Tuesday, 5 August 2014

An Open Letter to Authors

Dear author,

It is convention month in London for genre writers and there are some things we should admit to ourselves.

Your worth as an author – and indeed as a human being – should not be
measured by the number of panels you are asked to participate in, the
subjects of those panels, or how many parties you’ve been invited to. You
are still awesome. You still worked really hard on your book(s), short
stories and flash fiction. You are still loved by your friends. You’re
still as dazed, confused and overwhelmed as the next author.

We should move at our own pace. Writers spend a lot of time alone, a huge
amount if you’re full time. Don’t feel obliged to be ‘on duty’ 24/7.
Conventions are busy, visually arresting affairs that take place in anodyne
hotels full of people hunting down a good time. Take a time out when you
need it, have a good time on your own terms. Keep an eye on the amount of coffee and booze you’re mainlining if you’re feeling anxious. Try and take some vitamins once in a while.

Not all authors and professionals are going to get along. Genre publishing
is like a very large, dysfunctional family complete with favourite sons and
daughters, weird uncles, snippy aunts and the occasional bastard, to say
nothing of overbearing fathers and passive aggressive mothers. There are
feuds and disagreements, foolishness and disappointments. Art imitates
life, so it stands to reason conventions should too. Spend time with the people you want to spend time with, and don’t feel under pressure to speak to everyone.

Being on panels is stressful. No one wants to put their proverbial foot in
their mouth (or any other foot). Do your homework, prepare ahead of time,
reach out to other people on the panel to sound them out before the day.
You may worry that you’re not terribly interesting, but there will definitely be people in the audience who will want to hear what you have to say.

We are there to have a good time. Conventions are not just for the fans,
they are a chance for authors to unplug and attempt to pass themselves off
as socialised mature adults (some us find this more challenging than
others). Kick back, stop worrying, meet up with old friends and keep your
mind open to meeting new ones.

Conventions are a good way to meet new readers, and they provide a means to solidify your rapport with your fans, but if you find public-speaking hard, or worry that you haven’t been asked to do enough don’t panic – it’s not going to do any harm to your career. Bear this in mind at all times. This is a piss up in a hotel with formalised conversations, so focus on relaxing, and having fun.

Friday, 18 July 2014


I’m hiding out at friend’s house with my Mac screen propped up on some D&D rule books because the hinge is loose and my flat is a no go zone. Sorry for detonating your imaginings of the glamourous life of a writer.

Changes. Lots of changes lately. My flat mate is in the process of packing up his entire life. And because he’s a bookworm there is a hell of a lot of it. Not to mention DVDs and the vast amount of Doctor Who related kitsch that swamps the lounge. The flat is currently a waiting room, a loading bay with an attached kitchen. No place for writing at all.

Changes. Lots of changes. I’ve started work on a new series that may or may not go anywhere. I’m playing with all the Fantasy tropes I deliberately avoided with the last series. Magic and strange creatures and mentions of dragons. It feels weird writing ‘the last series’ when Book Two isn’t released until 18 Feb 2015 and Book Three some time in 2016. There’s still things I want to do in Landfall, but it’s too early to say if they’re viable. Will anybody want to read it?

And still more changes. The news feed is a litany of failure. Scientists and civilians shot out of the skies over Ukraine as children are bombed on beaches for the crime of being born Palestinian. The US of A sells even more weapons to Israel despite the growing shit storm. Cameron cynically reshuffles his cabinet to appeal to women voters and all those who absconded to UKIP. A brazen attempt to bring us yet more austerity despite the champagne bill at the House of Lords skyrocketing.

Hands up who’d like a change for the better?

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Re-reading: Hellboy

Eastpak has really gone downhill in recent years.
I’ve re-read the first two volumes of Hellboy in as many days. I find reading for pleasure easier when I change medium. The pictures are easier on the eye, the only words dialogue, caption and infrequent exposition. Working on a book all day only read another book for entertainment can be heavy going. Not so Hellboy, who has since gone on to spawn two films.

So what’s so special about that big red brawler?

The art is bold, easy to pass off as simplistic, in truth wonderful chiaroscuro. The pages are all heavy shadows and dramatic light, seemingly conjured from a just a few hurried lines. There’s an economy at work here that is fascinating. And those slabs of colour are much like the titular hero – no nonsense and straightforward. Hellboy inhabits a world wedded to a gothic past, where castles boast sinister statuary and graveyards are ancient and full of foreboding. 

