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Robots, Water or Death? Another writing update!

Following on from yesterday’s post about the forthcoming editions of ‘Alien Artifacts’, I’m really looking forward to writing a story for the next ZNB anthology which I’ve signed up for.

They’re running a Kickstarter for three new anthologies at the moment so there really will be something for every taste. And I’m willing to bet most readers will like everything! Here’s what I’ll be writing for –

THE DEATH OF ALL THINGS:

Death and taxes: the universal themes. Or, nearly. Not all cultures pay taxes, but all pay the reaper. Acknowledging that nobody will ever beat Sir Terry Pratchett for his depiction of Death, we believe there are more stories to tell, exploring the realm and character of death: tragic, humorous, and all the shades in-between. Edited by Laura Anne Gilman & Kat Richardson, THE DEATH OF ALL THINGS will contain approximately 14 brand-new stories with an average length of 6000 words each. It will include short stories by multi-award winning and NYT-bestselling authors

Stephen Blackmoore,
Aliette de Bodard,
Christie Golden,
Jim C. Hines,
Jason M. Hough,
Faith Hunter,
Juliet E. McKenna,
Fran Wilde.

You’ve noticed that’s not 14 names? That’s because the other slots will be filled by the open call for submissions following the successful completion of the Kickstarter. ZNB’s commitment to offering new writers a chance is just one of the many reasons I enjoy being part of these projects.

Another is the quality of these books. For instance, the cover art for all three will be commissioned pieces created by Justin Adams of Varia Studios. The cover art for “Submerged” has been completed as you can see from the Kickstarter page. The cover art for the other two anthologies will be completed and revealed at a later date. The official covers for the anthology based off this artwork will be revealed sometime after the end of the Kickstarter.

If you’re wondering about those other two titles?

ALL HAIL OUR ROBOT CONQUERORS!:

“Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!” 50s and 60s television shows and movies were replete with clunky robots with bulbous arms and heads, blinking lights, and a staggered, ponderous walk, like Robby the Robot, GORT, and the Daleks. With a touch of nostalgia and a little tongue-in-cheek humor, this anthology will present invasions of robot conquerors—or well-meaning robot companions—rooted in those 50s and 60s ideals of the robotic vision of the future.

SUBMERGED:

From the very earliest days of SFF, when Jules Verne wrote 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the depths of the oceans have always intrigued us. Three quarters of our planet teems with creatures beyond our imagining, and terrors we cannot see. Kraken, Leviathan, Cthulu – what other mysteries and monsters lurk in the currents of the wet and dark? SUBMERGED will explore the depths beneath the surface, whether it be on brand new planets yet to be explored, apocalyptic Earths, or fantasy settings from our wildest dreams. So come join us and explore unfathomable trenches, underwater volcanoes, and abyssal plains. Take the plunge . . . into the Deep End!

Click on the link below to find out who’s writing for those anthologies. Help us reach the Kickstarter goals and you’ll get these books ahead of everyone else, as well as the chance to pick from a great range of backer incentives and other rewards!

Writing news – ‘Alien Artifacts’

ZNB-alien artefacts

As regular readers will know, I thoroughly enjoy contributing to the themed anthologies edited by Patricia Bray and Joshua Palmatier. So far I’ve had stories in ‘After Hours‘, ‘The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity‘ and ‘Temporally Out of Order‘. And I don’t just enjoy writing for these books. One of the great pleasures of anthologies is seeing what other writers have done with the same theme.

Next up, I have a story titled ‘The Sphere’ in ‘Alien Artifacts’. Kickstarter backers have already had the fun of reading this collection and now the ebook edition can be pre-ordered. The mass-market paperback will follow shortly.

What’s this anthology about? Well, here’s what the back cover will tell you

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 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.

What’s my story about? Well, when an alien scout crashlands on Earth, it brings a whole shipload of things for scientists to try to fathom. Will they solve these vital puzzles before that scout’s fellow space-farers turn up to find out what happened?

For those of you who prefer to use Kobo, you can find the ebook here and a quick search will find you all the other anthologies.

And whatever your preference for reading and purchasing, don’t forget to check out the other anthologies from ZNB – ‘Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens‘ and ‘Were-‘ for still more excellent reading.

One last note – this is merely the first of various writing updates I’ll be posting over the next few days 🙂

Introducing the Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom – coming this autumn from Wizard’s Tower Press

Writing an extended sequence of novels like the Tales of Einarinn and my subsequent series set in that world doesn’t stop a writer like me from having other ideas. In many cases, that idea will be a one-shot wonder just right for a short story. Sometimes though, that short story turns out to be the first step on a longer journey.

