Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Snowfest Reminder



This is the day after tomorrow. If you haven't seen it, you might like to sign up.

Monday, 30 January 2012

A rant about history

I was watching ITV’s new crime drama Whitechapel earlier, and it did something that very little in the past couple of years has been able to do: it brought out my inner historian. Mostly, it made said historian slightly angry, because of the almost total lack of understanding of historical theory therein.

The idea, assuming that I grasped it, was to do the Numbers or Bones thing of an outside expert with a speciality that might conceivably help with crimes in an unorthodox way, thus giving the show something interesting to stand out in the sea of crime dramas. Fine. I’ve enjoyed both of the above shows. It’s the history part that’s at issue.

My problem isn’t with the academic they created as a character, because obviously that’s a function of creating an interesting character, even if he does live up to every stereotype of academics. Though I will come back to that in a minute. My problem comes when that character starts asserting that looking at past cases might be a way to solve current ones, trotting out all the old saws about learning lessons from the past.

No. Or at least, not the way they mean. First, let’s make the obvious point, which is that history can add nothing to the evidence in a case being investigated. That’s my biggest problem. Just because something happened in a case in the past, that means nothing when it comes to what is happening now. The facts could be entirely different.

You can draw broad lessons. History is good at illustrating lessons. Yet where do those lessons come from? Not from history. The full sweep of human history has encompassed so many things (everything that has ever been done, in fact, or at least everything recorded) that you can illustrate anything you wish. The lessons come from the historian. Which brings us back to the character. Now, it seems less helpful that we have a character who not only isn’t interesting enough to draw attention, but who doesn’t seem to be aware of the theoretical issues.

Which means that the history can never help us solve the crimes. Which in turn means that making a historian a central figure in a drama like this, rather than for example an occasionally turned to source of wisdom or a sounding board, able to put things into perspective, is a grave mistake.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

An Old Story

An interesting thing happened about twenty minutes ago. I went back to an old idea, and found that I hadn’t deleted it as I normally do when things go wrong (because I feel that sometimes old ideas can get in the way). Instead, I’d kept it, and I actually added a little bit to it. Now, I’m not saying that this has converted me to the ‘keep everything’ school (would you do that with anything else in your house? De-cluttering can be good.) It has proved quite fun though.

Fun is perhaps the wrong word. A friend of mine echoed one of the reviews of Court of Dreams when she suggested that she would have actually preferred fewer jokes because that lets me get closer to the heart of the characters. Now, she also said that she still enjoyed it a lot, so please don’t let that put you off, but it’s an interesting thought. Despite having written twenty odd novels if you include the work as a ghost-writer, I’m still learning this stuff. I suspect everyone is. So perhaps I’ll try just for a bit to simply write and see what comes out, rather than making a special effort to be funny. So far, plenty of jokes anyway, but also just some straightforward imaginative storytelling.

One thing I’m learning is to just write what I want, when I want. If I’m not enjoying it, why should anyone else? So trying to force myself to write and write is not going to happen. Probably.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Winners.

Just quickly announcing the winners of the two copies of Court of Dreams I'm giving away.

The first one, being drawn randomly, had a few entries, making me resort to my old D&D dice. The result there is a copy going to April Plummer.

For the other section, only Donna Hole seems to have been inclined to tell me what was in Grave's pockets. Still, it was really quite a good suggestion, so I have no qualms whatsoever about sending the second copy her way (if you're reading this, I've sent you an email about it. If you didn't get it, let me know)

Copies will be winging their way to you as soon as I get down to the post office. Oh, and there's still a larger giveaway by my publishers over on Goodreads, should anyone want to try their luck there.

A Good Book On Writing

I’m currently reading Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook’s book Doctor Who, the writer’s tale: the final chapter, which I mentioned absolutely ages ago, and part read then. I’ve just found it in the local library, so I’m drifting through it. It’s essentially just a collection of emails between Davies (main Doctor Who writer for four of the new series- covering Christopher Ecclestone and David Tennant).

