Should I charge money to review your book?

I’ve been reviewing books in a kind-of-professional context for a decade now. I say kind-of-professional because while book reviewing doesn’t pay a lot, it does usually pay a fair amount. But that payment always comes from the publication, not the publisher or writer.

I’ve developed a fairly high profile as a reviewer, with a regular opinion column for The Guardian that tends to use book reviews as a starting point for discussion of wider issues in geek culture. I was one of the first mainstream reviewers to put time into seriously looking at indie published novels. And when I fall in love with a book, I’ve been known to be pretty insistent that everyone who reads my blog or follows me twitter needs to love that book as well!

All this book reviewing activity means I receive dozens of review requests every week, from both mainstream publishers and indie authors. I like getting sent books (via email only, I’m a nomadic traveller so print books are a big no-no for me) and out of the hundreds I get each year, maybe half a dozen end up featured in my column in one form or another.

I’d like to do more.

Which leads me to the question I’d like your help with. I love to review one or two books a month on this blog, and share them with readers here and on social media. But, I can’t justify the time without at least some financial return. And that financial cost could only be paid (I presume) by the publisher / writer themselves.

So, if I open review slots here which publishers / writers pay for, am I crossing an ethical line? Money moves towards the writer is a diktat I believe in. But with books numerous, and platforms to publicise them limited, have reviews become a commodity that producers should expect to pay for? Maybe more importantly, would readers trust my opinion on a book I’m being paid by the author to review?

I’m open to any and all feedback on this, so please let me know your thoughts.

SF & Fantasy publishing needs industry awards

The controversy around this year’s Hugo awards continued to roll on through this week. Independent journalist Philip Sandifer added a small tome of research to the material on the issue, although it rather overestimates the importance of Theodore Beale as leader of the neo-fasicist revolution within sci-fi. Beale may be a fascist, but his actual role in this would be better described as attention bum. Beale hangs around the SF & Fantasy writing community, bumming spare attention off anybody he can harass, or who rises to the bait of whatever racist, homophobic bilge the attention bum has posted to his blog that day to score some attention. Poor Phil Sandifer has opened his wallet and given the attention bum his whole months attention salary. I imagine it made the attention bum very happy.

There is always some controversy around the Hugo awards, and one of the main causes is that the awards simply don’t fit the expectations that people bring to them. The Hugo awards belong to the World Science Fiction Convention or WorldCon, an American SF & Fantasy convention with a long history that gives the Hugos an immense cachet. The problem is that the SF & Fantasy community tend to treat the Hugos as an industry award, when they are not.

The Eisner’s announced their shortlists today which, low and behold, managed to be interesting, diverse and relevant to the comic book industry they represent. The Eisner’s are in actuallity what the Hugo awards are often assumed to be – an industry award. The main purpose of the Eisner’s is to serve the comic book industry in the ways such awards do, primarily by raising the profile of the industry’s best work and expanding the audience for the medium overall. On a much larger scale, the Oscars have been fulfilling this role for the film industry for decades. So why doesn’t the SF & Fantasy field have a proper industry award?

The main reason is that the Hugos, and alongside them the Nebulas, come very close to being an industry award without quite fulfilling that role. The Hugos could do, and many people seem to be working to get them there, but they won’t achieve that without becoming much more international and overhauling their voting system. The Nebulas are voted for by industry professionals, of a kind, in the membership of the Science Fiction Writers of America. But the SFWAs membership does’t actually include the publishing professionals it would need to be an effective “academy” in the style of the Academy Awards.

I don’t know if or how this problem may be fixed. But it does need to be, The lack of a proper industry award leaves the SF & Fantasy writing industry without a centre that it badly needs. The industry’s major awards should be generating media coverage for the quality of their winners, not the intensity of the outrage they cause.

Do you actually have something to say? Then why are you talking?

Wait up. I’m not telling you to never talk. You’re a human being and have as much right to yell your opinions into the world as anyone else.

But.

This is an interesting post by Deliah S Dawson, a writer I know by name and nothing more. The jist of her argument, as the title Please Shut Up : Why Self Promotion as An Author Doesn’t Work suggets, is that self promotion as an author doesn’t work.

