In many ways I should look back on 2013 as a shit year. It challenged me in ways I could never have imagined. But in reality, I think it was actually a really good year. The universe decided to throw everything it possibly could against me… and it lost.
Leggedon was a defining moment and I surprised myself with how I reacted. If I’m being honest, I would have pegged myself as someone who when faced with overwhelming adversity would have turned away. But I didn’t (probably more out of stupidity than courage), and in doing so discovered some inner strength I didn’t know I had.
This came at the same time as a second draft of the sequel to Four Realms seemed to collapse on me. As much as I like to use fate, destiny and divine providence as a storytelling device, it’s not something I really believe in. But if the fates really wanted to try and stop me in my tracks they made a bloody good attempt in 2013. But I still won.
When I was writing The Four Realms and I felt I’d hit a real roadblock with the writing, I would take a pen and some paper and go visit my local library. Somehow, that break away from the computer, armed with only the bare basics of writing could break even the knottiest of problems.
Whilst sat there with no other ways to procrastinate I’d watch the people come and go. There would be the kids excited about getting a new story book, just starting on their journey with reading. Then there would be students looking for a quiet place to work away from their noisy households or a place to research for their studies. There would be those who did not have internet access, downloading forms or sending emails to friends far away. There would be job seekers looking in the papers or online for jobs. There would be middle-aged people, looking up town council minutes or researching local history. And then there would be the elderly, who would come in to read the paper or to keep their mind active in their later years.
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that libraries have been replaced by the internet, but for some people internet access is a luxury they cannot afford. All these different people found help and assistance from the staff and it made me realise just how much people still rely on libraries. They are the most democratic places, with knowledge open to all, and whilst how we interface with knowledge is changing, there’s always going to be a need for libraries as a way to provide free access to that knowledge.
This is why campaigns like Save Lincolnshire Libraries are vital. They are grass roots campaigns to protect access to knowledge for all from spending cuts.
Despite what some might say, the internet is a privilege, libraries are a right.
I don’t tend to write book reviews these days. A large part of that is because I’m now part of the industry and as a result have lost a little bit of objectivity. I know how much effort goes into a book, I know the anguish in trying to make a book all it can be, and as a result I empathise.
But I also unpick as I read. Too often I’m analysing and editing another person’s book as if it were my own. I’d move that scene forward, I don’t see the point of that character. It’s not that I think myself a better writer, I’ve learnt much from seeing how other authors do things, it’s just that writerly eye is almost always on, knowing how the magic on the page is constructed.
So it’s a joy when a book comes along that makes me switch all that off, just read and leave the analysis for later. Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant books are just that, a pure joy to read.
As a writer there are very few books I wish I could have written. My head is so full of my own ideas and nonsense that the voice of others isn’t something that interests me. Instead I dissect, tear open story like some mad doctor as I read and analyse its various organs. I’m sympathetic as I read and cut, I just want to know how things work.
Given how much writers struggle with putting together the synopsis of a novel, I’m starting to wonder, following this brilliant summary of the setup of The Four Realms, whether authors should employ reviewers to write them. I jest, of course, but this review does a really good job of getting ‘inside’ the setup of the novel.
They liked it and rated it a “Buy It” as well. This, as you can imagine, makes me happy.
“Drop that stack of romantic books about reluctant vampires and grab this harsh story of a vampire who would love to kill you—and the lovely old lady who will find a way to stop him.”
I only made a couple of resolutions this year. This first, in a humorous reference to all those years I said that forthcoming 12 months would see The Four Realms complete, is that I will get The Thieving King done this year.
The second was to do with my reading.
If I had to list my heroes you’d probably not know one of them. Everyone has heard of George Lucas, Clive Barker and JRR Tolkien but not so many have heard of Larry Hama,. For me he’s up there with those icons.
Larry Hama was the writer of a toy tie-in comic called GI Joe, released by Marvel in 1983 to cash in on the toy run’s popularity. The thing is, it would have been easy for Hama to dial this in. But he didn’t. Sure it had to feature toy of the month and some of those were pretty whacky, but Hama always embraced it, treating his tie-in universe with the respect you’d expect on a big A-list project. No-one was expecting it to last for years, yet I believe at one stage it was Marvel Comics’ biggest seller.
I’d put off reading Storm of Swords. It’s a big book and I’m a slow reader. I’d also not enjoyed Clash of Kings. The circumstances regarding Renly annoyed me greatly, as if the tone of the worldbuilding suddenly shifted. It felt a forced book, one where the writer’s machinations were too clearly on show.
However, I greatly enjoyed the HBO show of Game of Thrones (as well as the book of the same some years prior). George R R Martin proved to be an excellent reader at Eastercon so I decided to give Storm of Swords a go.
Not sure if something is wrong with me or if I’m coming down with something but I’m falling out of love with Epic Fantasy. For years, I would say my subgenre of choice was the Epic. I love the whole ‘bigness’ of it all – vast casts, vast worldbuilding and story with such massive consequence. I want it bigger with greater consequences. I want it to take my breath away.
But lately nearly every epic fantasy I’ve read, just fails to deliver for me. The only exception has been Steven Erikson’s Malazan books. I can’t put my finger on just one problem with the others but it’s as if the orchestra is too big for the conductor.
I’ve thought about books I’ve truly loved over the last few years, not just at the time but ones that have stayed with me and proved to be just as excellent during a second read through. And most of them have been swords and sorcery rather than straight up epic fantasy. Lies of Locke Lamorra is a true masterpiece and my favourite debut last year (and a book I just would not shut up about) was Douglas Hulick’s Among Thieves.
True, in this sub-genre blending world that’s not exactly a huge shift, but for me it’s a significant one. I don’t know what impact this will have on my own writing, but my current project that I’m plotting is definitely more a swords and sorcery story than an epic fantasy one. I doubt I’ll totally drop the epic elements as I continue to flesh out ideas so it’ll be interesting to see how this one turns out.
So where I’m moving too I can probably only fit in one bookcase. That means that a lot of my books need to go into storage. I’ve semi been planning for this eventuality and have been an ebook convert for years (an ebook library doesn’t take up any space!)
But this gives me a major dilemma. There’s something about a bookcase. I think it says a lot about the person. I always view people without bookcases with caution. But I’m unsure as to what books I should put in my new solitary one.
For example should I put my favourite books on the shelves as a statement of who I am? Should the books on display be purely ornamental? It’s not like I’m planning to do daily tours. Or instead, should I forego the Lynch, the Abercrombie and even the Pratchett for books that have been sitting there for years unread, keeping in mind that I converted to ebooks more than several years back and the physical unread books are likely to stay that?
And if the former, do I need to fill the entire bookcase when I have movies and video games that are also looking for space?
Enquiring minds want to know!