About Danacea

Social media and events at Forbidden Planet; novelist for Titan Books, first title 'ECKO RISING' due September 2012. Mum, Cyclist, Geek, Gamer, Warrior, Art Toy Freak.

Is Wordcount Bullshit?

bang-head-on-deskScalzi tweeted the other day that he’d typed 700 (or so) words at the beginning of a chapter, just to work out where the chapter began – words that were needing to ground him in the scene, or the characters, or in where he needed the story to go.

I do this all the time, and it drives me nuts. There have been days where my wordcount has been in negative figures because I’m wrestling with something (and losing). And I wondered how many of us do this.

Beginning Artifice was hard; one of its two PoV characters would <not> let me into his head, and I binned SO MUCH fucking work trying to understand his thought patterns. (The other one was easy – no-one said this was an exact science). Plus, the setting was new, and there’s always the Chapter of Doom, the one bit of the book that persistently pisses off in a direction you’re not expecting and you have to fight it into submission to make it do what it’s told…

So, yeah – does that make ‘wordcount’ bullshit? Are you allowed to count the words that don’t make it? We can write 500 words a day, 5,000 words a day – but what about the stuff that winds up on the cutting room floor? Is ‘wordcount’ how many words you write, or how many words you keep?

(Come on, how many of us can actually turn them out more-or-less perfectly in one electric-and-highly-caffeinated stream of consciousness?)

Everything you write is worth it. If you have to piss away 1,000 words getting your chapter, or setting, or PoV character right, then that’s what it takes. And it may be frustrating as fuck, and you may beat your head against the keyboard when you feel like you’re not actually getting anywhere, but it all counts towards the finished product. (I swear, I’m thinking of putting a blooper reel at the end). Research often gets compared to the iceberg – most of the work you do is below the surface – and this is exactly the same. It may not show above the waterline, but the work you’ve put in matters. When a character is right – you’ll know, and so will your readers.

Plus – added bonus points! – you get that AMAZING feeling of writer-high when it finally clicks and you suddenly type like you’re on speed, going ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ and making your neighbours wonder what the fuck you’re up to.

And moments like that make it all worth it!

Nine Worlds – A Second-Hand Blog

Matt BlakstadNine Worlds? Honestly, I didn’t see that much of it.

There was a fun combat panel first thing Friday morning and a sneaky couple of G&Ts in the bar on Saturday night – but I’ve never <ever> been that quiet (or that sober) at a Con before. Maybe age is catching me, who knows. Anyway.

So – this is a second-hand blog. A blog that tells of happy people buying lots of books (and I mean LOTS of books) which always makes the weekend go well. A blog that tells of happy people in every kind of cosplay; a blog that tells of an excellent venue and hotel, where the staff were sincere and helpful (and the bloke behind the bar mixing a Mai Tai (not for me) was an absolute God, a Dionysus for the modern age). Where was I? Yes – happy. From our nailed-by-our knees vantage, everybody had a very happy Con.

Now, that may not seem like a big deal – but getting this shit right is bloody difficult. Over the years, we’ve seen so many events die, or suffer from falling attendance, or become plagued with industry hamster-fighting… but with four years’ experience, Nine Worlds has absolutely got it right. People feel welcome and confident, they can dress in anything the bloody hell they want, they can attend a whole wealth of panels across every kind of format and topic. and learn about every aspect of this ever-expanding business of ours. Props to committee and program organisers for a top effort all round.

NPC Quest GuyMan of the match, though, goes to the Side-Quest Guy, handing out little Quest booklets for people to follow – I didn’t get time to follow mine sadly (missed my Gold, there) but the work and through that had gone into his costume and supporting story were amazing.

Above all, this is a blog to thank all of the lovely people that came to sign for us at our table – and those who also came to have a natter and sign their stock.

We had a bloody fabulous Con. More like this one please!


Nine Worlds – Where I’ll Be

Nine Worlds Nine Worlds this weekend, which means you’ll find me, as ever, nailed by my knees to the trading table with a big piles o’ books, a full schedule of signings and (hopefully) a lot of tea.

I shall be on the Getting Fighting Wrong panel (not advisable, if you’ve ever tried it) alongside a suitable line-up of worthies: James Barclay, Liz de Jager, Sebastien de Castell, Oliver Langmead and Lucy Hounsom. The fur flies (or not) at 11:45am on Friday morning.

