Sunday, December 21

Dulce et Decorum Est

When people think of War Poetry it's usually divvied up between the patriotic stuff and the anti-war poetry, especially the first world war. At work we've got a large selection of WW1 Christmas cards, mostly sent by soldiers. A lot were drawn by a soldier in a unit then copied to make a card for all of them; if you weren't front line life could be pretty dull. There's some wonderful art, but also some brilliant songs and poems. Thought I'd share a couple with you for Christmas.

This first is from the Royal Engineers, who designed their own card with outlines of every bit of equipment they could think of. Mallets, trench pumps, extending rules... And on the inside is this song.

The Toilers

1. The rain comes down in torrents,
And all the trenches fail;
The mud is deep and sticky,
One cannot move at all.
No water in the tanks today!
No water for the tea!!
Send someone for a sapper
From the 103 R.E.!!!

2. The C.O. grouses lustily-
"This tench is very bad.
The N.C.O.'s are hopeless,
The men are going mad.
They cannot get their sandbags,
Or a stick of nine by three;
Send someone for a sapper
From the 103 R.E.!"

3. The men have no protection
From the shells, and rain and frost.
They all must have deep dug-outs;
Not a moment must be lost.
A C.O. gets excited,
And 'phones the B.G.C.,
Who asks for lots of sappers
From the 103 R.E.

4. The works' report is handed in
On Friday afternoon,
Of all the jobs that have been done,
Or will be very soon.
A wire comes in at 6 p.m.
From the irate C.P.E.-
"Are you doing any work at all,
Oh! 103 R.E.?"

This one is accompanied by a picture of a tired solider in the desert, and a shield with four kinds of insect and a crocodile on it, as well as an exploding thermometer.

Greetings from Mesopotamia,
Your knowledge of which should shame yer,
In this so called Garden of Eden
Our troops have done some doughty deeds in.
We're not in the lime-light view,
Flies, such heat, you never knew;
Fevers, Arabs, Turks, thirst, boils
Shells and bullets are our toils.
But now its getting somewhat cold,
Now we think of friends of old,
And hope that when this reaches you
Huns and wars are finished too.

On that note, I'll sign off for Christmas. That and I'm typing this on the train, with a dodgy wifi connection and the beginnings of motionsickness... Ta-ta!

Monday, December 8

Don't you love it when a plan falls together?

Had a day off today, so I've posted Exoticism off to Riptide. I've been waiting for anotehr submission period to open since I missed the last one, since I really think Exoticism matches their guidelines well.

Katey pointed me towards Three Crows Press's call for Erotica a couple of days ago. I've been feeling very inspired, but completely directionless on it until last night. I decided to do something a bit Angela Carter-ish, using a Little Red Riding Hood as a starting point, but with a spider instead of a wolf. Well, a wolf spider, to be exact! I was in bed when I decided that would be a good title, and thought perhaps I ought to write it down (I wasn't likely to forget the idea, but I might have the title). No pen and paper to hand, but my laptop was right here, and since I didn't have work... Bashed out the first draft by 1 AM. I've made some substantial changes now, and I've already put it up elsewhere for crit. I've gone for f/f mainly because the selkie story is m/m and Bliss if f/m; it felt like time for a bit of lesbianism!

Saturday, December 6

submission updates and the end of MiniNaNo

What news? I've had Ruin and Exoticism back from Clockwork Phoenix and have dispatched Ruin to All Hallows. Absolute Write pointed me in the direction of the latter, being one of the very few ghost story specific publications.

I've also found another couple of thousand words for the selkie story to make it eligble for the Samhain anthology.

I'm eyeing up Supernatural Tales, but there's no real submission guidelines on the site. I'm wondering if they're in the magazine itself, so I'm having a read through of the few PDFs to decide if it's worth subscribing.

I'm also reading through Oubliette for KVTaylor, and I'm very excited. Partly by the word 'Oubliette', to be fair, but that's what happens when you don't see Labyrinth until your twenties!

I watched Ghostwatch last week, and struggled to sleep after. Easily one of the most frightening things I've ever seen. TV and films have an advantage over text in that apparations can occur without any of the characters drawing attention to it. In fact, if there hadn't been three of us watching (and if one of us hadn't seen it before) we'd have missed a few appearances of Pipes. It's not until near the end that the cameraman spots him too.

It's also incredibly well written, with the slow build, and the smooth shifts between learning from the characters and noticing things before they do. Knowing its fiction doesn't seem to do it any detriment, though you are aware that the kids aren't quite a good actors as could be hoped. By the end you've forgotten that as the presents prove themselves more than equal to the challenge - Parkinson the sceptic, Sarah Greene the believer, Craig Charles the joker. That they're all recognisable names and faces helps the verisimiltude, especially since Parky was considered a fairly serious presenter. The real life relationship between Sarah Green (presente in the house) and Mike Smith (presenter in charge of the phones) gives it a good emotional wrench, too.

Of course, when it was originally broadcast if you didn't tune in for the very beginning, and if you hadn't bought the Radio Times, you'd wouldn't know it was fiction until near the end (though many viewers didn't work it out then, some even accusing of the BBC of lying to cover up one presenter's supernatural demise). The use of the format is perfect. Interviews are naturally exposition heavy, telephone lines are a great way to get the 'everyman' involved, satellite links allow for multiple experts and everyone knows how well ghosts and electricity get on!

There are so many elements to it that intertwine. It's not obvious that they're all significant until the end. The video interviews (and Sarah Greene's own ghost story) are all true, and it's a shame you don't get to hear the end of the last one, but the ominous feeling the comes from it cutting out is worth it.

I'm trying to avoid spoilers, but no one whose heard of it doesn't know it's fiction, and, well, if the ghost wasn't reall, what would be the point? Despite this, and despite hving seen multiple clips, I certainly wasn't happy wandering around my own house in the dark afterwards!

It's worth multiple viewings, and I'm going to fork out for the BFI DVD; the BFI is always expensive, but they do make some unusual stuff available. The fact that on DVD you can rewind it to catch all of Pipes's appearances doesn't make it any less scary.

Okay, so I didn't manage every day, but I more than tripled the expected word count for the month, and compared with 'proper' NaNoWriMo I'm actually confident I will succeed next year.

(actual stats: 87% of days and 311% of pledged word count)

I completed two more ghost stories, and a lot of random little snippets. The days I didn't make it were pure bad memory - even on those days when I put writing off if I remembered at the end of the day I wrote (albiet a single page sat on the living room floor just before heading up to bed).

Monday, November 24

Quick roundup: Rejections from both Flashquake and Ellora's Cave. I think I might dig out or write a few more flashfic for Flashquake (just scribbled a vampire scene for mininano), and I'm going to find another 2000 words for the selkie story to submit it to a Samhain collection. I don't know where I'm going to find 2000 words, but I have until March to find them, so it's not a big panic, anyway.

I wasn't surprised to get it back from EC, considering the belated spotting of errors in the cover letter, but their response does suggest they read the partial. I think. Either that, or it's a really placatory form letter.

We have reviewed your submission and while we found the writing good and story line very well done, we feel that this story is not right for us.

Ellora's Cave wishes you the best of luck with your future writing and in placing your manuscript elsewhere.

Yes, the constant rejections are a little wearing, a constant little chipping that gets slower closer to hurting (but I'm not letting it hurt yet), but I've not even been doing this for a year yet. If I still haven't had a success in five years time, then I'll let it get to me. Flashquake seems to have got to me more than most, because I was quite confident there, but they gave feedback (albiet brief), and I can have another shot with something else next time their submissions open. I expected to get the Selkie story back, and it was a very nice rejection, so I'm not so bothered; besides, I'm feeling pretty keen on Samhain (enough that I was beginning to wonder if I'd done the right thing by submitting to EC). We'll see how I feel if they reject.

The 'I <3 your blog' meme has left me with a general desire to rec some blogs, especially because since then I've added several more to my rss feed.

Useful Writing Blogs

The Swivet - Colleen Lindsay's blog, usually focussed on her experiences as an agent and news from within the industry.

BBC Writers Room - The BBC writing blog. It focuses mainly on scripts, but it's full of interesting links.

A Guide to Literary Agents - Does what it says on the tin. Good at answering questions.

Redline and Deadlines - the editors' blog for Ellora's Cave. Focus on the ePub industry, and personal experiences of their editors.

Writer Beware - An eye on all the scams and unprofessional activity in publishing.

Other Writer's Blogs
By which I mean my friends, since I'm sure everyone has Neil Gaiman and William Gibson bookmarked already. All of these people are in the process of getting published, though, so maybe in a couple of years time they'll fall into that 'obvious' category of Gaiman and Gibson.

A World of Writing - Jessica Meats

Spec Fic and Nonsense - K V Taylor

Into That World Inverted... - Sarah Rees Brennan (okay, so I'm more an fan than a friend, but her blog is so much fun to read).

Useful Prevarication Blogs

Photoshop Disasters - for all those photos with three fingers, or an extra hand, or a shadow that reveals the model's real figure.

Cake Wrecks - When professionally made cakes go bad!

Inkling Science Magazine - having finally updated for the first time in months. I was worried it was dead.

Monday, November 10

Competition and Submissions

No luck with the Aesthetica competition (who only just scraped the email through one their own much altered deadline). Shame, I was batting my eyes at that £500 prize! I have less work this month, which really means I ought to have more time to write, but I've got so used to writing in my notebook that I find myself avoiding typing things up. Luckily, days at home are quite boring, so I've got some done today, and I'm mini-nano-ing away on another short story.

I'm submitting Ruin and Exoticism to Clockwork Phoenix now. I'm alsogoing to look for somewhere for 'Another Summer's Day' and 'Unsent Letters', both of which went to Aesthetica, because it'd be good to start reaching outside of the ghost story genre again. I scribbled a little two page thing in the notebook the other day, on the basis that the kind of magazines that are always lying around at work usually have a single page story (and not always a very good one). It's something else to try, anyway.

