Its Better for You

Yay! Alan Moore came to town and I got to see him. Granted I was only one of about 400 drooling fanboys but still I can say with pride that I was there, in fact the whole little gang came along (gang pictured below)

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I’ve heard and read many interviews with Alan Moore, and everytime I get a new insight from it. It isn’t hyperbole to say he is an absolute master craftsman among writers. If you haven’t read his work start with ‘From Hell’, or if you are feeling more light hearted try ‘Top Ten’. Read them both together and you’ll get an idea of his tremendous range.

Moore was in conversation with Ian Sinclair and the two focussed on the relationship of their writing to place, with both having made use of  London in their writing. Moore’s work has also long championed regional identity, with his prose writing to date all focusing on his hometown and still place of residence Northampton. It’s interesting that genre fiction often allows writers to occupy a regional identity where the literary mainstream is almost exclusively London centric. Maybe that has to do with success in the latter being being about who you know, and in the former being concerned with what you know. Certainly Moore seems to have built his career around an uncompromising focus on developing his craft, which for many writers gets lost in the scrabble for commercial survival.

There is a particular snobbery around writing that explores regional and local identity. On the one hand it goes against the glamour and mystique that blockbuster fiction strives for, and on the other it is often assumed that life outside majour metropolitian centres lacks the true complexity to create a compelling narrative from, unless of course you go to the other extreme of  the rural environment. But the vast swathes of average, boring suburbia where most of us actualy exist is almost unexplored in fiction terms. But aren’t we losing something by ignoring our own back yard like this? We end up in a world where all our stories are unattainable, trapped in locations we can never get to or that if we do fail to meet our expectations. And our actual enviroment remains locked in mundanity, never gathering the patina of myth and fantasy that bring magic out of the mundane. We should all see magic in the places where we live, as Mr Moore says its better for you that way.

I’ve thrown myself into a big story that is absolutely not set in the midlands, but I really want to seeze at least a couple of short stories into this year that use Leicester as a location. Sometimes I’m convinced Leicester is the most unremitingly mundane place in the world, then at others it seems almost supernaturaly unreal and strange. And its extreme mundanity is almost part of that strangeness, creating a forced feedback effect where the more normal the city seems the weirder it actualy is. I’d like to capture that feeling in a story at some point.

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Up Late and Scribbling

Just finished work on a scene in the new writing effort. I’ve had the characters and plot bubbling just beneath the surface for a fortnight, last week I manged to get the first part plooted out and I’ve dedicated this weekend to throwing myself into fleshing the thing out.

Writing early scenes on a story is like being stretched bewteen two locomotives. The first time you pick up a chracter you know a certain amount about them, perhaps some backstory, key motibvation, a handful of physical characteristics. Most of all you know their function – protagonist or antagonist. Central charatcter or foil. The plot demands that each chracter play a part in its machinations. The problem is that as soon as you start carving the character in pen strokes, you are like to find they raen’t happy with their lot. It’s hardly surprising, no one likes being told that they aren’t in control of their own destiny, particularly the willful chracters that tend to drive a good story. The struggle is to harness the actions a character wants to take with the role they need to fulfil in the plot.

Today’s scene was sketching out the story’s uber baddie. Of course he desn’t know he’s the baddie, as far as he is concerned he is the hero. So trying to get him to do the uber bad thing that illustrated his badness was quite hard work. It turns out he is younger than I expected, and at the heart of his ambition is a God complex that I knew nothing about until it slipped out of the pen. I take it as a good sign when the characters start telling me whats going on with the story.

I have another 3 / 4 scenes to fill in then I’m going to get some extracts posted here on the blog, so keep your eyes peeled!

“First you jump off the cliff and you build wings on the way down.”

Ray Bradbury

Tripod

One of the lit.dev projects I have been working on for the last few months has hit an exciting point – the Literature Network today publishes its first spoken word podcast as part of the Tripod project. Its a really amazing feeling when projects like this come to fruition. A year ago this was a conversation between four people about how great it would be to have a literature podcast for the region. And now here it is!

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The brand new Tripod Podcast brings you the liveliest and best spoken-word work from the Three Cities of Derby, Leicester and Nottingham. This debut episode features performances from Rob Gee, Daljit Nagra, Helen Frances of Flying Donkeys and Mark Gwynne Jones and the Psychicbread. Listen online at the Tripod website, download to your computer or subscribe to our regular feed via I-Tunes or any good podcatcher. Let us know what you think!

Listen to Podcast here!

