Archive : Month

The Editing Continues

POSTED ON November 18th, 2010  - POSTED IN Writing

I had wanted to write a blog post about how well the editing process is going, but then I hit chapter 25, and boy is that chapter a mess. But still, I knew there were a few chapters like this.

Overall though, I’m still enjoying the editing process. One of the joys is the actual discovery of the process. The editing pass I’m doing at the moment is real top level stuff: ensuring my timeline is correct (Oh, I so need to keep timelines for future books with multiple threads), ensuring the characters are fully rounded, that the story… well… works basically. That doesn’t mean clunky sentences aren’t being dealt with if they are encountered, or spelling mistakes corrected. No, it just means the focus is really on the actual story itself.

There are other little things I try and keep an eye for. I’ve learned that my writing sometimes lacks spatial awareness, has a sort of Tardis effect, so as I edit I’m accutely aware of the size of things. There is a room, towards the end of the novel that things won’t fit into but they currently do. Yes, it’s deliberately cryptic.

I’m very aware that a lot of my dialogue still has too many adverbs attached to them (“Maureen smiled worriedly”). But I’ve decided those need their own editing pass, where I just worry about dialogue. There’s enough work to do there to justify a pass.

Why not do it all at once you ask? Heck, I would ask that, but I think it can be so easy to try and juggle so many balls that you drop them all. If the story is right, no-one loses or gains a day, and my monsters fit inside the room, then I can approach a second editing pass not having that “but is the story alright?” worry at the back of my head.

And of course, there are the worries. Last week I spent most of the week panicking that the book was too short. “I’ll have to cut 10% and it’ll be too short”. This, when I tend to underwrite in certain areas, and the novel already stands at 110k.

I came to the conclusion this week that the reason for these irrational worries was simply that the real problems – those broken timelines and clunky sentences – are being dealt with; or even if they are not currently actively being dealt with, they have at least been identified.

What’s surprised me, though, is how much I enjoy the actual novel. I would buy this and love it. Seriously, I have no idea whether anyone would want to publish it or not, but (with the current exception of Chapter 25), my inner critic has enjoyed the book. It’s the book I wanted to create when I set out, and whilst that’s no guarantee that anyone else will like it, pleasing that toughest of my critics (me) feels like a major accomplishment.

People who have read what I’ve done so far have been incredibly positive. That’s no reason to be complacent, but what more can I ask myself than to write the novel I want to write? Seriously, if everyone else hates it (which it is very evident that they don’t), if no-one wants to publish it, I’ll be gutted, but I still will have written the book I’ve spent years trying to write. I realise that might not make a lot of sense to some people, but I think it will to those of you who know what it’s like to have a great story you just want to do justice to.

Anyways that Centaur with a shotgun (who for reasons of clunky sentence structure, somehow has eyes in his beard) won’t fix themselves. Back to Chapter 25!

Review – The Painted Man by Peter V Brett

POSTED ON November 17th, 2010  - POSTED IN Book Reviews, Reading

Someone recently asked me what I thought the appeal of The Painted Man was. I mean, the book has been through 7 printings and its sequel was a bestseller. At the time, having then yet to complete the novel I said it was its simple premise: Demons rise at night and lay waste to everything that isn’t warded (i.e. painted or carved with magical runes).

To me the sign of good worldbuilding is a world where the reader finds their mind drifting outside the central story, where the world is such that it captures and sparks the reader’s imagination. And with its basic premise, The Painted Man does just that.

The thing is, in many ways I think this is a book that shouldn’t work, and I can see why it troubles some people.
First and foremost, the pacing is all wrong. We have three central characters, yet the story will spend extended times with one character, only then to break to another for an extended time. As a result, when we first go to Leisha’s story I found myself moaning that I didn’t want to hear about the stupid herb gatherer, I wanted more about Arlen. That in itself, should have been a deal breaker.

There’s also the way the story is told, reminding me of when I was ten and the story would grow and grow, almost episodically, morphing as my tastes change. If I was into pirates, then my hero’s adventures would take them to a pirate ship, only to go to a desert as Western’s inspired me the following week. But whilst when Arlen going to the desert feels almost like a different book, it helps the story stay fresh and interesting and most importantly, grow.

