Posts belonging to Category News
Over on Kate Elliott’s website, I’ve contributed a piece on Tropes to her Worldbuilding Wednesdays series of posts – all well worth reading, incidentally, just like her novels.
Just what is a trope and what should you do with it?
It’s one of those words batted back and forth in creative writing conversations, and if everyone else nods wisely but you don’t actually know what it means mostly you’ll mostly sit quietly and try to work out what it means from context.
Unless you can stealthily look up a definition in an online dictionary. Though that may not be overly helpful. According to the Concise OED, it’s ‘a figurative (e.g. metaphorical or ironical) use of a word’, from the Greek/Latin for ‘to turn’. Merriam Webster is more useful. ‘A common or overused theme or device’.
Oh, so it’s another word for cliché? Yes and no, and this is why this particular word has become useful in discussions about plot, character, setting and all the other intricacies of creating convincing fiction.
Meantime, over on Joshua Palmatier’s blog, the Table of Contents for ALIEN ARTIFACTS has been announced.
What’s this particular anthology about? Well, here’s the back cover copy…
What might we run into as we expand beyond Earth and into the stars? As we explore our own solar system and beyond, it seems inevitable that we’ll run into aliens … and what they’ve left behind. Alien artifacts: what might they reveal about us as we try to unlock their secrets? What might they reveal about the universe?
In this anthology, nineteen of today’s leading science fiction and fantasy authors explore how discovering long lost relics of alien civilizations might change humanity. Join Walter H. Hunt, Julie Novakova, David Farland, Angela D. Penrose, S.C. Butler, Gail Z. Martin & Larry N. Martin, Juliet E. McKenna, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, Andrija Popovic, Jacey Bedford, Sofie Bird, James Van Pelt, Gini Koch, Anthony Lowe, Jennifer Dunne, Coral Moore, Daniel J. Davis, C.S. Friedman, and Seanan McGuire as they discover the stars and the secrets they may hold—both dark and deadly and awe-inspiring.
My story now has a title, The Sphere, and if you click through you can look for clues in the list of tales from everyone else. As well as seeing the very fine cover art and for details on the book’s publication date and how to order it.
And by the way, do check out Joshua’s books, and novels from his alter ego Benjamin Tate, the next time you’re looking for a good read.
I’ve worked with aspiring authors on an ad hoc basis for well over a decade now; running workshops at conventions and literary festivals, guest-lecturing at universities and colleges and occasionally running longer courses*. Most recently, I’ve spent a thoroughly enjoyable session with the Creative Writing M.A. students of Lancaster Uni, and had the distinct pleasure, and privilege, of selecting poems and prose pieces on the theme of ‘Monsters’ submitted by new writers, to feature in the new Mar/Apr/May 2016 edition of Mslexia magazine (now available!).
When I mention I’m doing one or other of these things, there’s a good chance someone will trot out this particular truism. It irritates me more and more, especially when you ask someone exactly what that means, and they say something vague about ‘well, people have to know how to spell and punctuate, but you can’t teach someone to have an imagination.’
Let’s examine both those notions.
There’s a whole lot more to writing craft than knowing where to put a full stop, or even the correct use of the semi-colon. An infinite amount; just look at the boundless variety of prose styles in published fiction. One of the workshops I run takes a wholly unremarkable sequence of dialogue and explores the different ways in which words can be woven around those identical spoken sentences to create significantly different effects for the reader, with regard to the place and the people. In one case, the addition of a single letter can be enough. Consider the implications of describing a woman as wearing ‘skirts’ as opposed to ‘a skirt’.
Then there’s the skill required to create atmosphere, whether that’s tension, sorrow, apprehension, excitement. It takes finely shaped prose to convey a character’s sorrow. passion, delight or fear. To indicate where the reader’s sympathies might lie or to hint that perhaps we’re not getting the full story quite yet? To write natural sounding dialogue – which is not at all the same as transcribing an actual conversation. To manage a narrative’s point of view, whether that’s in the first person or third person, and any transitions between perspectives. To convey vital facts and background to the reader without boring them rigid with a five page data-dump. I could go on but you get the idea. And that’s not even the half of it.