I’m also (so I’m told) on the LGBT Characters panel at 10:00am on Sunday morning – so I’d better not overdo it at the Cabaret the night before, I guess…

Signings ScheduleYou’ll also find me in the bar, as ever. And possibly dancing, but that depends upon my intake of gin.

Ah, but I shall miss the Radisson with its mad glass fish and its smell of air fuel and its…erm… character…

TomSka and the Heroes of YouTube

IMG_4826My son is addicted to YouTube – or he would be, if I didn’t ration the little bugger.

It’s a generational thing, I know that, and it mystifies me. Watching someone else play a game for hours at a time… why would you do such a thing? It’s not even like they’re in the room with you and you can share the experience by helping them solve puzzles, or by taking over the controller when they fail to beat the end-of-level Nasty and throw a wobbler.

Nope, seriously – I don’t have a clue.

Joe SuggIn the last year, we’ve had three of the big-name YouTube sensation come into the store – Joe Sugg, Stuart Ashen aka Ashens, and most recently Tom Ridgewell, aka TomSka. Joe’s signing wasn’t public, but without exception, the response to all three of them has been phenomenal.

Last Saturday, TomSka put in a three-hour shift in a somewhat overheated book store (the air-conditioning had broken down). His queue was easily two hundred people, most of them my son’s age. Isaac, of course, was there too, having his first full-on fanboy attack as he met one of his genuine heroes – he spent most of the time glued to his phone showing off to his schoolmates. And hey – he’s allowed. If he can’t nerd out in Forbidden Planet, then I’m in the wrong job. Where was I? Right – two hundred people, maybe more.

Fanboy CubAnd Tom greeted every one of them with a hug, a question, an energy that was absolutely genuine every time. He was inexhaustible, funny, human… and it made me understand something.

Celebrities signing at FP – certainly the actors – don a particular personality when they meet their fans. It’s another role, and while they’re always charming and approachable, you can see the subtle shift from the person who chats in the office to the personality that walks out into the store.

But not Tom. Not Stuart, and I’m guessing Joe would have been the same. Tom was the same person throughout, the same to every fan. Every one of them greeted him like they knew him, and he responded in kind.

One of the Mums in the department (waiting for her small people) absolutely hit the nail on the head. ‘He’s not a personality,’ she said, ‘He’s their friend’.

And, of course, that’s exactly what he is. Perhaps I understand the whole thing a bit better now.

Shakespeare Vs. Cthulhu

Shakespeare Vs. CthulhuSay the word ‘poetry’ and people tend to look round for help and then gently ease away from you. But the Bard (no, the other one) was the subject of two years of ‘A’ level shenanigans and another three at UEA after that… I know some of those plays so well that I can still hear my school class reading them aloud.

Combine that with the rising of The Great Old Ones and we’re onto a winner.

So, for ‘poetry’ read ‘sonnet, and read a fun and cheeky opportunity to contribute to a Kickstarter project that’s about to become a published anthology. It’s not the wordcount of some of the more worthy notables that have contributed, but it’s a take on one of my favourite plays.

Still think I should have called it ‘Mock the Meat’, but hey…

Signed copies available from Forbidden Planet (where else?) and details of the launch are here. Though Jon has promised that he won’t be Summoning anything.


Star Wars Celebration Europe

Count DookuIt’s not often I get to a Con and have full freedom to roam.

But heading to Star wars celebration Europe on Saturday two things struck me. One was the sheer SIZE of the booth that I was not actually stuck to – and the work that had gone into making the company’s presence actually happen – but the second was something about the Con itself.

Mainly: inclusion.

Inclusion is a geek grail; it’s an ideal that we raise to the light and we wish would happen, and it’s also (sadly) often the thing that eludes us. There are those events that go to great effort to welcome to people and to make them feel at home, to ensure that environments are safe and wanker-free, and long may they continue.

But SWCE had done all that, and made it look effortless – apparently The Force is with them.

Vader and Family

There were cosplayers of every kind, no barriers raised by age, by gender, by sexuality, by wealth, or by anything else. Signs stated very strongly the ‘Cosplay is Not Consent’ motto – but that boundary seemed to be taken as read. There was humour, there was appreciation, and that’s all good – but nowhere did I see a lack of respect.