There’s also the little, almost silly things, that should break your immersion. The story of the great explorer Marco Rover is so obviously meant to mimic Marco Polo, you want to raise your eyebrows and say “does it have to be so obvious.” But you don’t. Somehow it just adds to the appeal of the novel. And a demon killing horse called Twilight Dancer shouldn’t feel cool. It should feel like a name you give to a My Little Pony.

We start small, in a little hamlet called Tibbet’s Brook, and like Tolkien, Brett pulls the tight camera focus out as the story expands, showing us more and more of his world, so that by the time we’re suddenly in the desert, it just feels like an extension rather than something alien to the rest of the book.

And as the story reaches a conclusion, you notice that threads are being pulled neatly together. What you thought was episodic and unrelated, you suddenly realise was propelling the novel along. I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but by the time I reached the end I felt that it was an end that had always been in mind, whilst before I’d felt it was one of those books that sort of gropes for its own end.

What’s more, I loved the end. It was epic, cinematic, a bit gritty, and very, very cool.

So here’s a novel that could have, should have gone wrong on so many levels, yet became one of my favourite reads of the last year.

Why does it work? I think if I’m honest, you can feel the love that went into this thing, a story that doesn’t try and compromise, doesn’t try and earn your respect, but instead just goes out and tells a damn great story.

Would I recommend it? Hell yes.

Review – The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas

POSTED ON November 16th, 2010  - POSTED IN Book Reviews, Reading

With a combination of real life dramas and editing work on the novel taking my evenings, my reading has been suffering. To make up for this, I decided to try and find a book that I could read in my lunch break.

I’m usually the type of person who reads in long chunks, as I find when I constantly pick up and put down a novel that I tend to lose track of all the various threads. I also find that I engage with the text a lot less. And as a result, I’ve tried to be very careful with my criticisms of this novel, knowing it could be to do with my approach to reading it, rather than with the novel itself.

That said I’m actually very glad that I chose The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas. The short chapters whisk the story along, meaning that in those snatched 30 minutes, there was always a sense of progression. This made it a fun read and ideal for the time constraints of my lunch break. I mean, it’s about dragons, and in this age of fantasy where anything traditional tends to get shunned for the New Weird, that made a very pleasant change.

The story takes two strands, one a political thread surrounding the election of a new speaker, the other more action orientated surrounding a dragon who becomes sentient and realises his kind are being drugged into slavery.

Jehal is an interesting character. Duplicitous and conniving, he’s one of those wondrously nasty characters you can’t help but want to read more of. Such a rich and interesting character, you’d think he’d stepped out of a Joe Abercrombie novel (and for the record, I think Abercrombie is doing some of the best characterisation work in fantasy right now).

The real problem for me was that compared to Jehal, everyone else seemed a little less interesting. It’s possible that given my approach to reading this, I wasn’t absorbed in the book long enough for other characters to really grab hold. It wasn’t that they were flat, per say, more that they lacked the richness of character that made Jehal so appealing.

It’s possible that the volume of kings and queens caused me some confusion and stopped me engaging fully with them but I have to say that the inclusion of a set of family trees at the front of the book really helped me establish who was who and how they related to that person or the next. I’m not normally a big fan of family histories in the appendices but in this case it really aided the novel.

There’s some nice twists in the novel. It’s nicely plotted. And overall it wasn’t a bad book.

The problem I struggle with is whether the way I read the novel meant I didn’t engage with it as much as I would if I’d read it in my normal long reading sessions, or whether the novel just isn’t as in depth as others on the market today. It felt a little thin to me, like rice cakes compared to a roll.

But whilst I was left wishing for more from the novel, at least it did deliver. Normally debut novels seem to have strengths in some areas and faults in others. This felt quite competent across the board, but for me lacked that one thing to really champion it. I’ll be reading further books in the series, that’s for sure, I’m just not sure how far up the ‘to read’ pile they’ll be though.