Once you’ve got all those words on the page, there’s the craft of cutting away the ones you don’t need. The more I write, the more eager I am to get the end of a first draft, to start refining and honing the piece, whether that’s a short story or a novel. Learning how to do that to best effect is a real challenge. Another workshop I run on such editing presents students with a piece of my work in draft and challenges them to get that down to a final version that’s on a par with my own. When I explain this means cutting those 388 words down to 117, hopeful writers’ faces vary from aghast to disbelieving. Because that first draft which they’ve just read is a perfectly good piece of writing, exactly as it stands. The craft comes in identifying the bits which the overall story can do without.
So let’s not get snobbish about the value of craft. Without a good carpenter’s skills, you’d be using splintery planks to board up that hole in your house instead of coming and going through a well-made and secure front door. Let’s definitely not accept any implication that writing craft is merely a toolkit of basic skills which a writer only needs to get to grips with once. I learn new twists and subtleties about different aspects of writing with every piece I write and frequently from what I read. Every writer I know says the same.
Now, about this notion that you cannot teach hopeful writers to have ideas, to have an imagination. The thing is, I’ve never, ever met an aspiring author who didn’t have an imagination. Surely that’s a prerequisite for being a keen reader, never mind for taking up a pen or keyboard to create original fiction? Would-be writers are never short on inspiration. Reviewing those Mslexia submissions proved that – not that I ever doubted it.
What writers need to learn is how to make most effective use of those plots and characters, scenarios and themes which are clamouring so loudly for their attention that the only thing to do is start writing them down. In some cases, the writer’s primary need is getting to grips with particular aspects of writing craft to make best use of their idea. As a teacher it’s very rewarding to see someone learning the skills that will turn their rough diamond of a draft into sparkling prose.
In other cases, in very many cases, the hopeful author needs to learn boldness. I see this time and again. I’ll be reading a well crafted piece, offering a solid foundation for a story, a character, an idea, but this particular writer hasn’t yet realised where and when they can take an extra step, or more often, a giant leap forward. Because all they can see is a leap into the unknown. Those of us who’ve already been through that learning process can now see it from the other side, where wide, new horizons open up before us. At other times, we take that leap and find a new vantage point to look back on a familiar idea and see it from a whole new perspective.
Here’s a case in point – without spoilers because this particular draft novel got all the way to publication and I don’t want to give anything away. The writer presented a confrontation between Our Hero and The Enemy. Our Hero used a recently acquired weapon to drive off The Enemy. I asked, why doesn’t he kill The Enemy? Because he’s not a killer, was the initial reply. No, I pointed out, but he doesn’t understand the weapon he’s got hold of. In this situation, he’s a toddler with a loaded handgun. He can still kill someone without any evil intent. What happens then? I saw the writer’s eyes widen, appalled at that notion, before they narrowed in thought… Even though that meant rewriting major chunks of the story to deal with the subsequent fall-out, both for Our Hero and for The Enemy’s Friends.
It’s that sort of boldness, offering some new angle, with some fresh take on places, characters or themes, which editors are looking for. Because they will have seen way more than enough slush submitted by writers who’ve been suckered into believing that the first idea they’ve had will take them all the way and once their genius is recognised, someone else will take care of full stops.
So let’s ditch this particularly useless cliché. How about we replace it with something someone whose name I alas failed to make a note of said? “Talent without craft is like fuel without a rocket. It may burn ever so brightly but it’s going nowhere.”
*For those interested in a week’s residential course focused on writing SF and Fantasy, I’m teaching at Moniack Mhor in Scotland, in December this year, alongside Pippa Goldschmidt. Ken Macleod will be our guest writer. More details here
And I’ll be busy – it’s a packed programme. Those of you there will be spoiled for choice, given the range of panels, kaffeeklatsches and readings.
My personal timetable is:
Friday 23rd October
3.00pm Opening Ceremony
It’ll be my pleasure at Mistress of Ceremonies to welcome everyone to the convention, to introduce the Guests of Honour John Connolly, Jo Fletcher and Brandon Sanderson – and to see what
indiscreet notable convention memories they might care to share.
5.00pm Stealing from the Past: Fantasy in History
I’m very much looking forward to discussing how fantasy writers use – and misuse – real world history, with Susan Bartholomew, Jacey Bedford, Susan Boulton, Anne Lyle and Toby Venables.
Saturday 24th October
10.00am Blades, Wands & Lasers: Fighting the Good Fight-Scene
We’ll be looking at the realities of fight scenes, from one-on-one to full-scale battles, and the writerly challenges of conveying all this to readers in a meaningful way. That’s me, James Barclay, Clifford Beal, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Jo Thomas and Danie Ware.
