2010 was a limbo year for me as a writer, but an important one.
With the acceptance of ‘Jetsam’ to New Horizons magazine, I started the year on a high. Having someone pick up that story was immensely important to me; some personal validation that this whole fiction malarkey wasn’t some fool’s errand and that I could actually do it.
But I came to accept that I am not naturally a short story writer and that my strength lay in novel fiction. Or at least this is what I believe given that my novels seem so much ‘more’ than my short fiction. This is where I’ve put the effort in 2010 and I’ve had to remind myself as I’ve watched others enjoy short story success. It’s so easy to get jealous of others when you have no yardstick by which to measure your own progress.
Success also came in the form of my co-written (author 5 of 7, or 6 of 7 or whatever it is) non-fiction book getting in the British Fantasy Awards long list. It was through this that I found that I can’t handle success very well, and I somehow ended up getting really depressed about the accolade until my friend Sam kindly gave me a virtual slap. I think if I should ever be so lucky as to get an accolade again, I’ll just take myself off for a day and get over it.
The big work of 2010 has been the novel and as frustrating as it is be so behind where I wanted to be, it hasn’t been for lack of effort.
July saw the awful realisation that what I thought was one novel was actually two. This was both exciting and frustrating. I could almost hear my friends’ sighs as I announced the book was almost finished only for me to announce I needed to rewrite.
“Why do you need to keep rewriting? Are you going to be one of these people who tinkers with their novel until their death?”
I don’t think so. I know in my head the standard I need this novel to be.
But a rewrite was what was needed and I still don’t regret it. Book 1 now feels like a solid book; a really solid book. People who have read excerpts have been universally positive, although I’ve not used it as an excuse to rest on my laurels. Instead it’s spurred me on more.
September saw the completion of the “first draft” of the revised book, although the term “first draft” is a little misleading. Many parts of this book are well over twenty drafts. It felt like a major victory and for the first time it felt approaching the book I wanted it to be.
The autumn saw all manners of disruption in my personal life as the house seemed to fall apart around me. This really affected my writing and any semblance of a plan or self-imposed deadline for editing the novel went out the window.
Editing has been a laboriously slow process, partly because I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing and because I’ve worked really hard at it. There’s also a little fear here as well. I’ve yet to find anything even approaching this book on shelves (I mean, there are elements that are very familiar, but it doesn’t sit nicely in any one sub-genre). There may be very good reason for not seeing books like this on shelves, but I find myself feeling guilty that this novel could be special (and secretly excited, because every time I go back to work on it I find the semblance of a novel I really love). But whether it’s good or not I don’t want people saying that the prose let it down. Hence more hard work.
My lack of confidence in my work has let me down a lot I think. For me, the divide between over-confidence and lack of confidence is razor thin. I’ve yet to find the right balance. I think I perhaps need a year being over-confident, even if that makes me a tiny bit of an ass.
When I did the old website, I used to get in from work at 6pm and work pretty much solidly until Midnight. That slacked off a bit in the later years but when I gave up the site in order to make time to write. However, I’ve felt guilty that I wasn’t writing 6 hours a night. It’s taken some time to realise it’s OK to only write for an hour or two, but I think I got there this year. In a bizarre way, I think it’s helped improve my productivity (although I still subscribe to the idea that you should find new hobbies through which to procrastinate).
However, I think the most important thing about 2010 was twitter or the friends I gained from it. I’m not sure exactly how it all happened either, it just materialised. Whereas I’ve had a miserable time at conventions being Billy No-mates, Eastercon proved a completely different experience. With Adam, Amanda, Jason, Cara, Mark, Sam, Liz, Mark, James and a load of others (probably including some important ones) we seemed to have a bit of a posse going on. Yes the drinks were expensive in the pros bar, but I had such a great time. So much so that Fantasycon was a completely different experience to previous years. I also attended two Alt.Fiction events and enjoyed them both.
I know some will go on about how networking is important, but for me it’s about having like-minded friends. They have no idea just how much they have helped me keep my sanity this year.