This is both evidently true and untrue. For most people it is true. If we assume, say, 50,000 people who have for various reasons set-up shop as an author, 50 will be lucky to develop any kind of “following”, a word I air quote because I hate it. Twitter has imposed that word on us. Nonetheless, some authors do indeed have a “following”, and many have built that following by self promotion. For them, it definitely did work.

What is the difference between these two groups? To which I say, do you actually have something to say? Then why are you talking? Writing is putting your voice into the world. Everyone who has ever lived has a desire to be heard. It’s a basic function of being human. Now that the tools to be heard in some way – a blog, a twitter account – are free and easy to use, of course everyone is using them.

But if your ONLY reason to speak is to be heard, you have already failed. “How do I build a following and make money selling books?” asks a questioner in Deliah S Dawson’s blog. In doing so, they’re joining the amorphous shuffling hoarde of writers doomed never to be heard. Because they are, in essence, identical. Every word they write boils down to, “please hear me”, because that’s their only intention.

Why do you want these people to follow you? Where are you leading them to? There are a bazillion people shouting their opinions into the world. But if you listen closely, and bring some critical thought to the matter, you’ll quickly see there’s a scarcity of people who actually have something to say. And by something, I mean something coherent, original, and most importantly, intelligent. And because the intelligent voices are scarce, people follow them. Often in great numbers.

I give my social media clients the same basic advice, which they nearly all ignore until they get bored of failing at this game. Listen. Yes, listen to the vast, chaotic babble of opinions that are the internet. Pick your audience, and listen closely to what they are saying. Read blog comments! If everyone is saying the same thing, there’s no point repeating it. Say something new. If no one can agree, be the person to find the solution. Find the intelligent voices in your audience and learn from them. It takes time, to become interesting. Listen closely, then talk, and you might actually have something to say.

Storytelling vs The Human Condition

There’s an age old conflict in the writing world. High art vs. low art. Popular culture vs. Cultural elites. Bestseller status vs. Critical acclaim. What’s the difference? Why does it matter, if it does matter?

At the heart of one side of that argument is the simple idea of story. When I teach, I ask my students, what is a story? It’s more complicated to answer than it might seem. Popular writers put story at the centre of everything. Story is compelling. Vastly, terrifyingly compelling. Watch people watching a popular soap opera. Whatever story is, it’s addictive. That’s why bestsellers sell. They aren’t just words on a page. They’re an addictive substance and we the reader are jonesing for our next hit.

The high arts of the “literary writer” a toying with something a little different. I don’t really want to give it a name, but because critics use the term so often, let’s call it The Human Condition. Critical acclaim goes to the books that say something truthful about being alive, in a body, as a human animal among other human animals. When literature hits its mark, its effects are powerful. Talk to a reader about the important books in their lives. The tone of awe they’ll tell you with is there for a reason. Those books illuminated and enlightened their life. They were, with no exaggeration, a kind of religious experience.

Storytelling vs. The Human Condition. Can’t the two co-exist? Of course. But it’s worth considering why they’re partnership is always an uneasy thing.

A story is never true. Even when it’s based on real events, it is at best a partial half truth, seen through the eyes of its teller. All narrators are unreliable, whether they know it or not. To get to the truth, we need to look beyond the story we’re being told. That’s why writing that shoots for The Human Condition is so concerned with things like subtext, theme, meaning. Flip it over. When we’re hunting the truth, the objective meaning of things, we’re not in the subjective experience. Story means being inside the skin of experience, seeing through the eyes of a character, smelling the stink of things, tasting the sweat of fear on our lips as we enter battle. Story is about sensation, action, events. The poles of Storyteling & The Human condition are hard to balance and hard, there, is an incredible understatement.

But seeing that the task is hard means you’ve turned the problem into an opportunity. This is the basic game the writer is faced with, how to, sentence by sentence, scene by scene, craft a story that hits the reader right between the eyes with both the addictive qualities of story, and the proto-religious experience of The Human Condition. Make a list of novels that utterly floored you. The ones you spent moths or years or a whole life in love with. I guarantee every book on that list is both a masterpiece of Storytelling and a insight into The Human Condition. Balance those beauties and your job is done.

So. Get to it.

The only thing you need to do to fix the Hugos

Nothing.

