I had an excellent time on Saturday, down in Clevedon at their literary festival. This is a little Victorian seaside town between Bristol and Weston Super Mare if you’re trying to place it. I had a very straightforward run over from West Oxfordshire as the traffic on the M4 was nowhere near typical summer Saturday levels. It was also striking how many cars were content to do 65 in the ‘slow’ lane rather compete with each other in the usual mad racing ahead. I suspect, like me, drivers were realising how little long distance driving they’ve done this year and taking it steady. Everything slowed right down when the M4 joined the M5 unsurprisingly, but the traffic kept moving, and since I’d allowed for horrible traffic, I arrived in good time.
The Princes Hall community centre was clearly once a grand villa with a sea view and the large gardens are now a charming little park. I met up with Alistair from Books on the Hill, Anna Smith Spark and John Llewellyn Probert and we sat down with an interested audience to chat about fantasy fiction under a gazebo in a corner by some trees. The three of us have very different ways of working, and different approaches to what we write, so that made for an absorbing discussion.
This may seem odd, but I was surprised to remember just how much fun doing this sort of thing in person really is. Don’t get me wrong, virtual events have been an absolute lifesaver for authors, bookshops, conventions and publishers, and I have no doubt that they’re here to stay – but it will be lovely to get back to meeting up with other writers and fans again. So I will be signing up for Bristolcon, which promises to be a fabulous event this year. I will also be signing up for Octocon because if I can’t get over to Dublin just yet, the online convention will do very nicely in the meantime.
It was great to see some local friends, and yes, they were startled to see me with long hair. It was also an opportunity to see the actual copies of BOTH Press’s dyslexia friendly books after the success of the Kickstarter. The books are very handsome and this is an initiative well worth supporting.
As an unexpected thank you, we were given goodie bags with little gifts from the local independent businesses supporting the festival, which added up to a very generous collection. If you’re within striking distance and looking for a place to go to browse interesting shops for gifts and treats, head for Clevedon!
And there was even less traffic on the way back.
Books on the Hill is a dyslexic friendly, independent bookshop in Clevedon, North Somerset, run by Alistair and Chloe. They are both passionate about books of all genres, and about getting as many people as possible reading. Alistair is dyslexic himself and so is always on the look out for ways to help people who have dyslexia, or any difficulty with reading, to access the joy of good fiction. For instance, he advised me and Cheryl on fonts that would suit dyslexic readers better in the Green Man books – I had no idea that something so simple could make such a difference!
As a bookseller, Alistair has long been aware of the Barrington Stoke books for dyslexic kids, but hasn’t found any equivalent for adults. So he’s decided to do something about that, and has recruited a group of very fine writers specifically to write stories for a new publishing project, funded by Kickstarter. As of this morning, the first funding goal has been reached inside the project’s first week. So the first three books will definitely be happening. Now let’s see the stretch goals reached, so more books will be available. This should be the start of a long term initiative.
Do take a look, and definitely spread the word to whoever you know who’ll be interested. Given up to 10% of the population is dyslexic, there’s sure to be someone.
I grew up with folklore as a core element of my reading. I don’t just mean the fairy stories that everyone knows, taken from Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, commodified and sanitised by Disney. My local library and the primary school bookshelves had numerous collections of folk tales alongside other reading – and as I was reminded just last week by Simon Spanton posting this Book of Goblins cover on Twitter, they were often collected by authors who had written other books on those shelves. Then there were the older books; the collections of fairy tales by Andrew Lang, and George Macdonald’s stories. Victorian editors had softened the sharp edges of these tales, but they couldn’t do away with the strangeness, and that was so often reflected by illustrators like Arthur Rackham in books such as Puck of Pook’s Hill.
Some of these collections were themed – goblins, giants, witches – while others were regional – tales from the Orkneys, from Cornwall or Wales, to name but a few that I recall. Either way, these stories belonged in the world where I was living rather than some fantasyland, even if I couldn’t see what was going on in the shadows. As a voracious reader, I saw no division between these traditional stories and the fantasies written by Tolkien, Lewis and Garner. There were the same otherworldly beings in the Hobbit, Narnia and underneath Alderley Edge after all: wizards, goblins, elves. The folklore books also had darker, scarier things, and stories with uneasy endings that didn’t offer the consolation of some of those fictional narratives…
As an adult, I turned to reading scholarly and still very readable analyses of folklore, by writers such as Diane Purkiss. As a fan of local museums, and of National Trust and English Heritage visits, I would pick up books of local tales collected by antiquarians and enthusiasts. I began to see the depth and breadth of the folklore that still endures in rural England. I continue to see the extent of such mythology’s influence, as I recognise these stories from passing mentions in literature from Shakespeare to Kipling and right up to the present day.