So onto 2011.
The pessimist in me says that if 2010 was the year of limbo, then 2011 will be the year of rejection. But that’s just me being pessimistic. In reality I think it’ll be a year of hard work and waiting. The novel is good now, but I believe it can be great. However, that’s only gonna happen with a bucket-tonne of editing. That’ll take time, but I hope that by the summer I’ll be submitting to agents.
I won’t know what writing I will do in 2011 as a lot depends to the initial reception to Book 1 (A New Year’s resolution has to be to find the darned book a name). If people like it, I’ll start on book 2, if they hate it I might do something different.
This will be the first year where I don’t have “write THE book” as one of my resolutions (admittedly over the years ‘THE book’ has applied to different novels) so I guess that’s progress. However, I think even if 2011 goes amazingly well, it’ll still be another limbo year. The trick is to just keep plodding on, word by word.
I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait
It’s that time of year where I need to find the gold suit at the back of the wardrobe, brush it off and present my best cheesy smile as I look back at 2010 and name my favourite reads.
The focus of my reading in 2010 was on new fantasy authors. I wanted to see who was doing what to get a current snapshot of the industry. It meant I was very good at reading the first book in a series, then leaving the rest whilst I tried out someone else. I think 2011 will be the year of sequels as I have a load of them in my TBR pile.
But here are my three favourite reads of 2010:
Retribution Falls by Chris Woodling – What I love about Retribution Falls is that it’s a fun book. And there’s a lot to be said for a book that makes you just want to read rather than try and pick it apart (as my brain is hard-wired to do). I’ve heard it said by more than one person that YA is where all the interesting stuff is happening in genre fiction these days, and if that’s true then Retribution Falls feels like an adult YA novel (if such a paradox could exist). It’s mix of fast paced action, interesting characters and engaging story just whisk you through the pages. In an age where fiction “has to challenge” it sometimes feels that “fiction that entertains” gets forgotten. Retribution Falls certainly entertains and I look forward to reading more of the series in 2011.
Tome Of The Undergates by Sam Sykes – What I find fascinating about this book is the number of people who don’t get it. Don’t get me wrong, there are those who dislike this book for many justifiable reasons. But I saw a lot of accusations of this book not living up to its marketing promise and thought that a little harsh and unfair. It’s one thing not to like a book (and we all have different tastes) but to criticise it for not being something else just feels like people have missed the point.
It’s not a perfect book and let’s be honest and say there were times where I felt it just needed a bit more polish, but Sykes writes wonderful prose and I loved the character interplay. It’s a fun book, almost like a really great comic book; something which you feel isn’t allowed in fiction any more.
I’m hoping that if Sykes can build on Tome, more people will start to get and enjoy his novels, because boy, has he had a rough ride of it in 2010. He has potential, which makes me hope he can make the jump my first placed novelist did.
City of Ruin by Mark Charan Newton – I spent a lot of time this year (because I ‘think’ so much sometimes I should list it as a hobby) wondering if I liked books because I like the authors or whether I liked the authors because I like the books. If I’m honest, I’m still not entirely sure; it’s probably a bit of both. But I’m convinced I would have liked the books on this list as much had I not met the authors.
I liked Mark’s first book, Nights of Villjamur, but had issues with some of the dialogue. Like Tome of the Undergates, it showed promise even if I felt it “wasn’t quite there”. But City of Ruin was something else. We often say that sometimes a book “just isn’t for you” meaning it’s a good book but not one you’d enjoy. However City of Ruin “was for me” and I absolutely loved that book wholeheartedly. It just seemed to tick all my boxes and for someone who is a very fussy reader, I never found myself getting bored. Probably my favourite book since The Lies of Locke Lamorra.