Back in 2008 I was invited to contribute to an anthology entitled ‘Imaginary Friends’. I began thinking about the ways in which such a friend could be both real and imaginary – to one person at least. If everyone knew what was happening, there wouldn’t be much of a story. But if only one person could see this mysterious friend, what then? Comedy? We’ve all seen that episode in every telly SF/fantasy series and in films from ‘Harvey’ onwards. What if this is something darker and more mysterious? Monsters from the Id? That’s one classic Science Fiction answer – but what if there are no such easy explanations?

window on different worlds A

What if there’s uncanny magic at work, something imperfectly understood? Because magic doesn’t always have to be codified and organised by learned, collegiate wizards like those in Hadrumal. What if such magical creatures come from a parallel realm of superstition and myth? Let’s imagine a world with different layers of existence like those glimpsed in a picture that’s been hanging on my wall ever since my sister gave the family our pick of the pieces she did for her Art A Level?

But no matter how dangerous it might be, some people will always make use of magic, or at least, they will make the attempt. Meantime, surely some of those with such perilous power will feel a responsibility to protect those who remain unawares? Who will watch over the vulnerable? Who will watch the watchmen? What could I do with such universal SF and fantasy questions in this particular setting?

I’ve been exploring these and other ideas in various stories and one novella set within the River Kingdom ever since. The more I’ve written about it, the underlying concept and this new fantasy realm without the fixed and comforting borders of coasts and seas has steadily expanded. Now I’m seeing possibilities for further and longer stories set in this world, exploring the relationships and conflicts between its tangible and intangible aspects. So the time is right to offer this collection – with the addition of one entirely new story. Those who’ve come across one or two of these tales thus far can now enjoy them all. Those who’ve only read my Einarinn books can enter a whole new fantasy world.

As always, I am indebted to the talented people I’m working with, providing key skills that I lack. Ben Baldwin, who you’ll recall did the fabulous Aldabreshin Compass artwork you can admire to the left of this post, has produced another stunning cover. Sophie E Tallis is working on a truly awesome map. Cheryl Morgan of Wizard’s Tower Press has been getting to grips with all the intricacies of making the book available in paperback as well as electronic formats.

Updated 7/11/2016 The book’s now out in ebook and paperback 🙂
You can find details of this world, its people, places and magic here, along with Sophie’s fabulous map and a link to purchase info via Wizard’s Tower Press.

Now out – Eve of War – my year of short stories continues!

I’ve mentioned before how grateful I am for the short story commissions that kept me writing (and sane!) through last year’s VAT campaigning. Well, those particular stories are now appearing for your reading pleasure.

Following on from Tales of Eve, Fox Spirit Books has just published Eve of War.

And following on from my very first foray into SF, in Tales of Eve, my contribution is another science fiction story, set on a space station in orbit around Titan…

“Sharp of mind and instinct; with poise and grace and power – Eve’s Daughters are a match for any opponent. Whether seeking out a worthy test or assailed by brave (but foolish) foes, she is determined and cunning, and will not fail.”

Here are fifteen tales from across the ages; full of prowess both martial and magical, from an array of unique voices.

Miranda’s Tempest by S.J. Higbee
The Devil’s Spoke by K.T. Davies
Himura the God Killer by Andrew Reid
The Bind that Tie by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Et Mortuum Esse Audivit by Alasdair Stuart
Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick by Juliet McKenna
A Veil of Blades by R.J. Davnall
In Amber by Rob Haines
Skating Away by Francis Knight
Ballad of Sighne by Rahne Sinclair
The Crossing by Paul Weimer
Lucille by Alec McQuay
Born by G Clark Hellery
Repo by Ren Warom
One Sssingular Sssenssation by Chloe Yates

Edited by Mahiri Simpson & Darren Pulsford
Cover Art by Vincent Holland-Keen

eve of war - small

Where to find my thoughts on Tropes and more Anthology 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.

Click here to read the whole piece

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.

“You can teach craft but you can’t teach talent.” The most useless creative writing cliché?

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

Fantasycon – my schedule

I’ll be at the UK Fantasycon in Nottingham from Friday afternoon and through to Sunday’s banquet and BFS Awards ceremony.

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.

An in-depth look at the world of documentaries – day conference in Oxford

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
(10:30am-11:30am)
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
(11:45am-12:45pm)
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.

LUNCH
(12:45pm-1:30pm)

ST HILDA’S LIVING HISTORY PRESENTATION
(1:45pm-2:00pm)
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!
(2:00pm-3:00pm)
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
(3:15pm-4:15pm)
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
(4:30pm-5:30pm)
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.

Click through to book – and spread the word!

A Knight in the Silk Purse: Ghosts of Taux (Tales of the Emerald Serpent Book 2)

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)

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