Head Above Parapet

The Fiction Front (which is here if you weren’t paying attention) has been tagged on the Guardian Books Blog. It seems my minor rant against the Booker has been officially noted…oops.

This feels a bit like the time I declared myself gay to a group of three hundred Nazi skinheads. Or the Sunday I was photographed by MI6 leading a column of Islamic militants through Leicester city centre. Its even faintly reminiscent of getting fired from work for swearing at a Vicar. Seriously, none of this is ever my fault!

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What the fu*k IS that?

there are plenty of complex unanswered questions in science, but far fewer simple ones. Is there life on Mars? Nope. In the solar system? Not as we know it. Will intelligent computers take over the world? Maybe, but we are well passed the deadline and have failed to invent anything smarter than a toaster so far.

These and a few other questions were the staple of Science Fiction in its boom from the 20’s right through to the early seventies. The genre grew out of the simple human capacity for wonder, our capacity to look at a shining star in the night sky and say ‘What the fu*k IS that thing?’. That sense of wonder is the oldest motivator of stories, right from the ancient myths passed down to us through the millenia, that Science Fiction successfully caught hold of for many decades. But in more recent times Science Fiction has lost its grip on this sensawunda (as its known in the biz). For real genre fans specualation on the technological singularity or the pst-human experience still arouse such excitement, but the general readership the Science Fiction once captured so well have drifted further and further away.

Well now some clever people called scientists have gone and discovered a fucking huge hole in the universe. Billions of light years accross, entirely devoid of planets, stars and galaxies, not even a speck of theoretical dark matter to plug the gap. Oh boy oh boy oh boy, it that doesn’t get you wondering then nothing will.

Get to it people, I want an exciting story on this submitted to Asimovs pronto!

Just Start

I bumbled into a simple but useful idea a few days ago. These are often the best kind. Its unfortunate that you can’t go looking for them, they just appear at opportune moments. This one was on a podcast I think. Not sure which one.

Just start. Yep, pretty simple although it might need some explanation. Whenever you have one of those things that you are putting off, or are scared or worried about, or its just a plain chore, or even something you really want to do that has become really pressured, when it comes time to do it, just start.

Take jogging as an example. If you’re sitting in your armchair after work thinking ‘I have to run ten miles now,’ the chances are you will stay sat in your chair. But if you say to yourself, ‘I’m just going to put my trainers on and go stand in the road’ then you will probably end up standing in the road. Then you are quite likely to actualy start running as you are out there.

I’ve been applying this to writing. I’m not sitting down to write X thousand words, I’m just opening up the story and tinkering with the last few sentences I wrote. Usually I end up writing the next few, then the few after that and before I know it I’ve down an entire new paragraph.

Don’t think. Just start.

OK, so thats my self-help hint for the month. Please ignore if you object to this kind of stuff.

Writer or Rockstar?

According to the Guardian, a new YouGov poll suggests that writer is the most wanted job in the UK, closely followed by among other things, event organiser. Meaning I kind of have the two most wanted jobs in the UK.

I’m not sure how event organiser got on there. Its hard work, incredibly stressful and the rewards are limited. Maybe they mean organising proper events like international trade fairs and party political conventions. Maybe thats more fun than book launches and writing weekends, I’m sure its harder work.

The writing answer I can understand, but given that YouGov was set up with the explicit purpose of fabricating an opinion poll lead for the Tories at the election before last you have to question the validity of anything that comes from them. In this case I would guess that most participants would use the terms ‘Writer’ and ‘Middle Class Hero’ fairly interchangeably. Maybe I’m just a bitter old genre reader but I can’t shake the feeling that writing in this case is more about social climbing than either art or craft.

And then lo and behold my suspicions were confirmed by encountering this junior Guardianista’s weak ass attack on multi-millionaire novelist Stephen King. Hating Stephen King is such a article of faith amongst second rate literati wannabes that I’m amazed anyone would identify themselves as such by doing it. How much more surprising would it be to read a Guardian article seriously measuring a writer like King against acclaimed literary figures like Updike or DeLilo? So much more that if I ever do see such a thing in the Guardian I will find a hat, claim it as my own and then eat it.

This Message Brought to You By…

Some time ago I made a funding bid to Arts Council England to support my professional  development as a writer and freelance creative. It seems my stars were aligned correctly as my bid was successful, which is great. Thank you Arts Council.

I’ve been waiting all year to make use of the grant. There have been a long series of important projects that I needed to complete in literature development world but I have now made the space to step my hours down to part time, which will start (fingers crossed) at the end of September.