I wonder if typing up old stories counts towards mini-nanowrimo?

Saturday, November 1

Site Redesign

New site update is live, since I promised it for yesterday (what was that I was saying about deadlines...). Aesthetica have sent an email out saying that they're taking another week to finish judging, which is my excuse for the day's delay ^_^

Thursday, October 30

Birthdays and Deadlines

The firmest kind of deadline, I think, is a birthday. If you fail to provide a promised physical present - say, a bar of chocolate - by a person's birthday, the assumption is that you forgot or didn't care. Fora non-physical presents this is even more so; bank holidays and empty bank accounts make rather flimsier excuses.

I like writing stories for people - you really can't get a more personal gift - and quite often you can persuade the birthday boy or girl to give you some prompts too, to help inspiration flow. I emailed someone a birthday fic today, which was pretty deadline-tight. I planned it while falling asleep on tuesday night, wrote it yesterday, and proofread it before work this morning.

I can do deadlines. Evidence suggests I need them, if we're honest. Some writers utterly fail at deadlines, which isn't the end of the world (though may result in having to return an advance - about the only time that might happen). I've heard people claim it's an 'artiste' thing - creativity just doesn't work like that - but to be honest, it's just a personal thing. Some people work well to deadlines, some people don't. The problem is when the latter is mistaken for the former; if you can't make deadlines, don't commit to them.

Two things that really helped me were doing an English degree (missed deadlines = failure), and editing the creative writing magazine. After two years of the latter, I was glad not to be the nagging one any more. Our fresher's fayre magazine was a week away from printing one year and consisted, at that point, of two poems. Nagging annoys people, going to print without a regular feature annoys people, putting a magazine out eight weeks late annoys people. Editors have deadlines too, and I've definitely learnt to respect that.

On the other hand, I'm aware that there are a lot of instances where I don't want to do deadlines. It's one reason I'm determined to finish a minimum of the first two books of Greenhelm before I even start submitting it anywhere, and considering my propensity for retcons when later plot demands, I know the sensible thing to do is wait until all three are finished. This may take some time.

For now, I've pledged myself to mini_nanowrimo. I've tried the proper NaNo a couple of times, and I've always had other commitments get in the way (essays with deadlines of their own, for example). Mini NaNo has a much lower wordcount (I've pledged a 100 a day), but the thrust is towards doing it daily, rather than the total words. I could write 3100 words in an evening, and frequently have, but considering I sometimes go for months at a time without putting a word down on paper or screen, I'm quite nervous about the dedication required to write every single day. Luckily, unlike NaNo, I don't have to stick to a single project, so when I get stuck on one project I can at least spit out a random drabble. I've never had writer's block - knock on wood - but I suffer from terrible writer's laziness, where I'd rather sit and read or watch TV and let other people be creative for me. Luckily this is about commitment, not creativity!

Asylum has come back from Electric Spec. I'm expecting a response from Aesthetica tomorrow regarding the competition. Well, they gave the impression they'll respond to everyone, but if I don't get an email I think I know the result! I'm going to retire Asylum for a bit, since genre-wise it's such an odd fish, and it's probably the oldest piece I'm submitting. I now have a big enough 'stable' of short fiction that putting one aside for a while isn't as threatening.

Expect a big change to the website tomorrow too (been waiting for the Aesthetica response). New layout time!

Sunday, October 12

'Under Your Skin' submitted!

Dear Editors

I am submitting my novella 'Under His Skin' for your consideration. It is a gay paranormal romance, complete at 18,200 words. Since it is divided into two parts and an epilogue I have not been able to provide you with the requested chapters, but I have attached an extract that I feel is the equivilent.

'Under His Skin' follows an artist, Barnabas, who rescues a stranger from a storm and nurses him back to health. The stranger is revealed to be a selkie, which Barnabas reacts badly to and refuses to continue their burgeoning reltionship. The selkie eventually proves his love for Barnabas by chosing him over his seal skin.

My previous publication credits include a short story in Diorama Comics Hallowe'en Anthology and several pieces in my university's creative writing magazine.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Natalie Kingston

So, yep, I've submitted the selkie story. Went through Redlines and Deadlines advice on cover letters, which didn't really help me! They posted on reccomendations, and encouraged people to submit potential cover letters, not a single one of which actually conformed with their reccomendations. Most of them had several paragraphs of blurb, and though the editors were suggesting they should be cut, none of them really came back to the original point that it should only be a few sentences.

Anyway, since the selkie story is 18000 words, I figured I might as well go for the short blurb. The rest was fairly easy; it's much the same as a short story submission. The difficulty on finding cover letter advice for longer pieces is a real pain; searching for query letters works a bit better, but most of that isn't relevant to somewhere like Ellora's Cave. I think I've muddled out a compromise, and at least it's not too long!

I was going to post about suspension of disbelief, but I've been distracted by the burning need to buy 'Best Little Whorehouse in Texas'. This weekend introduced me to the fact that I was apparently wrong about Dolly Parton. Honestly, that's why I submitted the selkie story today; save myself from a thinking post. I just spent three hours writing and rewriting that cover letter instead.

Sunday, September 28


Asylum came back from Ballista, so I've sent it on to Electric Spec. I've also tidied up a bit of flashfic (ghost story I've had sitting in my 'beginnings' folder for so long I'd forgotten it was actually complete, albiet a very very early draft) and submitted it to Flashquake.

I'm currently working on a 'real' horror (no supernatural element at all!) that I might submit to Black Static when it's done. It's a little bit Tell-Tale Heart, but instead of beating there's a buzzing, and our murderer isn't imagining it. It doesn't have a name yet, but I did have to stop what I was doing to complete an interrupted sentence (the danger of writing at work) with "cannabilistic maggots", so I'm having fun with it.

It's actually another plot I found in my Beginnings folder, which I was giving a clean out the other day. Most of the files in there are between five and ten years old. There's a lot of odd romance bits, with step-brothers falling for each other and circus performers called Jelly in polygamous relationships.

But anyway, I wanted some inspiration, and there was all sorts in there. To be honest, I might as well keep a 'concepts' folder, because most of the ideas that come to me aren't ready to be written yet, and it's very obvious from the two-or-three paragraph long files that fill that folder.

A Plague of goodwill is sweeping the blogosphere! K V Taylor loves my blog!

The rules go something like this:

1) Add the logo of your award to your blog.

2) Add a link to the person who awarded it to you.

3) Nominate at least seven other blogs.

4) Add links to those blogs on your blogs.

5) Leave a message for your nominees on their blogs.

Most of the blogs I read are personal, so I don't quite feel comfortable nominating any of them. Those I do read, I don't actually know the writers of very well. So I'm sort of chickening out of part five on this (and at least one blog here has mentioned they won't be taking part in that element either).

Anyway, go read some blogs wot I luv!

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
Romance novel snark. I don't even read (much) romance, and I'm addicted.

Redlines and Deadlines
The Ellora's Cave editors' blog.

Women of Mystery
Collection of female mystery and crime writers.

Writer Beware Blogs
A must read for anyone trying to get published.

Dear Author
Romance reviews (most of the big blogs I read are romance based solely because of SBTB linking me to them) and a lot of interesting posts of eBooks.

Inky Circus
Inkling's blog; hasn't updated in a while, which makes me sad because it's an awesome science ezine.

Cake Wrecks
It makes me laugh so hard it hurts.

Oh, and can't fail but to point you back towards KVTaylor again!

Saturday, September 13

Festival at the Edge

I did promise a post about this, but in the end I wrote it up in my notebook rather than here, and promptly forgot about it. Since I've finished that notebook and I'm working my way through it (which publication did I write that flash fic for, I wonder?) I though I ought to finally post this!

FatE was an interesitng experience. The closes thing to it that I've done before is Dance Camp East, which has a very different feel. At DCE tends are arranged around fires and communal cooking is encouraged, whereas due to FatE's site fires and not allowed, and being significantly shorter there is less encouragement to get to know your neighbours. Camping on a grid system, the only people I got to know were the man who gave me a ride from the station and the other person he gave a lift to.

The 'village' was a separate field where the various food stalls, cider and ale tent, market stalls and central stage were. That was a nice place to hang out when there was nothing on and the food was delicious.

It was rare, actually, for there to be nothing on. Workshops and performances were well arranged, spread throughout multiple marquees across the site. I was concerned about the level of contribution that might be expected of me, but nothing was; one could easile spend the weekend floating from storyteller to storyteller. I did attend some workshops which were informal and friendly, and picked up a few strategies for learning and telling stories. I also drank quite a lot of cider and ate many friend plantains!

It was a good weekend, different to my expectations. While I would like to attend again I probably wouldn't go alone. Most people attended in groups of families and did not socialise much outisde of that. The lack of community saddened me a little, but in terms of organisation and content FatE definitely provided.

In related news, I'm hoping to go to a couple of Sheffield's Literary Festival's events, if I'm not at work.

Sunday, September 7

submission and a website update

I've submitted Pluvial (elderly man finds haunted watch) to Dark Recesses, since they sent me a personal rejection for Asylum and suggested I submit something else. Considering they had Asylum so long I forgot about it last time, I'm preparing to wave goodbye to Pluvial for a while!

I've stumbled across The Willows, who I really wish I had something for. If I wasn't working on another romance novella, I'd start on that now; I have two more short horrors in rough draft, but I don't think either could be editted to fit.

I've updated the website too, shock horror! A short piece I wrote deliberately for it, though it's going to end up in Word Salad and Art Chips anyway. I want to update the website with some regularly (or, at least, make sure it doesn't leave a visiter with the impression it's been abandoned), so I intend to write seasonal stories. The first is autumnal and - surprise surprise - it's a horror. Inspired by Hans Belmer's dolls, which are creepy enough on their own. And it's a pdf, because I felt like it. I might make little annual anthologies out of them, but we'll see.