It’s also turning into just about the most informative thing on writing I’ve read in a long time, because the emails are as the writing is taking place, and there are some insightful questions on all kinds of writerly topics, some of the answers to which have been immediately helpful. The big thing, and it is a BIG thing, is the sheer chaos you see here. There isn’t some neat, easily followed method the way writing’s self-help industry suggests so much as a collection of suggestions buried in among thoughts on persuading Kylie to act in the Christmas special and some particularly self-destructive writing habits.

I think the candour around those is refreshing, even if it is easy to start thinking the old clich├ęs about writers and suffering. It’s useful not as a template, but because you can see someone working in what even he says is a less than ideal way, and still producing really good work. It’s a reminder that things don’t have to be perfect for us as writers. It’s also a very entertaining read, even if it does currently have me thinking what a pity it was that Penny Carter got largely subsumed into the Catherine Tate character Donna. She would have been such a good companion character. Or maybe not. It’s worth reading, anyway.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Giveaway Reminder

Just a quick reminder that there's still time to enter my giveaway to win one of two paperback copies of Court of Dreams that I'm giving away. To refresh your memory, I'm giving each away in a slightly different way. The first is a fairly standard 'leave a comment, and I'll draw one randomly' arrangement, with extra chances to win for anyone who links back to the post, informs the world of my novel's release or puts a picture of the rather lovely cover somewhere on their blog (or frankly anywhere else I can verify)

The second copy (which no one has had a go at getting so far, despite it being rather easier) just requires a tiny bit of creativity on your part. My rather forgetful fairy assassin character Grave has all kinds of things in his pockets, so I'd simply like you to suggest something that might conceivably show up there (remember that this is someone who wanders all over space/time as we know it, so it could be anything). The most entertaining suggestion in the comments wins. There's nothing to stop you entering both halves of this, of course.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Court of Dreams and Giveaway!



It's the eighteenth, which means just one thing for me- Court of Dreams releases in paperback format today! It's my humorous fantasy effort, showing that magical journeys through fairy kingdoms don't always have to make that much sense, and featuring all kinds of strange things, from forgetful fairy assassins to suspiciously australian figments of the imagination. It can be purchased either from my publisher or from Amazon (Amazon UK if you live here)

To celebrate, I'm giving away a couple of copies. I'm doing one in the traditional way, which is to select someone randomly, but with additional chances of winning if you help me to let the world know about the novel so you get an extra chance if you do either of the following:

  •  Mention Court of Dreams' release on your blog or Facebook
  • Put the rather lovely cover somewhere on your blog
  • Mention this giveaway with a link back here
Those are all fairly easy to do, so there's really no reason not to. Just let me know in the comments if you did. Getting the second copy will take slightly more creativity. In the novel, my faerie huntsman Grave has a coat, the pockets of which seem to contain anything and everything. I'd like you to suggest something that might conceivably have ended up in there. The more outlandish the better. The strangest, silliest, most inventive suggestion in the comments wins (this is entirely arbitrary on my part). For inspiration, you could try looking at the Deja Vu Blogfest bit I did, which features Grave hunting through his pockets through much of it.

This will run until midday UK time on Sunday, after which I'll pick out winners.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Too Many Ideas

I’d like to suggest an idea that seems to apply to the majority of writers. That is that most of them do not in fact suffer from a lack of inspiration the way they think they do. The majority of writers of my acquaintance suffer, if anything, from the opposite. They have too many ideas.

How can you have too many ideas? It happens when they start to be a distraction. You get excited about potential new novels when you’re partway through an old one. You add in characters and situations that don’t really belong, because you have to use them somewhere. It can even lead to total paralysis as a writer, because you can’t focus on one thing long enough to get it done well. It’s one of the things behind my occasional bouts of deletion (which seem to get a surprisingly strong response from some of you. I may have to explain at some point why I feel it is fine to delete work).

There are solutions, of course. Rigorous self-discipline and an iron will are always helpful, though annoyingly hard to locate when you actually need them, rather like car keys. Writing ideas down can also help, since that can at least reassure you that you can safely come back to them later. Expressing them in brief formats, such as short stories or poetry, is another solution.

