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.