At the same time, I come across half-tales and references that make it clear how many stories have faded away for lack of telling, leaving only tantalising traces. I discovered that mystic beings we think of as ancient archetypes have been recreated comparatively recently. The Green Man, the Horned Hunter, the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. Oh, the images are ancient, but the tales that went with them have all but vanished. Looking at the ways these things have been reimagined, when and by whom, is an ongoing fascination.
All told, these varied aspects of our folklore legacy offer me tremendous scope as a writer. I am able to draw on a familiarity with traditional fairy-tale creatures and themes that readers may not even be aware they have acquired. At the same time, I have a free hand to weave in those stray fragments and the strangeness that I come across to enrich my new story with surprises. As I write these particular books, I become more and more aware that I’m working in an age-old tradition as I do so.
Hopefully you’ll have noticed that the excellent small press ZNB (Zombies Need Brains) are running a Kickstarter to fund three new anthologies, titled THE MODERN DEITY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY, DERELICT, and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, containing approximately 14 all-original (no reprint) short stories each from established SF&F authors in the field and new voices found through an open call. The fundraising is going well, so we can hope to reach some stretch goals. Do check it out!
Regular readers will know that I’m a regular contributor to these projects, sometimes as an invited author, sometimes through submitting to the open call. The thing is though, I’m really not a natural short story writer…
A great many authors will tell you they have an instinctive length when it comes to writing. That can be novel, novella or short story. It’s the sweet spot for their imagination, where ideas come together most effectively. For me, that’s most definitely the novel. It has been said, with perfect justification, that my early short stories read like excerpts from a longer work.
So that’s the first thing. I want to improve my skills in this particular area. Short stories, in anthologies and as standalones are having a resurgence just at the moment. That’s thanks to the ease of digital downloads, a smartphone in every pocket or bag, and the way short-form fiction is ideal for a commute. That makes the short story an ideal way to introduce readers to my writing, so if they like it, they can look up my novels. But it has to be a good short story, and that’s why I always want feedback from professional editors so I can learn how to create my very best work. I get that advice from ZNB projects, without fear or favour! That advice doesn’t only help my short stories. Learning more about the differences between different forms of fiction hones my novel writing as well.
The second thing? Ask any author where they get their ideas from, and they’ll tell you lack of ideas is never the problem. The challenge is knowing what to do with them. My wide-ranging research reading turns up a whole lot of interesting possibilities which are often nowhere near novel-length material. Short stories offer me the chance to get these intriguing tales onto the page. My story for last year’s Alternate Peace anthology is a case in point. I’d read Bill Bryson’s book on the remarkable summer of 1927, and quite some while later read a much less amusing book on the ‘Spanish Flu’ of 1918-1919. These books had nothing to do with each other at first glance, but that’s not how this works. If I put together that piece of information from one book and a passing footnote from the other, as well as a few more ‘what if?’ possibilities from both, I got an intriguing idea… I wasn’t sure it would make a novel though, and in any case, my other writing commitments would make that impossible. But this idea was ideally suited to this collection’s theme.
Thirdly, you never know where a short story will take you as a writer. Before ZNB was born, Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray edited a couple of anthologies for the US publisher DAW. One was The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity where I found I had an entertaining idea about dryads in the English countryside facing a road being built through their oak grove. There’s a passing reference in that story to dryads having sons with mortal fathers. I didn’t think much about it at the time. I did find myself thinking about it later though. Long story short? That did turn into a novel-length idea, and that was The Green Man’s Heir, followed by The Green Man’s Foe. Next month will see The Green Man’s Silence published by Wizard’s Tower Press.
So these are three of the things that writing short stories offers me as a novelist. Why not see what these projects can offer you as a writer – and a reader, obviously.
This story started with some casual information that I didn’t think much about when I added it to The Green Man’s Foe. The folk tale that inspired Finele as a character is from Cambridgeshire, so it made sense to say that’s where her family lives. Afterwards, I found myself wondering what Dan would make of the Fens if he ever visited her there. Like most people who don’t know the region, he would just think it’s a flat place with very few trees. While I was thinking about that, the archaeologist Francis Pryor had a book published looking at this area and its long, complex history – titled unsurprisingly The Fens. That’s a fascinating read which started me on the path to writing the story you have just read.
