Timely reminders

Angry Robot author Anne Lyle makes many good points in this post – here – about the business of writing. Some of these points got mentioned in passing at one of the AltFiction panels, and it’s a bit unnerving to think of the author as a one-(wo)man production line, always looking forwards, not just to the next book, but the book after that and far beyond, negotiating contracts mid-term like footballers (yeah, I know, that one doesn’t quite fit…sue me).

The other year, Brent Weeks saw his first three books published, in successive months. Now that’s planning ahead. Also, a good indication of how a writer needs to make themselves visible in the market. Not saturate the market, but keep a consistent presence there. In that way, a book a year isn’t such a big ask. The writing business is a business, after all, and it doesn’t matter how well you can write – it’s all about writing to order.


Something I’m getting better at, slowly. I bought Nettie – an Acer Aspire One, my writing machine – because it was built on Linux. I know nothing about Linux. The chances of me getting anything except the pre-installed OpenOffice to run are naff-all. So, no football management games. Not much internet access (Vodafone’s dongle-thing ran out and the unhelpful staff couldn’t tell me how to re-credit it; now it’s blocked and useless, and I refuse to shell out for another one – it took me 12 months to go through 1GB! – so I just hook in through available public access…and the Apple shop upstairs). No whizzy distractions. Perfect.

But it has still taken me three and a half years to get HTTN to full first draft status. Time to speed up, I think.


(Quietly uninstalls Championship Manager from Bloody Stupid Thing.)


Crossing the line

Good goddamn! It’s done! The first draft MSS of HTTN (MC1) is finally complete, clocking in just shy of 151000 words. That’s a heck of a lot of words – more than I’d thought. The last chapter got trimmed and revised slightly before it was welded together with the first part of Baum’s epic confrontation with the titular warlock, and I was able to tease out a few more implications for Cassia to realise further on down the line.

So this holiday has been a good one so far – I didn’t expect to get this far in a week. The next step, of course, is editing. And that will be a bitch. Hopefully I’ll be able to trim a little more fat from this brick during the process and make it a little more palatable for submissions.

And, if this writing streak stays good, I might have some news on the Empire Dance before Halloween. (Well, I can hope…)

Construction work continues

At the moment it feels like I’m digging the Channel Tunnel all over again. Three years ago I wrote the final chapter of HTTN. It was the first chapter I’d written. Big mistake, you might think, with the benefit of hindsight: now I’m attacking from the other direction, joining up the dots from the Prologue to chapter 21 (though conveniently missing out chapter 10. Why? Simple – there is no chapter 10) and hoping desperately to meet that fabled Last Chapter head on.

Will we meet on the same plane? Will we be using the same gauge? Will one side even understand the other? Does my Last Chapter smoke Gauloises?

One thing I do know is that it’ll need a makeover. I read the Last Chapter to the Groop a few months ago, and the unanimous reaction was that it didn’t seem to fit the rest of what I had written, stylistically at least.

Another couple of thousand words, and that’ll be the next job.

147500 and rising….

The AltFiction Post – 2011

So: one week on, what can I remember?

As it turns out, I made notes…..

This was AltFiction’s first year as a two-day event – and only my second attendance – and I have to say it felt far less rushed than last year. There was more time to spread out and talk, which was inevitably what these things are all about. There also seemed to be less people hanging around, although I did see a slightly different crowd on the Sunday, and some people I talked to could only afford to take one day out of their schedules. The programme on the otherhand was pretty packed full – like last year, it was a case of cherry-picking what you most wanted to do and using the rest of the time to catch up. (Most people, it seemed, wanted to be in Dan Abnett’s workshop, on Sunday; from what I’ve heard, it was a deserved highlight).

My intention – without a manuscript to tout – was to see more of the workshops and just actually talk to more people. Learn where the genre is going. Come away with a shed-load of books. Mission accomplished.

You know it’s going to be a good weekend when you struggle through the horrible revolving door and the first thing you see is Andrew Reid waving at you like a hat-trick goalscorer. The fact that you can pick up conversations after a gap of a whole year is one of those comforting peculiarities that I’ve come to love about conventions.

The workshops were a mixed bag: Juliet McKenna was an absolute professional (Powerpoint!), while both Rod Rees and Jonathan L Howard were debutants and although their hours turned into mini-panels they were still instructive and interesting. I thought I attended fewer panels than I had last time, but since they were spread over two days, it must be my memory that’s playing up. Of the various panels, the most interesting was the Writer’s Life panel on Sunday, while the most entertaining was the one on Audio Books, with James Goss and Mr Abnett. (And somehow I contrived to miss both GOH speeches. Silly me.)

 The readings I attended were also good fun – if Adrian Tchaikovsky has any doubts as to his ability to write short stories, he should cast them aside now…

And let’s not mention the raffle (“Would you like to pull a ticket from my box?”). Not in front of the children….