Honourable Mentions – I read a lot of good books in 2010. My choices are entirely personal, not ones that need to be justified by neutral critical appraisal. Wolfsangel by MD Lachlan was a very entertaining read, a sort of literary werewolf novel. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson might be considered by some to be the ‘Da Vinci Code’ of crime fiction, but it pulled me into crime fiction where other books had not. The Painted Man by Peter V Brett proved to be a very enjoyable novel that seemed larger than its pages. I’d recommend these books without hesitation.
The cover quote from Peter Hamilton says “Retribution Falls is the kind of old fashioned adventure I didn’t think we were allowed to write any more” and I think it’s very true. It’s mixture of strange lands, airships and magic cutlasses makes it at time feel like a fantasy novel, a steampunk novel and a swashbuckling adventure.
In essence the story is your classic “a job too good to be true” story that sees the crew of the Kitty Jay on the run from both the law and the Captain’s ex-girlfriend. And as the crew tries to clear their name and find out who set them up, they come to bond as a crew.
And yes, this does feel like Serenity. So much so, that for the first few pages, I found I couldn’t read it without thinking I was reading fanfic with the names changed. The comparison was so strong I was even able to make character substitutions. But as the chapters rolled by, I was able to see past the comparisons and find well-rounded interesting characters, that like our hero Frey, you come to love.
Don’t let the similarities ward you off reading this book though, because it’s something we rarely get in genre these days, a fun book. There’s certainly some deep characterisations and emotional depth to the book, but it’s trying to sell you an enjoyable and entertaining read rather than some ideal.
There are some bits that do feel shoehorned in. Fray’s cutlass gets a showing at the beginning then hardly gets mentioned until the end when it suddenly becomes of major importance. I also had an issue with Trinica Dracken’s backstory which is too long to go into here but is an issue wider than just this book concerning strong female characters that I’m preparing a separate blog post about.
For me, what this book is, is the SF I was missing as a teenager. As much as I tried to get into SF, I always found it a little dry (I still do, having just given up on an Ian M Banks novel.) But what Retribution Falls is, is an adventure. It’s fun, it paces along, it has some memorable characters, and really delivers what it sets out to. It’s certainly not the deepest book out there (although I thought the section on leg cramp very insightful) but you can’t fail to pick this book up and not enjoy it.
You know how it is. When it comes to extended family, Xmas can be very expensive. If you have a lot of uncles and aunts, cousins with kids, and the like, you get to the stage where pure economics means you either agree to forsake buying gifts for each other or you just buy a token gift.
It’s the latter my family go for. My parents and brother get decent gifts, but all those aunts and uncles usually end up with a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates or a funny book. Nice, but it’s hard to really wow people with a small budget.
It was my mother and my aunt who came up with the idea last year as they were getting into arts and crafts, that we should do things differently this year, and *make* things for each other. It didn’t matter how badly things turned out, or what people did. What was important was that people just had a go.
And so for the last year, our entire family has taken up new secret hobbies in order to learn or perfect the skills needed to create their gifts. I’ve seen my mother thoroughly enjoy her knitting project, where she made a cushion and knitted a garden onto one side of it, complete with 3D carrots, strawberrys, a hedgehog and even chickens. She’s been so entertained and involved in it, come September I had to remind her that she also needed to make gifts for other people.
So today, we all met up at my aunt’s and exchanged gifts in a second Christmas. And you know what? It was great, hearing people generally whoop and be thrilled to bits by everyone’s endeavours.
My brother made a jar of chocolates for people, some of which did not last the afternoon. My aunt positively shrieked with pleasure at the cushion my mother made for her. I loved the little stocking my Grandmother knitted for me, stuffed with little gifts she’d bought. My cousin and her son baked biscuits for everyone. My aunt made button boxes for her two sisters (something my mother had only said the day before that she wanted).
For my part, I’m not the greatest when it comes to physical skills. I’m the type of person who glues their fingers together. So I decided that what I would do is gather up those short stories that are fairly decent but are never going to sell, and produce a one-off Print-On-Demand Anthology for them. To make it special, I designed different covers featuring the person whose gift it was, along with an in-joke style title. Seven absolutely unique anthologies, only one of each cover in existence in the world.
