it’s true. It was back in May 2013 that I announced I had an agent, in the form of the incredible Juliet Mushens from The Agency Group. For years getting an agent felt like the impossible mountain I’d never climb, but eventually I managed it by being picked off a slush pile. Also I didn’t realise how important and beneficial it is to have an agent. A champion who believes in you and will fight your corner.

Looking back over the last year I can say the hard work actually began after getting an agent. I also didn’t realise that until I started doing it. First I was working with Juliet to get the book ready to submit to publishers, which took about a year, and then I started all over again with my publisher, Orbit, several times.

As well as editing Battlemage (book 1), this year I’ve spent a good portion of it writing book 2. The title of book 2 will be confirmed soon. We have a proposed title for book 2, and book 3 in fact, but they need to get the nod from the right people, so I can’t mention it yet. When I’ve had time, I’ve also been plotting and makes notes on book 3 which I started writing in November. However, that’s now on hold as my first round of edits have come back on book 2. Learning how to juggle different projects is definitely an important skill to master, and it is one that I’m still working on. It takes me a bit of time to get my brain out of one creative head space and get it back into another. It helps that the books are connected and set in the same world, but there is still an adjustment period. Mine is definitely not a traditional trilogy so that has created its own challenges that I am trying to learn from for the future.

Writing is usually done in isolation, although I know of several authors who write in public places, even so it’s a solitary thing most of the time. Meeting other writers, talking to them and hearing their stories about their struggles, bumps in the road and just generally hearing their experiences has proven to be very helpful. Some of my friends are a few steps further down the road which has been great. It’s prepared me for some of what’s happened in the last year and that I’m not the first person to be faced with various problems and therefore mine are also not insurmountable.

Over the last year in particular I’ve made great friends with some fantastic writers which has given me a real sense of community. There are a lot more challenges ahead, but I am excited, nervous and anxious about what’s to come, which I think is a healthy approach. Roll on 2015.

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