Papier Massacre

If there is one event by which I can measure the passing of the years its the book purge. I don’t engage in them frequently. I like books, and having them sitting in piles around my (and other peoples) abode(s) makes me happy. It can’t go on though. Eventualy you realise that without intervention you will soon be replacing the IKEA sofa unit with paperback editions of Penguin classics. That you haven’t even read. And never will.

So you start shuffling through the shelves, dislodging the dust where neccesary. Most titles are, of course, indespensable. The dog eared ‘Neuromancer’ is going nowhere, neither is the coverless mess of random pages that was once Iain M Banks ‘Excession’ until *someone* took it hiking in their handbag (you know who you are). Yes, I do still need two copies of all eleven volumes of The Sandman, get your hands off them!!!

But after a few hours of ruthless decision making I now have a few feet of vacant shelf space. Not that it will last, as my spending spree on Amazon proves…

…just added to the book pile. Kelly Links ‘Magic for Beginners’, Editor Ellen Datlows ‘Years Best Fantasy 2006’ and K J Bishops ‘The Etched City’. I have high hopes they will all make it through future book purges untouched.

Handling the Hate

I’ve long observed a natural pattern fall into place with each new writing project.

Writing session one passes in a haze of bedazzled excitement as the possibilities of the story at hand hand unfold in your imagination like a glorious summer bloom. Session two is usualy tinged by the belief that you aren’t quite getting down on the page what it is you had imagined. Half way through session three it hits you that this is nothing like the story you had in mind. Session four is like waking up from a dream where you were a multi-millionaire novelist to discover you are actualy only 2000 words into your magnum opus and its going to take much, much, much, much more work before its even ready to show to friends and family.

It’s in that gap between the wonders of your imagination and the reality of the words hitting the page that the Hate lives. Its the little voice in your head that keeps telling you your story is a huge steaming pile of pooh only fit to flushed down the loo. Its the growing belief that however much you work on a piece of writing it will never been finished, never be read and amount to nothing more than a huge waste of time and effort.

Getting any writing project finished is an exercise in dealing the Hate. Before you even start, accept the reality that at some point in the process the Hate will rear its demonic visage and try as hard as it can to undermine your confidence and self-belief.   Even if you manage to get the Hate to go away one day, you can be sure it will return the next. But don’t listen to the Hate, its a minfestation of your subconscious and hence nothing more than a dumb beastie.

Rules for Handling the Hate

1. The first draft is always pants. Hence its aptly applied title – THE…FIRST…DRAFT! It took me about three years to realise this. The Hate will tell you that because the first draft is pants that means you are also pants. Don’t listen to it. Get the first draft finished at all costs.

2. Like all imaginary beasties, the Hate can’t be defeated by full frontal assault. To deal with the Hate you need to disempower it. Whenever it makes a charge, say to yourself ‘No. My story is not pants. This feeling is just the Hate trying to get at me. I will ignore it and continue writing as though it had never happened.’

3. Tame the Hate and make it your servant. Hate is just Love manifested negatively. A little mental effort can turn that voice of doubt into a voice of certainty, telling you how great everthing you write is. Be warned however, that while the Love beatsie can be useful, its no less a beastie than the Hate. Its OK to think what you are writing is fantastic, right up until you need to start editing. At that point you need to track down the ‘Reality Check’ beastie, who’s job it is to tell you the way things really are.

Book Pile

I wish I could manage to read just one thing at a time. However given that I read for work, for writing and for pleasure its probably an unrealistic expectation that this will ever happen. Do other people read just one book at a time, first page to last without deviation, hesitation  or repition? (Yes, repition. How many times have I taken a book  from the book pile,  shuffled through to find where I left off and then half an hour later been struck by the eerie sense of deja-vu that tells me I’ve read this chapter before.) Am I the only person to have between four and twelve books open face down around my abode, like abandoned conversations waiting for the next sentence. Possibly.

Currently the book pile is slightly lighter than usual, but only after some savage pruning over X-mas.

Top of the pile is Shriek: An Afterword by the incomparable Jeff Vandermeer. JV is blazing a new literary trail in the fantasy fiction world at the moment. I picked up his short story collection City of Saints and Madmen a few months ago but bounced off it. Shriek has really grabbed me though, so likely I’ll post a review in the near future. Imagine Gormenghast crossed with Thirty Something penned by Douglas Coupland and you’ll be a few feet away from the imaginary land of Ambergris where Shriek is set. Its just been relased in mass market pb so now is a good time to pick up a copy if you like that kind of thing.

I picked up three hardback volumes of George R R Martin’s for a steal from one of Leicester’s second hand shops (the look of doubt in the dealers eyes as he handed them over made me think I got them cheap). If you don’t know Martin you probably soon wil as his fantasy epic ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ has just been optioned by HBO, makers of Rome and Deadwood. I read the whole thing earlier in the year, and now I’ve started rereading it for fun.

I’ve got 5 YAF books to plough my way through for late Feb for work. Teenage fiction can be great, it can also be duff. I hope these are the former.

Finaly I stumbled into some imported American Fanatsy/SF in the works from the Tor US imprint. Market differences between the UK and US mean that imports tend to fail in the UK market, so I picked up a whole raft of really great books for 99p each! First on that list is Charles Stross ‘The Family Trade’.

