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.

Honest.

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…

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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

Status

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.

Martian

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.

But.

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.

STUFF

Art Toy Addiction Stuff.

Stuff is sacred, collected stuff, hoarded stuff. Stuff signed by artists, authors, actors, musicians… stuff that commemorates creators no longer with us, and stuff that was so special when I brought it home, but that has sat in a drawer (with similar stuff) ever since.

Stuff that you find, as you pack your house.

I have stuff. I have the stuff that was signed wrong, the graphic novel that was printed upside down, the book that the author signed with someone else’s signature (Ben Aaronovitch) for a momentary laugh. I have stuff signed by guests that were drunk, guests that were sober, guests that had fans crying as they came into the building, and, just sometimes, guests that had almost no-one there at all.

Fat Freddy's CatSo much stuff.

And stuff occupies a strange space-time law of its own – when you pack it, it goes through a long period of never getting any smaller. It’s like the sofa in Dirk Gently, ever spinning in a pattern of impossibility, and never ever going to get out of the house.

Endless stuff.

Signed Langley Original - SlaineMy Mum had stuff. Images and treasures and memories, some of which I could identify, many of which were a mystery. She had pieces of my childhood, things that bought back floods of memory. She had letters from my father, memories of him that I’d never seen. She had photographs for days – family pictures, modelling shots, one amazing shot of a handsome bad boy on a motorcycle that no-one could identify but that had us all raising our eyebrows…

Magic stuff.

As You Wish - Cary ElwesAnd yet, it had to go. All that treasure, a dragon’s hoard worth, given to friends and family, and to the cancer charities of Oxted High Street. And then there was a flat, all sad and empty of stuff.

No stuff left.

It’s made me look at all my own memories, so many things all so treasured – my Vike kit, now unused in fifteen years, my gaming dice and books, all gathering dust – and I wonder why I keep it, if it’s only going to be abandoned in the end.

Perhaps the Vikings had the right idea, in fact – take all your stuff with you.

SO much Lego!As I pack, though, I find the magic is too strong, the hope always there – and I can’t give either of them up. I like my quirky collection of art toys and geek paraphernalia, I like the memories that those old weapons and folders carry with them. I know my son will be there one day, turning them over in his hands and wondering what to do with them…

…but for now, I want to keep it all, and tell its stories, and share it with him.

Because that’s the stuff that matters.

Fight Like A Girl!

Fight-Like-A-Girl-V2-400ppiSo pleased to see this up and happening!

Something that started as a random tweet has snowballed into a kick-ass anthology published by Kristell Ink, an all-female warband of fighters, writers, editors and artist, telling tales of strong women in fantasy and SF.

“What do you get when some of the best women writers of genre fiction come together to tell tales of female strength? A powerful collection of science fiction and fantasy ranging from space operas and near-future factional conflict to medieval warfare and urban fantasy. These are not pinup girls fighting in heels; these warriors mean business. Whether keen combatants or reluctant fighters, each and every one of these characters was born and bred to Fight Like A Girl.

Featuring stories by Roz Clarke, Kelda Crich, K T Davies, Dolly Garland, K R Green, Joanne Hall, Julia Knight, Kim Lakin-Smith, Juliet McKenna, Lou Morgan, Gaie Sebold, Sophie E Tallis, Fran Terminiello, Danie Ware and Nadine West”

Really pleased to be a part of it, and among a fantastic line-up of authors.

Come and join the launch party!

Buckeroo – 2015 in review

IMG_4021It’s been a hell of a year.

Normally, I’d talk about work, and books, and finishing Ecko – but this year, it’s all kinda just been lost. I put my flat on the market in March, lost my Mother in April. I’ve been fighting the hissing nest of red tape that is a Lease Extension since February, not helped by an atrociously inefficient Property Management company who couldn’t find their arse with instructions. It’s been a year of hospitals, phone calls, letters, administration, Estate Agents, Solicitors, house cleaning, house viewings, accountants, funeral directors, more phone calls, endless paperwork, even more Solicitors and occasional bouts of ‘I can’t fucking do this’.

It’s also been the year in which I’ve had to edit/finish Ecko, be there for my (very upset) son and continue to go to work every day. And all of that is without getting into the stress and grief of losing someone close – and coping with the fallout. I haven’t written anything about my Mother, and I still don’t know if I can, or if I will.

