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Why We Shouldn’t Worry That My Mother Hates Fantasy

POSTED ON August 29th, 2010  - POSTED IN Genre

If I could dish out any single piece of advice it would be to never be ashamed about what you like.

This week the Speculative Scotsman got a lot of shit because he argued that Fantasy was a bit crap and should be more literary. For the record I disagree with him, and it seemed a lot of people did too.

The problem, as I see it, isn’t that Niall hates fantasy, it’s that I think, deep down he’s ashamed that he likes it.

Let me tell you a story about my own family that I think demonstrates this. I was round my parent’s house with my brother, and I was enthusing on my brother what a great book Peter V Brett’s Painted Man is. Both my mother and brother are crime lovers, and whilst my brother has read a few fantasy novels (I think he likes Trudi Canavan), he admitted that he isn’t a great lover of Fantasy.

“Well,” I said to the pair of them. “You better start getting use to it. When my book gets published…”

Yes, I used ‘when’ instead of ‘if’, how pretentious!

To which my mother replied, “Well I suppose I’ll read it if you wrote it. But I won’t like it!”

I think me becoming a writer is my mother’s greatest pride, the fact I write fantasy, her biggest disappointment.

Years of therapy aside, I would love dearly for my mother to love my chosen genre, that the genre was good enough for her to respect.

But you know what? The problem doesn’t lie with the genre, it lies with my mother. She’s closed off to it. I lent her The Prestige to read and she liked it, but she hates speculative fiction (go figure!).

I love her dearly, and she’s entitled to her opinion, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s her loss if she’s decided to close herself off to SFF. I can sit here and wish that genre was of a quality that she’d respect it all I want, but it’s never gonna happen.

That doesn’t mean that genre is bad or crap or needs to change. It is what is it, and if people don’t like it, be they readers, critics or even my mother, then so be it. I don’t need the stuff I love to be externally validated.

There’s a wonderful blog post by Sam Sykes, but the thing I was most interested in was the person who in the comments talks about discrimination. Yes, there will always be people who say “What you like comics? At your age?” but look at how the medium of the graphic novel has grown to the extent that it is now respected even by the critics.

I think that’s what Niall wants to happen with fantasy, so that China Mieville or some fantasy novelist is on the Booker shortlist. But you know what? A fantasy novel could win and my mother is still not going to like fantasy.

So what do you do? The answer is nothing. You just keep loving and supporting your genre (and beyond). Be as enthusiastic about those tie-in novels you secretly love, as much as the important new fantasy release. Stand your ground and argue the case for Twilight, if that’s what you love, and never be so cheap as to dismiss another’s comments by calling someone a fanboi. We’re all fanbois here, the argument is mute.

Because I guarantee you one other truth. If people see others congregating and having fun, sure as hell they want to investigate what all the fuss is about

Queen of Sorcery Review

POSTED ON August 24th, 2010  - POSTED IN Book Reviews, Reading

There are pros and cons to audiobooks. On the plus side, they allow me to effectively “read” at work, listening to them on my iPod as I go about various tasks. But on the down side, it’s not possible to flick back a few pages to check whether you misunderstood something (trust me, after falling asleep whilst listening in bed, rewinding approximately an hour and a half trying to find where I remembered up to, was not a fun experience).

My aim is that recent books I will read, whilst those classics, those fantasy masterworks that embarrassingly slipped me by, will be listened to. That doesn’t strictly hold true as my selection is dictated by the books on offer via iTunes and their price (my next audio book is a Peter V Brett).

However one classic series that does meet both availability and price is David Eddings’ Belgariad series of books. I listened to Pawn of Prophecy earlier in the year and it left me still trying to find what the appeal of the series was.

Queen of Sorcery is the second in the series, and for me it was a book of two halves. The first half seems to go from episode to episode adding more people to our band of travellers, who seem to have a moment to shine the chapter after we first encounter them… and then do nothing. It reminded me a lot of a story I wrote when I was 8, a wind-in-the-willows-esque story of a coach that just drove around the countryside picking up all manners of animal folk, moving onto a new character whenever I tired of the current one.

Instead of focusing on development of characters such as Silk and Barack, Eddings instead brings in additional characters such as Hettar and Mandorallen who seem to offer nothing but make it more difficult to remember who everyone is. Other than Garrion, Polgara and Ce’Nedra, no-one really seems to grow in the novel. What’s the point of all these characters if they are just treading water?

As a result the first half of the novel feels like episodic padding, sprinkled with a little foreshadowing. There seems little threat, and it felt to me that numerous incidents in the first half of the novel could have been swapped around without much detriment to the plot.

But then Ce’Nedra turns up and things start to get interesting. After an age of Polgara teling Garrion “I will tell you what is going on but not now” shit starts to happen, and exciting it is when it does. It feels like the novel has kicked up a gear. Whilst I never felt that any of the characters were in real mortal danger, save for that one scene with Chamdar, it felt like the plot now had a direction..

