The World in a Drop of Water

M John Harrison has posted an interesting response to the question of realities within fiction on the TTA Press forum. Believe it or not I’ve actualy spent quite a bit of time debating this issue myself. Not that you could tell that by my contribution to the thread. I agree with MJH, but it doesn’t make me quite as angry.


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.

Red Pen XXX

I’ve started on my first set of edits for the BBC. In all I have to slice a little over a thousand words out of Cthul-You and elimate all swearing. There is so much swearing in this story that my manuscript now looks like it was attacked by a red pen wielding maniac.

I’m debating whether to just edit out the swear words or instead go the Red Dwarf route and make up some of my own. Smeg, frag and frak are already taken. Theres something emminently naff about swearing that doesn’t actualy offend people. As far as I’m concerned if it doesn’t incite middle England it isn’t worth saying. Joss Whedon gets some incredible swearing into Firefly by having it all in Chinese…hmm…

My producers asked if I have any ideas to voice the story. She also threw in that although Jack Black would be perfect, he isn’t available. Now I can’t get the idea of Jack Black reading Cthul-You out of my head and I’m struggling to think of any other people. It can be pretty much anybody excluding A-List Hollywood celebs. They have to be able to do nihilstic, mid-nineties, generation-X, slacker chic.

Come on people, sugesstions!

Anita Blake – Vampire Hunter


Guilty Pleasures & The Laughing Corpse 


Laurell K Hamilton

 I’m a virulent defender of genre fiction and the trash aesthetic. I’ve literally risked life and limb to advocate the cause of all things pulp against the literary establishment. Only last week I stood in a classroom full of A-Level English teachers and proclaimed Alan More the greatest living British writer. Alan Who? They said, sharpening their knives.

lcuk.gifBut even I baulked when I originally encountered the Anita Blake series. As a hardened Buffy fan my first and only assumption was ‘Whedon Clone’. Vampire Slayer / Vampire Hunter. Bare faced theft as far as I was concerned and for many years that’s where the story ended.

Until I noticed the dates. Joss Whedon’s Buffy series hit television screens in 1997. The first Anita Blake tome was published in 1994. Hmmm. Interesting. Theft perhaps, but in which direction? There was still the ill conceived and ill fated Buffy movie (1992) to consider but the chances of anyone being inspired by that seemed so remote as to be non-existant.

Dates aside, it doesn’t take more than the first three chapters of Guilty Pleasures, the first in the Anita Blake series, to realise that Buffy the Vampire Slayer this is not. Other than the occaisional gruesome staking, Buffy is a teen soap opera where the relationships of the ‘scooby gang’ take centre stage before any supernatural concern. Anita Blake by contrast is a female version of the Marlowesque gumshoe – a tough loner and happy that way. All the scary bits in Buffy are handled with a tongue in cheek knowingness. When you stake a vamp in Buffy, they turn into a nice neat cloud of dust. In the world of Anita Blake they spurt blood all over the living room curtains and explode into flames taking the soft furnishings with them. And then of course there’s the sex. In Buffy world when the characters very occasionally stray over into having a bit of hanky panky they are invariably rewarded with a spell in hell or being turned evil. In contrast the Anita Blake series is famed for its full on depiction of a number of quite kinky sexual exploits, particularly in the later volumes.

At their core both Guilty Pleasures and The Laughing Corpse are hard boiled detective thrillers with a supernatural twist written for a 21st Century, predominantly female readership who want their heroines every bit as kick ass as their heroes. When Anita Blake puts on a dress her first thought isn’t whether her bum looks big in it, but whether the two hand guns and combat knife she has holstered under each arm are properly concelaed. When Anita gets into a fight with a vamp she REALLY gets into a fight. Bones are broken. Eyes get gouged. Soft fleshy things get stamped upon. Both Guilty Pleasures and The Laughing Corpse tell tight, tense stories that unfold over just two days and two nights and Anita collects assorted wounds throughout each book.

The stories are a tough, exciting and compulsive read but they aren’t without their weaknesses. They are clearly written quickly and that means the occasional shortcut here and there. A particularly grating device in the first book is the way Hamilton introduces EVERY SINGLE CHARCATER by describing the way they laugh. If laughter was that accurate a judge of character in the real world it would be admissible as evidence in court. A few of the chapters fall dead as they are used to get the story back on its tracks but these are kept mercifully short. Strangely for such compelling reads, the antagonists in both books fall a little flat and don’t manage to develop much into the second dimension let alone the third. But these weaknesses somehow compliment the unapologetically popcorn manifesto that the series champions.

Planet Literary seems to have determined a set of strictly enforced guidelines for contemporary writing. Ideally, all books should be a loosely disguised autobiographical account of a formative experience in their authors life. Actual fiction is frowned upon, unless set in an ’exotic’ locale, preferably a social or cultural ghetto. Under no circumstances should literature have any elements of the fantastic unless intended for children or written with an ironic wink. Above all it must be turgid enough to stop the reader getting beyond Chapter 3 but leave them convinced they have failed to comprehend the work of a genius.

Anita Blake sticks two fingers up at Planet Literary, gives them a severe beating and then blows them away with her .357 hand cannon. Everything that ‘literature’ should be, Anita Blake is not. Which is probably why I enjoyed Guilty Pleasures and The Laughing Corpse so much. If you’ve accidently swallowed one to many Booker prize winners you may find that Anita Blake is exactly the antidote you need.

The Beeb

A few weeks ago now I made a blind submission to the BBC. It was blind in that I wasn’t sure when I sent off the story exactly what I was submitting for. When I did track down the submission guidelines I realised the story I had e-mailed the day before was a little too long, not least because its one of the darkest things I’d ever written and peppered with swearing – not usualy a BBC staple.

It was much too my surprise then when earlier in the week the producer from the BBC e-mailed me to say they wanted to broadcast the story in a slot on BBC 7. Surprised is too weak a word. I need a word that means ‘sat and stared at my computer screen for 45 minutes until my senses returned’ but can’t think of one.

I’ve got some editorial changes too make (i.e. removing peppered swear words) but if things go according to plan the story will be broadcast on BBC 7 in the new year as part of a season called The 7th Dimension. I’ll post more details of exact times when they are confirmed.

Writer. Story geek. Travelling the world while writing a book.