Today I'm taking part in 'What I Live For', an online event organised by author Satya Robyn. People like me all over the world will be sharing what gives their lives meaning. In Satya Robyn's novel 'Thaw', Ruth gives herself three months to decide whether she can find a reason to carry on living. There's 75% off the kindle version today (99p / $1.49) - read more here.
What do I live for?
What gets me out bed in the morning? Apart from having my head used as a trampoline by the cat.
I am by nature a quite grumbly person (largely on account of poor health, constant pain, financial insecurity, and a world full of stupid), but when I cannot get my daily fix of writing, thunder clouds gather.
Writing is a safety valve, allowing the voices in my head a platform. It is a means of passing on what I have learned. It is the means by which I tell the stories through which I make sense of the world.
Writing is an act of magic (in which readers participate).
So the thing I get up for in the morning, the thing I live for, is performing magic.
Monday, 6 May 2013
Tuesday, 16 April 2013
I don’t take to much in the way of contemporary writing. It is often bland (even if full of pretty sentences), pre-occupied with middle-class, first world concerns, and largely a waste of even the tiny amount of intellect required to read it. This book had none of that. It was captivating from the first and clearly had things to say and ideas to explore. What is more, it was evident that it was going to say and explore those things in an interesting way.
Arthur Braxton is one of those kids that feral packs feed on. Consequently, he is one of those kids found lurking in out of the way places, exploring (whether willingly or not) the borderlands – between sanity and insanity, the upward climb and the downward fall, the outside world and the strange places inside their heads. Mostly, life grinds the poor sods down. Sometimes they shine. On rare occasions they escape into places we can barely dream of. Where Arthur goes you will have to find out for yourself, because his journey is the story and to start talking about that would be to give things away; save to say, one of the places in which the borders exist is where water meets the land. It is along that strand that Arthur’s journey proceeds.
So far I have perhaps made this sound like a YA fantasy book of some kind. Well, there are elements of that and it could, no doubt, be read on that level. You’d be missing 99% of the book if you tried it that way. Because there are many other such elements running through the book, nods to this and that. Yet it never becomes any one of those because it is unique. It is its own story acknowledging popular culture along the way (it would take someone who hadn’t been near a television in the last few years not to hear the echoes of the final words) without ever being trapped by any of it. That is down to two things, in the end. The first is a strong story. The second is a strong writer.
It is not just popular culture that feeds the book. Indeed, much more important is myth. Certain myths featuring water. They are common to all myth cycles. Water is such a fundamental part of our existence, and clean water so fundamental to our survival and the fertility of the land, that it is no wonder every tribe and every nation has stories about the origins of streams, wells, springs, and pools; has stories about the guardians of such places, of the beings that inhabit them, of the curative qualities, of the terrible consequences of misusing them. Our native mythology is replete with such references, none more so than the Arthurian stories. Ladies in the Lake, swords appearing from and disappearing into water, battles fought at the water’s edge, water as a source of healing and wisdom, and key to the Arthurian stories, the rape of the guardians of the wells that led to the wasteland and the quest to restore fertility to the land. As someone who has studied these tales for decades, it was a genuine thrill to see them explored so thoroughly in such a vibrant way that whilst paying all due respect to the source of such tales, made its own statement.
It should not be taken from this that we have some kind of dull thesis, some rewriting of ancient myths. They are the source and the story drinks deeply of them in a way that displays a deep understanding of the archetypes. But what emerges as a result is a new story, a new myth for today, sung with a voice every bit as mesmerising as the bards of old. And if you still can’t quite figure what kind of book this is, the film should be made by Terry Gilliam or by Jeunet and Caro.
You can probably gather I like this book. I have a jaded opinion of modern writing, but this has restored my faith. Because for all that stuff about mythology, for all the fact that author here is doing for myth what Angela Carter did for fairy tales, at the heart of it all is a solid and heartbreaking story about ordinary folk and the truly shitty lives some of them lead. A story told with eloquence and sympathy. Buy it. The author deserves your support.
Friday, 14 December 2012
Last week Susan Murray tagged me for The Next Big Thing. This is a tag chain which, if it remains unbroken, will swiftly fill the web-o-verse with everything you wanted to know about the latest projects of writers (which is preferable to a lot else that can be found swilling around out there).
The idea is simple. There are ten questions about the latest project you are working on. You answer them, tag five people who will answer them, and so on. No money changes hands (damn!), but it is a good way of letting writers talk about what they are doing at the moment (between sessions of Angry Birds).
So, away we go...
