Bullshit and Artistry

The saying goes: that a short story is to a novel what a sniper rifle is to a shotgun. It’s a precision instrument – there’s no room to fuck about if you want to do the job properly. You can’t just paint the target and hope… you need to know exactly where you’re aiming, and how you’re going to get there.

Having just finished the first short story I’ve written in (cough!) far too many years – and prayed my trigger mechanism isn’t too rusty – it’s kind of led to something else…

Sticking with the analogy: is urban fantasy to epic fantasy what using a weapon is to just noising about it? It has to be real – you have to know exactly what you’re doing because people will bloody-well notice if you’re a bullshit artist.

If you’re an epic fantasy writer, you can make all sorts of cool shit up – a home, a battlefield, a drinking den, an historical date, a stupidly-oversized sword – as long as it’s a socio-cultural fit, you’re away.

Then you come to writing something set in London.

After a bit, it dawns on your little brain that you can’t make that shit up any more. If your characters have a home – you need to know where it is, you need to know what it looks like, you need to know where the closest Tube station is and what the streets are like at two in the morning. Are there pubs or clubs in the area – what time do they shut? Where (if you want to get really anal) do your characters go to get a pint of milk on a hungover Sunday morning?


With all this crap in my head, this afternoon I’ve been up in Camden. Not shopping, not even in the Market itself a lot of the time – but ranging that little bit wider. I’ve been on manoeuvres: the side streets, the backstreets, the suburbs, the churches and the tiny, forgotten parks. The normal places, the places that the tourists never go; the places that the cool guys with the facial piercings have no interest in… because no-one can see them hanging there.

What we see in any city – any place – is largely what we’re looking for. When you take a step back from yourself and what’s expected of you, and you go out looking for something new, it’s amazing what you’ll find.

The pen, it seems, it truly the mightiest weapon of all – it makes us aware. But I’m guessing we knew that…

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