Anyway: Porcelain

Tuesday, August 26

Competition Entry

I've submitted 'Exoticism', 'Another Summer Day' and 'Unsent Letters' to Aesthetica's annual competition, the latter two heavily editted compared with their appearances in the uni mag. It's a competition that charges, but I do think that's reasonable for a reputable competition with cash prizes. Most magazines hold competitions to raise funds, and considering the prize money (let alone the cost of producing the annual itself) they need least 1500 entries to break even.

I sent out a brief flurry of emails recently, including one about the entry requirements for this competition. Another was to Melrose Books, who advertised for submissions to an upcoming anthology in Aesthetica's recent mag. After a week, I learned that the anthology was cancelled (though their website is still soliciting for entries), and that they're a 'commissioned' publisher. You commission them to produce your books for between £4000 and £6000. As far as I can tell, that's not unreasonable for a legitimate fee-charging publisher, which makes me wonder how anyone can afford to self-publish! Well, with any quality, anyway.

The other magazine I emailed hasn't replied, which I shall take as a 'no' to my question 'do you still exist?'

I'm still editing the selkie story, having received proof-read copies back from two out of four beta-readers. With the edits on the short stories, it's in danger of becoming a bit of a slog, and I'm looking at it now wondering why I've highlighted large chunks. I've worked through three quarters of the suggestions now, so we're doing alright. I just hope the other two betas don't come up with eighty more entirely different suggestions!

It still needs a title, alas. If this blog has more readers I'd do a little competition, with one of my seal charms as a prize, but I don't think that's going to work!

Monday, August 11

Sending them out again

Having got Asylum back, I've dispatched it to Ballista, and Ruin has gone to Pseudopod. So many horror markets are closed to submissions at the moment, or soliciting solely for themed anthologies. I really need to do more research into mainstream markets, but I suspect 'ghost stories with optimistically bleak endings' are as 'ever-so-slightly' outside their remit as they are for traditional horror markets. I've completed another one, and I've two more in very rough form, so I need to find somewhere to send them!

(I also really need a better description than 'optimistically bleak'. The thesaurus has failed me)

Saturday, August 9

Unexpected Rejection

I'd utterly forgotten about Asylum, out with Dark Recesses Press. One line email, but it was a personal rejection, not a form, so that's good!

Sunday, August 3

Almost ready to go

Some wonderful advice on writing (nabbed from Redlines and Deadlines):

"Persevere, develop a thick skin, get a blog and invest in your greatest vice as it will get you through the hard times."
Amarinda Jones

The selkie story (still lacking a decent title) is doing the proofreading rounds. If anyone wants to proof an 18,000 word m/m erotic novel about an artist who rescues a mute young man from a storm, to learn that he's a shapeshifter, comment!

I was planning to submit to Cobblestone, but having read a few of their gay and paranormal romances, I'm slightly less keen. They're alright, but both of those I've started so far are clunky and a little blunt. Ellora's Cave seem deserving of their reputation; those I've read so far have been hard to put down. Also, being larger and better known, they tend to sell well!

However, the submissions process for EC is geared towards longer books. They want the first three chapters and a two+ page summary. The selkie thing has two parts and an epilogue, and I don't know if I can make a summary last two pages.

I guess that's a task for today; a good excuse to try and ignore all the things I have to do in order to move one antique solid oak huge wardrobe from my room to the living room (we're going to keep DVDs in it!). Including cook dinner for those who are moving it.

Monday, July 21

Turning a Short Story into a Short Novel. Not Easy.

I've typed up the first bit of the selkie story from my notebook. It's about 9000 words long, and when I add the rest in I think it'll be about 12000. Not too long for a short story, but I've stumbled across a perfect agent to submit it to, but she won't take shorts. As a short story, there are some scenes and events that are almost skipped over, that in a novel you would expect to be extended. A lot more showing I can do. And, for pacing, there are significant additions I can make, spreading an afternoon out over two days, and deep introduction to certain characters, and so on. Even so, I think I'd be lucky to scrape 40,000 words, when even for a short novel you really want at least 60,000. It's a pain. It may require some kind of subplot, which I'm not keen on.

Still, it's started, and it's fun to write, and I have loads of bits and pieces in my new notebook I can throw in. We'll see how it goes.

I will blog about FatE at some point soon. I'm tempted to see if I can record something and upload it, to try out my own story telling skills. There was an irish story that really caught me, and I'd like to have a try. Still definitely a writer, but that doesn't mean I don't vey much apreciate the art of telling. Oh, and all that cider was very nice too!

Sunday, June 29

Back Online

...And wireless, too. Did I miss anything good?

With regards to my notbook resolution:

I've typed up about half of the notebook; all of the Greenhelm stuff, and half of the short stories. There's just a few odd bits otherwise, and a chunk of The Dark which is half typed up anyway. Some of the short stories I'm really pleased with as are, others need a bit of filling in. They're predominantly ghost stories, which makes me feel anthology-ish, but I need to get at least some of them published in magazines first. There's just a sad lack of English Ghost Story mags at the moment. There's also an unexpected piece of mythological erotica that sprung itself on me towards the end of the book, about an artist who rescues a selkie. I'm now adding scenes to it, in a way that makes me feel like I could have a novella here, or even a novel, which is nice.

I started another in the new notebook, but I'm going to have to force myself to stop, because it's not going anywhere and it's dragging down a decent beginning. Too much RL Stevenson and M Shelley (and a little bit of EA Poe). It's hard, to kill something after you've put effort in, but it's stopping me from writing anything else; today I flipped the notebook round and started on an additional scenes for the above mentioned myth erotica, which was much easier and more fun. Obviously, I'm not writing the erotic parts at work!

With moving house, I've had a lot of DIY to do, and I've found myself listening to a lot of audiobooks and radioplays. I am utterly in love with The Avengers Radioplays (and the TV show, which I spent uncharacteric amounts of time and effort to obtain). I've also been listening to a bit of out-of-copyright Classic Short Stories (Vol 1) and War of the Worlds. It's alright, but some of them are read by what seems to be a Mac Computer, which is incapable of pronouncing even the simplest Surrey place name, and has no variation in tone or grasp of pacing. But War of the Worlds is too good not to listen to.

I've never really listened to audiobooks of my own volition before; as a kid I'd listen to whatever my parents were listening too, though usually miss chunks, and for long car journeys my sister and I would get some say (usually Terry Pratchett, read by Tony Robinson). Actually, that's part of the reason I started downloading them; because I had some long journeys coming up, and I wouldn't have bothered with the radioplays if it wasn't for next month's holidays. It makes it harder to write while travelling, but I'd started out with some standup CDs and realised that I'm tired enough of music on trains to sacrifice the writing time.

I wouldn't listen to an audiobook in the same way I do music - when I'm walking to work, for example - but for quiet but boring tasks, they're great. In terms of my own writing, it makes me much more keen to submit to those podfic sites, and more interested in downloading from them, too.

Having mentioned holidays, I probably won't be posting much during July. I have a family holiday 4th - 12th, and then I'm off to FatE from the 18th to the 20th (if I don't get lost in Shropshire!). I'll definitely post about that when I'm back; it's a storytelling festival with some world famous faces. I attended a few performances during the York Literary Festival, which clued me in to FatE's existance, and my general desire for a camping cultural festival that was affordable and manageable without a car pretty much confirmed for me I would go.

So, after all that moving kerfuffle, I'm probably not going to post for another month!

Saturday, June 14

Internet Free

I've been reading Pepys' Diary, which I'll write more about later (when I've finished it). I hadn't quite clocked how much travel there was on the Thames and its tributries; apparently you were much safer in a boat than a coach, since it made it much harder to be mugged! So, something for fantasy and historical writers there: boats preferred by the middle and upper classes, when available.

I'm moving house on monday (well, fingers crossed!) so I'll be offline for a while. Perfect excuse to type up everything in my work notebook, which I'm four pages from filling now. Nice rejection from Riptide; I'm going to wait until they're accepting submissions for vol4, and send them Exoticism.

There's something quite satisfying about packing, but it seems to be generating as much mess as it's clearing, which is prompting me to run away on a regular basis. For newspaper, of course. And teapot shaped knobs for a chest of drawers ^_^

Monday, June 2


Traditions are weird, niggly things. You do them without question, but there is an unutterable logic to them. They get kidnapped and Stockholmed by other cultures (usually invading ones). They embarrass adolscents and young adults.

Above everything else, they have to have that sense of history. They have to make sense. The original Wicker Man did oodles of research, and every single song and dance and symbol has meaning (and impact on the plot). They're all traditions that Britons will be familiar with, in one form or another. The new Wicker Man reused the symbols without the research, and a lot of it, well, makes no sense. Why would earth-mother feminists dance around a giant phallus? It's meant to bring fertility to men.

Not that that stopped me dancing around one, when I was seven. But that's because the original meaning is often glossed over, and feminism takes the fore and says girls have a right to dance as well. Also, girls dancing with boys? Fertility. I was a May Queen attendant one year, which meant wearing blossom in my hair and standing behind the girl crowned Queen of the May. I don't know the history of that, but at a guess, it's a fertility thing. It usually is.

Birth and death are big in most folkloric traditions. Most Moris and Sword Dancing groups have a fool or mummer, who mugs for the crowd. Some more obviously represent death than others: the mummer with the fake horses skull? Definitely death. The German Fool covered from head to foot in black and coloured rags, with a trunk and a ponytail and a huge whip? Aside form being creepy as hell, also death; he represented the hundreth soldier, who went to the pub instead of to mass, and was the only one to the return from the battle alive (according to the programme for the 5th International Sword Spectacular, anyway).

Rebirth as a big theme as well, which is why so many celtic taditions snuck into Christian culture. That, and a lot of shoe-horning: egg rolling is a tradition around here. Good Luck and fecundity to anyone who's egg reaches the bottom of the hill unbroken. Various celtic goddess associations, but the gloss on it now is that it represents the stone being rolled away from Christ's tomb. And there's no reason it can't, as well.