I’ve already noted here that the motives of those people block voting on the Hugo awards have very little to do with those awards, and everything to do with pimping up the organiser’s profile in the eyes of their reactionary, right wing audience.

The Hugo block vote is an act of immense selfishness. But is it actually a problem? We’re annoyed with those involved for creating such disruption, all for the sole purpose of puffing up their egos. But when you actually parse out what the consequences, do they pose an existential threat? The simple answer is no. Here’s why.

Diversity in sci-fi is a genuine issue, and has been for many years. How important you believe that issue to be will largely depend on how important you believe sci-fi is. But even in very recent years if you asked people about diversity in SF, you would get a few very predictable responses.

Less than two years ago,  sci-fi imprint Tor UK published a limited set of data on submissions made to their imprint by women. The data is interesting, but a high school math student could easily explain to you why it has little meaning in statistical terms. Nonetheless, it was widely hailed by the UK sci-fi community and many beyond as proof that diversity in SF was simply a non-issue. Women did not submit SF novels hence women were not shortlisted for awards. End. Of.

Change often hinges on the middle-ground of opinion. And until quite recently the middle ground of opinion regarding diversity in sci-fi  was (a) what? why does this matter? (b) sci-fi is more of a boys thing (c) please stop talking about diversity your attempt to be heard is really annoying me. A growing number of people were starting to take the issue seriously, but still a very small minority.

Enter the Sad Puppies, stage far right. Who in 2015, after three years of trying, have finally made themselves well and truly known to pretty much all of sci-fi fandom. But their first effect was in 2014, when they first placed a handful of nominees on the Hugo award shortlist. That achievement galvanised Hugo voters to think very seriously about diversity, and return the most diverse roster of Hugo winners in the award’s history.

Because this is what happens when extremists enter a discussion.  They alienate the middle-ground, and it’s the middle-gound where the real power lies. 18 months ago the middle-ground were not behind the idea of diversity in SF, because they simply couldn’t see that it mattered. Today the whole of SF fandom is up in arms about diversity. Because when something comes under such sustained attack, you can no longer pretend it does not matter. So stunning has the anger been in support of diversity, that the Sad Puppies themselves have been backed into the rhetorical corner of claiming their slate is itself a blow for diversity – albeit on behalf of “underrepresented” old white dudes. Hurrah! Total and utter victory for diversity!

SUGGESTION – if the Sad Puppies slate really is about diversity, maybe next year it can be organised by a more diverse group of people? I suggest the current organisers hand Sad Puppies over to K Tempest Bradford and Hal Duncan to prove its true diversity.

The Hugo awards do not need to be fixed. They are doing what awards are, in part, there to do. Providing an arena for the debates that in turn power change. Some rather loud, selfish men are shouting their half of the debate. Good. The mass of people who might otherwise have stood silent on the sidelines have been motivated to act against them. Let the Puppies shout and bellow as long and as loud as they like. The actual changes that will follow their actions are not likely to please them at all. Publishers aren’t racing out to buy more books with space rockets by right wing reactionaries. Quite the opposite. Readers aren’t being persuaded of the joys of old school sci-fi by having it rudely thrust in their faces. Quite the opposite. In contrast, the issue of diversity has this year been spot welded to the Hugo awards by the laser beams of focused outrage. And that’s no bad thing.

What do the Moribund Mammals actually want? It’s not what you think

I imagine it is a buzz being Brad Torgersen at the moment. In a short space of time he has gone from being one among thousands of vaguely successful sci-fi writers – some stories in a few magazines, an award nomination for something or other – to the notorious leader of Sad Puppies 3 : Bigots Destroy Sci-Fi. Now when Brad hits publish on a blog post, hundreds of people comment. He’s a star! But a star without a base soon falls to Earth.

Brad’s new notoriety is on loan from Messrs Correia and Beale. I have no doubt that Brad genuinely cares about sci-fi, for all of the reasons he has stated. It’s not uncommon to see writers do stupid things they will later regret as they get their first taste of public attention. Brad is a spectacular example, and like most others, will soon be forgotten as both sci-fi fandom and the SP mob move on to the next drama.