So from October onwards I’m going to have 2.5 days a week to invest into writing and developing freelance projects. Writing will be the major priority for the next 6 months  but there will also be a few developments on the projects front before the end of the year.

The first of those will be an overhaul of this very blog. Check back soon for details!

Week 12 Round-Up

I’m actually not sure if this was week 12 or not. Does anybody know?

Anyway, thats quite symbolic. I’m in an odd place with the story at the moment.

Around Week 8 I realised I wasn’t enjoying what I was writing. Worse, I was feeling less and less attachment to the story. It felt more and more like an amalgam of other peoples styles but not representative of me as a writer. Put simply, it wasn’t my voice. I have really beaten myself up trying to decie if this was just a way of quitting, and have decided it isn’t.

So I am starting again.

Hmmph…thats actually the first time I’ve admitted that to myself. Its not a completely new slate, more another iteration of the same story. Large parts of the story are the same, but the millieu I’m now using is so different that none of the current 14,000 words will make it. So…time for a count reset.

Ouch.

On a more positive note I’m VERY excited about the alternative version of the story I’m now telling. I’m really determined to get some serious wordage wracked up this weekend and will post a few extracts when I can, for anyone curious.

Kids Know Best

When it comes to reading, kids are way ahead of adults in telling a good book from a bad one. Yes or no?

SF Signal posts some extracts from a recent Stephen King article defending the latest H.Potter from her critics. My favourite quote is:

…reading was never dead with the kids. Au contraire, right now it’s probably healthier than the adult version, which has to cope with what seems like at least 400 boring and pretentious “literary novels” each year. While the bigheads have been predicting (and bemoaning) the post-literate society, the kids have been supplementing their Potter with [insert long list of good kids books]…

This is certainly my experience of encouraging reading with young people. They already read…loads. Perhaps not the sporty kids, but then as good as reading is it isn’t the right thing to force on everyone. The sporty kids should read a bit, but then the bookish kids should do a bit of sport. But kids who do read, REALLY read. I hold up Rowling’s, Pullman’s and Wilson’s bank account statements as evidence. What adults are really bemoaning isn’t the state of kids reading, its the state of their own reading.

I would guess at there being way more the 400 boring literary novels each year. And boring is the word. Masterpieces of intellectual endeavour they maybe, but a thrill / laugh a minute they aren’t. In a sane world I would defend the literary novel to the death, were it kept in its rightful place as a minority interest. But like some uncontrolable weed the literary novel has grown to dominate the public understanging of what a grown-up novel should be. It’s as though the cinema only showed Bergman, Goddard and Lynch clones. While the critics would be overjoyed, the audience would soon go elsewhere. And thats exactly what has happened with books. Its hardly surprising that peole are less than enthusiatic about reading when they are faced with a slew  of specialised literary fiction and made to feel more than a little freakish if they happen to wander off into the romance, crime or science fiction section where they might actualy find something they want to read. Or the kids section, which is where lots of the best books are, which is why they get remarketed in adult covers and critics spend pages explaining their deeper adult meaning just so they can enjoy a good story without losing their intellectual cachet.

What we need is the equivalent of literary weed killer. Any idea what that might be?

Gough’s Ghetto

An interesting post from Julian Gough that nails the problem afflicting not just literary fiction but many other genres as well, the ghetto mentality.

This strikes me as something that needs defining:

Gough’s Ghetto – the act of a devotee of one literary genre assuming assuming that no literature exists beyond their limited viewpoint.

Hmm…that might suggest Gough was guilty of this however…I shall have to ponder an alternative!

I Want My E-Book Now!

Charlie Stross has yet more interesting things to say about E-Books. I’m very interested in Mr Stross at the moment having really, really enjoyed The Atrocity Archives, and he had already managed to win me aroind from my very negative stance on E-Books with his earlier article on the subject.

I bought my first E-Book last month, or rather my first e-magazine. The american SF digests are difficult to find in the UK, so I read my forst copy of Asimov’s in electronic format (it hasn’t won me over to getting a subscription). E-Books still don’t work with my reading pattern however, a laptop is just too much effort to take to bed with me. It also just isn’t relaxing in the way a book is. Computer screens flicker at 60mhz of some such, imperceptible perhaps but I think it impacts on the subconscious entirely differently from the static calmness of a printed page. However, I can see myself buying more E-Books of stock i can’t easily get in the UK. Of course I could go on Amazon, but these are often impulse purchases and no one wants to wait three days for an impulse purchase to arrive. The immidiacy of E-Books may be the quality that gains them an audience.