Spam Poet reviews Spam Poetry

Somewhere in the archive there’s a short series of posts called Spam Poetry. They do exactly what it says on the tin – spam comments amusingly reformatted to make blank verse. Some of it could probably win prizes… anyway, a spam comment has popped up on one of the Spam Poetry posts. That’s so meta I almost approved it. Almost.

Turns out somebody doesn’t like Spam Poetry:

What a material of un-ambiguity and preserveness of precious knowledge regarding unpredicted feelings.

Well, I think they don’t like it. It’s difficult to be sure. Anyhoo, onwards and upwards…

Chopper on (Blog) Tour, 2015

The mighty Alex Davis, author of epic space opera The Last War,last-war-cover available now through Tickety Boo Press (he’s also an event wrangler extraordinaire and I’m totally convinced he’s found the extra three hours in the day nobody else knows really exist) is running a whole month of guest blogs over at his place here. In fact, it’s a whole month of blog swaps. So on July 20th, he’ll be taking over the top post on this blog, and I’ll be over there, thattaway.

There’s a pretty sweet line-up for the rest of the guest posts on Alex’s blog and I recommend dipping in to check some of them out over the course of the month. For example –

James Everington
Kim Lakin-Smith
Susan Boulton
Andrew Angel
Stephen Palmer
Jo Zebedee

That’s not all, not by a long chalk, but I’ll let you swing by Alex’s pages to see the full list. Then, you’ll just have to collect the whole series of blog posts – see, you gotta catch ’em all…

They Call Him Mr Nibs

It’s a truism that every writer needs a cat, although not every cat needs a writer. Some of you may be aware that we’ve been fostering a cat from the local RSPCA for the last four weeks or so, with the ultimate aim of fully adopting him (of course, there is the viewpoint that says one cannot simply adopt a cat; one is merely tolerated by a pan-dimensional hairball of evil instead). That fostering period has now ended – and the boy is officially part of the household. Yay!

nibs1Meet Claus/Mycroft/Mr Nibs. Claus is what the RSPCA called him, Mycroft is what Rachel has called him, and Mr Nibs is me being daft (I used to call my parents’ cats, Mungo and Jerry, by the more fun names Biscuit and Flapjack – and eventually my mum called them that too…).

It’s a giant step forward in many respects. Most importantly from the cat’s point of view, he’s got a home he can learn to feel comfortable in. When we first met him he was, in the words of the cattery staff, institutionalised. He’d spent six months or so in the “quiet corner” of the shelter, where they keep the more nervous animals, those that are pregnant, those recovering from injuries, and for most of the time he wouldn’t come out from the travel box he slept in. Nervous, shy, wounded; that’s the little fella. He’d play around a bit at night when the lights went out, knock a few toys about, but otherwise that was it. Shutdown. Not the happy, mewing, “love me!” sort of cat that most visitors want to see.

Rachel saw differently. She saw a cat who could be loved, helped, and given a great home. He might not be a lap-cat, but that didn’t matter. This was a cat who deserved a chance.

Having completed the adoption paperwork and seen the full medical records, I can see that the poor chap hasn’t had a great time of it. I’d been told he was in an accident, but that’s not quite true. As chance would have it, he was found not too far from where we are now, hiding in a shed, one front leg overwhelmed by a massive growth that turned out to be a necrotic tumour. There wasn’t anything the vets could do for that limb but amputate it completely.

When found, he was “whole” and unchipped – probably born and raised stray then, which accounts for his nervousness and the almost total shutdown he went into at the cattery.

On his first day in the house, he found the attic stairs and hid at the top, wedged face first into a corner, confused and miserable. That was upsetting.

Over the last few weeks however, he has started to come out of his shell. Three-legged, maybe he feels a bit vulnerable – he shies away from sharp movements, skitters around the kitchen, almost fell down the stairs once while fleeing past me. When not safe in his travel box bed, he prefers to sit under the kitchen worktop, surrounded by wooden stools, like a kid sat in the middle of a climbing frame.