What is the working title of your next book?
I’m actually three books ahead of my next book, if you see what I mean. The next one to see print (I hope) will be called Exile and Pilgrim and is the first sequel to Stealing into Winter which was published in September of this year (and which would make an excellent Christmas present for anyone you know who enjoys fantasy). The third book (Players of the Game) has also been drafted and I am currently drafting the fourth book in the series. So the other answer to this question is Retorsion, which is the fourth book about Jeniche of Antar. There may be more, but that’s as far as I’ve travelled.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I have my ideas shipped in from Fortnum & Mason – nothing but the best. They come in hampers...
If only it was that easy. In a sense it is about logical progression. After I had finished the first book, there were so many characters and events that needed exploring and expanding, that I simply let them loose, asked for reports, and created a narrative from the letters they sent back to me.
The series began life with the desire to write a straightforward fantasy that had pace and a central character whose only desire was to stay alive, have enough to eat, and somewhere safe to sleep. No great house to restore to the throne, no magic quest to complete, no elves or dwarfs, no dragons.
What genre does your book fall under?
I hope it doesn’t fall. I have bills to pay. If it keeps on its feet, it will be found on the fantasy shelf of the book store. If you are interested in sub-genres, this one is future fantasy (post apocalyptic).
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Sharifah Amani has exactly the look for Jeniche...
...and Rufus Sewell would be just right for Alltud.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
A young thief discovers that you don’t always get what you want.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
That depends on sales of the first in the series. So why are you still here? Shouldn’t you be looking for it on an online bookstore?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Each of the books has taken just over a month to draft – that’s a chapter a day (about 2,200 words)
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
This harks back to the days when typewriters roamed the earth and fantasy meant Michael Moorcock; the days before a fantasy novel had to be in twelve volumes and have a prologue longer than most of my novels. Most mainstream publishers don’t touch anything this short (70,000 words) any more. Apparently people don’t read it. Which makes me wonder who the hell is buying my books.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Michael Moorcock. Fritz Leiber. I wanted to get back to those basics. Well-written, pacy, lively, character-driven works that didn’t rely on a conservative view of the world in which everything would be well if we could just get the right sort of ruler back on the throne. It doesn’t happen. Yeah, I know this is fantasy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t reflect the real world.
What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Well, it concludes a four book arc, but leaves the way open for more stories. And, like the others, it won’t give you a hernia carrying it around, you can read it in a fairly short time, and there is absolutely no guff, waffle, or padding of any kind.
So, there you go. And now all that's left is for me to tag some writers who will answer the same questions next week - over to you chaps:
Rachel Green (who was tagged by someone else first, but is worth visiting twice)
Friday, 9 November 2012
Amazon appears to be doing another stupid. As if bigotry dressed up as faulty software/caving into consumer pressure* was not enough, they have continued along the path of pissing off the people they should be making efforts to keep onside. Yes. Writers. Those people who produce the things you sell.
Writing is not well paid. There are a few exceptions, but the majority of us can only dream of getting close to a living wage. It doesn’t make us any happier then to see a highly successful company that has already eroded our income with bully-boy tactics to cut their costs now doing all it can to avoid paying tax. Tax that, in part, helps to seed fund the arts, a sector on which writers rely and which, incidentally, is one of the largest sectors of the
That is bad enough; now they are trying to censor writers. Reports are circulating that Amazon intend (and have already started) to remove any book review on their sites that is written by an author. Presumably this means anyone who has an Author’s Page. It would seem this is a belated and ill-conceived response to the sock-puppetry that went on. There is a simple solution to this problem. Do not allow reviews to be posted anonymously or pseudonymously. They must have your real name on, the one on your account.
Censoring people who are likely to offer considered and knowledgeable opinions on a book is plain stupid. Why should I (a) be deprived of reading reviews of people whose opinions I trust and value; and (b) not be allowed to comment on books which I have enjoyed (or not, as the case may be) or which lie within my field of expertise and experience? And there’s more. There is also talk that Amazon wants to ban reviews posted on Amazon from being posted elsewhere. Quite how they intend to police that, I do not know – perhaps they’ll set up a spy unit funded by all that tax they didn’t pay.
Censorship isn’t the answer. It never has been. Attempts to impose it have always backfired. Transparency is the answer. It is simple and may lead to some people being a little less spiteful, which is no bad thing.
And remember, Amazon, taking on or pissing off people who are good with words is a particularly stupid thing to do, especially if your core business depends on their co-operation.
(*delete as appropriate to the particular excuse they trot out)