Rey and BB-8One of my colleagues commented, on Saturday morning, that she’d seen ‘no Slave Leias’ – (in fact, I did see one later, but that was a fella) – through she had seen a dozen women, from little ones to big ones, all costumed as Rey. And I thought – we’ve done it. This is what a Con should get right – the freedom to Cosplay whomever the fuck you choose. (And I have no problem with Slave Leias, just for the record, my only problem comes when that’s ALL a girl (or a boy) is allowed to be, if that makes sense? Anyone is allowed to go to a Con in a bikini and be hassle-free and happy, but they should also have a choice!)

Ahsoka As Star Wars proves that it has the sheer power to break boundaries and feature a strong female lead, a black stormtrooper, a gay pilot (oh you know they have to), the fact that we can get this right can blaze the way for the rest of fandom to follow. Everyone should have a hero.

Pink Chewie and Han Mercury SWCE showed me – that you really can be anything you want. And it’s okay.

Creativity – Seeing and Believing

1111065__fire-in-her-eyes_pA week or so back, the question of Aphantasia, the blindness of the mind’s eye, came up on Facebook. The posted article, by Blake Ross, discusses how it’s possible to actually hallucinate things pictures, real images of people, places, backgrounds… Mr. Ross can’t do it, but he points to a very touching article about a man who could, and who then lost his ability after surgery.

It got me thinking. When I was younger, right up to my early thirties I suppose, I could see things in my head. If I read a book, it came to life. I could see what was happening – clearly and vividly. During gaming, I could see the characters and the world and the action; while writing, I could see the settings and faces as much I could feel the emotions of the characters involved…


Metal gaming dice. Love them.

But I lost the ability when I come to London, I didn’t read, or write, anything for years. When I picked up a book, the words were dead – I couldn’t see the pictures any more. I wrote all three Ecko books in the corner of the bedroom surrounded by images – maps, fractals, character sketches, print-outs, photographs, concepts – just so that I could keep them in my head.

There were times the images came back. Ecko’s fall from the heights of Mortimer, Hiner and Thompson came from standing outside Titan House and having a smoke, looking up at the buildings over the road; there’s a section at the end of ‘Burning’ that was written after I discovered St. Dunstan-in-the-East.

St. Dunstan in the EastSimply, if I can see something in my head, I can write it in one sitting, and the language just flows, it attends to itself. And if I can’t, I’m fucked – I can write the same thing forty times, and it’ll still be shit.

(A shout-out, at this point, to the glorious time-waster that is Pinterest

I know many of my author buddies have boards for their characters and worlds, and use them rather like a visual note-taking method. Quite aside from the ‘it’s research honest’ line, it really is good way to remember things!)

So – is visualisation essential to your creativity? When you write, can you ‘see’ things in your head? When you read? When you draw? Those who still role-play – can you see the Beholder as it zaps your arse into the middle of next week? And what if you can’t – if you don’t see things in your mind’s eye, can you still create?

I’m genuinely curious. Let me know!

The War of the Worlds


WOTWSpending a couple of summer seasons viewing a stage from the flight-case-laden, cable-swarming dinge of its wings does rather break the magic of sitting and letting its illusions lead you – perhaps that’s why I never go to the Theatre.

But I’ve loved War of the Worlds since my early twenties – making D&D gaming notes while the Martians wailed ULLA from the cassette deck on the sideboard – and the chance to see it brought to life was just too much. Fuse that with my son’s love for the book, and the possibility of him seeing an actual giant tripod… and all that lost magic just ignites like a well-placed pyrotechnic.

And it was magic. Really. I know the Burton CD so well I can recite – and sing – it verbatim (though not in pubic) and it was almost odd to hear it in Liam Neeson’s voice, to hear Michael Praed’s marvellously British tones sing those chilling opening lines.

The chances of anything coming from Mars…

As it began, though, I confess the layering threw me. There was a backdrop showing film clips – shots of a ghoulishly deserted London and those hollow-eyed, tentactly monsters. Then there was a full orchestra, taking up most of the stage. Then actors, performing the ongoing parts of the narrative that we all know and love – Jimmy Nail as the Pastor just knocked it out of the park. Then you have dancers, describing the unfolding story in – well, occasionally quite wacky – interpretive movement. And then add your pyro and your auditorium lighting effects. So many different perspectives and different depths of field happening concurrently made the space almost too busy. There were times the layering really worked, tying different images together into one concept – the Red Weed particularly springs to mind – and there were times it didn’t quite get it right – the pseudo-steampunk YMCA routine with the shovels was a bit much.