Watch out for the Tripod magazine launching in early March 2007 and available from libraries and other venues around the Three Cities.

Tripod is a Literature Network project supported by Three Cities Create and Connect.

If At First You Get Rejected…

…get rejected again.

Weird Tales have now rejected ‘Cthul-You’ twice, once by e-mail and once by post. To give them full credit they spent 84 cents to send me the the latest rejection, which must seriously bite into the profit margin in these tough days for genre fiction magazines.

On the very positive side both rejections have had specific criticism of the story, which anyone who has experienced the all to common form rejection wil know is pretty rare in itself. Pretty harsh criticism it must be said but useful none the less. I got given a sub to Weird Tales for x-mas so I’m looking forward to seeing one in the flesh.

That still leaves me looking for a print mag for Cthul-You after the BBC run. Hmmm…have to put the thinking cap on and get researching over at Ralan.

Voices In My Head

I got a nice surprise in yesterdays post – the audio recording of ‘Cthul-You’ as produced by the BBC as part of their Blood Lines season. Its a great recording and the reading by Adam Sims is great. I was a little worried before I heard it, after the 7th or 8th edit I was way to close to the story to have any objective idea of whether it worked. But hearing it afresh and professionaly stopped it being just 2000 random words on a page.

So get those DAB Radios and freeview boxes ready – 5th March, 6:30pm, Radio 7. Don’t forget. Chant it like a mantra to yourself whilst falling asleep. Or not. If you do happen to miss it it will be downloadable for two weeks from the BBC website.

The Streets are Paved with Fantasy (Blockbusters)

Its common currency in genre fiction land that if you want to make a living, you write fantasy.

Whereas if you want to develop a cult reputation with readerships in double figures whilst subsisting on a diet of dried pasta and bread crusts you write SF.

The interesting thing is that this doesn’t have anything to do with the writers, but it has everything to do with readers. SF readers have some very destructive habits from a writers perspective. Firstly, most SF readers don’t even acknowledge a books existence until its been around for twenty years and migrated to ‘classic’ status. SF writers sell millions of books, usualy after they are dead. Secondly, SF fans read V E R Y  S L O W L Y. They have to, the web of complex ideas encoded into every sentence of SF demands enourmous concentration, and very often multiple rereads. Once those ideas have made it from the page to the brain it can often take months of not years for them to percolate through the SF fans consciousness to such a point that they are then ready for another book.  And they are fuggle, and that combined with their tech savvy means that many SF books are read as pirated downloads on PALM PDA’s.

The fantasy reader is an entirely different creature. Once a fantasy fan gets their teeth into one of those huge doorstoppers that others may deride they can easily chew their way through 100k words in a matter of hours. Writing enourmous books is a defense mechanism for fantasy scribes, who churn out quarter million word tomes in the desperate hope it will stop the obsessive fans from writing them angry letters demanding the next volume. The most comon complaint among fantasy readers is that writers can’t keep up with their reading speed. And fantasy readers have deep pockets. Not only will they by the hardback the day it comes out, they all by the collectors edition and twenty copies of the paperpack to give to friends to show them how fantastic the book is.

Which probably has something to do with why my writing focus has flipped from SF to Fantasy over the last two years. Money aside though I’ve also moved from wanting to write about fascinating ideas to wanting to write about fascinating people, which is the best defeinition of the diference between SF and Fantasy I can think of.

I’ve had a frustrating writing week. It started by throwing myself into a very science fictiony story called ‘Unmade Man’. Its my fourth or fifth attempt at trying to make this story work and although it started promising I’ve bogged down again. The storys central premise is so complex I can’t even describe it, let alone represent it in fiction which is probably the route of the problem. I’ve put UM aside again and instead returned to this years big novel push. I’ve got an outline coming together and I’m starting to get really, really interested in the characters which is always a good sign. The central narrative is taken from the 13k of ‘Msques’ that I wrote midway through 2006, but I’ve found a new location, a more sophistocated set of relationships and a different narrative mode to work with and its hanging together better, at least at this early planing stage. I still need to do a 2nd draft of ‘Circe’s’, so maybe over the weekend.

My blog post titles are getting longer. Next time I’ll revert to monosylabic.

The Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Innocent

I’ve just started a 6 month mentoring programme that has grown out of both my literature devlopment work and my interests as a writer. I’m going to make a few posts about it here on the Don’t Look Down blog as a way of recording my progress and I thought it might also be of interest to others.