One that I quite like though is that point where you create a kind of literary gumbo. That is to say that you just throw everything in and see what happens. The results can be surprising, and occasionally spectacular, because you get combinations of ideas beyond the well worn ones. Of course, the moment you do that you can no longer rely on your well defined structures and tropes to get through your novel, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Some tactics for getting ideas in include expressing them in sub plots, bringing them out in minor characters, making passing references to them without ever really exploring them, or showing them in miniature. Alternatively, just write the next thing to come into your head, however weird. It worked for Douglas Adams, mostly.

So why not try it? Stop separating out all your different ideas. Instead, find ways to put them into whatever you’re already writing. The results can be… interesting.

Friday, 13 January 2012

The e-book version is out!

A few days ahead of the paperback version, my comic fantasy novel Court of Dreams is out in kindle format from Amazon.

It's simultaneously a parody of quite a lot of the urban faerie stuff out there at the moment and a gloriously strange adventure in its own right, featuring a full cast of evil fairy princesses, forgetful assassins, not very nightmarish nightmare hunts and figments of the imagination.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Some Villainous Last Words

1. “I don’t care if you’ve grown up to wear spiky black armour. Give your dear old aunty a hug.”
2. “You know, I can’t imagine why no one has thought of cleaning out the spike pit bungee style before”
3. “Are you sure about this evil throne room open to face a very large drop? You know I like to pace while I talk to-”
4. “I will kill you all with my army of… what’s that? What do mean ‘the minions have gone on strike’?”
5. “What harm can it possibly do me? It’s only a hobbit. Now pass the eye drops.”
6. “Yes, yes, nice sword. You do realize you’ve come out in just your underwear, don’t you?”
7. “You can’t defeat me! I am invulnerable except for one carefully hidden flaw breach-able only using an object I have hidden in the depths of… oh, bugger.”
8. “You know, you don’t see many throwing axes these days. I say, that one seems to be getting bigger…”
9. “Don’t give me ‘you’re leaning against the lightning rod master’ just throw the damn lever. Wait, did you just say I was-”
10. “No, bad dragon.”

Friday, 6 January 2012

Medieval Thoughts: Countries

Here’s a medieval history related thought for all those interested in the period, writing historical fiction, or writing the kind of fantasy where everything has a medieval feel. It’s about countries, and is that the notion of countries could get quite complicated sometimes.

First, the notion of a defined nation state with fixed borders existing separately from a particular collection of people wasn’t consistently in place. Philip I for example was very definitely a king of “the French” rather than of “France”. Indeed, separate peoples within a kingdom would sometimes have their own set of laws that applied to them regardless of where in the kingdom they were. So a Norman might not be subject to the same rules as a Burgundian.

Secondly, countries were very much developing in Western Europe. By which I mean that the places we think of as France or England only came into being during those periods. England as we know it today could be said to have finally been formed in 1054, with the completion of the project of bringing together smaller kingdoms like Mercia and Northumbria (literally the region north of the Humber) and the expulsion of the Vikings from York.

Then there’s the question of royal control. For much of the period it came down to personal power and influence. Most kings in the early part of the period had to essentially re-conquer the kingdoms left to them, at the very least processing around them, but often having to fight and depose lords. Many lords could end up more powerful than their kings, staying as subordinates in name only, as in France, where Louis VI began his reign as essentially master of only the region around Paris. This was the period in which administrative government only just began to extend (with kings like Henry I and Philip II creating whole classes of ‘civil servants’ and the accompanying paperwork)

Finally, remember that borders were fluid. Much of the North of England ended up owned, invaded or raided by Scots at one point or another, while at the same time, the holdings of Anglo-Norman monarchs extended well beyond England. It was a time of shifting changes, not fixed ideas of nations.