East Anglia isn’t a part of England that I know well myself, so my husband and I spent a week’s holiday near Ely last November, to see what inspiration I might find. As you will see, that trip was very worthwhile. I definitely recommend visiting the Fens, and the local museums, historic houses and churches. Places like Ely, King’s Lynn and Wisbech are well worth simply walking around, to see their history reflected in their architecture. I found the Seahenge exhibition in King’s Lynn particularly interesting as I looked at it through Dan Mackmain’s eyes. We also found a carved Green Man who doesn’t look to be taking life at all seriously as he pulls a face and sticks his tongue out in St Margaret’s Church.
This book owes a particular debt to the Wisbech and Fenland Museum. The Museum Society was founded in Wisbech in 1835 and there was a Literary Society in the town from 1781 to 1877. If you visit the current handsome building, you will see all sorts of fascinating things, as well as one particular exhibit that would certainly give Dan a nasty surprise – but no spoilers! The National Trust nature reserve at Wicken Fen supplied me with further essential information about the communities that lived and thrived all across the region, cutting reed and sedge, digging peat and catching fish, eels and waterfowl, both before and after the waters were drained. As you might imagine, staff at both places were intrigued when I explained my reasons for buying an armful of books of local history and the distinctive local folklore.
So what’s this story going to be about? Well, here’s what the cover will tell you…
“Daniel Mackmain has always been a loner. As a dryad’s son, he can see the supernatural alongside everyday reality, and that’s not something he can easily share. Perhaps visiting East Anglia to stay with Finele Wicken and her family will be different. They have their own ties to the uncanny.
But something is amiss in the depths of the Fens. Creatures Dan has never encountered outside folk tales are growing uneasy, even hostile. He soon learns they have good reason. Can he help them before they retaliate and disaster strikes the unsuspecting locals? Can the Green Man help Dan in a landscape dominated by water for centuries, where the oaks were cut down aeons ago?”
The Green Man’s Silence will be published on 2nd September 2020 by Wizard’s Tower Press.
Other formats will be available.
Regular readers won’t be surprised to learn that I’ll be part of the @ZNBLLC Kickstarter for three new anthologies this year. I’ve had stories in four of these collections so far, as well as two earlier projects from this team. Sometimes that’s been as an invited author, sometimes I’ve gone through submission because I had an idea that was too much fun not to write. That’s the thing about these projects – they’re always full of intriguing possibilities.
That makes for great collections of stories and excellent value for readers at the entry levels. For those of you looking for something extra, there are a whole range of bonus reward levels. I’m offering assorted books and a couple of Tuckerisations (your name for a character in my story). There will be more detail on each theme soon, but for now, readers aware of my alter ego’s mystery novels set in Ancient Greece will not be surprised to lean that I’ll be writing a story for the ‘Deities’ anthology – as long as the Kickstarter funds.
Alongside the designated authors anchoring each book, there is always an an open call for submissions offering first rate editorial advice as well as professional rates of pay for the stories that make the cut. ZNB are also very keen to offer debut publication opportunities. Any SFF writers starting out should definitely go and take a look.
The project goes live later today. Meantime, you can click on the ‘Notify me on launch’ button here.
Oh yes, says you, I remember it, Christopher Ecclestone and Simon Callow, great episode! Ah well, says I, it so happens I wrote a different story before anyone knew what Mark Gattiss was doing for the first season of the Doctor’s return.
Back in 2004, Paul Cornell was editing a Christmas anthology for Big Finish, and invited me to submit a story. I really enjoyed writing ‘Who the Dickens…?’, researching all the detail was fascinating, and Paul was very pleased with it. All was well until … the BBC spiked it. Sorry, that particular story was a no go for the forthcoming book.
Everyone was very nice, and thoroughly professional, and I was paid, and so while I felt a bit wistful, I didn’t feel in the least hard done by. These things happen with licensed property work. And when the new series aired, all was explained!
The story stayed in my computer archive because unlike a story of my own, I couldn’t sell it elsewhere, obviously. Then Paul contacted me earlier this year to ask if I’d ever done anything with it. No, as I explained, as far as I recalled without digging out the contract, the copyright and intellectual property rights belonged to Big Finish and the BBC, as is standard for such work. It would never see the light of day unless the powers that were gave their approval. Let me talk to a few people, says Paul…
Well, now you can read that story if you click over to Paul’s website and this year’s 12 Blogs of Christmas, free and gratis, to entertain you as this year draws to a close. Enjoy!