One of the big issues I had with the book was Garrion. I love his relationship with his aunt and think this is one of the greatest strengths of the novel, but for me, Garrion never becomes a convincing 15 year old

I realise that if you’re going to write a coming of age story, you don’t need to go into all the nitty gritty, but there still needs to be an honesty. My problem was actually sparked by a section where Eddings handles this well. Garrion is bathing in the waterfall and Eddings says something like “Garrion enjoyed himself”. I remember making some very crass comment about what that actually meant to a fifteen year old boy, but I thought, intentional or not, it was clever how Eddings had left that open to interpretation, that it was down to the reader rather than the author. See, I told myself, sometimes it’s possible to be even subtler than just inferred.

But then the scene moves onto Ce’Nedra turning up, stripping off, and embarrassing Garrion. And this is where I had a problem.

You see abstinence seems a major theme in the novel, whether it be Garrion and his abilities, or his seduction by Salmissra. I have no problem with that, it’s a perfectly good theme to explore, and one where the morality still holds largely true. But if you’re going to explore those themes, I think you have to be honest, even if you are subtle.

There’s a brilliant bit right at the end of the novel where Polgara basically asks Garrion whether he had sex with the Nyissan Queen and phrases it such that the “sex” word is never mentioned – It’s something like “Don’t embarrass both of us by making me ask you outright.” That’s clever, dealing honestly with the subject whilst still not being blatant. I like that innocence to it.

But I have to ask what 15 year old would turn around and close their eyes whilst a girl of similar age, stripped off and bathed. Curiosity if nothing else would have you sneaking a peak – especially at 15, when your hormones are raging. Garrion didn’t even have an urge to look.

Had this book been written in the current age, Garrion would have been gay (not that there would have been anything wrong with that, I hasten to add) or would have impregnated the Queen, and I have to say that I think the innocence of the book might have been lost in the process. But as it is, it tries to address the issues whilst at the same time ignoring them or painting them into something stereotypical, slightly unreal – like some 1950s sex education video.

There’s a sense that sex is somehow wrong, it’s even hinted that something bad will happen if he does. Edding’s world is one wet dream away from cataclysm. For God’s sake Garrion, do not even think about nipples.

And I might joke, but this dishonesty jarred, made Garrion a little less three-dimensional.

Yet, I have to realise this book is almost 30 years old, and times have moved on. To judge it by the standards or sexual liberations we have today is unfair. I’m sure at the time it would have seemed quite progressive, but consider not fifteen years later Game of Thrones would be published where Daenerys Targaryen would have lost her first child by age 13. We’ve come a long way in those 15 years folks, and as a result Queen of Sorcery feels very dated.

The Most Boring Of Summers

POSTED ON August 23rd, 2010  - POSTED IN Writing

I’m a sucker for craft. It may be some form of heavily disguised procrastination activity but I love reading about how some of my favourite novels were put together: what changes occurred to the manuscript and what real life incidents inspired them.

Because writing isn’t disconnected from the real world. Real life bleeds into writing like it bleeds into dreams. And as a result I have this romanticised idea that those books written over summers (or in the case of the fellow above, years) are periods of adventure and self-discovery.

However, finding myself in the depths of my own novel and tied up in a minor plot knot, the reality of it all couldn’t feel any further away. This has been the most boring of summers, where the only adventure and self-discovery has been on the page, save for my weekly trip out into the country to hunt for tupperware.

In fact the only thing that can be called even remotely a revelation is that I want to write a zombie novel sometime in the future, although I don’t have any original ideas or spin just yet.

No, I suspect that like me, those periods when novels were written would probably be considered the most boring of times by their authors

Novel Progress

POSTED ON August 13th, 2010  - POSTED IN Writing

Things have been pretty quiet this week. Neon Lights & Green Fire is getting some good number of reads (all things considered) but although it could do with a bit of a push, my real focus this week has been the novel.

When I was younger, I used to love the actual process of writing, but in recent years I’ve found that I much prefer to have written. However, as this revision takes me away from redrafts into some new scenes I’ve found I’m really enjoying myself.

Part of the joy is that this novel is unmistakably its own beast. A combination of tone, style and worldbuilding (amongst other things) are giving this novel a unique ‘soul’. I’ve written some stories that whilst writing them have either been mash ups or my take on some classic story. This doesn’t feel like that.

The characters are progressing nicely. Cassidy, my fallen angel, seems to be getting a bit of early back story, and I like that the character’s identity has matured enough in my head that they’re starting to do their own thing. In Cassidy’s case, it’s back story of the person whose body she possessed. This means a trip to Swindon for some of my protagonists.

I have minor worries over Maureen, my little old lady. She’s been quite grief-stricken and vulnerable, and only now as she moves into the anger stage of grief, are we starting to really get to know her. I’m having fun with it, but wonder if it needs a bit more set up. I’m trying not to worry about it. These things can be sorted in a revision.