All of which means that you should be quite wary of large nation states in your fantasy. The idea of large, quite clearly ordered countries with strong collective identities and traits is common in fantasy, but it’s really not that accurate. It also might not be the most interesting way to do things, since the chaotic historical reality offers so much more scope for interesting stories.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Snowfest



As another thing, I've entered Roh Morgan's snow based blogfest on the 2nd of February. I look forward to seeing you all there (I'm currently working on cutting about five hundred words from something I wrote the other week)

Free Books

The lovely people over at my publisher (www.pinknarc.com, if you were wondering) have a few promotional copies of Court of Dreams to give away, and they're doing so over at Goodreads (specifically here) If you'd like to be in with a chance of getting hold of one of them, just head over there and enter their draw (I almost misspelled that as drawer, but that may just be because of a sudden urge to keep people in a very large filing cabinet).

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Looking Forward

Okay, so I said below that I don’t really do resolutions, but I can look forward a little to the year ahead, in all kinds of areas:

Writing- Last year, I didn’t really get much new writing for myself finished. Partly, that was because I’ve been busy writing for others. Partly, it’s because I’ve been caught up in preparing Court of Dreams for publication, and partly, it’s because I kept getting part way through things and deleting them. I’d like to get another novel written this year though, and I think I have a nice idea.

My Novels- Clearly, Court of Dreams is my current focus, and I want to do a better job promoting it than either I or my previous publisher did with my two urban fantasy novels (you didn’t know about the two urban fantasy novels? I think that makes the point). In the immediate term, that means making as big an initial splash as possible (and if anyone is feeling kind enough to mention the existence of it, that would be really kind. I’m also getting a small number of author copies in the near future to use for promotion). I’m more interested in the longer term stuff though, because these days, everyone seems to be shouting about their novel just being released. I’d like to start that with one simple request: if you happen to be one of the people who reads Court of Dreams (and if you like Terry Pratchett-esque stuff and that whole brand of funny fantasy, you really should) and you find that you like it, please tell someone that. I’m not asking you to review it on your blog, though obviously that would be wonderful. I’m asking you to tell your mum, or your friend, or the bloke sitting next to you on the bus. It’s amazing how many books we just don’t tell people about. I’d rather this one wasn’t one of them.

Fencing/Martial Arts- Fencing competitions to enter, of course. First, the Yorkshire sabre, probably, then… the world! No, hang on. Then… getting my ranking above 224, which is where it currently languishes (although that’s an improvement over this time last year). On the martial arts front, I guess I’ve now hit the stage with grappling of looking for a more complete game, so that’s the goal for this year.

Ghost Writing/Editing- I’m looking forward to being involved in some nice projects this year, but I’m also determined to demand what I’m worth for them, since in the past I have occasionally taken on jobs too cheaply ‘for the experience’ or because I’ve lacked the confidence to push for more.

Reading- I’m currently stuck reading the same old authors. That’s fine, because there are some lovely books there (I just read Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys) but I suppose I should look for something new this year.

Blogging- No, I’m not going to start a schedule or anything like that, but I am going to focus on blogging about whatever I enjoy, not just what I think people might want to read. I’m probably going to spend less time trying to tell people how to write too. I suspect most of you already know, and the world is full of so many other things.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

I'm not good at making resolutions for myself, but it does seem like an awfully good opportunity for a list, so here are a few that more heroic types might find themselves making at this time of year:

  1. Lose a few pounds. No, not through more exercise. Frankly, if the average barbarian hero does any more exercise, he'll explode. I was thinking more of replacing that sword as big as them with something more practical.
  2. Finally make enquiries into where all those maps with Xs on them keep coming from.
  3. Put some money into a decent retirement fund (one that doesn't just consist of having a dragon sit on it). You can't keep hero-ing forever.
  4. Finally master the ability to do that figure of eight thing they show in all the swordplay scrolls without having to engage the services of a physiotherapist afterwards.
  5. Stop running around after every princess who bats her eyelashes and focus on the most important relationship in any hero's life (with his double handed battle axe, of course)
  6. Continue with the anger management classes.
  7. Find a meaningful use for some of those ten foot poles they always have to carry around.
  8. For more wizardly types, learn some spells that don't involve frogs.
  9. Learn to sip drinks, not just quaff them.
  10. Finally, finally learn that just because you happen to find yourself in the company of an elf, a dwarf and a couple of hobbits, that does not mean that you have to engage in an impromptu camping holiday across all the most unfriendly terrain you can find, killing things as you go.