Correia and Beale, in contrast, do not care about sci-fi. They might give it a second thought, between bouts of stroking their huge ambitions, but it’s in no way their priority. Neither do they care about the Hugo awards, towards which they direct so much hate. Most importantly, Correia and Beale do not care about the faux battle between Conservatives & Liberals about which they scream so loudly, or more accurately they care only as far as it serves their goals.

Both Correia and Beale are focused on goals that lie far beyond sci-fi fandom. Both appeal, and have significant platforms, among reactionary right wing conservatives, a massive “community” that vastly eclipses the niche fandom for sci-fi books. To Correia and to Beale their battle with sci-fi is merely the latest in a long line of faux, one sided conflicts they have engineered in order to build their following in the wider world. Neither man cares at all about the outcome of this conflict, because every outcome has the same payoff, a much inflated reputation for beating up Libruls amongst an audience who enjoy that sport.

It’s because the science fiction community largely misunderstand the true motives behind the Sad Puppy campaign that it’s having such a hard time responding to it. It doesn’t matter how long and how hard you shout “BIGOT” at them, it will only ever make Correia and Beale more popular among their base. If you block their wins with No Award at the Hugos, they simply point out to their base how badly the reactionary right wingers are being discriminated against. Change the rules of the Hugos even a jot and you get the same result with knobs on “HUGOS GERRYMANDERED AGAINST CONSERVATIVE WRITERS”. Let them win and you have, of course, let them win. Establish an opposing slate and, hurrah, you have now engineered an endless battlefield that Correia and Beale can continue to loot for years to come.

But if you think clearly about Correia and Beale’s actual motivations – to gain attention and status from their right wing reactionary base – you can begin to see some effective solutions to the current problems. What those solutions are I will write about tomorrow.

Game of Thrones and Wolf Hall: fantasy and history converge

George RR Martin and Hilary Mantel’s stories come from different genres to address the same questions.

The cosmetic similarities between Game of Thrones and Wolf Hall are not hard to list. Both occupy a similar period in history, soon after the fall of the Plantagenet kings (recast as the Targaryens in GoT) and the early history of the dynasty that succeeded them. Both wallow in the power plays of courtly intrigue and its brutal consequences, from the Blood Wedding of fantasy, to the endless beheadings of history. And both have dominated the recent consciousness of storytelling.

The differences are also quite clear. There are no dragons, dire wolves, blood magic, white walkers or talking tree roots in Wolf Hall, while GoT wanders rather drastically from the history and geography from which its fantasy is spun. Wolf Hall is crafted as a tight internal monologue that never takes us beyond the perceptions of its protagonist Thomas Cromwell, while GoT moves the reader from one point of view to another in a rather more workmanlike style. These are differences of emphasis: one is designed to play to mass audiences attuned to televisual storytelling, the other for audiences who value emotional depth above narrative lucidity.

Read more.

But who will read Holly Lisle’s books?

Sci-fi author Holly Lisle resigns from the Science Fiction Writers of America over the *shocking* idea that the organisation might start winning funds to pay grants to writers. Because of course an additional funding stream for sci-fi writers is the Worst Imaginable Crime Ever.

“Giving” grants taken from tax dollars is nothing less than theft of taxpayer money. This action forces people who have no interest in the careers of writers receiving grants to support those writers’ work, no matter how distasteful, badly written, or objectionable they might find it.

It is institutionalized thuggery, and were I to remain a member, I would brand myself complicit with the thugs.

It’s always trivially easy to demonstrate the short sightedness of Libertarian “thinkers” of this kind. Ms Lisle is an author who wants to sell popular fiction to the masses. How on earth does she intend to do this without the tax funded state education system and the massive increase in literacy rates it facilitates? Unless of course she intends her work to be audio only.

PS – among the vast number of famous authors have received state grants is none other than…J K Rowling! Without the £5000 grant she received from Arts Council England to write Harry Potter, the British economy would have lost billions from its publishing, film, culture and tourism industries. Awww…Libertarians are fun but not so smart.

What style do you write?

Style is a little easier to observe in music than in literature. Great musicians occupy a very clear musical style. Blues. Country. Pop. Rock. Classical. Reggae. Ska. That doesn’t mean that Bob Marley never cranked out a heavy metal riff or that Slash can’t do a Reggae rhythm. But there’s something a little forced and artificial when a talented musician steps into a style not quite their own.