So many books, so little time!

Eevil Muse

There is a great story by Neil Gaiman in his Sandman days about a writer who imprisons the muse Caliope and uses her to fuel his work until he becomes the worlds most acclaimed novelist. Unfortunately for the writer, Caliopea.k’s ex-boyfriend happens to be Morpheus, a.k.a The Sandman, King of Dreams and one of the Endless, who make Gods look like children. Morpheus is just a little annoyed to find  his ex forcibly incarcerated and inflicts a horrible punishment on the writer. He unleashes his imagination permanently, and the man goes insane as he is swamped by one wonderful idea after another but is unable to write one down before another comes along. The writer becomes so desperate to capture each piece of inspiration that he gnaws away his own fingers to write them in blood…

After my self imposed writing embargo over the X-mas break I had been finding it a little difficult to get anything down on paper, but afterforcing myself to the keyboard a few days running the momentum cam back big time this week, too big time in some ways. Part of the reason for taking a break from writing was to gain some perspective, disgard old ideas that had gone stale and maybe find some new ones. Although I’m not at finger gnawing point yet I have been overwhelmed with ideas I’ve wanted to try and get down on paper, at least half of which I’ve probably  forgotten now. Consequentialy this has been both a good and bad week on the fiction front, I’ve written a lot but its all been quite fragmentary and unrelated. Hopefuly some of those fragments will resolve themselves into complete stories or get rolled into the big novel push.

I’ve also discovered that I’m only 63% evil. How terribly average of me!

Countdown to Cthul-You

After a final round of last minute edits ‘Cthul-You’ has now been approved by the editor and the producer and will be recorded next week. And no it isn’t James Marsters (or even Martin Jarvis) putting voice to the story, that dubious honour has gone to Adam Sims, who rather fantasticaly also read ‘Burning Chrome’ by William Gibson. As previously stated on the Don’t Look Down blog, Bill Gibson is my SF writer archetype

Cthul-You airs on Monday 5th March, 6:30pm on BBC7.

How Many Writers Can You Fit In A Mini?

I’ve had an odd evening. I did the last set of edits on the story for the Beeb (now finished and with producer..yay!). I sent a longer version of the same story to an editor of a US magazine that I had sent a paper copy to months ago but they had lost it, and got a response back 15 minutes later saying they didn’t like it. I dropped into the TTA Press forum and lobbed a comment into a resurgent debate on New Weird, then pootled over to Vanderworld and read a leaked extract of Jeff V’s new book.

It really is a very small writing world.

I’m wondering what effect this must have on those old ‘established’ writers who are used to working in relative isolation. I’ve heard writers identified as the Class II persoanlities who stand on the edge of the playground and watch the other kids suspiciously. Writing fiction has long been a way interacting with humanity at a distance, not just physical but temporal. You get to compose your work well in advance and then release it into the world, complete and polished. This interweb thingy has changed all that irrevocably. Critical debates that used to rumble on over the period of decades in respectable journals now flower and then die in months or even weeks, and even worse any old johnny can throw in their tuppence worth. Readers aren’t held at a comfortable distance anymore, they are right in your face asking difficult questions of every snippet of information that gets written, and expecting answers. Writers used to be able to get away with a spectrum of ill behaviour ranging from irrascible old curmudgeon to pathologocal isolationism. No longer. These days a writer needs the public relations skills of a customer service executive just to  manage their e-mails.

And it has to change the nature of the writing as well. Once an exercise in exitentialist angst generation where the writer struggled to produce work that may not see the light of day for months or even years. Now a writer can draft work, publish and get feedback from an audience of anywhere from zero to a hundred thousand in seconds. The writers who thrive in that kind of environment will be very different to the old curmedgeons we know and…Love? Loathe? Both?

PKD Made Me Do It

It really is all the big guys fault.

My Christmas break has become unexpectedly long. I’m at home shivering and coughing with the third cold of the season. Inbetween boiling the lemsip and sleeping I’ve been scratching a few notes for a short story and wondering how I ever got into this writing thing in the first place.

I finished the majour edits on the BBC story just before X-Mas and just have a couple more i’s to dot before its ready for recording.  Other than receiving two rejections from magazines (Both with very constructive feedback, also both the same story – ‘Horizon’, suggesting it might need a rewrite before going out again.) I took a complete break from writing over the winterval and through most of December as well. After the frantic efforts of NaNoWriMo the break has been pretty essential to help me get my bearings on where I am and where I’m going to. There is a short story I want pull out of the NaNo rubble and a longer piece in a similar style to Cthul-You.

2007 is the year of the novel. Between NaNo and the chapters I did for FantasyCon I did two longer pieces in the second half of last year, totaling about 40k. In both cases I was trying to push myself to write in a much more commercial style than my short fiction. Not just so I can get published and become a millionaire novelist but also because I’m quite aware of the limitations of my short writing style and wanted to find a more adaptable voice that lets me tell longer stories. So my New Year’s resolution is to take all the lessons learned from ’06’s projects, pick a long story to tell and from January onwards turn out 5k a week regardless of any interveneing circumstances upto and including the death of close friends / relatives.

Thanks for getting me into this Phil. Really.