I’m pleased they went down a storm. My aunt even asked me to sign hers (so she can flog it if I ever get famous she informs me). But in truth, I think everyone really enjoyed all the gifts and this little attempt at bringing back a little bit of the spirit of Christmas. I think everyone agreed that we’ll do it again next year as we all had such a brilliant time not just giving the gifts but in making them as well.
But for me, there was one present that stood out. My father had decided that for his project, he’d learn how to make pens. He bought himself the equipment and spent many an hour whittling down funky acrylics to form the body of these pens. He made some special ones as well. For my cousin’s newly announced fiancée (who’s a teacher), he took wood from an old school bench and made a pen with black at one end and red at the other. For my grandmother who loves the middle-east she made her pen from an olive tree from Jerusalem.
And for me, he managed to get hold of some bog wood. This is nearly fossilized oak from Ireland that is between four and seven thousand years old. That’s older than the pyramids, and I have to be honest, just totally blows my mind.
Don’t get me wrong, the ‘proper’ gifts were awesome, but I’ll really treasure that pen and only use it for the most significant of occasions.
Such an awesome Christmas.
No, truly I do!
I’ve finally worked out why the editing on the novel is going so slowly.
I’d initially put it down to being inexperienced at proper editing. I’ve been lucky that in non-fiction I can get to a publishable version inside a single draft, but that means I’ve never had to sit down and really think over the words. I suspect that my initial draft isn’t bad, but “isn’t bad” isn’t an option, the prose needs to sparkle.
And to be fair I’ve worked hard, harder than I ever have on a piece of fiction before, and as a result it’s taken time. That’s fine, I have time.
But as I’ve got closer and closer to the end, I’ve noticed my productivity wane to the point that it’s almost non-existant. I mean I think about the story all the time, I’m just not doing a lot of editing.
And then it struck me earlier this week as to why. I’m scared.
I’ve put blood, sweat and tears into this novel, and if I’m honest I think it’s pretty good. Don’t get me wrong, the prose needs work for it to sparkle, but the plot, the characters – give or take a tweak here and there – pretty much work. But what if it isn’t any good?
There’ll be those that hate it, and I’m fine with that so long as it’s a case of the book not being for them. What I’d hate, what I’m scared of is the prose letting the story down. Worse still, what if it’s universally thought to be a bad book?
And this is why I suck. Because I’m being irrational. Because I know that it can’t be a universally disliked novel because people have read parts of it and have been very complimentary. And worse still, I know this is just me being stupid and I just need to power through it, get the book out there, and if it’s not good enough get on with the next. Seriously, people don’t need to tell me this. It’s not like I don’t have a dozen book ideas at any one time. Why can I not follow my own advice?
So all this subconscious procrastination is just me being stupid and irrational. And this is after a week where I’ve thought to myself that I need to be more positive about my stuff. All I can do is look at myself in the mirror and roll my eyes.
This is currently what I’m writing epic fantasy to. Yes, I know this track doesn’t really lend itself to fantasy, but then this isn’t the normal type of epic fantasy. It’s from the Tron Legacy Soundtrack which I really recommend to those of you who like listening to soundtracks whilst you write.
As a rule, I don’t have a problem with Tie-In Fiction. I’m very much in the “you like what you like” camp and don’t think you should ever be ashamed of your reads.
The argument against tie-in fiction is often that it is of a lesser quality, that because it is work for hire, authors don’t give it the same attention they would their own creation. I don’t think that’s necessarily true any more.
However, I have encountered more than a couple of tie-ins which fail to capture the spirit of the property on which they are based, and just come across as “My book with characters from X in it”. I’m specifically thinking of a few Star Wars novels but (though I’ve not read it), I’ve heard a few people say this accusation could be levelled at the new Michael Moorcock Doctor Who novel.
The Shattering is a World of Warcraft novel, and specifically it’s the story of events leading up to the latest expansion, Cataclysm. There’s been a surprising amount that hasn’t been explained in-game, and this book serves as an explanation why certain racial leaders have changed, some zones have changed hands and there’s strife within the factions themselves.