Review – Pop Sculpture: How to Create Action Figures and Collectible Statues

POSTED ON November 10th, 2010  - POSTED IN Book Reviews, Reading, Toys

I spent about ten years of my life writing and helping to promote popular collectibles from action figures to resin busts. It’s very easy for an outsider to be dismissive of the art of such things – who didn’t own a Princess Leia action figure that made her look more simian than human. But the truth is, the mass manufacturing process means that sometimes a lot of detail gets lost. Certainly in my time I saw the standards of sculpting rise from the barely acceptable to the truly stunning. I dare anyone to walk into the Four Horsemen’s studios and look at the Masters of the Universe 2-Ups (basically a prototype at twice the finished size) and not have their breath taken away.

Tim Bruckner is one, if not the best, in the business. He’s a pro’s pro – a sculptor other sculptors look up to. If you’ve ever seen DC Direct’s Alex Ross-inspired Justice Line you can see a lot of his best work. In fact he’s worked on a lot of DC Direct’s properties bringing various comic artists’ drawings into the 3D realm.

So now Tim has teamed up with Zach Oat of Toyfare fame and Rubén Procopio (Electric Tiki amongst other things) to bring us the definitive book on creating action figures and statues.

You’d think with the number of customizers and people wanting to break into the industry there would be a wealth of books on the subject, but this is the first one I’ve ever seen, and frankly, after being amazed by how comprehensive it is, I don’t think another one is ever going to be needed.

What’s stunning about this book is the level of detail. It goes into everything, filled not just with information, but tips as well. It starts with looking at the art reference, goes through the sculpting and casting to painting and ends with tips on going pro. Gorgeous photography detailing the various processes sit alongside little cartoon asides that not only raise a smile but raise pertinent points.

If you’ve ever marvelled at the level of art in an action figure or bust, then this is a fascinating book even if you have no intention of ever sculpting yourself. You can just dip into it and always come back with some new piece of knowledge you never had before. But if you’re into customizing and hoping one day to turn it into a full-time job then this book is a god-send. Seriously, in ten years’ time I reckon this will be THE textbook every sculptor learns from.

As someone who worked on the fringes of the industry for ten years, it’s an incredible book. For anyone looking to get into the industry I’d say it’s pretty much damn well essential.

Buy from [Amazon UK | Amazon US]

Alt.Fiction Other Worlds

POSTED ON November 8th, 2010  - POSTED IN Events

So let’s be honest here, rather than pretend this to be some massive act of fandom. After a week of getting miserable under edits and real life stressing me out, I really needed to get out the house. So on Saturday morning, I jumped in the car and drove a hundred and fifty miles to Derby for the one-day Alt.Fiction event, Other Worlds. This, my brain told me, wasn’t a form of procrastination because it was still linked to writing.

The idea of these one day events is to try and capture those people who never go to cons; to give them a taste of what to expect. And I have to be honest, and say that whilst I’ve thought a lot since about how the event can be improved, it wasn’t because Other Worlds did anything wrong.

The event kicked off with some optional SF or Fantasy workshops in the morning. I didn’t go for a number of reasons but I heard from people who did go who said it was well-attended and very beneficial.

The panels started with a discussion on the landscape of SF and Fantasy with panellists Adrian Tchaikovsky, Mark Charan Newton, Peter F Hamilton and Tony Ballantyne.. What was clever about this was that they introduced some friendly SF v Fantasy banter into the debate. This really helped ensure the conversation flowed from side to side, became a bit animated and engaged the crowd.

From there people followed their allegiance either into a panel on SF or (in the case of myself) the discussion on Fantasy. If you’ve ever been to a con before then you kinda knew what to expect, but both Mark and Adrian made it an interesting panel.

A signing there followed, but if I’m honest (and it may be because I wasn’t queuing up to have anything signed) it felt the event had ended and we were just hanging on for the raffle. I’d prefer the event ended with a bang rather than a whimper.