There’s a pulp sensibility to Hellboy that you might expect from a superhero comic. Few are the problems that can’t be solved without the judicious application of fist to face, something Hellboy is well versed at. That he has the occasional wisecrack up his sleeve is no bad thing. 

Reading Hellboy: required. Drinking rum: optional.
While Hellboy is a fun character he’d be nothing without antagonists, and the bad guys  have plenty of attention lavished upon them. His foes are creatures of legend, but also men seeking power for themselves. It’s this weaving of the historical with folklore that makes the comic such a rich read. Romanian Vampires rub shoulders with Nazis harboring apocalyptic visions, while Baba Yaga confides to Rasputin and so on.

Warning: bringing about the apocalypse without supervision is dangerous.
It’s a dark and melancholy set of tales with an indefatigable protagonist who is refreshingly upbeat even when world-weary.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

An Interweaving

Book One of The Erebus Sequence
July is almost upon us. I have been doing this full-time writer lark for about seventeen months. I have yet to descend into all out eccentricity, but come back in another seventeen months and it may well be a different story. I’ll have married an anteater or opened a theme park like Dollywood. 

I’d have to say the worst bit about being writer so far is the waiting, because publishing moves glacially. That I have a European Union-sized deficit of patience has nothing to do with it. All writers work at different paces and some get stuck and some don’t. Some disappear to write children’s books or video games and some don’t. It’s for this reason I’ve written all three books of The Erebus Sequence. There’s my impatience again. I wrote them because I wanted to discover the ending to my own books. I wrote them to see if I could. I’m not so self-assured to think the first one wasn’t a fluke.

Book two has been sent off to the copy editor. Expect it in February 2015. I like copy editors. They’re the people who stop you going on stage with your flies open, so to speak. Or the back of your dress stuck in your knickers, if you prefer. Book two has more linear plot, less of the back and forth between timelines that dominated The Boy with the Porcelain Blade.

Book three, working title Throne, is with a friend who gave me fantastic and thorough feedback for books one and two. I suspect I will need to buy him a bottle whisky shortly. Handing Throne off meant I had nothing to do, so I plunged into Book four. If you’re reading this there’s a good chance you’re familiar with my work, so you’ll know that each book has a different point of view character. You might also know I am contracted for three books, so Throne needed to have a suitably big finish. Not the full-on Michael-Bay-helicopters-landing-at-sunset-while-stuff-blows-up-ending, but, you know. Big.

Book four could only feel smaller by contrast, but no less important. It takes place a year after book one when Lucien has decided to quit Demesne and head across the island to start his own town. Except the book isn’t about Lucien but a new point of view character who pops up in books two and three as a minor character.

I’ve also written a short story told from Duke Prospero’s point of view in, what I hope, is something akin to a ghost story. It ties up an unresolved plot point of book one while introducing a new character we see in book four – should book four ever see the light of day. I like this interweaving of tales. ‘Every character should want something even if it’s only a glass water,’ says Kurt Vonnegut. My characters certainly do, they all seem to want their own novel, they all want to be heard.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Hubris and Fuckery

'You're being very undude right now.'
It’s tough being the new kid at school. All the other kids know where the classes are, which kids to avoid, which teachers you absolutely do not cross, and which ones are push overs. And there is the thorny issue that new kids get duffed up, either as a sort of hazing by local fuckwits, or as a calculated establishment of pecking order by sly, cruel, mischievous little shits that make everyone’s life miserable.

It’s one thing to beat a kid up on his (or her) first day at school, it’s quite another to carve your name into their forehead with a straight-edge razor. It's the worst sort of grandstanding, designed to cultivate an infamous reputation. It is ugly and unnecessary. 

These thoughts occurred to me today after reading a review of a debut author, a tiny subset of people I identify with strongly. 

A tangent. To quote my Great Aunt Daph, ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything.’ Aunt Daph was a kind, even-handed woman and it's safe to say she never reviewed books. I doubt she read a single genre novel in her life, but I’m willing to bet any number of playground black eyes she could have delivered a more reasonable and constructive review than the review of Barricade at Arcfinity by Christopher Priest.

I expect more from the elder statesmen of genre. That I expect them not to be bullies is a bare minimum. Just because you’re smug and articulate doesn’t make it any less predatory. That you leave the playground with the blood of others staining your shirt is not a badge of honour. It hubris and fuckery.

‘Would I have benefited more from a thoroughgoing kicking from my elders and betters? We’ll never know,’ writes Christopher Priest.

I’d argue yes, it might have taught you not to do the same some years later.