Surprisingly, the amount of content the book needs to cover actually works against it in many ways. With two factions, the book has to walk a tightrope of ensuring both are equally catered for. The characters have been well established in Warcraft lore so as a result, character development is done via a quick bit of exposition. It’s difficult when working in another universe to show character development, and I will give credit that some was attempted here, but even Thrall stepping down as Warchief felt more about moving chess pieces around on a board than some form of natural character growth.
Golden tries to tie all the threads together through the use of Anduin Wrynn, a secondary character, and here is where there is the most character development. But ironically, the inclusion of the hearthstone (a feature in-game to return you back to your home inn to save you running all the way back) meant whenever Anduin was in trouble, you just felt he could hearth out of there. As a result, I never really felt the character was in threat, and therefore I didn’t find myself caring about him as much as I would have otherwise.
In the end, Golden just has too much to do here. There’s too much careful balancing and moving characters into position to really spend much time developing characters. As a result it feels like a very constrained novel. It’s plot gymnastics over actual story.
There’s also an awful lot of exposition, telling us what a character is like rather than showing us. I cannot read the passage below without each instance of the word ‘had’ ringing like a church bell in my ear.
“Drek’Thar had always had prophetic dreams and visions. It was a gift – a spiritual sight, as he no longer had physical sight. But since the War Against the Nightmare, the gift had grown teeth. His dreams had worsened during the dreadful time, and sleep promised not rest and refreshment, but terror. They had aged him and turned him from one who had been old but strong into a frail, sometimes querulous elder. He had hoped that with the defeat of the Nightmare, his dreams would return to normal. But while the intensity had lessened, his dreams still were very, very dark.”
I guess the important thing is that Golden has written a Warcraft novel rather than a novel with Warcraft characters in it. There’s a sense she really understands this game and its world, and that can’t be said for a lot of tie-in fiction. This is a book that is primarily for Warcraft fans, as I think general readers will just see some of the flaws I mention above. Which is a shame, I think had Golden had been able to tone down the exposition, give time for characters to develop naturally and worry less about giving both factions equal page space, she’d have turned out a much better novel.
As it is, I think fans of the game will find it a good Warcraft novel (which is the aim here). Sadly, it’s not a book to convince the general populace that tie-in fiction can be of an equal quality to original fiction though.
Procrastination can be very frustrating. You have a mountain of work to do, you’ve cleared the time to actually be able to do it, and suddenly you can’t think about your novel for wanting to dig that old DVD box set out and watch.
One of the most important things I’ve learned as a writer is that procrastination is part of the process and usually a sign of something else. By now, I’m sure you all know that in order to write, you need to read. I don’t think we need to go into that here, it’s pretty obvious why, and if not, the interverse has millions of blog posts on it. But as a writer I think you have to also ‘feed’ your creativity, and that can encompass other art forms than just books.
I’ve come to think of creativity as some form of battery, and you have to keep it charged up. Some people go on about their muse, and how their muse has left them. I don’t think it’s that (mainly as it sounds a little pompous to me), so much as the battery being flat.
For me personally, I realise that every so often I need to emerge myself in another world, get my mind so lost in somebody’s creation that I’m almost in a dream-like state, and that coming out of it is like returning home from a holiday. Typically, it’s a large body of work which I can devour. In the past it’s been entire seasons of my favourite shows, MMOs and video games, comic books runs and yes, of course, books. And they don’t even have to be related to what I’m writing at the time. Submersing myself in those things, consuming them with the compulsion of a starving man, charges up my creative batteries like nothing else.
I suspect that everyone is different; some people top their batteries up as they go along, others are like me and run them flat and then charge them to full again. The important thing is that by getting an understanding what your creative mind needs, it’s easier to understand your procrastination and not let it become a roadblock to your project.
I find at the end of “a good feed”, ideas come more easily. Actually ideas are rarely a problem, but I do find myself having a better quality of idea. My dreams are also much more coherent.