2.00pm Guest of Honour interview: Brandon Sanderson in Conversation.
I have the very welcome opportunity to chat to epic fantasy author Brandon Sanderson about his writing, career, inspirations & influences. Don’t worry, I will make sure there’s time for audience questions as well!
Sunday 25th October
10.00am By the Gods! Religion & Beliefs in Fantasy
I’ll be moderating this discussion on how and why to include plausible belief systems in genre writing – and the pitfalls for the unwary writer. I’m very much looking forward to hearing the opinions of John Connolly, Adam Dalton, Iain Grant, Jasper Kent and Susan Murray.
2.30pm The British Fantasy Awards Ceremony
After the banquet at Sunday lunchtime, I’ll be hosting this event, and we can all find out who’s won what, among this year’s nominees. Remember, you don’t have to attend the banquet; you can join the audience as the coffee cups are cleared away to be part of the ceremony.
Apart from these commitments, I’ll be around and about, so feel free to come and say hello and have a chat.
If you have any free time. It really is a programme with plenty for everyone, wherever your particular interests are within the fantastic scope of speculative fiction.
If you’re interested in documentary film making – or know anyone who is – and within striking distance of Oxford, the St Hilda’s Media Network is presenting a day conference with a stellar programme.
It’ll be an in-depth look at the world of documentaries led by expert film-makers and radio producers. It is aimed at a broad audience, including students who are interested in a career in documentary-making, people who have just started out in the industry, and media professionals who are passionate about this fascinating creative sphere.
There will be five sessions that will explore different documentary genres:
HOW TO MAKE A DOCUMENTARY: FROM COMMISSION TO TRANSMISSION
Nicolas Kent, Creative Director Oxford Film and Television
Anna Hall, Freelance Series Producer/Director
Ian Michael Jones, Freelance Arts Documentary Producer
David Leach, Producer/Director and Development Writer
How do film-makers get a documentary on to television? This session will provide an overview of the processes involved, from the original concept of an idea, to delivery to the broadcaster. There will also be a focus on the particular challenge of producing arts documentaries in ways that are new and different.
FEATURE-LENGTH DOCUMENTARY: CREATING FACTUAL MOVIES
Clio Barnard, Director The Arbor, The Selfish Giant
Nicolas Kent, Creative Director Oxford Film and Television
Mike Brett, Director Next Goal Wins
How does making a feature-length documentary differ from creating documentary for television? Some issues are unique to the feature-length documentary, such as development of ideas without commission, funding, distribution, and submission to festivals. Speakers will also consider its role as an art form which does not have the constraints of working to a channel brief.
ST HILDA’S LIVING HISTORY PRESENTATION
Alumna Elizabeth Dorsett presents a sneak preview of the incredible audiovisual project currently in progress which documents the social history of St Hilda’s, the last women’s college in the University of Oxford to go co-ed, through filmed interviews with former students from the 1930s to present day.
WILDLIFE DOCUMENTARY: ALWAYS WORK WITH ANIMALS!
Bill Oddie, Presenter and Writer
Nigel Pope, Head of Keo North, Director Mara Media
Alexandra Griffiths, Series Producer BBC Natural History Unit
Ruth Sessions, Head of Operations Atlantic Productions
Why have British film-makers won worldwide recognition for this genre? This session will examine the filming techniques and aims of wildlife producers from the BBC and independent production companies. Bill Oddie will talk about his experiences of wildlife film-making over the last twenty years.
RADIO DOCUMENTARY: MAKING PICTURES IN SOUND
Simon Elmes, Former Creative Director BBC Radio Documentaries Unit
Neil Trevithick, Senior Radio Documentary Producer
Sara Jane Hall, Documentary Feature Maker
Christine Finn, Writer and Radio Producer/Presenter
What makes a subject appropriate for radio rather than for television or film? Our panel will look at the challenges of bringing very visual ideas to life in a purely aural medium, and at the tricky and often fraught process of achieving commissions for radio documentary ideas.
After this session on radio Simon Elmes has kindly offered to host a workshop for a limited number of interested attendees on the presentation of ideas for radio documentaries. This will take place in the Old JCR in South Building during the Observational Documentary session, and attendees who wish to take part should sign up in advance on Eventbrite by selecting the ‘additional workshop’ when filling in registration details. Seats will be allocated on a first come first served basis.