High points from the notes:

  • Every word must count: every word you use must do at least 2 things.
  • There’s a difference between writing and the business of writing. Understand both.
  • A writer has to always look to the next contract. Head up, eyes wide open.
  • Never mind the first 10000 words: your first page must be the bomb. In fact, your first sentence must be the bomb.
  • John Jarrold gets 30 submissions every week. What makes yours better than the rest?
  • Write and edit for pace and clarity.
  • Has Fantasy moved past Tolkien? More like “have Fantasy fans moved past Tolkien”?
  • You can use a modern sensibility, but get your research right first.
  • A Heroine is defined by her relationships to men; a Hero (gender-neutral) is not. But don’t hero-worship your female characters though.
  • I want a Historical Pre-enactment Society t-shirt. Or one of the Subway/zombie pastiche shirts (Bub of the day… class!)
  • Progression in Fantasy is rare. Be aware of it.
  • “Every book I’ve ever written started with a what if?
  • I’m allergic to marching bands.
  • SFF fans and writers are nice people. We don’t bite. Unless you want us to.
  • The I-Spy book of people encountered: Sandy Auden (SFX), David Moore (Solaris/Abbadon), Luke Richards, Jeff Richards (Boneman – SFF Chronicles), Stephen Aryan (SFF Chronicles), Ian Whates, Ian Sales, Susan Boulton (SJAB – SFF Chronicles, Andrew Reid (mygoditsraining – SFF Chronicles), his partner Lisa (epic knitter), Tom Hunter (Clarke Award), Mark Yon (SFF World), Anne Lyle, Graham McNeill, Tarnjit Tiyur, Chris Barker (Derby Scribes), Sean Jones, Cheryl Morgan (Clarkesworld), and probably many more that I didn’t even write down….

John Martin and the End Times

Before I gush about AltFiction (which I haven’t had time to do yet – too busy working into the HTTN groove again, post-con), time for today’s little trip into sunny Sheffield.

The Millennium Gallery has opened an exhibition of work by the romantic Victorian painter John Martin. My partner went to visit it last week and recommended it to me, so today we went to mooch around. Martin was a visionary painter and engraver, marrying highly detailed landscapes with apocalyptic visions of Biblical scenes and the End Times. His canvasses are huge – even those that are quite physically small – playing tricks with scale, perspective and distance in a way that can only be called cinematic. Obviously, he’s had a great influence on Hollywood: look at Harryhausen, or Roland Emmerich, or Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments, for example. But he wasn’t all that critically acclaimed in his own time; I think critics disliked him for the way he perverted their pure landscapes, and the way he tapped into the gloom that smothered the world in much of the 1830s was clearly something that some didn’t want to think about. But his public exhibitions were immensely successful and this exhibition is richly deserved.

John Martin - Sodom & Gomorrah
John Martin's Sodom & Gomorrah


Timely, too, in that it coincides with the economic and environmental troubles across the world. Alongside Martin’s work are several modern takes on his themes and specific works, substituting a Tiannamen Square protester for biblical Joshua, for example, and layering columns from the Financial Times in the background. The allusions are obvious, but no less powerful for that.

And so to Barker’s Pool, in front of the City Hall, where protesters, campaigners and striking unions had gathered to take on the ConDem pension plans. You want End Times? We got ’em.

Barkers Pool, 30/06/11
Barkers Pool, 30/06/11

There’s a slow-gathering momentum at the moment: you can see people walk down the street, staring nervously at the closed/closing-down shops and all those that seem to be closest to the waterline – JJB, Thorntons, TJ Hughes, HMV, Waterstones, as well as the 15000 announced by Lloyds this morning (none of whom will be an executive or one of the idiots in the City, I’ll bet) – and the fear and uncertainty is obvious. Who’s next? Us? What’s left? If we’re all in so much debt, who are we in debt to?

All this while our glorious leaders attempt to coerce councils into closing libraries and galleries left right and centre – libraries gave us power, after all, and wouldn’t we all be better off on a bloody bingo website? Patrick Ness was right when he lambasted that fool Gove, and the fellow from Unison who shouted out from the steps of City Hall this afternoon was right as well: the public sector is being made to bear the brunt of everything that the private bankers won’t take accountability for.

Meanwhile, overseas, Greece is in turmoil. Can’t happen here, Cameron must be hoping. Really? Remember that LibDem conference they held in Sheffield last spring? Where they had to cordon off nearly all of the city centre just so that the delegates could eat their croissants in peace outside the Winter Gardens? There was some ugly tension in the air that weekend, just as there is now. You can feel the trouble brewing, and right now it’s all looking as inevitable as a John Martin apocalypse.

Still, mustn’t grumble, eh?

Elephant Stops Play

Unfortunately, work on HTTN has ground to a halt: stress and irregular work patterns have made it impossible to keep inside the novel’s voice. This does happen from time to time anyway – which is why I always have a second project on the go somewhere – but it’s doubly frustrating this time since I certainly won’t have a finished first draft in time for AltFiction now.

So for the time being, it’s back to the Dance. And almost immediately I’ve got myself into trouble with a few dangling plot threads. With 20000 words left of my self-imposed floor limit for each volume, I’ve still got to tell the first half of Taylor’s arc and get the ball rolling on Ibsen’s side of the galaxy. The battle for Regina and the aftermath around Kantara have taken up a lot more room than I thought they would. I may be able to minimise Ibsen’s involvement in this volume, but that’s going to cause a different imbalance in Vol.4 – who would have to make way?

Anyhow, at least this is easier to write for now, and yes, Volume 3 should be out before Christmas. That reminds me; there’s a cover to design as well…..

It’s all booked…

AltFiction is upon us again – alright, it’s still a full month away yet, but definitely time for booking the tickets. Yours Truly will be there for both days. This time, unlike last year, I know what I’m letting myself in for, and I won’t be quite so overwhelmed with adrenalin and tongue-tied amazement.

Whether I have anything to take with me is a different question: I’m still roughly 15k away from a completed first draft of HTTN, and even that draft would be too many revisions away from a polished MSS. But yeah, I’ll have the computer with me anyway, so who knows?

Time’s a-pressing.