Most festivals take place based on agricultural calendars. They celebrate agricultural events; the birth of livestock, the collection of harvest, and so on. They remind people when to plant crops or slaughter animals. Some take place when there's less work to do, because it's convenient, and some take place to help people cope with dark and dreary months. The events that take place are relevant to the season and to the roots of the festival (eggs at Easter, evergreen plants and a feast at Christmas). Most involve food in some way, and usually some dancing and dressing up.

Every tradition has to be justified, even if not outloud. Made up traditions even more so. Made up religions and cultures shouldn't share most of their traditions with actual ones. Characters should take things for granted. Everyone should get involved, even if it's just by turning up. There should be signficance in every unusual detail; the clothes, the food, the music, the games. There should be overlap and variation between regions and cultures. Their should be traditions subsumed by other cultures, with superficial glosses to make them palatable.

Traditions with origins 'lost in time' are annoying. If their origin is lost, then someone would have made another up, to justify continuing it. Traditions that are observed by every single person in exactly identical ways are absurd. Even festivals like Christmas vary from household to household, let alone country to country. Traditions with symbolism that doesn't match the culture need justification, and traditions that rely on objects not readily available shouldn't exist! Traditions that occur at awkward times of the year (and even on exact dates, in some cultures) are improbable. Most have some root in the agricultural calendar; you can't abandon lambing ewes to spend a week dancing around a bonfire, or disappear into a retreat during the middle of harvest.

It's easy to get sick of equinox and solstice festivals in fantasy, but at least they're dates that people would recognise and could predict (nd were less likely to be insanely busy on). That they're the same in every book is a little depressing; there's enough real world variation to give people some ideas, surely. Festivals that take place on arbitrary dates in worlds without exact calendars (which so many have, for no apparant reason) are jolting, especially if there's no tie to an event or figure. Lunar cues are great, or events like the first brith of a lamb, or the first snowfall.

Lunar calendars always make me think of months. Months are fairly standard in fantasy books as a measure of times, but I'll never understand the prevalence of weeks. They only make sense when 7 is a significant number, since there are few natural cues. But calendars, in detail, is a subject for another post.

Saturday, May 24

A day off? Say it ain't so!

I have been working, every day, for the last fifteen days. I have two jobs - one in a shop, one day a week, and one in a museum 3+ days a week - but the museum needed someone to cover one of the office staff, so I've been doing that too. It's been good, but it's been wearing.

I've not been writing for two reasons (both tangentally related to all the work). Firstly, I've been reading Guy Gavriel Kay, and reading fantasy tends to stop me writing fantasy. It's one of the reasons that I stopped reading much when I started getting serious about Greenhelm; that, and I have a problem with picking up 'inspiration'. One of the reasons I write is to provide myself with the stories I want to read; when other authors provide them, I lose all motivation.

The other reason I've not been writing is because I've been in the office. When I'm in the main museum, I have my notebook. I have nothing to do when there aren't visitors. When I'm in the office, there's usually somethig to do, or something that makes it look like I'm doing something, anyway. So I've not been writing at work, and I've been too tired and sick of computers to write at home.

But I want to. I'm not someone who gets writers block; whether or not I write usually depends on how lazy I am. But being unable to write gives me a sort of creative constipation. I can feel the narratives behind my eyeballs. I've done a little work on Greenhelm, but I've not written anything fresh.

But this is my first day off in fifteen days, and I'm back at work tomorrow, so I'm spending today mostly sleeping, eating, and watching Eurovision.

Oh, and watching Sword Dancing in York. I do love my city. When I'm back to a semi-normal working pattern, I'm going to post about traditions and rituals in fantasy, or 'Why the original Wickerman got it Right, and the new one Wrong".

Saturday, May 3

Review: Books. Also: Music is noise, nicely arranged

What: The Recording Angel - Music, Records and Culure from Aristotle to Zappa
How: Non Fiction
Who: Evan Eisenberg
When: 1987
Grade: C+

I purchased this book originally because it had a chapter I needed to read for my degree. The engaging tone and interesting subject matter encouraged me to keep it, and read the whole thing at some point. Well, now I have.

First off, the subtitle is pretty misleading. There's very little information about music further prior to the Rennaissance, and it's very Euro-centric. It's a shame, because there's huge scope for exploration in those areas. However, the book makes clear early on that its focus is the recording of music, and how it's altered our attitudes towards it. It alternates between interviews with acquaintances of the author and chapters on the history and philosophy of music.

The interviews were by far the more interesting chapters, but the limited range is unfortunate. All of those interviewed are collectors of some kind, from various backgrounds. The viewpoints of people within the industry could have broadened this, but would have required a more active form of research, which the author seems shy of. In the interviews, they discuss why the indiviudals became collector, what they listen to music for, and how far they will go in their collections. Some have filled their houses with records, other with music systems, and some with only a few choice pieces. It is interesting to see how these audiophiles approach their love from various angles, but we are left bereft of teh opinions of any person who is not an audiophile.

Equally, the philosophical discussions are very heavily biased towards the audiophile, and while the author avoids explicit musical snobbery, that it exists is a constant topic. How music ought to be listened to, which music, where, and why. Can we listen to Handel in the bath? Should one listen to monastic chants while making breakfast? Could one play Blues in a church? Does it matter?

The main thrust of the book (and the one that I studied it for) was the impact of the recording. It is likened to the invention of the printing press, or even the written owrd, and not wrongly so. It's quite a large concept to wrap your head around, in these iPod days, that only a hundred years ago music was almost entirely a social event, and could not be produced on demand. Unless you were a musician (and had a singular taste for solos) then there was no way to be alone and listen to music. Unless you were wealthy enough to have a minstrel always on hand, you could not have music unless prearranged and scheduled. The point comes up again and again, and is thoroughly explored, which pleased me. Of course, considering the publication date, the walkman is a relatively new invention, and the impact that the internet has had on music is completely absent. It's a shame, because I think Eisenberg could go far explorin these areas, and I hope that the book is rereleased containing such discussion.

Eisenberg's tone is fun and engaging. The intimacy he has with his interviewees is not to be overlooked, and the personal tone is present throughout the book. It is, of course, a book intended for audiophiles (which I am not), but it is accessible to those who aren't; however, it does feel lacking as a result. Obviously, when writing a book like this, one mst limit oneself in some way, but the areas left unexplored leave nasty shadows, and in places it feels more like a deliberate decision not to stretch himself, rather than a determination to stay on topic. I found it hard to concentrate when Eisenberg chose to delve deeply into philosophies that were only relevant if you already shared his attitudes.

Overall, it's a very enjoyable read, but it has several shortfalls, and best belongs on the shelves of those with a mass of musician biographies and a room dedicated to records.

I confess:

I don't care about music. I listen to it, almost constantly, but I don't care about it. It doesn't move me. I don't ascribe any ceremony to it. I enjoy it, but I don't love it.

The above book was a bit of an odd choice for me, I'll admit.

With books and DVDs, I get rid of those I dislike. I don't want them to sit next to favourites, to pollute my cramped shelves. With music... I have piles of CDs (in a sadly literal sense, since I still haven't bought more racks for them, and they don't fit in my room), most of which I'm at best ambivilant to. I've still got the first ones I bought. It's partly my nature as a bit of a hoarder, but also because I don't feel strongly enough to give them away, despite the fact I don't listen to them any more.

I picked up Holst's The Planets today, because after a recent discussion I decided they might be nice to write to. Also, it's only of the only classical suites I can easily recognise. I like classical music, but I can't tell my Beethoven from my Brahms, and most of those I can name have appeared on television adverts.

Actually, most of my recent purchases were due to TV ads. That's my main motivator, these days, when buying music. I listen to the radio every morning, but even when I really enjoy a track (I'm Gonna Be a Rockstar, for example) I rarely make an effort to purchase it. I don't download music. I don't listen to it while I'm surfing the web. I don't notice when it's not there, to be honest.

I know several audiophiles who would love The Recording Angel. I know people who buy favourites in both CD and vinyl, so they can listen to the CD and hoard the vinyl. I know people who give every writing project a separate soundtrack. I know people who think Best Of collections are a crime against music.

I like Best Of collections, because it saves me wasting money on albums that I may only like a few tracks on. I like compilations, too; the Happy Songs album, or the Hist of MoTown, or Celtic Forever. I'm actually not very keen on most albms, because there'll usually be a few songs I hate, and I have a few CDs purchased this year that I've not listened to all the way through, because I love the first tracks, and don't care about the middle, and I usually reach my destination before the end. I don't make many playlists, because I find the making of them quite dull.

If I remember, I do put music on when I'm writing. I think my writing playlist at the moment contains indiscriminate Enya, Einaudi, Vashti Bunyan and Medieval Babes tracks. Whole albums plonked in, despite the fact there are several distracting or disliked tracks amongst them. I avoid tracks with lyrics (or lyrics I might start listening to, anyway), and try and stick to classical or new age music. I dodge anything with a noticeable mood to it, whether happy or angry (I don't have much sad, because I don't like angsty music any more than I like angsty writing). I use it more to block out other sounds than to creat sound itself.

Music is another thing people can make you feel like a poor writer over. It's another thing I occaisonally feel compelled to lie about. Not being touched by music is, apparently, like not having a soul. Well, maybe I don't, because I'm never touched by poetry, either, and that's apparently another symptom. I don't assigned songs to characters, or use music to produce the right mood, or require it to write. I much prefer the sound of rain, to be honest, but if could only write during thunderstorms I'd be screwed.

Music is noise nicely arranged. I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't miss it if I went deaf, but it wouldn't be the first thing I missed. I appreciate its presence on the radio (much more so than DJ chatter), and I feel odd when I don't have it when walking, but it simply doesn't affect me when writing.

To be honest, when I'm writing, you could switch from Mars to the Spice Girls, and I prbably wouldn't notice. I'm listening to myself, then.