IMG_3680There have been times, this year, when I’ve felt like the donkey in the kids’ game of Buckeroo – with stuff piling on me and piling on me and piling on me, waiting for the point at which I freak out and throw things because I can’t take it anymore.

But you can’t freak out – the jobs have to be done, and you have to do them. And that’s all there is to it.

Lace up your big girl boots, and quit whining.

Three things have got me though this year. One is the single sagest piece of advice I have ever heard – ‘You eat an elephant one bite at a time’. Even if you’re overwhelmed, take it one day at a time, one job at a time, and it will be okay. You’ll get mighty fucking sick of the taste of elephant… but there will come a day when you realise he’s nothing but a skeleton and a bad-taste umbrella holder, and that you can see the light again.

P1050473The second thing has been the boyfriend. I know I’ve said this before, but Jon’s strength and capability have been something I have set my back against. He’s been there for me – not only dropping everything to come after Mum died, standing tall beside me at her funeral, but fixing the house and doing the garden and painting the windows, tirelessly working so the property could be viewed and sold. And not only the practical stuff, but the being there. Sometimes, someone just making you tea is the best thing in the world.

P1050468The third thing has been a promise: that we would end a year of darkness with Christmas in the light. I’ve always wanted to go to Barcelona and marvel at the mad Gaudi artwork – it’s been a little gleam at the end of the tunnel, something to work towards. And we’ve wandered the sunlit Spanish streets, appreciating the city’s warmth and welcome and laziness, enjoying far too much wine and far too much cheese, indulging ourselves in pavement cafes and gloriously bonkers architecture, all the time remarking how London suddenly seems so dirty and aggressive. We’ve done the sights as well – jaw-dropped at La Sagrada Familia, looked for treasure at La Baceloneta, explored the heights of Park Guell and the depths of Las Ramblas… sometimes, these are the things that keep you sane.

ScaryNext year, the long-anticipated change finally comes: the housemove is imminent, now, and January may well be a bit of a scrabble. But that’s okay, I’m SO looking forward to the new start and having all of this finally over. To new working hours, to Isaac going to High School and to, appropriately enough, a whole new manuscript and world.

Moving out of your comfortzone is a bloody scary thing.

But sometimes, it’s just necessary.

 

 

So – Now What? Second Album Syndrome

New ThingYou finish a trilogy, have a cup of tea and get your breath back, and the question that hits you, like a slap round the back of the head, is ‘So. What’s next’?!

What’s next? After the numbing crash of farewell?

What’s next? After the inevitable vacuum of self-doubt?

What’s next? After facing the cold page and failing to write a single bloody thing?

What’s next is more tea and a long walk. And than, after that, it’s settling yourself down to start again.

By Sunila Sen Gupta

Glass

I had forgotten (no, seriously) how much work it is when you build something new. Perhaps because so much of Ecko’s past is based in old RPGs, and so much of that creativity was done in an orgy of innocence in our twenties, when we did it for love and had no idea what a big thing we’d acheived. To do the same thing in your forties, somehow sandwiched between job and child and trying to sell your house and losing your Mum… well, I think I’ve said before that it initially felt like hitting Second Album Syndrome with an almighty SMACK and sliding down it to the floor going ‘ow’.

But. Trees from acorns and all that, you’ve got to start somewhere.

By Tuomas Korpi

On the water

The ideas are the easy bit. When you start something new, its every synapse firing – you want to include this, and build that, and use the other thing. There’s probably stuff that fell out of the previous MS that’s just too much fun to leave on the cutting room floor. New characters seem to lunge at you from nothing – conversations spring into life fully-formed.

At first, it all goes off like fireworks. Great fun, but all over the shop.
It’s the structure that’s hard. The nine-tenths of the research iceberg that never actually shows in the finished manuscript. The minutiae of social and economic structures, of political history and new magic systems and who has the power and why – and exactly how MUCH farmland a city of thirty thousand people really needs to feed itself…

And, of course, you have to have a map (groans).

MetallugyAnyway, after three months of facing that blank page, I’ve finally made it past that magical 20k and have something that is growing in confidence and structure. It’s been difficult, and I fully admit it – trying to find the time to write is hard enough, trying to find the time to build is a tall order, no pun intended. It’s very different, more urban and metallurgical, a detective story with (apparently) a bit of romantic thread… but we will see.

 

The longest journey starts with you getting off your arse, after all.