But he’s also learning to be social – he knows that when we’re eating, he gets fed too. If we go into the front room to eat, he’ll sit in the doorway and mew  at us. And then he’ll leap into the kitchen and attempt to dismember one of his toys again. He’s very good at ripping the seams out of things, even with a front leg missing.

He still may never be a lap-cat, but in four short weeks he’s become a much happier cat. I’m guessing the pan-dimensional hairball of evil stuff comes later.

Close to the Edit

Wow, it’s looking a bit old and dusty around here, isn’t it? Sorry about that – as you might imagine, with Heir To The North looming on the horizon like great Leviathan rising to the surface, my attention has somewhat inevitably been focused elsewhere. edit2

The editing process. Now there’s a mystery that sets all authors to trembling with fear. It’s the first time that I’ve had to hand over a full novel-length manuscript to an external editor, and I wasn’t certain what to expect. To make matters more complex, HTTN was written over a couple of years, and my own style changed between the first and last chapters (though not to the extent that I stopped over-writing. Heavens, no).

But now Heir To The North is slimmer, quicker, meaner, and actually a darn sight easier to read. Here’s what I learned during the process.

Change is not a bad thing. Likewise and conversely, editing is not a dictatorial process. At the end of it, your book is still your book. The point is that the writer’s tired eyes may not have seen problems with structure, continuity, verbosity etc. If you thought you were killing your darlings in the second, third (and seventeenth) drafts, then this will hurt a bit (a lot), but seriously it’s worth the pain. For example, here’s something I totally missed on my reads… badwriting1

The editor does not hate your book. Far from it. The editor wants to make your book better, because s/he loves it and takes great pride in their work, just as much as the author does in their own. The trick is to realise that these first two points take your book to the next level.

Weasel words must die. At least, possibly, it seems to be that way.

Not everything has to be described as “old”. Or “great”. Or “great” and “old”. Some of the secondary characters in the book used to belong to Guhl’s Company, a band of Hellean soldiers. In the unedited version of the manuscript, they’re all described with the same phrase: “old soldiers”. When one talked to another, it became difficult to know who was talking to whom…

Make your action more actiony. Yes, really. Joanne Hall talks a good fight over here.

You are not a columnist for Fantasy Homes & Garden Magazine. This comes back to killing those darlings. It’s all very well lovingly describing Rann Almoul’s town house and the changes he made to it over the years, all to illustrate the man’s avaricious nature, but – really? Did I really need all that? Are we ever going to see that house again? (SPOILER: no.)

It’s easier to fix over-writing than it is to fix under-writing. And in this case a picture eloquently speaks a thousand words…..badwriting2


Last, but not least – It’s not all bad. Far from it. Editing doesn’t have to be an attritional process and, indeed, nor should it be. Turns out, see, that I write good. Long, but good.goodwriting1



Heir To The North, by the way, is scheduled for release around October of this year. If you’re on Goodreads, you can add it to your TBR shelf over here.

Meanwhile, if you want an example of me writing short but good, look no further than the recent release of Under The Waves, the latest in the series of Fox Pockets from the wonderful Fox Spirit Books. My contribution, That Sinking Feeling, is a small but perfectly-formed piece of shaggy-dog fantasy fiction, even if I do say so myself.

Under The Waves

The very excellent Fox Spirit Books have released the fifth in their series of Fox Pocket anthologies this last weekend. Under The Waves is now available in paperback and, very shortly, in electronic formats too.

Under The Waves – Click to Buy!

This is noteworthy because, alongside stories by Den Patrick, Fran Terminiello, Margrét Helgadóttir, Hardeep Sangha, KC Shaw, Emma Maree, JB Rockwell, and Alec McQuay (and that’s not all!), there’s a small tale entitled That Sinking Feeling by little old me.

I might be somewhat biased, but I recommend you go add Under The Waves to your basket right now. And then go find the first four Fox Pockets as well, because nobody likes an incomplete series….

This Week’s All-Time Top Ten

I got asked what my current all-time favourite genre books are. After much head-scratching, ceiling-staring, and sifting through the stacks, I’ve come up with this list – unnumbered, and definitely not in much order otherwise, these are still my top ten reads. For now, at least.

