BristolCon

Looking forward to heading to BristolCon tomorrow – and will be taking my son with me. He’ll be grumpy as all fuck (he wanted to be at MCM) and it’s his first outing into our little world… so look out, this may get colourful!

Find me, not behind a trading table (hurrah!), but hanging out with friends and on a couple of excellently topical panels. There’s a Mass Signing (why does that always sound so Catholic?) at 2:00pm, and I’ll be moderating an ‘Out Of This World’ line-up at 5:00pm in Room 1 – join Jen Williams, Gareth Powell, Paul McAuley and Dolly Garland as they tell us where they’d <really> like to go on holiday. Then at 6:00pm, also in Room 1, it’s all about the delights of cross-genre fiction with Jo Lindsay Walton, Elizabeth Jones, Jason Whittle and Nick Hembry.

Sadly the one place I won’t be is in the bar in evening, as we’ll be doing the loooonng haul home on the train, but, in my resolution that I <must> get to more Cons next year, BristolCon is just the best warm-up!

Tales of Battle

In the midst of finishing the second Artifice book (called ‘The Last Daughter’) and trying to drag my thoughts together to start something new, a couple of pieces of battle-happy news…

Kristell Ink’s Fight Like A Girl anthology, the book that started with a random tweet and then snowballed into the kind of all-female awesomeness that really pisses off (some) Doctor Who fans, has been shortlisted for The BFS Award for Best Anthology. Delighted to  have a story in the book, and chuffed as fuck that it’s done so well. Seriously, whoathunkit?

Plus a story in the forthcoming Legends III Anthology from NewCon Press, published next year for the David Gemmell Awards. I didn’t know David personally, but he was a guest of the business many times – and he always looks like such a wonderful character. I remember reading Legend, and hope I’ve written something suitably battle-worthy.

And more short story news coming soon, with a little luck!

A Shoutout to All the Writers who have Kids…


A shout out to all the writers who have kids…

Who can’t sit for ten minutes without a snotty nose or a spilled drink – just when they’re in the middle of a critical scene.

Who can’t gather any pace or drama because Billy has just shaved the cat.

Who keep shouting, “Turn it DOWN, I’m trying to work’.

Who feel guilty because they should be doing something with your child/ren – even though they’re going to the park as soon as they’ve finished this chapter.

Who won’t finish the chapter before they go to the park.

Who carefully explain that they have to set aside time as they have a deadline next week – knowing that it will never happen.

Who allocate time to the child/ren first – and are then so bloody worn out that they can’t sentence a string together

Who know that the child/ren is/are just acting up because you’ve told them you ‘need an hour’…

…but who still has to drop everything to deal with PlayStation rage, upset over a text message, or ‘MUUUUUM this is broken’…

…or who know that something is going on – but are utterly determined NOT to get up as the little buggers are just doing it for attention.

And who thank every God when the little horror/s go out for an hour and they can FINALLY work out how the characters out of that PARTICULAR tangle.

Yeah, I know. So here’s a *fistbump* to all the Mums and Dads who write.

(I’ve had peace for two days, and have racked up five thousand words and a completed short story. Which I’m really rather pleased with. The best thing about writing and kids? It’s the relief of the quiet… and the MASSVE HEADWAY you make when they’re out on manoeuvres!

 

One Month: No Booze

I like a glass of wine. I like a couple of glasses of wine. And gin, gin is good. G&T on the balcony of a weekend evening. Or when I’m tired, or stressed. Or as a cure of anxiety. Or…

Yeah, so I’m not necking Gordon’s by the bottle and I don’t (usually) drink on school nights. But still: time to quit.

And after one month of no booze (and honestly, I haven’t even wanted it), I’ve sussed that all of that pious health-fad stuff is actually true.

  • Feeling better (and I mean ‘singing in the shower and scaring the neighbours’ better)
  • Sleeping better (along with some very wacky dreams)
  • MUCH more energy (physical and mental, really WANT to get on and do things)
  • Better memory (yeah, that’s kind of double-edged)
  • Higher intelligence (seriously)
  • Higher levels of creativity (VERY important!)
  • I’ve lost weight (half a stone, or thereabouts)
  • And saved money

But there are other things, more subtle things, that you don’t realise.

  • Less junk food (why do booze and crisps and CHEESE always go together?)
  • More time in the gym (you might as well, as there’s no wine)
  • Better sense of humour (including at yourself, and that’s always a win)
  • More even temper (cats are chuffed about this)
  • Easier to relax (bizarre, but true)
  • No lingering wisps of anxiety or depression (been replaced by a suffocating cloud of smug)
  • And yes, even my periods are less moodswingy and painful

So… I may have to turn in my membership of The Order of St. Ethelbert the Inebriate, but I’m hoping my good brethren and sistren will forgive my blasphemy. The spirits are willing, but the flesh, as you grow older, just can’t handle it anymore.

By tsong on deviantart

 

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!