You might study many styles as a creator, but at some point you have to commit to making in just one. Because the techniques of your craft aren’t agnostic of style. As a novelist you can learn the general techniques of plotting, but if you want to write thrillers you’ll need to learn the unique plot structures that thrillers employ. Once you add together all the stylistic elements of a thriller, from it’s character archetypes to its thematic concerns, you end up with a lot to learn.

The “trunk novels” many young writers have hidden away are often attempts to find and then master a style. Once you get there, you may be able to go back and rework some of those novels, as Iain M Banks did with the sci-fi novels written in his 20s, that became the early Culture novels over a decade later. Most writers also have notebooks filled with book fragments that explore different styles to find the one that suits them.

Experimenting with style is a learning process. I’m never going to write a sci-fi mashup based on Moby Dick. But I have four chapters of one in an Evernote file. I learned some important things from the time I spent plotting it out, things about the different fiction styles I was mashing together. But I’m glad I didn’t try and push through to the end of it as a book. It’s not a style I love deeply, just one I was playing with.

You have to love the style you write in, much the same way you must love the house you live in, or the friends you choose to live with. You’re going to be spending a lot of time together, and if there’s no love, that’s not going to be any fun at all. That doesn’t mean it’s your job to blindly ape the style of your creative forbears. All creators rebel against the old guard of their style, in the way all children eventually rebel against their parents. But while we may not like to admit it, there’s as much love in rebellion as there is in conformity.

Grimdark, what is it? Joe Abercrombie in discussion with Ahimsa Kerp.

Joe Abercrombie needs little introduction. He’s one of the most successful fantasy authors working today and the face of “grimdark” both for the sub-genres fans and its detractors. In this forthright interview Abercrombie attacks the concept of grimdark head on, questions fantasy fictions habit of813VILeJkRL._SL1500_ re-writing Tolkien, and shares his thoughts on writing for young adults.

Ahimsa Kerp is the best new author of pulp inspired fantasy of the last two years. Empire of the Undead was the most compelling apocalypse novels I’ve read since The Stand. His new book, Beneath the Mantle, is a smart riff on Journey to the Centre of the World. He’sa writer to watch, but importantly, to read. ~Damien Walter

Grimdark. What is it?

Joe Abercrombie in discussion with Ahimsa Kerp

“I think any argument that splits the whole vast and varied, weird and wonderful tapestry of fantasy into two opposed camps is fundamentally dumb and doesn’t stand up to the slightest scrutiny.”

Ahimsa Kerp (AK) – Thank you for agreeing to do this! I believe you’ve just finished edits on Half a War, the third book in your YA trilogy Shattered Sea. Congratulations! I recently read Half a King and greatly enjoyed it. And that brings me to my first question. What is your secret to writing good YA? Is it difficult to pitch your story so that it is accessible to both teens and adults? Did you ever consider including a love triangle or gimmicky voice? How beholden to tropes or sub-genres do you feel?

Joe Abercrombie (JA) – I think if there’s any secret it’s just to write very much the same way you would for an adult audience. I wasn’t necessarily trying to write something that fitted into a given category and I’m not expert at all on the current YA field, I was really just trying to write the kind of book I would have wanted to read aged 12-16, and that’s substantially very similar to what I’d want to read now. I think the thing to remember about young adults is that they’re first of all adults – just young ones. They’re dealing with big decisions and serious issues in their lives for the first time and want fiction that speaks to that. Quite apart from the fact that most YA is read by people over 18, of course. For me it was about writing from the point of view of young adult protagonists, and also writing something quicker, sharper, more focused, more compact. Also a slightly different tone with less swearing and less explicit sex and violence, but I’d like to think these are books that are just as challenging and morally complex as my adult stuff, and will work pretty well for my established adult readers.

“Ah, grimdark, grimdark, what is it? I much preferred it when it was an out and out piss-take”

AK – It must have been quite enjoyable to research a Norse-inspired world. Did you read any of the Icelandic sagas? And were there any other interesting discoveries you made that you would recommend for a de facto bibliography?