OBSERVATIONAL DOCUMENTARY: THE BARE NAKED TRUTH
Anna Hall, Freelance Series Producer/Director
Nigel Pope, Head of Keo North, Director Mara Media
Ruth Sessions, Head of Operations Atlantic Productions
Why is observational documentary so popular and so controversial, and which subjects are most successful in this genre? We will look at the importance of in-depth research and good access to compelling contributors, as well as the issues and ethics of gaining trust. Our speakers will examine the special filming and editing techniques involved.
Ticket price includes mid-morning and afternoon refreshments, a light lunch and a post-event drink.
Do you remember Tales of the Emerald Serpent? The shared world anthology I’m part of, funded by Kickstarter? With its interlinked stories by a host of great writers, further enhanced by truly splendid artwork? All set in the mysterious city of Taux with inspirations drawn from Central American and other mythologies as well as the authors’ and artists’ fertile imaginations.
If so, you’ll recall we ran a second successful campaign and now the second volume is here! This anthology is even more intricate and ambitious. Our returning characters are caught up in official investigations as a Paladin tries to uncover the truth behind a gruesome murder while the Festival of Flowers fills the city with perfumes and parades, the perfect cover for some and their dark secrets…
Once again, I had tremendous fun writing my story, featuring Zhada the Lowl (a race of dog-headed men). If you’ve been at all curious about his romance with one of the city’s leading merchants’ daughter, you should definitely be reading this.
And yes, we’re discussing possibilities for Volume Three. We’re having far too much fun to stop, if we can possibly arrange it.
(I’ve linked to Amazon UK but obviously both books are available via Amazon US as well)
So if Darkening Skies, the second book of The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy is published in the US on 28th February and in the UK on the 1st of March, what happens on this leap year day of 29th February?
Well, for a start, you can go and read the opening chapter, wherever you might be, over on the Solaris Editors’ Blog.
I’ve also done an interview with the Solaris chaps talking about this book and trilogy as well as what I write and read more generally. There’ll be a few more guest blog spots here and there over the next week or so as well.
In addition, I’m celebrating along with the fabulous and talented CE Murphy, whose new book Raven Calls is also published this week, with a joint launch party at the Irish Writers Centre, Parnell Square, Dublin on Friday evening, by way of kicking off the fun at P-Con IX where I’ll be spending my weekend along with an array of great writers, great fans and many good friends. I’ll be discussing issues of gender in writing and publishing, internet piracy and the erosion of writers’ rights, and running a writers workshop alongside George Green of Lancaster Uni. By way of lighter topics, a group of us will be tackling ‘I didn’t get a letter from Hogwarts so I left the Shire to become a Vampire Jedi: how do authors avoid writing this book?’
Next week, when life calms down a bit, I’ll see about a book giveaway competition. Why so busy? Well, apart from the above, I’ve been working on a redesign of my website, which will see a whole new blog-based set-up, with a fair bit of additional background material about my writing added to what’s already been available, along with my articles, review, diary and other such stuff. At that point, this interim blog will go into mothballs.
I am indebted to Cheryl Morgan for all her help with this website relaunch, at the same time as she’s been tackling the publication angles for the forthcoming Further Tales of Einarinn ebook. There’s just a few final t’s to be crossed there and that’ll be available soon. Then we finalise an ebook of Turns & Chances, the Lescari Revolution novella. Meantime, of course, the Lescari Chronicles and both of the Hadrumal books to date are available in the eformat of your choice from your preferred supplier.
Right, I had better get back to finalising an Einarinn Gazetteer for the new site…
… after I’ve admired Clint Langley’s fantastic artwork for Darkening Skies one more time…
It’s very nearly here! Once the last few tweaks to the text and the ebookery tech are locked down, this February should see ‘A Few Further Tales of Einarinn’ published, with my profound thanks to Antimatter ePress for the initial digitising of the texts and to Wizard’s Tower Press, for handling the actual publishing, including but not limited to making sure the formatting matches up with all the various ereaders available, sorting out ISBNs, making the files available through the full range of ebook outlets, so on and so forth.
It’s been a fascinating and eye-opening project in keeping with the finest traditions of collaboration and mutual support within the SF & Fantasy genre. Because even if I could find the time to learn the necessary skills, and this tech stuff doesn’t come overly naturally to me, there is simply no way I could have found the time to do all the preparatory work I’ve merely summarised above.