Are these events suited to your average con-goer? I think some will find them deliberately light on panels, so unless you’re supporting a favourite author, it might not be worth doing hundreds of miles. But I think if you’ve never been to a con before and are nervous about committing to a whole weekend, then these are perfect.

The thing I’ve been thinking a lot about since is the goodie bag. A lot of people seemed genuinely excited about getting King Rat by China Mieville in their bags. I got a SF book. A free book is a free book and I think most regular con-goers would agree. But if these one-day events are outreach programmes, I found myself wondering if there should be a separate fantasy or SF goodie bag. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about what was done, but instead wondering if the event is catering to those people who are just entering fandom, whether the goodie bag could be changed to better suit that slightly different audience. I’m sure if I had wanted I could have swapped the book (although I do own King Rat), but if this is possibly someone’s first con experience and we’re looking to try and engage them with fandom, do we have to offer something slightly different in the goodie bag? What about a book by one of the authors present? Maybe even play around with the entrance fee to budget for it. It’s something I offer as a point of debate not a criticism.

One thing they did include which I thought was a great idea, was a sampler from Tor. A lot of people were very excited to see that the little booklet included samples from Embassytown and The Sea Watch. Now you can be cynical and say it’s just Tor promo material, but I think giving the fans an early taste of things to come gave the event weight. I know hardcore fans who were excited about an extract of Embassytown, so to a casual first-timer, I think it would have been a big deal.

These one-day events are definitely a good thing, and there’s another in the form of Conjour being planned for next year in Leeds. It would be great if there was a way these smaller events could filter out to places that never get any form of fandom events, maybe even more rural areas. Hardcore fans seem to be willing to travel, so they should ensure events are well attended. If this is a form of outreach programme I think we as a community still have more to do, things to still experiment with.

All this might sound like I’m being slightly negative about the event. I’m not. It tried something slightly different and I think it worked. It was brilliantly organised and a very good event. I had a great day out and I think those who were experiencing their first con, did so too.

Thank You

POSTED ON November 6th, 2010  - POSTED IN Awards, Writing

One of the traits of being a writer (at least for me – I’m not sure if it holds universally true) is that you spend an awful lot of time wondering if you’re any good. I heard someone say that “all good artists constantly doubt themselves” and I hope that’s true, because there are times, when the words feel like they’ve tied themselves up in knots, that I honestly think I have no business being in this industry at all.

I suppose to someone who doesn’t write, it can all seem a little narcacistic, but in this industry affirmation and re-affirmation of talent are incredibly important. It might just be that most writers are quivering wrecks of self-doubt and self-loathing – I seem to do both of those very well – but it might be that good writers push themselves well beyond reasonable expectation, and as a result the finished result can feel like a disappointment.

This is why those little moments of validation are important. Whether it be a personalised comment on a rejection (One on mine that said “You can obviously write” is still a source of validation when things get tough), or a nice comment about a story you’ve put online, it all helps with those days when you just feel you have no place being a writer.

So with that in mind, I’d like to thank those of you who nominated Sci-Fi Art for a British Fantasy Award. It was a tremendous shock when it was announced (I think Sam Sykes might have had to verbally slap me) and whilst I genuinely knew it would get no further than a nomination, just that was an incredible validation.

And then last week, the BFS announce some little web badges for those that won, were short-listed and were nominated. It’s a little thing, just a little made up web graphic, but it came at a time when I was deep in edits and wondering whether I was just fooling myself with this “writing lark”. Needless to say, it snapped me out of my depression and put a smile on my face. More importantly it made me dive back into those edits with renewed vigour.

So thank you. Seriously, if you nominated the book, I really, really appreciate it. It’s taught me that if you are able to vote or nominate in any awards, you really should. Yes, it may be that whatever you personally liked won’t get further than a nomination, but those nominations mean the world to a writer who’s knee-deep in work and having one of those periods of self-doubt. I’ve made a point of nominating books and stories I’ve really enjoyed this last year and I hope that any nominations that come the authors’ way give them the same lift I got when I got mine. It’s simple to do and it can mean the world to those of us who try and push and stretch ourselves.

Thank You