Wednesday, April 23

Reviews: Books

What: Euclid's Window
How: Non Fiction
Who: Leonard Mlodinow
When: 2001
Grade: A

This wonderfully chatty book describes the history of Geometry (and related subjects) from Ancient Greece to modern America.

Most people tend to believe the those of a literary bent can't be interested in maths, but for me, it was a real toss up which one I would take to university. It's not infrequently that I wish I'd gone with maths, if I'm honest.

I did maths up to A Level, and I found the Euclidean chapters of the book easy to follow. I think, even if I hadn't, I wouldn't have found it hard to deal with. Mlodinov follows the history of maths thoroughly, showing how each mathematician, philopher and scientist made the next step. I was interested to learn how later zero was invented, or the use of symbols such as + and - came into use, or the invention of graphs.

This easy flow made it much simpler to grasp the non-Euclidean mathematics. It's telegraphed from an early chapter that there are great flaws in Euclid's assumptions, but they can neither be proved nor disproved. After centuries of wrestling with this, different mathematicians make a leap and decide to simply start with different assumptions, and maths suddenly gets weird. And yet, it makes more sense. Euclidean geometry doesn't work when applied to the curve of our planet; non-Euclidean elliptical geomatrey does.

The author uses his family to illustrate examples of various theories, but he does not become bogged done in the equations. The book is not intended as a textbook, nor will it teach you mathematics, but it allows you to grasp the ideas behind complex theories. This is Popular Science, not a degree course, and the familiar stye is singularly appropriate, with cheerful observations about the habits of famous figures and the attitudes of the profession. It shows you why string theory is such a big thing in modern physics without burying you in the how.

I devoured this book, and I've already lent it to a friend. I thoroughly reccommend it to everyone other than physicists or mathematicians!

Sunday, April 20

Rejection 1, Submission 2

Form rejection from Black Static for The Ruined Lady.

I've been struggling to find anywhere that takes ghost stories; most mags that take horror have something rather different in mind. So advice from friends, I'm going to try a few more mainstream markets; after all, The Ruined Lady has only a touch of the supernatural.

Of course, 'mainstream' is a huge and slightly frightening category. I suddenly find myself very grateful towards that copy of Mslexa that I bought; nice little submissions section in the back. I was a little surprised (and disappointed) in how many turned out to be American, since this really isn't a story that'll sell easily to an American market, but the first journal that caught my eyes is, after some deliberation, the one I'm submitting to: Riptide Journal. I'm also buying a copy of volume one, because it looks really good! I've also requested (and will send a cheque for) feedback; I don't mind form rejections, but I'd rather see where I'm going wrong from an industry viewpoint.

Nothing on Asylum or Exoticism yet. I have another day off work tomorrow, so I'll try and make a more contenty post; probably some more book reviews.

Thursday, April 17

Targets and plans

I have an instinctive dislike of anything that tells me how to write. To be honest, I don't like being told how to do anything, unless I've asked. With writing, it's the assumption that you have to do things a certain way to be good at it. To produce enough of it. To be a 'real' writer.

Set aside a certain time each day. Hah. My work schedule is rather too random to arbirtraly donate a certain amount of it to writing.

Always draft by hand. No. I actually type faster than I write, for a start, and I've been writing on a computer since I was about five years old. Writing by hand doesn't make me feel any more connected to my writing.

Give yourself a daily target. Why? All it'll do is make me stop, rather than make me start.

The problem with most of this advice is that it's geared towards people who want to be professional writers. If writing is your job, then most of it's reasonable advice, I suppose, but it presupposes that it's what every amateur author wants to do for a living.

I work in a museum. I love it. I get to play with swords, and dress up as a Victorian, and lurk outside windows and talk about castles. For research, it's just brilliant. I even have time to write. Most of the time, I can't believe people are paying me for it. While it's not a job I plan to keep forever, it's certainly in the right industry for me, and I do want to have a job.

Professional authors work from home; it's fairly obvious. I grew up with a parent who worked from home, for convenience reasons, and it convinced me that I couldn't stand it. I like on time and off time, and I lack the discipline to provide that for myself. I spend all day not working, and feeling guilty about it (too guilty to do anything else productive, like clean), and punish myself by working when there are other things I want to do for pleasure. The only way I could be a professional author would be if I had an office and a boss to keep me motivated.

Writing is my hobby. If it was my job, I don't think I'd enjoy it as much. Writing is something I do to unwind, to amuse myself, and to keep busy. It's not something I ever want to do for a living; I want it to be a counterpoint to my living. And I want to make up my mind when I want to do it. I'm more in the mood to write after a half day at work than I am on a full day, or even a day off. I'm more in the mood to write when it's raining, and when it's dark. I don't like to do it just after I've woken up, or shortly before I go to bed. I like to have a cup of tea to hand.

So, I'm ditching all that patronising, presumptive advice, and making my own plans. Weekly plans.

Edit at least one chapter of Greenhelm a week.

Make at at least one blog post a week (it keeps me thinking about writing).

-Fill at least one page in my notebook a week, preferably not with notes for a blog post, but accept that during school holidays, even that may not be possible (too busy at work, too tired after).

Try and sit at my desk to do at least one of these things.

This means that, within a year, I should have completed the redraft of Greenhelm, started the next book and/or completed a significant chunk of one of my other projects (The Dark is the best one to switch to when Greenhelm starts to melt my brain). I should have written several more short stories, which hopefully will be ready for submission (and my current submissions ready for another round, if necessary). I should have stayed focused.

Also, I should try and schedule more than one day off work at a time at least once a month. Just because it's nice to have the occasional day with absolutely nothing to do, not even buy food or pay bills or clean ovens. Or write, if I don't want to!

Tuesday, April 15

Print Submission

I have sent 'The Ruined Lady' off to Black Static, a horror magazine owned by TTA Press. It's a weird feeling, sending something off in print, rather than by email. The formatting alone makes it look official. Also, the cost. And the fact that I'll know whether they accepted it or not as soon as I receive an evelope addressed in my own handwriting; it all depends on the weight of it now!

Submitting was a little awkward, because TTA's website wasn't actually very helpful, and there isn't a current issue in store at Borders (though I did pick up Myslexia instead, which I'm enjoying). I was trying to find a person to address the submission to, rather than the ubiquitous 'editor'. Luckily, Writer's Market had the details; I wouldn't have discovered Writer's Market if it hadn't been for the fact I'd wanted a copy of Black Static in the first place!

So, I was wandering around Borders with Myslexia in hand, having given up on Black Static, and I figured I'd have a look at the writer's directories, since it'd be good to get a broader idea of what mags are out there that aren't available to me. The directories were all huge, hefty books, with huge, hefty pricetags, and none of them were ordered by genre, which is what I really wanted. I did, however, notice that the Writer's Market 2008 had a note on the cover offering 30 days free trial for their website, so I figured that'd be easier to search, and take up much less space, and I'd rather spend the money registering for that.

If I'd bought the book, I'd actually be pretty annoyed right now, since "30 day free trial" actually means "register for free membership until 2199'. The site is free, and though I can't describe membership as indefinite (1/1/2199 is a definite date) it's certainly not going to run out. Still, it's a really helpful, free, searchable website, with handy features such as 'my directory', to which you can add markets and comment on them. So their marketting needs work, but their site is good, and I thoroughly reccomend it.

I suppose I ought to start working on some more short pieces, now these are all out of my hands. Not that I expect an of my current three to be immediately accepted, but that's no excuse to get lazy in the meantime.

Oh, quick note to people who've added me via a feed (you know, all two of you): you're perfectly welcome to comment on the feed, but bear in mind I won't know if you have, unlike if you comment directly on the blog.

ETA: I'm having such a pout over being a PC person, and not a Mac owner. Narrator, for Macs, is a program that reads your work aloud, in different voices, rates, pitches, inflections, and volumes, so you can set it up to read a short story or play with different voices for each character. The kind of thing that's great for spotting inconsistencies, nonsense and repetiton. Like a writing group, but writing groups don't come in a shiny infty package for use at any time of the day or night, does it?

Sunday, April 13

Reviews: Live Storytelling

I've been meaning to write some reviews on here, and this seems the perfect place to start. I just need to decide on a format...

What: The Twisting Field
How: Live Storytelling
Who: Nick Hennessey, Simon Heywood, Shonaleigh and Amy Douglas
When: April 2007
Grade: A-

I love story telling. It's something I've grown up with, and not just at bed time. Professional Storytellers are a rarity, and ought to be treasured, which is why when I saw this advertised last year I knew I had to go.

The Twisting Field is the first part of a trilogy about Lugh Lamfhota, an ancient Irish hero. The storytellers have worked with a variety of sources that recorded Irish oral folk tales from around 1000AD (though the tales themselves are manifestly much older) to create their own myth cycle following Lugh and his destiny, and the sons of Tuirenn. The Twisting Field is the first part of the trilogy they're forging.

Now, hands in the air, I didn't realise that when I went to see them last year. Though the show contained a complete tale, it did end rather abruptly, and I remember not being sure what to think. This first part revolves around the prophecy which state that the enemy of Tuatha De Danand, Balor of the Evil Eye, can only be killed by his grandson. Unfortunately, the Tuatha De Danand (Lugh's people) believe that Balor doesn't even have a child, let alone a grandchild, and the prophecy causes a rift between two clans: the sons of Cainte, who believes that the prophecy is their only hope, and the sons of Tuirenn, who believes Balor should be taken by force. The first part ended with the birth of the prophesied grandchild, Lugh, and his adoption by Manannan of the Sea. You can see why I wasn't expecting it to end there.

Since this was over a year ago, I'm a little fuzzy on the details. I remember the seduction of Ethlin, Balor's daughter, and I remember the three sons of Tuirenn having some sort of farm related misadventure. As the first part of a trilogy, it is setting up a great many different elements, but even taking this into account it is a little incoherent at times. The names are unusual (even by Irish standards), and often quite similar, which can make keeping track of the characters a little difficult. The story of the sons of Tuirenn is a myth that some scholars suspect was added to Lugh's story at a later date, and it does feel quite unconnected, especially at this point.

