Keep Buggering On – or, Writer’s Block Sucks

What’s that episode of Doctor Who where Capaldi beats his way out of the icewall surrounding the castle? (It’s a good’un, as well).

Sometimes, writing feels like that – you’re making progress, but it’s really slow and all the remorseless keyboard-beating just hurts your hands.

Walk, cup of tea, keep buggering on, don’t edit as you go, walk, cup of tea…

But you try to go forwards, and slam! Your hands hit the wall, again.

Walk, cup of tea…

We’ve had two articles in the Guardian recently, one from the woman who wrote two novels and quit, and then the response from David Barnett, about how you’ve got to be tough with this stuff, so deal with it. And speaking as someone who did quit and then took it back up again, I feel deeply for both of them.

This week, quitting would be so easy. And keeping going is so hard.

Walk, cup of tea…

But the mark of a writer is not success. Don’t get me wrong – the accolades are great – but they’re not what makes the woman. The writer is one who writes, because they have to. The images, the characters, the imaginary things in your head – they won’t leave you alone. And yes, you need to be tough – and every time you bruise your knuckles on that icewall, it’s another tiny crack.

Walk, cup of tea…

I keep telling myself that the wall will come down. I just hope it doesn’t take me as long as it took the Doctor.

 

 

 

 

On Stress, Depression and Creating Art

Children of Artifice, finished.

In the last two years, I’ve sold my house, moved twice, lost my Mum, and fought a Battle of Paperwork that’s been truly overwhelming – at times, I’ve had no idea how I’ve got the end of the day, or the end of the week.

But these are the times my imaginary friends have kept me sane. The amazing thing about art – writing, drawing, music, theatre – is that it gives you somewhere to go. Maybe it’s control, maybe it’s emotional catharsis, maybe it gives you a chance to explore how you feel about all the shit that’s going on. Maybe it’s all of them. Whatever it is, writing Artifice has been absolutely invaluable over the last two years, providing relief, and hope, and escapism, and purpose.

By animerenders

Caph, my prince in his high tower, may be the closest character to ‘me’ that I’ve even written. Gender irrelevant, he’s a younger me, a reckless and unwise me (but hell, we’ve all been there), and he gave me the chance to explore my life choices and dysfunctional relationships, and how I felt after the death of my Mum.

His narrative is very different to Ecko’s (and he swears a lot less), but, as Ecko’s anger was very pertinent at the time the books were written, so Caph has helped me make sense of things.

And so, Artifice is a love story. Not quite a fairy tale, not quite a romance, but a love story nonetheless. It may break boundaries, though that’s not its purpose; it may take you places you don’t expect to go… but hey, what love ever does?

 

 

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!

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.

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!

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.

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.