I’ve been pals with multi-faceted writer Steven Savile for years now, so when he asked if I might be interested in doing an event in Sweden, naturally I said yes. A little while later, Jan Smedh of The English Bookshop in Uppsala got in touch to invite me to the evening he was organising for the city’s annual Culture Night. When everything was finalised, we had a mini-SF-Crime convention, with me, Steve, Stephen Gallagher and RJ Barker being interviewed together by way of an introduction, followed by us discussing crime fiction and then a session on fantasy fiction, since one way and another, we’ve all written across both genres. There were intervals for book signing, and to give fans of one genre or the other to come and go as they felt inclined – not least because there were so many other events going on. The city was packed all day.
Now, I’ve only ever met Stephen Gallagher on a handshake-and-hello basis before, and never crossed paths with RJ Barker, but once we met up on Friday, it soon became apparent that Saturday evening would go with a swing, as we chatted about what we write and what we read. That’s exactly how it turned out, as we had different things to say as well as enough interests in common to generate really interesting conversations. We were also made wonderfully welcome by Jan, his wife, and the bookshop staff, as well as by Uppsala’s SF and Fantasy fans. Feeling so at ease made Saturday evening even more fun, and the time simply flew by. The audience certainly seemed to enjoy themselves as much as we did.
Those of you who couldn’t make it will get a flavour of the event in a little while, as Stephen, RJ and I were all interviewed on video by Magnus, another of our new friends, earlier in the day. We did that on the deck of the floating hotel Selma, where we were staying, moored on the river. I’ll post links in due course. Those of you who travel to European conventions should also note that Uppsala fandom are putting in a bid to run the 2023 Eurocon – follow @Uppsala2023 on Twitter to keep in touch with their progress.
Before that – yes, we really did make the most of our time – Jan had arranged for us to have a short introduction to the city’s history and a guided tour of Uppsala Cathedral with a brief visit to the museum now housed in one of the original University buildings. The cathedral is beautiful and full of fascinating memorials and stories – and something of more personal interest. Thanks to local Swedish fan Jonathan, who I first met at the Worldcon in Dublin, I knew to keep a look out for the Green Man carved on a pillar capital as we went round. I could go on and on, but I’d be writing this all day if I attempted a full recap. Put Uppsala on your own holiday destination list, that’s the best idea. Seriously. There are great places to eat as well as everything else to see in the city.
The museum was equally enthralling, and has one of the most ornate and astonishing examples of a Cabinet of Curiosities in the world – the Augsburg Art Cabinet. Other treasures include the original prototype Celsius thermometer. Carl Linnaeus is by no means the only globally renowned scientist that the university is rightly proud of. Mind you, the students Linnaeus sent out worldwide to collect his samples often came to an unexpected and early end… Of course, as authors, we love this sort of thing, so I suspect echoes of our trip will appear in all our writing one way or another over the next little while.
So that was Saturday, and on Sunday morning, Steve, Stephen and I took a train to Stockholm to walk around and get a flavour of the city, old and new, before it was time to head for the airport and our flights home. Now I must find time to rewatch my DVDs of the original Swedish TV series adapting the Millenium trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc.) and see what I can see differently.
But now I must get some work done today. Still, I know that will come all the easier after a trip like this. Not only did we see countless things to fire the imagination, but meeting keen readers and enjoying so many varied conversations always inspires me to do my very best for the people who I ultimately write for.
This year I’ll be taking part in the “Read For Pixels” 2018 Google Hangout campaign (Fall Edition), in company with a veritable host of other authors supporting this non-profit fundraiser backing initiatives to end violence against women.
Google Hangout sessions will run on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings from September 1st to September 30th 2018. Each session will feature an author reading from one of their books and discussing women and girls in their books, why they support ending violence against women, and women in the media, geek culture, and popular culture. Each session will also include a live moderated Q&A session for fans and book lovers to ask their favourite authors questions in real time. My slot will be 4pm UK time, on Sunday 2nd September.
The first Read For Pixels Google Hangout live panel session will tackle Trashing The Rape Trope: Writing Violence Against Women in Fantasy. Martha Wells, Kate Elliott, and Jim C. Hines will be discussing violence against women in the Fantasy genre and techniques for tackling the subject without dehumanising female characters. There will also be a live Q&A segment for writers and fans interested in writing about female characters and approaching themes such as misogyny, sexism, gender, and violence against women with depth, empathy, and accuracy.