JA – I have read a fair bit of norse myth and saga in the past. For this I re-read some of the historical children’s fiction I read as a kid – Rosemary Sutcliff, Henry Treece, John Cristopher – and found a lot of it holds up surprisingly well. But also adult historical fiction by Robert Low and Bernard Cornwell, Frans Bengtsson’s brilliant faux-saga The Long Ships, a lot of non-fiction about the vikings too.

Half A King by Joe Abercrombie

AK – Joe Abercrombie has become the face of a subgenre: the lazily denominated faux-portmanteau “grimdark.” You’ve called it unheroic fantasy, others use terms like “dark fantasy” or “scoundrel lit” or “nuanced adult fiction.” What would you say are the defining characteristics of the subgenre? Would you include a non-genre writer like Cormac Mccarthy in that conversation?

JA – Ah, grimdark, grimdark, what is it? I much preferred it when it was an out and out piss-take, an insult for stuff that was ridiculous, excessive, absurdly dark, brutal, cynical, humourless. Now some people say they love grim dark, and I never know what people are referring to when they use the word. Nay-sayers try to define everything of value out to support their argument that it’s worthless, supporters try to include everything from Game of Thrones to A Christmas Carol. It’s true that a book like Blood Meridian is a great deal grimmer, darker, bleaker and bloodier than pretty much anything you’ll find in the fantasy section. I guess what I refer to as unheroic fantasy needs unheroic characters, a cynical worldview, often a focus on character rather than setting, blurred lines between good and bad, an unflinching approach to the details of sex and violence and their consequences. Lots of the seedier side of life rather than the shiny.

AK – A common thread of unheroic fantasy writers is an interest and/or background in actual world history. Given that writers who base their stories off history tend to have darker themes, does that lend credence to the idea that grimdark is more realistic? And is that the same as saying it’s less contrived?

JA – Realism is always a tough word to use in relation to fantasy, or for that matter fiction of any kind. I’m sure much shinier and more optimistic writers have taken plenty of inspiration from history too. We’re never aiming for realism, especially when writing fantasy where we’re deliberately doing something exaggerated, larger than life, but we are perhaps aiming at something that feels in some way honest, that says something about our world as it is. And the world clearly does contain lots of darkness, violence, death, despair, filth, pain and etc. so to ignore those things, especially in a book that focuses on war and warriors and mighty struggles, can seem a little dishonest. The world clearly does contain nobility, self-sacrifice, achievement and hope and so you wouldn’t want a story that entirely elides or ignores the possibility of those things but, speaking for myself, the First Law was always intended to sit somewhat on the other side of the scales from a lot of the simpler, shinier, more heroic stuff which seemed to dominate the genre when I was growing up.

AK – A lot of the criticism of grimdark is from people who believe fiction should be escapist. There seems to be a dislike of complex things happening in their entertainment. Where do you think the idea that a work of fiction can’t be both dark AND provide escapism comes from? And how do you think it can be changed?

JA – I think there are two very different strains of criticism to be fair. One that grimdark fantasy is a debasement of a noble genre that should celebrate heroism and shiny niceness and an evil perversion of the legacy of Robert E Howard. I have, honestly, contempt for that argument. Fantasy has always contained all kinds of work from the utterly dark and shocking to the utterly heroic and predictable, and I think range and variety can never be a bad thing. One cannot have light without shadow, after all, he says pretentiously, and I think it’s hard to have an honest look at heroism without also considering the darkness. But I think there’s a much more compelling argument about whether grim dark simply revels in its own filth and violence without questioning it, and that the particular styles of filth and violence play into sexism and racism in a way that is entirely unhelpful. In essence that grim dark is simply new gritty clothes on the same old conservative horse. That I think is a criticism much more worthy of careful consideration.

“By the early 90s it felt as if a lot of people had been rewriting Lord of the Rings for a long time”

AK – When the battle lines between grimdark and high fantasy are drawn up, Professor Tolkien is understood to be on the other side, across from the forces led by you and George RR Martin. But isn’t Tolkien at least partially misrepresented? Lord of the Rings includes the corrupting and pointless death of Boromir, one the great heroes of the realm, the death of their angel-like guide (Gandalf’s resurrection notwithstanding), the corruption of Saruman (another angel-like being), and the protagonist, Frodo, ultimately failing at his mission. Even the happy wedding in Gondor meant that Arwen had lost her immortality in exchange for a relative few years of happiness. Add in Vance and Leiber and Peake, and the fantasy genre has a much darker heritage than the 1980’s would have led you to believe. All of which is to say that perhaps that the backlash against grimdark is more a product of modern sensibilities than it is a reaction to a tainting of the genre. Your thoughts?