The Barbed Coil, by JV Jones.
barbedA standalone epic portal fantasy, in which our tinnitus-afflicted protagonist finds herself drawn into a terrifying battle against a king who wears the magical titular Coil, this was always going to be top of the list, come what may. The sheer detail that has gone into creating the world, the characters, the magic, on top of the brilliant prose, all draw me back again and again to this book. It feels like a series, and when you reach the end you’ll wish there was more, but Jones pulls off a masterstroke by limiting this to one book. It never outstays its welcome. If I ever manage to write a book that’s as well-regarded as this one, I’ll be damned happy. A while back, I wrote about it here.

Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed.
throneGrand, epic, and yet slender too, Throne of the Crescent Moon is modern sword & sorcery with an Arabic base and tone, and is bloody brilliant to boot. Saladin Ahmed has a definite voice, and he uses it to perfectly evoke his setting and the God that watches over all. Be warned however: food is frequently and passionately described. I put on three pounds just reading this book.

The Also People, by Ben Aaronovitch.
alsoYes, it’s a Doctor Who novelisation, rather than any of the Peter Grant novels. Why? Well, for one, I’ve only read Rivers of London so far and good as it is it doesn’t quite qualify for this list. For another, The Also People was the first chance I had to explore the New Adventures range that carried the Who torch after its TV cancellation, and the Culture-style pastiche was spot on and lovingly done. It turned me on to Iain Banks’s epic space operas, and yet I keep coming back to The Also People for the dry humour and the Doctor’s glacial manipulations of time and people alike.

Pandora’s Star, by Peter F Hamilton.
pandora_coverReading Banks led me to Hamilton. You can argue that The Reality Dysfunction was the better, faster-paced epic (and indeed the sequel to Pandora’s Star, Judas Unchained, has a rather interminable second half) but I love Pandora’s Star for the world-building alone. How better to beat the limitations of FTL than by sending trains through wormholes on regular timetables? How can you not love that concept? A wonderfully British interpretation of wormholes that surely must have been dreamed up while stranded five minutes outside Grantham on the Trans-Pennine Express…

The War of the Flowers, by Tad Williams.
flowersAnother excellent epic standalone portal fantasy – there aren’t too many of those, so I’ve lucked out on this list! Again it feels like it could have been a series, and length-wise it’s certainly long enough to be two books rather than just one. Tad’s version of fairyland is one that I’ve revisited a couple of times and has actually been a small inspiration for at least some of Project:TFL.

The Burning Land, by Victoria Strauss.
The-Burning-Land-ReissueReissued this year, I tore through it at a rate of knots. If it’s odd to find an atheist loving a book that has at its core a question of faith, then trust me on this – Strauss isn’t preaching. Instead we are treated to a brilliantly detailed exploration of both sides of a schism. It’s about the characters more than the god. (And that statement applies also to The Throne of the Crescent Moon, in case you’re wondering)

Wyrd Sisters, by Terry Pratchett.
Wyrd-sisters-coverIf you’ve already read the more recent entries on this blog then you’ll understand parts of why this is on here. In the ’90s I was involved with an amateur theatre group that staged a production of Wyrd Sisters in Sheffield. It was wonderful fun. This retooling of Macbeth is probably the best of Pratchett’s earlier Discworld novels. My copy is signed with the note: “I was expecting somebody taller”. :)

Breed, by KT Davies.
breedI read this earlier this year after it had sat on the TBR pile since the launch at last year’s Fantasycon. Like Throne of the Crescent Moon, it’s a fast-paced sword & sorcery romp; unlike that book, it absolutely revels in chaos, violence, and arse-pickle. Breed is a very unreliable narrator, and Davies plays a couple of cards very close to her chest to keep the reader guessing. It’s a shame Breed hasn’t made it onto the longlist for this year’s David Gemmell Award, as I would certainly have voted for it there.