Then there’s Darwin my half-vampire. He’s always been the most developed of all the characters so there’s been little he’s done to either impress or disappoint this week.

One of the things I’m really toying with is giving the characters some really negative traits. Heroes need to be flawed, but I want to take it one step further, giving them traits that you are less willing to forgive. For example, Maureen has lived her life on her own for many years and I want to make her quite selfish in some scenes – enough that you really disapprove, but not enough so you hate her. I think my characters are pretty three dimensional as it is, but I think this will really give them a bit more depth.

In terms of story, well this week I’ve had minibuses running over Cephalopod creatures, a nightclub in the fantasy realm, a sweary leprechaun and a elven rent boy who may or may not be a spy. It’s elements like this that make me think “No publisher will ever pick up this novel, it’s too bat shit crazy” and then smile. Because after all is said and done, I’ve actually really enjoyed writing this week, to the extend that I’m very happy with the way things are going (even if I’ve passed my self-imposed 31st July deadline and am still miles away from completion).

At the end of the day, I guess that’s the most important thing – is to have fun writing – because in all seriousness I can’t second guess the market and what publishers will be picking up in six months time. Hand on heart, all joking aside, I do think this is a really commercial novel but I can’t guarantee people will share that view.

New Fiction: Neon Lights & Green Fire

POSTED ON August 6th, 2010  - POSTED IN Free Fiction

So “Neon Lights & Green Fire” has been added to the website, a tale of elves, goblins, gangsters and fairy princesses set in Las Vegas.

Thanks to members of Orbiters for their critiques, and thanks especially to Leigh Barlow for his last minute extra beta reading. As I mentioned before this story is a bit of an experiment in using online publicity for short fiction.

If you are able to help promote the link via your own blogs, forums, tweets, etc. I’d be very grateful.

Also, be sure to leave your comments on it, preferably good, but if you hated it, bad comments are welcomed as well.

You can find the story at


My Upcoming Experiment In Short Fiction

POSTED ON August 4th, 2010  - POSTED IN Free Fiction

So this project is a story in itself. Are you sitting comfortably?

Back in September, I wrote a short story I was very proud of. People say you can’t do Elves any more without it being derivative, so I attempted to do something that wasn’t. What I ended up with was something I think is elfpunk.

I love that story. All too often as a writer, the finished product seems less than what we had in mind, but this story really felt like I was punching above my weight. The mix of re-envisioned cliché, witty dialogue and violence resulted in a story that I felt stamped out who I was as a writer.

And whilst (like anything) these things are subjective, people I showed the story to, thought it was very good.

The problem comes when you try and place a story like that in a genre publication. It felt like everywhere I looked, submission guidelines indicated there would be a problem with the level of profanity, or the use of first person narrative, or even the use of an elf. Now don’t get me wrong, publications have every right to set submission guidelines and I accept that even if the story is good, it may not be right for them. It’s hard enough to get a story placed as it is, one that pushes against convention is even harder.

All this wouldn’t be an issue – It’s hard for any writer to get their breaks – if it wasn’t for the fact that it was affecting my novel writing. You see, deep down it was feeding my doubt. If I couldn’t sell a short story, what luck would I have with a full-blown novel?

I’d try and ignore it, but it continued to eat away at me. I was discussing this with friends and told them I was even tempted to junk it so it could no longer have any megative effect on me. How much would I get for it if I did sell, they asked me. I dunno, I replied, maybe a hundred dollars if it got in one of the good publications, most likely nothing.

And then they reminded me that I built up an extremely successful website in the past so perhaps knew a little about online marketing.

And so an idea was born.

Whilst I’m a huge fan of editors, the idea was to put it up on the website and then promote the hell out of it. I know some people find the level that some authors go to self-promote slightly obscene, but this would probably put them in the shade.

Now when you consider the old site did over three hundred thousand page views a day, and this one did just eight yesterday, you can see this is a mountain to climb. But I built the old site up to that with no more expenditure than a couple of stamps. I like the idea of promoting this story in a different type of way. I’m still going to submit other stories to publications (this isn’t me rejecting genre publications), but for this one I think it needs something a little different.

I’m sure there will be people who hate it as much as those that love it, but the trick isn’t to try and make it people’s favourite story but one they actually read and discuss.

It’s been through the last few readers and I’m pretty satisfied with it, but now the question is: Do I just put it up on the website? Do I do a free ebook? Maybe a podcast? Should those be all at once or drip feed the extra features? These are all things I’m still deciding.

So what do you think? Are free online shorts a way to publicise yourself as a writer? Or do you think that the ever shrink markets for short fiction still presents the best platform?

Suckerpunch Trailer

POSTED ON August 3rd, 2010  - POSTED IN Movies

This could be brilliant, or it could massively disappoint, but the thing that’s got me excited right now is how it seems to be mixing up genres. Is that a World War 2 plane against a dragon? Oh, I so hope so! Let’s hope the final film looks as cool as the trailer!