JA – I think any argument that splits the whole vast and varied, weird and wonderful tapestry of fantasy into two opposed camps is fundamentally dumb and doesn’t stand up to the slightest scrutiny. Pioneers of sword and sorcery like Howard, Vance and Leiber were often writing about quite unheroic, gritty, self-serving characters. Trace fantasy further back to, I don’t know, Beowulf and Norse Myth, and you’ll see brutality, antiheroes and withering cynicism being pretty much the historical norm. Tolkien is, for pretty much every fantasy writer, one of their cornerstone influences. I would say so and I’m sure Martin would too. Tolkien did, of course, have plenty of darkness and complexity in his work – indeed I’ve always found Saruman a lot more interesting than Gandalf and Boromir more interesting than Aragorn, precisely because of their flaws and their humanity. I’ve got nothing but love and admiration for Tolkien, I’ve got a fair bit of love for Dragonlance and David Eddings too, if it comes to that, but I think the way in which the whole genre of commercial epic fantasy came to imitate Tolkien’s template, perhaps missing a lot of the subtleties, did lead to a slightly one-noted genre in which things were safe, shiny, predictable. Also, Tolkien, for all his undoubted qualities, wasn’t good at everything. He wasn’t trying to be good at everything. No one is. So he wasn’t much of a humorist. His focus is maybe more on setting than character. His action is not particularly visceral. There weren’t a lot of female characters in his work. These aren’t necessarily criticisms, they’re just observations of where I saw opportunities to take a different, and to my mind complimentary tack, in the same way as Sergio Leone took a different tack to John Ford in making westerns. That doesn’t make Sergio Leone’s westerns a horrific debasement of John Ford’s, it makes them an utterly respectful, natural and necessary development, at least to my mind. By the early 90s it felt as if a lot of people had been rewriting Lord of the Rings for a long time. It felt like it was time to, you know, stop.

AK – What one character from another author’s work would best fit into the world of the First Law trilogy? (Personally, in a genre-mashing showdown, I’d love to see Asimov’s the Mule pitted against Glotka, Bayaz et all.)

JA – I’d be honoured to think that plenty of Martin and Moorcock’s characters would fit quite nicely in amongst mine – Tywin Lannister? Elric? Yes please. But if I had to pick one it would be Jack Vance’s crown prince of utter selfishness, Cugel the Clever, surely one of the most disgustingly compelling people ever put on the page.

AK -Thanks for taking the time to do this, Joe. I have one last question. Neil Gaiman appeared on the Simpsons, and Game of Thrones has also been spoofed. Will Joe Abercrombie ever be big enough for the Simpsons? And if so, given the choice, would you rather write an episode or appear as a guest star?

Writing an episode sounds way too much like hard work. I’ll take a cameo…

***

Ahimsa Kerp’s new book Beneath The Mantle is out from Severed press now. Joe Abercrombie’s Half The World  is in good bookshops everywhere.

Does user generated fiction spell the end of the professional writer?

In popular genres such as sci-fi and fantasy, fan fiction based on the Wattpad model could easily disrupt the publishing industry.

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For a few years in the mid 2000s, I was the young librarian who got sent to schools to convince kids they really did want to read books. The truth of my experience was that the kids needed no convincing. There’s an odd belief in some parts of the book world that young people have to be made to read, or made to read “good” books. If you want a really telling piece of evidence to counter this strange notion, look no further than Wattpad.

With more than 35 million users and over 100,000 stories published each day, Wattpad is staggeringly active community of readers and writers, the vast majority of whom are young adults. When I was working for libraries to engage young people with books, the idea of a website where kids could post and read stories for and by their peer group came up again and again. Wattpad is that vision made real, with the support of nearly $70m (£46m) in venture capital funding.

Read more @ The Guardian.

Writer. Writing a book.

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