Props department wins the big points for the giant War Machine – had my son bouncing on his seat (he had to build one of his own out of LEGO when he got up this morning) and the NASA finale brought its usual echoes of that modern fear.

But yes, slightly odd or not, I loved it. It was my youth writ large, an almost-abstract, somewhat-bonkers, multifaceted conjuration of something that’s been with me for twenty-five years, and I’m sorry to see the run end.

Because I can’t do its concept justice – and you really should have seen it.


Fight Like A Girl Launch!

flag-full-coverIt started as a Tweet, and became a Phenomenon.

So, who was up for contributing to – and supporting – an anthology by and about kickass female fighters? The answer seems to be ‘everybody’. Not only written by women, by edited by women and with cover art by Sarah Anne Langton, Fight Like A Girl is everything that women in SFF should be.

And its launch party was epic – there have been multiple posts on the storming job done by Jo and Roz and Kristell Ink Books. Readings by Sophie E Tallis and Lou Morgan (and me), a great panel on the ever-tricky ‘women in SFF’ subject by Jo Hall, Gaie Sebold, Cheryl Morgan, Dolly Garland and KT Davies, followed by Juliet McKenna showing us how to tie people in knots and Fran Terminello showing us how to poke them with long and pointy pieces of steel… plus it’s quite startling how many of us have actually used weapons on a re-enactment field at one point or other.

More than anything, though, the event felt like family. Not just women celebrating getting together and being badass woman – face it, we so are – but also the fact that it was completely inclusive. There were families there, and kids underfoot everywhere, all being suitably wowed by the combat-demos. It was an event about standing up and being heard, of course it was, about celebrating our own abilities. But it was also about thanking all of those – men and women alike – who have made the project happen and supported its release.

And the reviews are as shiny as the cover art, seriously – I’ve never tried ‘Dystopian Future’ before but it seems to have done the trick!

Buy the book here, have a look at Roz’s EPIC Fight Like A Girl launch footage, and join the read-along on Fantasy-Faction, kicking off on April 16th!

Plotting Vs. Pantsing – What Works?

imagesSitting down to the New Thing, I’ve tried to do it by the book.

I’ve got the chapter plan, the spreadsheet all laid out, chapters along the top and characters and plotlines down the sides. I know who’s doing what, to whom, and where, and exactly how Miss Scarlett got done in with the candlestick in the library.

I’m sitting smug on my little achievement, all pleased with myself.


Hitting the 50k mark, I’m finding it harder and harder to adhere to the dryness of it. It affects my writing, the conversations of my characters. If I know that characters X and Y have to have a conversation in which they realise Z, it takes all my interest in that conversation away. Yes, the chapter achieves its ending – but it does do with a certain practical desiccation, like an overcooked scone.

downloadAnd yes, when I take the brakes off and just let the characters do what they want, they race away with me and have passion and enthusiasm of their own – like I’ve given them their freedom. The importance of passion was something that the Ecko series was all about.

You can read all sorts of sage wring advice about seat-of-the-pants navigation versus detailed and careful plotlines and in one sense, you do absolutely need to know where the characters are going and how the plotlines tie up – I couldn’t have finished something of Ecko’s complexity unless I know what the end was, right from the beginning (if that makes sense).

But I’ve tried to discipline myself much more harshly with this and I’m finding it difficult, slow and counterproductive. The current chapter is one of the critical turning points of the plot, and I’ve written it more than once, juggling this and rearranging that – but it’s still as dry as a sandworm’s underpants, and it’s just not happening. How can two people fall in love to order? Lay their lives at each other’s feet just because the chapter plan tells them to? They might as well be signing the Contract in Fifty Shades.

sandwormcroppedI guess the art is to be able to fit the one inside the other (so to speak) – to be able to lay out a plotline and adhere to it, but give yourself rom to manoeuvre within that structure, and not cut yourself off from your characters’ feelings or the fact that they’re not always going to do what they’re told.

Whether anyone can teach you that art, of course, is another matter.