There is always a danger that with this attitude, a true procrastinater can always find an excuse for lack of progress, but I think once you say to yourself that it’s OK – it’s your project, you can procrastinate for years if you want – you stop beating yourself up over it, and start finding your own creative process. By all means, sit there and wait for the muse to strike if that’s what takes you!
It took me a long time to realise that writing isn’t something I can do solidly for six hours a night, and that what I filled the rest of the time with, was important not wasted. Yes, there are times when even doing the dishes is more appealing than a hard bit of editing or writing, but that’s now become easier to spot. Writing’s hard, don’t let anyone tell you any different (Yes, it’s just putting words down on paper, but what words and in which order) but knowing whether you’re procrastinating because you’re on a genuine creative low or because it’s a tough section of work you just need to plough on through, makes it easier to overcome.
As with all creative process, there’s no right or wrong. There’s only your process. Finding it can be a a voyage of discovery, but that’s half the fun of writing.
Ahh December! That time of goodwill and worrying what you’re going to buy your aunty for Christmas. 2010 seems to have flown past but it’s not quite time for the best of the year lists.
No, there’s still time to squeeze out some extra news. I have some fiction due for publication this month! Yes. I know. I don’t just sit on twitter complaining about another part of my house that’s just gone wrong.
The BFS Journal is the new hardback publication from the British Fantasy Society, combining their previous publications New Horizons, Dark Horizons and Prism into a single volume. And if you look very careful at the list of contents on the back cover you’ll see the very first item is a story called “Jetsam” by a certain Adrian Faulkner. Obviously it’s listed first for a very good reason.
I’m very proud of Jetsam and honoured to be published in a publication whose origins published some of the first stories of some of my literary heroes.
If you want to get hold of the book, then the only way you’ll do so is to join the British Fantasy Society. It’s about £30 a year but as well as reduced prices for Fantasycon and the right to vote in the British Fantasy Awards, you’ll get a number of publications a year. And if the new hardback journal is anything approaching the quality of the anthology they produced in 2009, it’ll be something very special indeed.
Details can be found at www.britishfantasysociety.org
It was both a blessing and a curse that I came about the audiobook for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Crime doesn’t tend to be a genre I read a lot in, but I’m pretty genre agnostic when it comes to reading. So when a newspaper was offering the audiobook for free as part of an offer, I snapped it up for a rainy day and stuck it on my iPod.
That rainy day came recently when I found myself in need of a good audiobook to keep me company during a particularly boring piece of the day job. I flicked through the audiobooks section of my iPod, saw it sitting there and thought, “I’ll give that a go.”
What I didn’t realise is that this free audiobook was in fact the abridged version. Hence the curse. It means that some of the issues I had with the book concerning some very clipped dialogue and the occasional odd bit of pacing, are probably attributable to the hack and slash of the abridged version. Had I known, I probably would have got the unabridged version. But that said, if it hadn’t been free there’s a good chance I would never have attempted to try this novel out.
So I’m unable to analyse this book fairly, but I have to be honest, what started as a rather boring story of libel, morphed into a really great mystery such that by the end I was sorry to see the characters go. I didn’t find it a book that reached out and grabbed you, but one that grew on you.
There’s a real undercurrent of S&M to the book, and in many ways this is where the true horror of the novel lives. It also helps give the book a bit of a dark edge to it that punctuates the moody atmosphere.
The characters, disgraced journalist Blomquist and sociapath Salander are beautifully flawed and together make for an interesting chemistry. The mystery itself is a little more mundane and I was surprised when it appeared to be resolved so early (again this might be due to the abridged version). The resolution also felt like the weakest part to me, with the antagonist coming across as a little comic book and tropey.
Yet still, I found that I was drawn more and more into this book as I progressed, and it’s stuck with me well after the end. I just wonder how much better it would have been in the unabridged version.
I think I will check out others in the series, but if I elect to go for audiobooks you can be assured that they won’t be abridged.