Thursday, 27 October 2011

I'm Batman

Taking a small rest from the novel at the moment so I thought I'd blog. Usually when I take a break I use it for other things, I work on submitting stories, I write something else for a bit (usually another short story) or generally do something that I feel needs doing to help me in my literary endeavours.

I'm not doing that this time. In fact, I seem to be playing Batman Arkham City. This is mostly because I have no short stories to submit, due to the fact that they're all with people either as submissions, just published or soon-to-be-published and because I don't feel I have the time to write anything new.

I'm now 82% of the way through the whole book. That's 794 pages behind me and a further 166 pages in front. If things go well I could have it all wrapped up by Christmas, start submitting in 2012 and start work on the next book.

But the problem is that I put too much pressure on myself to meet an arbitrary deadline I've given myself and then the writing slows to a trickle. So this time I cam across a small speech that I didn't like. It needed to be rewritten. Damn! I thought to myself, I'm going to have to boot up the laptop, rewrite it, reprint it and do this section again. This will get in the way of me meeting my Xmas deadline! So frustrated I did that thing and the speech came out better. Then, back on track, I noticed I'd used the word 'touch' twice in as many lines and that whole frustrated feeling came back. Where before that little fault would have been fixed in a heartbeat I stewed on it for twenty minutes worrying how I wouldn't meet my deadline and generally getting myself even more wound up.

That's when you have to step away and show the novel that it works for you and not the other way around. A couple of days relaxing and then I'll go back to it and feel better equipped to fix these minor problems. Maybe I won't meet the deadline but I need this time to tell myself 'It's ok'.

So onto books:

The Fort

It's been a long time since I've read a Bernard Cornwall. I first got into the Sharpe books in my teens and when I saw this in the shop I decided to revisit him to see him through the eyes of someone who now writes.

The FortThe Fort was interesting, it's a very strange tale and the fact that it really happened makes it all the stranger. Though I thought it slow to get going it did compel me to keep going. But, bloody hell, I don't think I could ever write one. I could feel the restrictions weighing in at every point. The characters aren't your own, they were real people and said these things and you're forced to constrain your scenes to leap between this factually accurate point to another. The only real freedom he had was the description of the battle scenes, which were well described. Let's face it, historical novels aren't really one of my mainstay passions in lietrature but it's good to visit ever once in a while.

The Fear (The Enemy)The Fear

I've been enjoying this series. Charlie can make some very interesting characters and he's clearly building a complex world of several tribes of kids along with the ever-growing threat of the zombie-adult hoard. I wish they sweared more. I liked the swearing. Kids would swear in that situation. In The Enemy they were swearing all over the place and he was probably told to tone it down (or did himself after a change in conscience). I miss it. But, man, is that guy gross. Some of the scenes are so sick that I'm jealous that I didn't think of them first.

The Black Dahlia - James EllroyThe Black Dahlia

Since playing LA Noire I'm revisiting James Ellroy country. Again I read him as a teen but only got two books into the LA quartet finding them quite (alright, very) bleak. So I read Dahlia again. Yup, still bleak. The dialogue is good, the sense of dialogue is good but in the end there's only so far you can go with a real case that was never truly solved.

The Company Man

Robert Jackson Bennett is becoming a new favourite author. The beginning of this, the setting, the city, the characters gave me the same tingles and when I started Perdido Street Station. The case was thrilling and intriguing and I couldn't put it down. Like his previous book, however, I did find it a little overlong and there was a point that I was dying for answers long before any were given. And I didn't quite get the end. But the journey was worth it just for the thrills.


Another birthday has passed and so another Terry Pratchett book appeared. There is a difference in these later ones, the use of voice activated software has definitely changed his writing style. It's still flawless, he knows just how much description to use and how much dialogue and how to make one do the work of both. He's brilliant. Not sure if I totally enjoyed this one, there seemed to be a lot of nothing going on and in the end there weren't really any villains to latch on to. So, writing great, plot a little thin.


I'm a big fan of the Artemis Fowl books so I was more than pleased to try out his foray into adult crime. It whisked me merrily along and I enjoyed the ride. Is it amazing? Probably not, the characters were fine, the humour was nice but I have to be honest that what's being done here has been done before and it's been done better. But if he's doing more I'll buy them.

The Big Nowhere

Much better than The Black Dahlia, maybe because it doesn't have to be so bogged down with historical fact. The story is complex and you're expected to keep up. This is not always possible as sometimes Ellroy lapses into a stream of conciousness and throws so many names in there that you can't make head nor tail of it. Very dark and worth reading (but maybe not re-reading).

