Category Archives: Real Life

Lost in a World of Words

I’m tired, in that good way you get from doing loads of things you really like doing. A full day of work on the writer’s conference, followed by the first Science Fiction and Politics workshop, followed by a couple more hours of graphic design work. Phew! The only problem with being this busy is that I haven’t had much time to read. Fortunately I just happened to have a stack of SF novels from the workshop on the train back from Nottingham to Leicester. Top of the pile was The Book of the New Sun, still with a bookmark in where I left it over a year ago. I’ve never been so happy to sink into the complex prose of Gene Wolfe. Sometimes I just want to get lost in a world of words. Wolfe is better for that than anyone, except maybe Lovecraft.

Other happenings described in words…

The IO9 book club take on The Wind-Up Girl.

Jeff Vandermeer asks, what are your top five most underestimated stories of all time?

To do or not to do

On Monday morning my to do list looked like what the infinite monkeys came up with before they got to Hamlet, a seemingly random collection of tasks that I had no possibility of completing in the finite space of five days. Today I’ve had the pleasure of crossing half of it out.

(Or rather ticking half of it off on Omnifocus, the Sherman tank of to-do list applications)

Putting aside work tasks largely relating to the upcoming writers conference, this week I have prepped for and read at Short Fuse (went well) continued work on Episode 1 of my supernatural World War 2 adventure story, attended The Speculators writing group, written a plea to Iain M. Banks and accepted an invitation to talk at a cool event in March (more details when they are all confirmed) Which leaves the weekend free for a major piece of graphic design that needs to be done for Monday and to prep for the first Science Fiction and Politics workshop at the Nottingham Contemporary on Monday.

Phew. No wonder I’m feeling a bit tired.

In other parts of the interwebs:

Charlie Jane Anders of io9 kicks off an energetic discussion on Iain M. Banks in response to my plea for a new Culture novel.

SUNY Stony Brook are going to have a Clarion graduate in their midst. w00t!

A long walk back in time

Sometimes, when I’m thinking about a story, I like to go for a good long walk. Fresh air and endorphines work wonders for the imagination. Yesterday evening I was struck with an idea for a World War 2 inspired story with Weird themes. I fell asleep on the sofa making character notes, then when I woke up this morning (having relocated to bed at some point in the night) decided to find a long walk to go on and consider the idea more. A bus journey out of the city later I was hiking along a winding country road between fields shrouded in a perfect, wet British mist. The World War 2 story was unfolding as I walked, and my imagination was deep in the the atmosphere of Britain circa 1939.

(Usually I find that one image sparks the atmosphere of an imagined world for me. In this case it was a young soldier, queuing to leave a troop ship, holding a Lee Enfield rifle. I never know where these things come from, but come they do and they bring with them many more.)

So I was almost on the sign for a ‘hot cup of tea’ at the NAAFI Cafe, sitting  to one side of the narrow footpath as it came over the crest of a hill. The sign pointed into a door leading through a a brick wall which in the moment I glimpsed it seemed utterly incongruous, a fragment of the city superimposed over the fields. I glanced through the door way down a set of wooden stairs at the bottom of which stood a pile of suitcases on a train platform. I was looking at an early 20th Century branchline train station, which as I entered I saw was complete with posters and advertisements from the late 1930’s, including instructions for the usage of gas masks and air raid shelters and other things linked with Britains preparations for war with Nazi Germany. Ass odd as this all was, it wasn’t awe or even curiosity that made me walk down those stars. It was a cold day, and I wanted a cup of tea.

How I had arrived at the the Great Central Railway without even knowing it existed is beyond me. For 30 years a dedicated crew of volunteers have been keeping this stretch of the former LNER railway line open and operating, complete with the most wonderful steam engines and four fully operational train stations all faithfuly recreated as the would have been in 1939. Which is exactly the year the WW2 story I had been considering was set. Sitting in the aforementioned NAAFI cafe with the steaming hot cup of tea, listening to big band music from an antique radio of the era and reading in the Daily Mail of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s declaration of war, I had the disconcerting feeling of having walked inside my own imagination. And I’m yet to entirely shake it off.

Needless to say, I’m thinking the World War 2 story must now be written.

Writing Sci-Fi Short Fiction

I’ll be teaching a five week course in Writing Sci-Fi Short Fiction here in Leicester from 12th January. I was recently challenged to come up with reasons to attend this course on Twitter. My answer? By the end of five weeks you will have written, edited and submitted a complete short story. And I keep the sessions short then take everyone to the pub afterwards…:) Come along.