The book is a collection of five stories featuring characters from the Tales of Einarinn, beginning with the full story of an early adventure which Livak sometimes alludes to, followed by encounters and incidents in the intervals between the books of that series and finally concluding with one of the marriages promised in the final volume.
Four have been previously published:
2005 Win Some, Lose Some – Postscripts 5, PS Publishing
2006 A Spark in the Darkness – Postscripts 6, PS Publishing
2001 Why the Pied Crow Always Sounds Disappointed (as The Tormalin Necklace) – F20, The British Fantasy Society
2003 The Wedding Gift – An Illustrated Tale of Einarinn, Einarinn Ltd
Absent Friends has never been published before; it was written for a magazine that folded before my story hit their pages, and it has been freshly revised for this collection.
With tablet computer tech now at our fingertips, we’re also making good use of the portfolio of artwork originally commissioned from some of Britain’s finest illustrators and comics artists to go with The Wedding Gift chapbook. Those black and white character illustrations appear throughout the book and we have a splendidly inked version of Livak for the cover.
So this will be coming to an ebook store near you soon!
For more, do visit The Wizard’s Tower Press website.
Next up? We’re working on an ebook of Turns & Chances, the Lescari Revolution novella.
I now realise I didn’t post my usual Christmas Eve sign-off for the holiday season the week before last. I still had so much prep to do, I just never got round to it – which sums up my last year pretty effectively. 2011 was remarkably hectic and not necessarily always in a good way, both personally and professionally.
I parted company with my literary agent back in the Spring since that working relationship was well, just not working. At least in part as a result of that, I certainly didn’t achieve all the things I had hoped to. In some instances that was down to factors beyond my control. Then there were a couple of happenings/wrangles which I could have managed better. So appropriate notes have been made and lessons learned and all that kindathing.
On the plus side, I did some things I hadn’t expected to, notably going to California, spending some days in the Bay Area as well as attending the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego. That was a fabulous trip. I’m also expanding my range and testing my mettle as a writer with some new projects of which more in due course.
I did far more guest blogging and I’m particularly pleased with the contribution my pieces have made to the vexed questions and on-going debate about equitable representation of women (and other minority) writers in the SF&Fantasy field as well as the challenges for all genre writers in the wider literary landscape. Being part of this conversation has also shown me that while very real issues remain to be tackled in our genre, there’s a lot worse goes on elsewhere!
We had a very pleasant Christmas to New Year break, including the seasonal slew of family birthdays. All told, it’s been a most welcome recharging of our mental and physical energies in this household – which has led to a degree of collective resolution not to let ourselves get as overscheduled and overtired as we did towards the end of last year. Not least because 2012 is Junior Son’s GCSE year and Senior Son will be finishing his college course in the summer and heading out into the world of work…
I say this, already committed to the SFX Weekender at the start of February, P-Con in Dublin at the start of March and Eastercon in April. I’m also deeply engaged in the Arthur C Clarke Award judging process and will be judging the James White Award short story competition. I’m chairing the Eastercon 2013 bid, EightSquared, and will be helping out with Congenial, the Unicon/BRS gaming convention in Cambridge, 10th-12th August, specifically on the book-related programming.
That’s all as well as working on an update and redesign of my own website and on publishing my backlist in ebook form. At least for those last two projects, I have the able and generous assistance of two splendid women with the talents and time that I lack.
On the writing side, I am in discussions with a new agent, of which more later. Darkening Skies, second of The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy, will be published in March/April – precise date tba, and I have three assorted short stories in anthologies due this year, first of those being my contribution to The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity in March. Meantime, I will be getting on with writing Defiant Peaks aka Hadrumal Crisis 3, due for delivery in August.
So… time to draw up the first To Do List of 2012…
Some reaction to the anthology news in my last post goes along the lines of ‘but you don’t do steampunk, do you?’ To which the reply is rather, I haven’t done steampunk before now. The same is true of urban fantasy. No, I’ve not done it before and when I’ve been asked, I’ve said I would need a new and original idea since I have nothing to add to the current pack of werewolf/vampire stories.
That’s what I said when Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray invited me to contribute to this anthology. Ah but, they said, you might have an idea. You never know. Just see if something turns up. Well, it did, and there’s not a fang nor any fur involved, just so you know. My story, ‘The Roots of Aston Quercus’ will be there alongside tales from –
Jean Marie Ward
Shannon Page & Jay Lake
Jim C. Hines
Stellar company to be in and all graced with this cover art. Pre-order your copy now or mark your diaries for March 2012