From a performance perspective, I find it very hard to be objective. The storytelling was superb, and the musical segments were beautiful. Perfectly entwined, the shift from one to the other and back was very natural, as was the shift between storytellers. My only minor complaint is that, when singing, the female voices did not always have the clarity required to understand the words; I have this problem with a lot of female singers, and at least they didn't warble, so it's only a very minor complaint.

So, overall, A-. It wasn't perfect, but it's something so special that to see it done well was amazing, and the minor quibbles were absolutely minor.

What: The Middle Yard
How: Live Storytelling
Who: Nick Hennessey and Simon Heywood
When: April 2008
Grade: A-

This is what's prompted me to make the post; last night's performace of the Middle Yard. This is the second part of the trilogy, and followed Lugh's return to Ireland from his foster father's home, the murder of his birth father by the son's of Tuirenn and their subsequent fates. It also revealed to me that this was a trilogy, and things beganto fall into place. I'd been looking forwards to more storytelling regardless, but knowing that it was a continuation of last year's myth I was very happy, because I'd wanted to know what happened next.

This part of the story was much more coherent and linear. Lugh's appearance is a clear set up for confrontation of the third part; most of this episode is taken up by the sons of Tuirenn. The feud that arose in the first part leads to the death of Cian, Lugh's father, and Lugh learns of the sons' crime, but cannot call them on it before the high king (for reasons I wasn't quite sure of, I'm afraid). The sons know he knows, so they volunteer to do the 'real' murderer's penance, and go to seek the treasures of the kings of the world of Lugh's command.

The performace was split in half, with an interval (the same as the Twisting Field), and the second half began with a rather abrupt change in tone; while the first part was relatively serious, the beginning of the sons' quest was played for comedy. The subject matter makes it quite hard to play it any other way, but it jarred with the previous half, and as the quests became more dramatic, the tone swung back to serious again. As with most trilogies, the end of this second part was quite dark and determined, making the short period of comedy stand out even more.

The other main difference between this and the first part is the loss of both female tellers. While the two men carry it very well, I did miss hearing the female voices. It was of no overall detriment, though, and I know this is just personal preference.

So, this part of the trilogy was an improvement over the first because it was easier to understand and to follow, and it had the benefit of the characters being previously introduced. Both parts of the trilogy could be viewed on their own, though both make mre sense when accepted as one of three. My only complaint is the odd shift in tone, which I think would stand out in the trilogy as a whole, but again, it's a small complaint, so, A-.

Tuesday, April 8


Three shorts currently up for submission:
Asylum (Submitted)
Exoticism (Submitted)
The Ruined Lady (under revision).

Asylum has been submitted to Dark Recesses, and Exoticism is being queried with Down in the Cellar. I've actually got it's status listed as 'submitted', but apparently Cellar's server isn't accepting attachments (I'm not entirely sure whether they're accepting submissions, since they didn't make it clear which December submissions were closed until), so it's being 'queried' instead. I suspect their inbox is just full. I want to revise Ruin a couple more times, then I get to pick someone to send that off to.

Here we go!

Editted: Cellar was having spamfilter issues, so Exoticism is now submitted, and they'll let me know if they receive it. Wonderfully prompt response!

Sunday, April 6

Naming Places

I did naming characters, so this seemed the logical next step.

When it comes to setting a story, I tend to be vague. My two 'real world' projects are both vague in their setting regarding anything more than country. The only project I'd consider naming the setting in details is the much mused-about Roman project, since the settings would be relevant to the plot. When place isn't relevant to plot, especially in any kind of 'real world' setting, I avoid it.

But in Grenhelm, well, that's fantasy. Places need naming. And my attitude to it is much the same as to character names: they have to be realistic (apart from those I made up when I was thirteen and can't bring myself to rename!). While the individual countries have made up fantasy names, the towns and villages have names that wouldn't look odd on a map of England. Well, Southern England.

There are two types of place name: descriptive, and enticing. It's the difference between Iceland and Greenland. You don't tend to find many enticing place names in 'old' countries; they're something associated with exploration and settlement. Most of Europe was settled before it was officially named, so the names tend to be descriptive, which is what I'll be focusing on.

In Britain, there are multiple languags to draw on to compose these names, and in a fantasy world, the same can apply. However, if, in your protagonist's country they speak what is basically English (or the language is 'translated' into English), and other influcing languages aren't immediately recognisable as French or German or Latin or Old Norse, then you need to be careful about using those languages to name places (it's that etymology thing again). You need to stick to recognisable dialectal variations on English words, or you need to use words that your readers will recognise as part of your invented languages.

Since I don't have any invented languages, I've been naming places in a noticeably English way. Famous people, names of local landmarks (usually rivers), combinations of landmarks, type of settlement and geographical positions. There's a lot of variation on spellings, though I've only thrown it about in a few of them.

Prefixes tend to be geographical, so you've got the following:

e- we- su- so- no- nu- nor- etc

You can also preface a place name with North, South, East and West, obviously, as well as other descriptors such as Greater, Lesser, Small, Under, and so on. These usually come into play when there are multiple places with the same name, usually because they're in the same region (so you can have a Greater and Lesser Hillmouth, for example)

Suffixes tend to be geographical landmarks, though it also includes other obvious descriptors, such as the type of settlement (which may no longer be accurate by the time the story begins). This is not an exhasutive list:

-ford -bridge -mouth -port : all river related
-hill -lee/ley/ly/leigh -vale -head -stone -down -cliff : hilly/mountainous regions
-green -field -broad -flat : flat or lowlying areas
-bush -wood -marsh/arsh/ersh/mersh -heath : local ecology
-ton -ville -ham : type of settlement
-bury/bry -home/house : people related

Again, sometimes you find suffixes as separate words; these are usually geographical, and clarify position further, for example, Hillmouth Green. These suffixes are usually recognisable whole words in English (so you wouldn't have Hillmouth Ville, for example).

I'd like to point out that Hillmouth appears to be a nonsense name, since it's fairly improbable that a river would be called the Hill (also, Ville is a fairly french looking word; it represents village, which is more English, but it's a suffix to use carefully). However, our river that this village is at the mouth of might not have been called the Hill, back when our village was named. It might have been the Ill, or the Hile, or something like that. The difference between separate and conjoined prefixes and suffixes is lazy speaking. When creating a place name, it's best to come up with something obvious, and then repeat it until you start mumbling, and see how it sounds. Syllables just fall out (to take a real example: the Guilded Ford is now Guildford, where Ford Prefect claims to be from, and that central d is almost never pronounced).

Pronunciation is tricky; only the writer knows what is intended, and attempts to make it obvious can just baffle people who grew up with a different accent to yourself. My advice is not to bother with anything other than the straight forward.

To run through some place names in Greenhelm (which is the Green 'Helmet' of the island), I've names a couple of rivers the Song and the Let. So there's almost certainly Songmouth and Letmouth, and probably places like Songford, Letbridge, Songmarsh, Letleigh, and Songton, and minor changes (sometimes just in pronunciation) to give Songreen, Sonersh, Lefford and Letham. Trust is rumoured to be buried in a certain area, so the town there is Trusbury. In the empire, you'd expect to find the occasional Kingbry and Queenham. There might be a Wonmarsh and Tomarsh on the border - one side of the marsh and t'other side. Oakley and Yevale would be a valleys of oaks and yews respectively, and Redford would be a crossing through an iron-filled river.

It's so... easy. Of course, some of these names probably already exist, somewhere in the British Isles, in some form. Naming places like this can help solidify geography without a ton of maps (though it's worth mapping a place for your own sake, to make sure you don't end up with Treemouth in the middle of the mountains, for example) and can also give names to fictional places in real world settings. If you want latin or french or spanish names, when you just need to pick some appropriate components and run them through a dictionary; the nice thing about place names is that they don't need to be grammatically correct. The same goes for invented languages, or course.

If you're still absolutely, one hundred percent stuck (or you don't want to name somewhere in England!) then Paperback Writer has a good list of name generators. They're good fun to play with, especially the inn names.

Naming places is something personal, but like naming characters, I think there has to be a certain consistency to it. If every single place as a completely different made up name, they're going to be hard to remember, and they're going to make me wonder why people in this universe are somehow dramatically different to every other culture I've encountered in our universe. If the made up names have some consistency, then I'll start to think they were named by people speaking a slightly different language (York, for example, comes from the Norse name Jorvik thanks to the invading Vikings, and thus would look out of place amongst the Milfords and Brightons of the Anglo-Saxon South East). If elements of that language are still lurking about, even better.

Places were described before they were named, so people could find them. This will be true of anything set in Europe or Asia, and anywhere in Africa, Australasia or America that still has it's native name. It ought to be true of almost every fantasy novel I've ever read, though it hasn't always been, which is a shame.

Thursday, April 3

Naming Characters

Okay, so I'm stealing post ideas from LibraryThing, because the writer-readers group is full of people asking good questions.

For the most part, I try and give characters ordinairy names, often old friends or people I went to school with. No one I know too well, in case they ask questions! Preferably names belonging to multiple people I know. Sometimes, I repeat names of minor characters, especially common names, because that's how real life works. Honestly, it gets a little creepy when there are over a hundred named characters in a series and not one repetition of either fore or surname.

I only have a few charactes with made up names, despite being a fantasy writer; Laina and Vaughniter Fale. 'Vaughniter Fale', as a name, came to me in a dream, which mostly proves that dreams are a bad source of names. 'Laina', despite a change in naming philosophy since I named the character, is going to stay, but the rest of the family will have equally unusual (bu real) names. Consistency in naming, I feel, is important.