Writing Sci-Fi Short Fiction
Leicester Adult Education Centre, Wellington Street
Tuesday 19.00-21.00, 5 sessions from 12th January
Science fiction, fantasy and horror are among the most popular genres of contemporary fiction, producing best selling novels and influencing films and computer games. But many of the most successful writers learned their craft and broke into the industry by writing short stories. Students will learn how to plan, write and edit a sci-fi short story and gain valuable insight into the process of publication.

Book here

Pub Grub

Ate the most amazing beef stew (with mustard mash and kale) at The Pub this evening. Their new chef previously cooked for Gordon Ramsay in London, and oh my good god can the lad cook. A well cooked pub meal on a cold December night is one of the most comforting things I can imagine. If you are anywhere near New Walk in Leicester any evening soon then go in and see for yourself.

I’ve been working on the upcoming Writing Industries Conference today, and am happy to say we have already sold out of early bird tickets. I think it’s possible we might sell out of full price tickets before we even announce the programme, so if you are planning to come then get one soon.

Now for two hours work on The Hundredth Master of Ninja Assassin. I want this finished this week. As previously stated you can help me achieve this goal with a well timed nag. Go on, you know you want to.


Kat Howard wonders what to read next?

Are Amazon selling 100,000 Kindles a week? Even if they are then the there might be some light at the end of the tunnel for the publishing industry.

Phoenix Square

Today was the official public opening of Phoenix Square, Leicester’s new independent cinema and digital media centre. As a mobile worker my main demand of any new cultural centre in my city of residence is that it provide a decent place for me to sit and answer emails, and I’m happy to say that Phoenix Square succeeds nicely in this regard (or will do on days when the bar hasn’t been turned into an early 90’s rave). I’m certainly going to love having two well equipped cinema screens showing the kind of movies that don’t make into the multiplex. And the digital art programme seems genuinely interesting, to judge by tasters on offer at launch (except for the 90’s rave DJ’s, who can and must be banned from the building).

If there is a major negative it is that the area around Phoenix Square is truly dismal, but then one aim of the project is to regenerate that quarter of the city, so that is too be expected. Phoenix Square is a tremendous gift to the city, especially after the disappointing failure of the Curve theatre to engage the local community in any meaningful way (lets hope they put that right soon). I will certainly be a frequent visitor.

The Entrepreneurial Writer

I will be giving a talk next Monday on the theme of The Entrepreneurial Writer as part of the New Ways With Writing series of talks organised by Writing School Leicester. Come along. The talk is about succesful writers are part of and contribute to many communities. I think it costs a few quid to get in.


The Entrepreneurial Writer – Damien G. Walter
Leicester Adult Education College, Wellington Street
23rd November, 7pm
Building a career as a writer takes energy, determination and an entrepreneurial spirit. Instead of waiting to be recognised by editors and agents, many now famous writers got started by setting up their own projects, from spoken word nights to small press publishers. But what separates the projects that succeed from the thousands of such projects that fail every year? With so many writers competing to be heard, is it the writers who listen who ultimately succeed?

My 400th post…

…and coincidentally  my blog passed 40,000 visits just a few days ago. In celebration I’ve decided to return to blogging seriously and post every day even if, as today, I only have my circuitous progress through life to comment on. That and to say that for reasons I can’t quite fathom I get a tremendous amount from keeping this blog, and from connecting with all you odd folk who drop by here now and again.

Today I lounged on the sofa and read Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon, inbetween power-knaps. Its a charming novella, blending pre-medieval historical novel with Fritz Leiber influenced heroic fantasy. I’ve particularly been enjoying the build to the story’s major twist, which I’m 99% certain Chabon knew the reader would see coming a mile off and deftly plays with the fact that he knows we know he knows. Read it yourself to find out what the hell I’m going on about.

The Abbey Park fireworks were actually quite spectacular tonight. When you can feel mini concussion waves from the rockets you know the fireworks are good. We need our old pagan festivals in Britain as the sun falls out of the sky. It could have done with a wicker man, but other than that I enjoyed the night.

Twitter of the Day: “Only Barney has been documented. We know scale and skin texture, but purple doesn’t fossilize.” @pmberger in response to my query on dinosaur colouration.

Serious Fantasy

I’ve been a bit quiet since World Fantasy. Blame it on recovery from jet-lag and reacquanting myself with my day job, which decided to go and get all creative whilst I was away. But I’ve told it what’s what, and I think it’s learnt its lesson.