The Hunger Games

Product DetailsThis was moved quickly to the top of the pile after seeing the trailer which put so many nice touches to what is ultimately a very simple story. I enjoyed it immensely in that way of seeing something done well. They story works and the author has put a lot of thought into the characters and does some very neat emotional shorthand which really gets you caring.

A Private Affair

Another book read to expand my horizons. I'd heard Lesley Lokko was a good writer and that her books, though seen as chick lit were a cut above the rest by being quite an intelligent read. The rumours weren't wrong, it wasn't the light-hearted chickfest I'd been fearing, but there was a whole character I felt could be cut out leaving the rest of the book intact (and it was a long book). Part of the hook was there being a rape at the beginning and finding out at the end which of the main characters it was being abused. The result was very disappointing.

Zoo City

This won the Arthur C. I can sort of see why but unfortunately it's for the same reason a lot of books win awards. It's set in a foreign country. I didn't really care about the main character, there was little or no explanation about the world and, well, it just left me a little cold.

Anyway, that's it from me. Until next month.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Old Factory Award: Behind-the-Scenes

The Old Factory Award has been published by the wonderful Abyss and Apex magazine who have described it as 'One of the most unusual pieces we've ever featured.'

Suffice to say that I'm really pleased with it.

So I thought I'd write about how it came about.

Let's start by saying that I'm really glad that Abyss and Apex published it now in October, when the weather turns to cold and rain because it really feels (to me, anyway) like a Winter story. If it had a colour it would be red, like carpets and wine and dying leaves.

The story first came to me a couple of years ago as a feeling. I had a 10 minute walk between the tube and my house then by a not-too-busy road with plenty of trees and a wide-open park.The whole pavement was strewn with leaves and the grass in the park would be silver. I'd walk with my hands in my pockets and my hood up and I'd retreat into a little warm burrow not just in my coat but in my head as well.

There are particular stories we like to read in Winter, there are myths and tales born from gathering close around a campfire to keep warm, ghost stories and fairy tales. They're very close and intimate stories with no huge cast or epic battles, they're stories that happen behind doors, not in front of them and the only sense we have of them is as people passing by and seeing the warmth and light spilling onto the street.

I wanted to write that kind of story, something that had a warmth and a happy feeling, a celebration of something and a feeling of an intimate event behind closed doors that hardly anyone knew of.

A friend, Conrad Mason (The Demon's Watch out in 2012), said it reminded him a little of American Gods and I'd agree with him. There's a vein of Neil Gaiman stories that aim for this same space (October in the Chair leaps to mind).

So as I walked that walk twice a day an idea began to form around that feeling.

There was a song I was listening to at the same time. I was very into Elbow then (I still am) and was listening to The Seldom Seen Kid almost daily. Now there's an entire album that feels like it's also that same rich red (in fact look at the colour of the album cover). And there's a song in there different from all the rest called The Fix which seems to be about a party in which some grand, mysterious master plan has just fallen into place and made everyone very rich. It's brilliant. You can see it in your head; plush cushions, drapes and gauze, low lamps and feather-trimmed masquerade masks.

Here it is.


So of course my story began to swirl around an equally mysterious and lavish party with dancing and laughter and extravagant figures. And so the story took shape and I had to begin writing it because an idea only gets you so far.

Now I should tell you that something else was happening in my life around that time. I'd met a girl.

We'd only been going out a few months but I was increasingly falling in love with her. She'd fallen for me because of my writing a story called Promises (appearing next year in Something Wicked) that I'd sent to her and a number of others for feedback. We'd flirted a while and then, courage bucked up, she asked me out.

I wanted to write something for her, something for a Christmas present. Cats deliver dead birds, some men deliver dead stags or briefcases of money or cars or jewellery. I wrote a story with a bit of that same sentimental heart that Promises had. It was a story I knew she'd like, was cheaper (I'm a writer) than all those other things other men get but ultimately gets me to the same place. (Yes, that place).

Details came to me as I wrote the story, little tricks and turns and characters and after a couple of weeks the story was finished. It didn't come out exactly as I'd imagined. There wasn't as much of the warmth and sentimentality I'd wanted it to. It came out a bit urban and, in a few places, a little bit dark and modern. That's entirely my fault, part of me knows that life doesn't work out how you always want it and reality creeps in wherever it can. A party will always need organising, technology will creep in if you set it in today no matter how much of a fairy take you want to write.

She loved it. And I got there. And I'm still there today.

I think A&A are right in calling it unusual. It's certainly the weirdest story I've written it. In some ways I worried it would never be published because it was too unusual. It's mostly description, hardly any dialogue and there's not a massive amount of drama. From another, bigger author it might have had a better time, I thought. It seems people are more accepting of different if you've already made a name of yourself but from a newbie? Probably not.

But here it is! A&A took it. And published it. And now anyone can read it. I can only hope they enjoy it.