I deliberately avoid giving characters 'meaningful' names; I want my readers to decide based on my writing, not my naming, whether characters have certain traits. Much as I love latin, and etmology in general, name meanings are hard to do tactfully enough not to annoy bright readers; if Dolores is depressed, I'm going to be annoyed with the author for showing off. The same goes for names with certain connotations, especially historical names. Is Alexander a bit of a conquerer? A redhaired, left handed, bisexual conquerer? Do I want to slap some subtlty into you?

Having said this, I have stuck myself with a family in which all of the characters have 'virtue' names. It's actually an improvement on Arthurian names (in the above paragraph, I am very much speaking from experience), which were chosen based on Bernard Cornwell's characterisation in his Arthurian series. I changed this, but it was important to me to choose a series of names with consistency; it's a family to which lineage is very important. That I chose virtues was almost artibtrary; an ancestor of the family was called Trust, and it seemed like a good place to start. The difficulty was in choosing names that neither reflected nor rejected their personalities; I've gone for fairly generic traits. It turns out, masculine virtue names are hard to come by in English speaking countries, and once I'd used Earnest and Valiant (thank you Oscar Wilde and terrible 80s Arthurian cartoons) I had to make up another for my main character.

It was Diligent, in the end. Positive, but not predictive.

I've also been naming characters in another project after fantasy heroines. I started out with traditional and literary characters, but that's overused, so any fantasy film in the last twenty years is being explored. Badly. I'm probably going to change my mind about this (as I have done every time I've started a new draft of this story - two different sisters have been named Lucy and I can no longer remember which I'm refering to without the story to refer to).

In my pulpy projecy I made a point of giving the characters fairly cheesy names, to suit the tone of the story. Honey Smith and Dirk Miles; the names make me happy. They aren't going to get changed, not unless there's a real Honey Smith or Dirk Miles who've done something massively famous that I've managed to miss. That has happened to me before; it's always worth googling names, just in case.


Thanks to my lovely co-host, SignificantKinks is back online. It's absence was apparently blogger's fault; the present of blogger in the 'allow hotlinks' (which I'd done in the hopw it'd sort the ftp issues) list caused the problem. Anyway, darling person fixed it, after I'd tried deleting the whole site and the subdomain and reuploading both.

I'm keping my blog on blogspot for now; though I'd love to reimbed it, I don't think it's worth doing until I find something a little more reliable. Or learn enough PHP to unstand what cutenews is on about.

Tuesday, April 1

Tenses and Voice

I've been chatting to kvtaylor about some pieces I intend to submit soon, and we've been exploring tenses. It's a very interesting discussion, and I thought I'd expand on it here.

For clarification before we being: 'past' refers to imperfect, perfect, pluperfect and the rest, for example, and 'first', 'second' and 'third' person can be singular or plural.

Now, as the monologues I wrote for my degree reveal, I like to play with voice as much as tense. Unusual combinations of the two, and so on. Of course, they're all quite short (the limit for the three combined was 5000 words, which naturally kept them brief). Tense is interesting to experiment with in short pieces, but in long the unfamiliarity of certain combinations can create an unintended challenge for the reader.

For example, when it comes to the Present tense (Third Person limited) in longer fiction, I've tried it in something about 20,000 words long, and it's tiring to read (which, in that, is deliberate, considering the point of view). It's not something I'd try in a novel or novella without a very definite reason before beginning. In something novel length it'd have to be a bit Joycian. This is a shame, because if readers and writers could grow more accustomed to it, it could be well employed in stories requiring suspense, especially when it's first person.

First Person Past is a combination that I struggle to enjoy. It often destroys suspension of disbelief. Memoirs of a Geisha brought this to my attention during my teens, with the protagonist's ability to remember conversations that happened decades ago word for word. Now I can't help but notice it. It's more bearable in something like a detective story, or perhaps speculative fiction, where the disbelief is suspended rather higher, but it's still painful. If you've chosen first person past, there are some sacrifices you have to make, and dialogue is invariably one of them.

Some tenses suit voices better than others. First Person Future is just surreal. First Person Past, as mentioned, has its issues. First Person and Present Tense slot together in much the same way as Third and Past (though that's a combintion of convenience and familiarity). Second Person and Future works, but it's noticeably pretentious, and not something I'd do often. Second Person Present (and imperative, as second person present is wont to be) also works, but I suspect Second Person Past would, again, crush any suspension of disbelief. After all, the reader knows that they didn't experience what you described.

Second is probably the most engaging voice, and I do enjoy it, but it's always a conscious decision. First allows for the most identification (it's best used when playing with characters one would not immediately identify with, in order to make the reader question themself), but is often abused. Third can be used for anything; and paired with any tense.

Present is good for suspense, and can raise interesting questions about reliability, too. Past is so often used due to familiarity, without any thought of reliability or identification or voice, which is a shame. Future dares people, but is usually abused in deliberate pretention - like second, it's best used sparingly (Stephen King and Peter Straub use both well in brief segments of Black House, as I recall). All three tenses, though, are flexible in intention: you can use them to create intimacy or distance depending on how you pair them with voices.

I'm glad I wrote the three monologues, to deliberately play with tense and voice combinations, and I'll probably do some more chopping and changing in future pieces to see if I can make certain combinations work. Otherwise, I must admit, tense is usually instinctive for me - it is only on very rare occasions that I make a conscious decision, such as when I've used the future. Voice defaults (I'm almost ashamed to admit) to third, though some pieces have a reason to be in first (like Unsent Letters, being a kind of epistle itself). Second tends to come on me by surprise, but it is fun to write.

- I'm having real trouble posting this. Blogger tells me it's there, but also tells me it's still loading, while on the blog itself sometimes it appears and sometimes it doesn't. Le Sigh.

Friday, March 28

Comparing drafts of Greenhelm

I've been working on the Greenhelm rewrite, and I thought it was time to break out a bit of the first draft again, for amusement's sake. Well, the very first draft was on paper, and I'm not going to type it up right now, but it's pretty similar to the second draft, which was the first to make it to a computer.

Just trying to find two versions of the same scene to compare is a bit of a struggle; the plot has changed so dramatically that I wouldn't recognise it as the same story. I'd forgotten so much of what I now consider to be digression had seemed vital at the time. I had a huge blind spot to certain gaping plot holes (why has the head of a nation joined nother nation's army? What?) and felt obliged to spin bits of the plot out to make it longer (that lasted into draft three, which got hacked into draft three point five as I went along). It was also deeply, deeply derivative.

Stylistically, I know there are still flaws, not all of which I'm dealing with in this draft. There will be, once I've written the second book (and preferably the third, but I know myself well enough not to hold hope), a fifth draft, but hopefully there won't be any more dramatic changes to the plot.

Anyway, the following contains some pretty strong spoilers for Greenhelm. I don't suppose anyone cares at this point, considering the most recent draft isn't finished yet. Comparing two versions of what is essentially the same dream sequence. The second is cut to pieces because it's (a) quite long and (b) mostly not concerned with the dream that the other draft contains. Diligent and Galahad are the same person, he just suffered a name change.

Aged 13, draft 2:

“I’m family, you know it” taunted the blonde mage, “you know it.”

“Don’t be stupid, I’ve got none.”

The blonde mage showed Galahad the ice blue Magick in his fingers. Galahad could see the same Magick in himself.

“I’m family.”

Galahad shrugged nonchalantly. “You’re no brother of mine.”

“A lot more secure tonight, aren’t you. You actually believe your friends will never desert you. Friends forever. Of course, it’s not like you’ll ever have a girlfriend.”

“I what?”

“You’ll always be single, never marry, never sleep with a girl, never kiss. No girl will find you attractive. Always alone. You’ll go mad with loneliness. Watching your friends marry and have kids, watching everyone around you laugh and smile with their partners. Ethan will leave you, not want to even acknowledge knowing you. Ivy will fear you, in case you lash out at her, rape her even because you’ll be so desperate. Everyone will hate you.”

“But, but you said my friends will never desert me.” Quavered Galahad.

“I lied!” The blonde mage sneered.

Well, that was physically painful. Is there some rule about gratiutously bringing up rape? There should be.

Aged 21, draft 4:
[...] He’d been dreaming of home, too. His chest tightened slightly: the blond man, now a recurring theme, had mentioned the curse.

Diligent sat up, pushing the heavy covers away from him. His nightshirt was damp with sweat, and the air was heavy around him. Shoving open the curtains on the bed didn’t help. He climbed out of the bed, the beginnings of a headache threatening at the back of his mind and a faint, unfamiliar nausea swimming inside of him. He stumbled over to the window and opened the shutters. The atmosphere remained oppressive, but the burst of raindrops that splattered across his face and chest was surprisingly welcome.

He arranged himself on the already wet window seat, leaning his forehead on the damp stone outside of the window and taking deep breaths of moist air through his mouth.

He wondered, one hand wrapped around the slimy wood of the shutter, if he was coming down with something. Maybe that was what the dreams harboured. He coughed, but felt neither better nor worse for it. Maybe he was just overheating as he slept.

He’d dreamt of flames; he’d dreamt of the blond watching them. It hadn’t been his home burning, though. No sense of what was on fire. Sometimes they had looked more like the blue of his Blessing than real fire. Again, always, that sense of knowing the blond. Handing the key to him.

[...]Diligent supposed he must have dozed off sitting upright, because he opened his eyes with a start and a mortal fear of Trusbury House. The watch and key were still firmly grasped in his lap, the window was still spitting rain at his feet. His heart was thudding, though, and he could feel the sweat on his skin. His breaths were fast and shallow.

[...]The blond face rose in his mind, the dreams leaving the imagined stranger linked with thoughts of his home. Maybe it was his father, Diligent realised. Maybe he was dreaming about his father. It would explain the guilt, the fear, and the knowing. It made sense. He was not ready to deal with what had happened to his father, and what it meant for himself. The curse.

And yet... No. Diligent refused to acknowledge the nagging doubt. He was dreaming about his father, that was all, and he was protecting himself from the dreams by changing the man a little. Making his father more like himself. Recognisable. It was just grief, that was all.