World Fantasy was head and shoulders the best convention I have ever attended. EasterCon, FantasyCon and Alt.Fiction all have their strengths, the British fan base are extremely friendly and very passionate, but its always been disappointment for me that for many if not most of the fans speculative fiction as literature is a secondary concern to their real passions for Dr Who, Star Trek, Buffy and other mass media SFF franchises. Not only do I primarily like written SF, I also like SF literary and read much mainstream and literary fiction alongside. So I was incredibly happy to find that audience for WFC were very much in the same ballpark as me. There were no Star Trek or any other kind of costumes (with the exception of a steampunk party on one night). The panels all had genuinely insightful themes and incited real discussion about fantasy fiction (and were well attended). The dealers room was full of treasures, and there were no stands given over to self-published authors. In short, WFC was a precisely the professional convention that it biled itself as, that above all took fantasy fiction seriously. (Small whoop of joy for that please)

The greatest reward of my long journey to the convention was to meet so many other people who take fantasy every bit as seriously as I do. I got to meet for the first time many established professionals in the field who I have talked with online including John Klima, Neil Clarke, Ann and Jeff Vandermeer and John Courtney Grimwood. And many others who I encountered for the very first time. But the most fantastic surprise of the convention was rediscovering my friends from Clarion ’08 and our counterparts from Clarion ’09. I found very quickly that Clarion grads seem to share a bond just as strong accross years, and the best moments of the convention were spent in their company.

There were a large number of Clarion graduates at the convention, and also a number of young writers aiming to attend in future. In all there were at least a hundred writers in their 20’s and 30’s (and a little older!) who were extremely passionate and dedicated but yet to really become established. This gave the convention a much younger feel than any British con (Alt Fiction comes closest). There were also many more women at the convention (probably about half the attendance? would be interested i figures if anyone has them) which was a welcome sight. I would love to see this kind of demographic reflected at British conventions, but I have little hope that it will unfortunately.

My moment of the convention? Asking Ted Chiang if he was going to take part in NaNoWriMo this year? Almost fainting in front of Robert Silverburg? Exchanging opinions on how crappy Fosters beer is with Garth Nix? No. The best moment was the look on the till girls face when we filled up a tiny taqueria with twenty or so Clarion kids from ’08 and ’09.

I’ve been hit with SAD getting back from WFC and the California sunshine. My resolutions to tackle this are to get up before dawn and get as much daylight as possible, exercise every morning and blog every night to keep my mind sharp. So expect many more blogs. I’ve also made a long planned writing resolution, which I’ll announce in a few days.

A few interesting links:

Jeff Vandermeer accompanies the launch of his Booklife writing guide with a set of online resources for writers. I received an ARC of Booklife, so can recommend it as thoroughly worth any writers time to read.

Parker Peevyhouse incites a little more debate on the question of the death or otherwise of sci-fi, and reminds me that I need to expand on the idea of Post SF.


Beat Chic

I’m a sucker for the counter culture. A whole city to explore and I’m back at Vesuvio taking in the Beat Chic. They serve a nice Guiness. That’s my excuse.

Every time I take a walk around SF I’m struck by what a quiet city it is. Not silent by any means, but there are long moments of stillness even in the most built up areas. And the place has a smell. An odd spice tang, mixed with the pacific ocean salt air. Somehow the famous City Lights book store seems to condense that smell down to it’s essence, as though a wiley public relations consultant bottled and squirted it around the entrance to confirm the place as a city tourist attraction. Paranoia? Obviously. But in this day and age who knows.

I’m taking a break from taking a break from thinking to write this, so back to it.

In and Out

On my last trip to San Francisco I discovered In’n’Out burgers. If you don’t live in California, In’n’Out might need some explanation. Imagine the greasiest possible burger, accompanied with the worlds most artificial cheese, wrapped in a bun that almost resembles bread and chips that no one believes are even related to a potato. And there you have an In’n’Out burger and fries. It is by every objective standard barely even a foodstuff. And yet, what have I been hungry for every minute of my flight accrosd the Atlantic. Yup…you guessed it.

I’m reading David Mitchell’s first novel Ghostwritten on the flight. I’ve had this novel sitting on my shelf for about a decade, since exchanging it with a friend for a dog eared copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. No offence to Robert Pirsig but I think I got the better of the deal, even if it has taken ten years to discover.

Ghostwritten is really a short story collection, not a novel, however much the publisher and critics claim otherwise. It reads as though Mitchell wrote a short novella in each of his favourite genres and then jammed them all in one book. There is a definite literary sensibility to the writing. DM is all about the interior life of his characters, and he manages the impressive task of writing nine stories in 1st person which can be read back to back without all the characters collapsing into a mellange of the authors own voice. But the lit technique is matched with the kind of ingenuity, pace and plotting more familiar in good genre fiction. I think what shines through Ghostwritten is that DM loves stories, loves books and fiction and loves writing. You really get the sense that he is playing in the book, introducing voices simply because he can, telling stories just for the joy of telling them. I think thats what makes the writing so compelling.

Stopped reading for a while to look out of the window at the Canada wilderness going past. The world is a big place, much of it is cold and forbidding. I’m glad to be headed to the Bay Area, and can already tase that burger.