London Falling, by Paul Cornell.
london-falling-UK-pb_500Another book I read just after Fantasycon, having won a copy of The Severed Streets there. Holy smack… having been thoroughly traumatised by London Falling, I’ve had to bury the sequel in a lead-lined box in the outhouse so that I can rest easy at night. I say that as a good thing, mind you – it’s rare that a book shocks me so much as I’m reading it that somebody asks me if I’m OK, and London Falling did that. If Rivers of London is “Harry Potter with a warrant card”, then Cornell’s take on urban fantasy police procedurals is “CSI: Hellraiser” (not convinced that simile works, but read it and see for yourselves). One day I might be brave enough to get through the first pages of The Severed Streets; until then I must try to ignore the gentle rustling of pages from down in the outhouse…

Dream Park, by Larry Niven.
dream parkIt’s the oldest book on the list, and it’s something of a guilty pleasure – Dream Park has dated quite horribly since the original publication. Some of the tropes and characters are embarrassing, played seriously rather than for laughs, but I always loved the idea of technologically-assisted LARPing that Dream Park relies upon. As an old school D&Der myself, Dream Park is a throwback to that sort of wish fulfillment. It’s a bit like cheese before bedtime however – too much is definitely a bad thing.

So no, no Tolkien. No GRRM either. Don’t get me wrong, I still like them both, and as soon as The Winds of Winter lands, I’ll be on the ASoIaF horse again, but right now they aren’t my actual favourite things. No Juliet McKenna, as I couldn’t squeeze 11 into 10, and Paul Kearney lost out for the same reasons. Like the post title says though, it’s this week’s top ten. Sometimes it really does depend on which way the wind is blowing…

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The Turtle Moves

Once upon a time, I worked as a classroom assistant at the Sacred Heart Primary School in Hillsborough, Sheffield. I thought I wanted to be a teacher (I was wrong, but don’t hold that against me). I discovered that it was quite difficult to do much with Y3 and below (severe lack of concentration span, loads of Sunny Delight), and Y5 and Y6 were just as difficult as they were beginning to learn to not pay any attention at all (as well as throw filched packets of condoms around the playground which, in a Catholic School, is probably the very height of anti-establishment behaviour).

So I wound up helping out in Y4. Most afternoons, half an hour before the end of the day, the teacher would read to the class. The kids would gather around and listen and, wonder of wonders, they were quiet and they enjoyed the stories.

I asked the teacher if I could choose the next book. She was a little suspicious: I wasn’t Catholic, I wasn’t one of Them, and I wrote my zeroes and sevens in “the European style” on the chalkboard (“we’re not European, we’re English!”), and she hadn’t heard of my choice of book to read. For all she knew, I could be warping their tiny, fragile minds.

Well, she was right.

The book was Truckers, the first in Terry Pratchett’s Bromeliad series for younger readers. The story, if you need a quick reminder, concerns the adventures of Masklin and his fellow nomes, when they are evicted from their home under the floorboards of a massive department store. It might have been a little “advanced” for Y4, perhaps, I certainly wasn’t an expert in judging that, but I figured I could skip over any difficult bits if I really needed to.

We began. I had brought my own copy of Truckers in to read from. Masklin crossed a road, evaded predators, and helped his tribe into the back of a lorry. Y4 listened intently.

By the end of the first week, a couple of them were reading along, using copies that they had evidently sourced from the local library. By the middle of the second week, I don’t think there was a single copy of Truckers left in the Sheffield Library system. They were all here, in this classroom. We parcelled out some of the speaking roles – that was ambitious. The kids took it in turn to be Masklin and Grimma, stumbling over the printed words enthusiastically.

Those kids will be in their mid-20s now, I think. I bumped into one a few years back. He blamed me for getting him hooked on reading and hooked on fantasy.

Not my fault: that honour belongs to Terry Pratchett, I reckon. After all, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic did the same for me when they turned up in the boxes of books that my uncle left behind when he emigrated to South Africa.

Thank you, Terry.

Reading is important. It makes you think.

Pass it on, folks. Tell your children.

The turtle moves.