My mentoring programe has been organised by NALD , the National Association for Literature Development. Lit.Dev is a somewhat unusual career path, it is both problematic for being quite insecure but also very useful in terms of flexibility and developing experience. Literature Workers often move on to freelance work, writing or into other cultural sectors – theatre, film or even TV. Navigating this complex career path can be quite a challenge, so giving workers the chance to tap into the skills and knowledge of more experienced people in the field seems like a very good idea.

I was a little skeptical about how well I would personaly engage with a mentoring process when it was first suggested. The term itself is quite off putting, probably as much for the ‘mentor’ as the ‘mentee’. In popular parlance its only one step away from Guru or even worse Life Coach. In practice however the mentoring process is about gaining an outside viewpoint on your own situation. It’s also a chance to avoid a few wrongs turns on the path ahead, or at least get them flagged as wrong turns before you go plunging on down them regardless.

The first mentoring session gave me an opportunity to talk through a whole bunch of issues realating to my lit.dev work and my writing. The last six months have been an incredibly active time on both fronts, and having the opportunity to just talk through each of the things I was involved in and getting an outside perspective on how they might fit together was tremendously useful.

I’d given the mentor a portfolio of my writing in advance of the meeting. The mentors key criticism was that I was avoiding writing scenes, which in turn was strangling the characters voices and replacing them with my own. To get over this I’ve set about a new short story that I’m trying to write at least 70% ‘in scene’ rather than stepping back to a broader narrative viewpoint. So far its going well, and its also pushing me into a third person narrative where previously I’d been stuck in 1st person, which is where I’m naturaly more confident.

An unexpected aspect of the mentoring process has been the level of self-reflection its incited me to engage both in preparing for each session and then in thinking them over afterwards. The mentoring itself has acted like a catalyst, which has sparked off a number of other processes of thought and activity. With one session gone its already started to have an impact on what I’m doing, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the programme unfolds. I’ll post regular updates about it here, so if you are interested please check back.

Feast of Fantasy

I’ve been on an epic fantasy read over the last month. Not just epic in content, but epic in size!

First up a collection of short fiction by Kelly Link. Miss Link is at the head of a number of new (at least to me) fantasy writers who are melding fantasy / horror writing with a pop culture sensibility. Think Carrie meets Generation-X and you are half way there. Links writing is towards the gentler end of the spectrum but all the more arresting for this. Its deeply emotional storytelling that I was very effected by although I couldn’t say exactly why. Its just excellent and its difficult to say more than that. I’ll work my way through the whole collection over the next few weeks (I don’t like reading collections in one go. Its like eating everything on the dessert trolley in one sitting).

The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror happens to feature Kelly link as one of its editors, although I was stumbling towards purchasing it as part of my reading reserach anyhow. I’m slowly picking my way through the contents but as yet although i’ve enjoyed the stories, none have really grabbed me by the throat and screamed for space in my crowded consciousness. It’s doing much better than the The Mammoth Book of best New Science Fiction however. Gardner Dozois’ annual collection is supposed to mark the Gold Standard for contemporary SF, which might be part of the reson why I’m quickly losing interest in SF relative to Fantasy. I’m sure there are things in there worth digging out, but its a challenge to persist in the face of almost universaly opaque prose that permeates SF writing at the moment. Its very difficult to care about stories that fail to come off the page and enter the imagination, however good the ideas at their hear may or may not be. More fiction AND more science please SF people.

The Etched City by K.J.Bishop is a first novel that comes covered in quotes saying basicaly ‘Not Bad for First Novel’. A few people seem to be holding it up as the latest incarnation of the New Weird. I’m curious to find out why but as yet it is illuding me. I’ll persist however as its certainly intriguing.

Its going to have to wait until I’ve tackled Priestess of the White by Trudi Canavan. Canavan has probably sold more copies of her snappily written sword and sorcery adventures than the whole of the New Weird put together. And to be frank the fact that they are fun, enjoyable and very focused on telling the human stories of their lead characters is reason enough for that. A few chapters in and enjoying it lots.

Oh and don’t get me started on what I pulled out of the works bargain bucket over the weekend. So many books, so little time…  

Word Hustler

There is a great little post over at Tobias Buckel’s blog about hustling for freelance work to support a writing career. I’m not sure I’d advise taking out a six month loan (thats about 10 – 12k!) unless you are uber serious, totally confidant in your writing skills and have at least a few publications under your belt. Even then its a huge risk. But Tobias shows the level of gritty determination, some might say obsession, it takes to break through as a writer.