There are giveaways and gifts to be had from Adrian Tchaikovsky (with Macmillan Books UK), Aliette de Bodard, Ann Aguirre, Charles de Lint, Jodi Meadows, Ken Liu, Leigh Bardugo, Peter V. Brett, Steven Erikson, Susan Dennard, Juliana Spink Mills, and more. These include swag bags and book bundles, signed first editions or special editions of participating authors’ books, a chance to be a minor character in someone’s upcoming books, and more. Katherine Tegan Books at HarperCollins and award-winning NewCon Press are each donating a Mystery Book Box. Donations begin at as little as US$5 and the goodies are available to donors as “thank you” gifts and perks depending on the donation amount. I’m donating three book bundles; The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution trilogy, the Hadrumal Crisis trilogy, and my two Wizard’s Tower Press books, The Secret Histories of the River Kingdom and The Green Man’s Heir. I’ll cover the postage worldwide.
Fundraising will take place on Rally Up in tandem with the Google Hangout series over the month of September 2018. Authors involved include Alison Goodman, Brandon Sanderson, David D. Levine, Fonda Lee, Fran Wilde, Jay Kristoff, Julie Czerneda, Marie Brennan, Richard K. Morgan, Sarah Beth Durst, and Tananarive Due.
For more information about Read For Pixels, contact Regina Yau at email@example.com or visit: http://is.gd/Read4Pixels.
The WFA reading continues absorbing and yes, time-consuming. I am also writing and there’ll be news of new projects in the fullness of time 🙂
In other news, from Tor.com
On May 1, 2018, Lee Harris, Carl Engle-Laird, and Ruoxi Chen will be reading and evaluating original novellas. We are reading from May 1 around 9:00 AM EST (UTC-1:00) to May 15 9:00 AM EST (UTC-1:00).
This open period is intended for authors who have completed works ready or close to ready for submission. We will reopen slush a second time in July 2018 for authors who are actively working on (or beginning) something that would fit our list. In other words, don’t panic if you’re not ready to submit in May! We would rather see a polished novella in July than a rushed one in May.
Until the end of this open period, Tor.com Publishing will be considering novellas of between 20,000 and 40,000 words in both the science fiction and fantasy genres. If it’s speculative and fits the bill, we want to take a look at it.
Lee Harris, Carl Engle-Laird, and Ruoxi Chen all actively request submissions from writers from underrepresented populations. This includes, but is not limited to, writers of any race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, class and physical or mental ability. We believe that good science fiction and fantasy reflects the incredible diversity and potential of the human species, and hope our catalog will reflect that.
In addition to reviewing the guidelines, we also encourage you to take a look at our existing list to get a sense of the work our current authors are producing and Tor.com Publishing’s vision and tastes. Good luck—we look forward to reading your work.
Over at Mslexia
We are proud to launch the first Mslexia Women’s Fiction Awards – a stable of competitions that includes our popular Short Story and Novel competitions, our second-ever Flash Fiction competition and our all-new Novella competition in association with Galley Beggar Press!
As well as cash prizes, we also offer publication, mentoring, writing retreats, manuscript feedback and personal introductions to editors and literary agents for winners and finalists. As a result, many have gone on to see their work broadcast and/or published beyond the pages of Mslexia, and to achieve agent representation and publishing deals.
Open for entry now, and all with a deadline of 1 Oct 2018.
>Women’s Fiction Awards 2018: Flash Fiction Competition
>Women’s Fiction Awards 2018: Children’s Novel Competition
>Women’s Fiction Awards 2018: Short Story Competition
>Women’s Fiction Awards 2018: Novella Competition
For those looking for a SF&F writing course, check out The Arvon Foundation course tutored by Emma Newman, Peter Newman with guest author Gareth Powell.
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
How to build worlds and develop your writing
Aug 20th – Aug 25th 2018
Science fiction and fantasy encompass a dazzling array of potential worlds and stories. The scope is so wide it can be hard to know where to begin. Designed for budding writers of SFF, this course gives you the tools to understand the opportunities these exciting genres can offer. We will cover specialised techniques such as world building, the creation of magical and technological ‘systems’, and a robust grounding in aspects of the craft – storytelling, character creation and writing style. This course also gives you the opportunity to examine and overcome your own writing blocks.
Single room price: £800