He fell asleep, wondering if he ought to cry.

Well, at the very least my grammar's improved!

Wednesday, March 26

If immitation is the highest form of flattery, then I write because I like reading

If I'm writing about writing, I suppose I should write about why I write.

Partly, I suppose, because I like sentences like that. Language is fun. Layout is fun; I like visualising sentences and paragraphs. I like knowing when I want to use italics or bold or underline, when to use uppercase or lowercase, whether I want a comma or a semi-colon, which font I want and how I'm going to place the heading.

I don't write because I feel I have to. I wouldn't go mad if I couldn't write (well, I've not put it to the test). I don't have the characters clammering in my head. I don't miss it when I don't write. I don't feel a desperate need to share my thoughts with the world. I don't need to write.

But I still do, and I always have.

I remember writing a story about foxes on a little black-and-green screen computer. I can't have been more than about six. It was, and I think I realised this even at the time, not very good. If I could remember why I'd sat down to write that story, I'd know why I write now; instead, I can only surmise based on the fact that it was very heavily inspired by Farthing Wood:

If immitation is the highest form of flattery, then I write because I like reading. Simple.

I write for the same reason I made tomato soup cake last week. Because I felt like it. I was inspired (by a recipe, I hasten to add), and I had time, and I wanted to enertain myself. The cake, by the way, was probably the best cake I've ever made, though the icing was a bit of a disaster. If you want the recipe, let me know.

The Dark is very much tomato soup cake. Greenhelm is more of a three course meal, I suppose, and god only knows what the rest is. I enjoy writing far more than I enjoy cooking. Cooking is a chore; it's something I have to do to live. If I had to write to live, I wouldn't enjoy it either. I have no intention of ever becoming solely an author; I need structure in my day to tell me when I'm 'on' and when I'm 'off'. Doing an arts degree hammered that home, but I already knew it from watching my mother work from home. I don't want to be wandering around at ten o'clock at night feeling obliged to work because I 'wasted' the morning cleaning the house (or rather, I would have not cleaned the house because it would have felt like wasting the morning, and spent the time watching TV and feeling guilty instead). I earn money to live from nine to five; I buy food and collect prescriptions and pay council tax on days I'm not at work; I write whenever I have a day I'm not doing either. At the moment, that's not actually very often, but I need to stop accepting quite so many extra days at work (I don't feel bad, because on quiet days I can write at work, but it's just mindless jottings and feels more productive than it actually is).

I like writing best at night, when it's raining, with a candle lit and Einaudi playing. To be honest, I just like being when it's like that, but I'm not good at doing nothing (I prefer to be doing at least two things at once; right now I have five tabs open on firefox and Walking with Monsters on tv and a casserole cooking), and writing is the most context appropriate thing to be doing. I don't like writing after work, unless I've had a hugely inspirational day, and I don't like writing when I've been running around doign prosaic things all day. I don't like writing when I know there's going to be a cut off point, like before work, and I don't like writing when there are guests in the house, even if they aren't here to see me. I don't like writing in silence, but I don't like writing with music with lyrics playing.

Despite all this, I still like writing, and that's why I do it. I like it because I like reading. Immitation - flattery. Writing.

Tuesday, March 25

Genre Fiction

I've been meaning to write a post about why I like genre fiction. I much prefer it to, well, non-genre fiction. I'm not terribly fussy about what genre, either; scifi and fantasy, horror, romance etc. Genre fiction is, it's true, formulaic; you know roughly what's going to happen. This means, to write it well and keep it gripping, you have to be really good. And it's so satisfying when it's done right; more so, I find, than more avant garde fiction.

Genres split into two kinds: plot, and situation. On the one hand you have Romance, Adventure, Mystery and Horror; on the other you have Westerns, SciFi and Fantasy. The latter three, in terms of plot, all fit the same formula: difficulties are overcome, sacrifices are made, and good triumphs over evil.

Horror: evil arises, people die, evil may or may not be overcome.
Romance: flirtation, source of confusion, resolution.
Adventure: cool people go somewhere interesting, danger happens, they overcome.
...And so on.

The above may give you a hint as to which genre I'm currently enamoured with. Pulp. Science Fiction pulp, or Boys Own Adventure Pulp. Not the big in-space stuff or the technical computer-y stuff, but finding dinosaurs and huge predators in unexpected places, new species on earth, homemade rockets to the moon. Wyndham, Wells and Verne. Pulp.

1850-1950, for preference.

I blame a book I remember having before I could read: Reptiles and Amphibians. It had 10p written in wax crayon on the cover. I don't know where the shark love came from, to be honest, but they quickly joined the reptiles and cephalopods (the Amphibians of the books title didn't grip me in the way that the snakes and crocodiles did) on the list of coolest animals ever. I mean, I loved the big cats and wolves and various land predators, but they don't quite compare. For a start, they were all too similar to animals I encountered day-to-day, and I was scared of pretty much all animals I encountered (I still have a mild phobia of dogs, and I'm nervous of every farm animal I've encountered so far). But something like a Vampire Squid? Coolest. Thing. Ever. Instead of ink, it squirts bioluminescence. Who cares about dogs? Do they squirt light when threatened? No, they bite. Much less cool.

Aside: I think Dirk Miles, from The Dark (my current pulp fiction project), might need to go and study some marine biology, so that I can have sea creatures. Not!Morlocks is rather limited to freshwater, being set in the mountains of a landlocked country.

Nearly all the fiction I write is genre fiction. In fact, it's all Good vs Evil genre fiction: Children's Fantasy, 50s SciFi Pulp, High Fantasy. I'm tempted to try my hand at a bit of romance (though it'll probably be Paranormal Romance). I certainly read predominantly genre fiction, though due to my tendency to absorb ideas I tend to avoid reading fantasy any more; I've pretty much already hit the two books that could heavily influence The Dark, so I've got no problem plowing through the rest of Wells's short stories, and I don't tend to buy children's fiction I've not read before any more.

A lot of people look down on genre fiction. I find it... weird. The New York Times points out that just because genre fiction tends to be easy to read, it doesn't mean it's easy to write (Smart Bitches, Trashy Books is where I picked up the link, and adds its own thoughts. Despite not reading Romance novels, the SBTB appeals to me because so much of it applies to other genre fiction too). In fact, this is my problem with modernist, post-modernist and various forms of avant-garde fiction; the fact it's meant to be hard to read means that it can be easy to write. You can fake it, and even if the critics and academics can tell the difference, most people can't (hell, you can think you're faking it, as the Ern Malley poets did, but the critics and academics will tell you otherwise). I've written the pretentious kind of stuff, and it's probably not very good by pretentious people's standards, but I can tell you that it was a hell of a lot easier to write than the genre stuff, which has a hell of a lot more constraints. Maybe if I wanted to write it well, it would be hard, but I honestly wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the good pretention and the bad. I admit, I like it when I write something that only makes sense to a few people, but they are all people I respect, so it becomes an inclusion thing, rather than the distinctly exclusionist vibe I get from a lot of non-genre fiction. Hey, no reader likes to be informed that they're not smart enough or informed enough to Get It.

[I am using 'pretentious' here to mean 'deliberately obscure with unusual literary techniques', and not really as I let H2G2 define it later (which is mostly a Rushdie thing), but hopefully you'll get the jist]

I don't set out to read as an academic, and I don't write for academics; I write for the people who want something easy to read, because I'm one of them. It's not that I don't enjoy challenging books, the weird and wonderful and strangely written, but I couldn't read them all of the time, and I don't think anyone could. I wouldn't want to marathon Salmon Rushdie's pretentious Literature, but I could read Wyndham for hours on end. I'd rather read a book that I can't put down than a book I need to put down on a regular basis to find out what the hell it's referencing now. I react badly to Self-acknowledged Pretentious Fiction, usually written by people who think writing genre fiction is like covering yourself in cow dung as a weird fetish thing and running through the streets shouting about it.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to write avant garde fiction, with wanting to wite books that people will remember for the rest of their lives and display prominently on their shelves and make them think and change their lives and generally improve the world. It's an honourable goal. But it's not mine, and I don't like being dismissed for it. I do object to people who write fiction because they think being obscure and confusing people makes them look smart.

The thing about genre fiction is that more genres are huge. You're competing against millions of other books, similar to your own. You need to be really good to do well. Write something avant-garde, and the only thing you're competing against is the fact that most people would rather be reading genre fiction (which, okay, means it has to be good too, to persuade those readers onto your side. Or it would, if most of those kind of authors thought those people were worth persuading). Really Good genre fiction is deeply satisfying. It's enjoyable to read. It's hard to put down. It's gripping despite running to a formula.

Really Good genre novels don't 'transcend' their genre; just because they're popular doesn't mean they suddenly cease to be genre fiction. 'Transcend' suggests they're not part of that genre; they might have something in common with it, but they're not genre fiction. They might be mainstream (whatever that means once you extract it from genre), they might be avant garde, but if they've trascended genre they're clearly not genre fiction. 1984 has a scifi setting, but it's not scifi genre fiction, for example. It didn't transcend the genre; it was never part of it to start with. If genre fiction is particularly good and well known outside of the genre (say, Day of the Triffids, to squee about my favourite author, or Frankenstein for Gothic fiction, or Pride and Prejudice for Romantic) then it's a good writing within the genre. It's still genre fiction; it still fits the formulas (genre fiction can play with the formulas a little, and completely flipping the formulas gives a sort of sub-genre fiction, but significant alterations to the formula expel it from the genre and back into that category the 'transcending' fiction lives in).

So, genre fiction. It's hard work to write. It's great to read. Don't be hard on it just to look smart*. It doesn't work.

*You can be hard on it for other reasons, but you better be able to support them. I'll just drown you in reccomendations in response, to be honest; most people who are hard on genre fiction haven't read much, but if you have then I'd love to discuss.