Category Archives: writing

My Week In Writing (23/4/2017)

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Also I made lemonade

Settlement 359 is still trucking along. Part 6 is sitting at about 10k, so I should probably find a way to wrap it up and move on to part 7, which (all going well) should be the climax. Hopefully. Maybe. Then there’ll be an epilogue. I think.

I’m now 10 chapters (out of 13) into editing Summer. Unfortunately I’ve spent most of this week too tired to substantial re-writes so I’ve just been marking passages to come back to later and then realising that I can’t re-write a related passage in the next chapter till I do the earlier passage so I just highlight that one too… you get the picture.

I’ve started working on a story for The Temporal Logbook II, a charity Doctor Who anthology. No idea if I’ll get my story finished in time for the open submission day, though – I decided to take some advice from one of Big Finish’s writers (I forget which one) and try to come up with the best possible Doctor Who story, so I’ve ended up with something very ambitious that might not be doable in <8k. We’ll see. I’m making a spreadshet.

I went to the Creative Salon at Summerhall, where we heard some poetry, which was a nice change of pace. Lot more writers than usual, so I got to chat to some people about my novels.

I finished reading The Snake Wand and reviewed in on Goodreads. Now I’m reading the newest issue of Popshot (which I submitted a story for and didn’t get into, boo). The artwork is gorgeous as ever and the theme is ‘future’, which means the stories are right up my alley.

I’m really enjoying the new season of Doctor Who. Smile was sincerely frightening in that paranoia-inducing way that New Who’s so good at, though I had a curious sensation of deja vu – I’m sure I’ve seen almost that exact premise in a Doctor Who story before, but I can’t place it. But on the up side, Matt Lucas was barely in it, which is a plus.

I listened to two Doctor Who audio plays, both from Big Finish’s Lost Stories range: Point of Entry, a very gothic piece about Christopher Marlowe (which was originally to be scripted by the author of one of my favourite Fifth Doctor serials, Enlightenment) and Crime of the Century, the first in a trilogy of stories featuring the Seventh Doctor and Raine Creevy, the companion who would have been introduced had the show now been cancelled.

Point of Entry does a really good job of capturing the tone of the Sixth Doctor era (it’s got this grungy, rough around the edges feel to it), though in many respects it harks back to the Hinchcliffe & Holmes era. I don’t think I know enough Christopher Marlowe to properly appreciate it, though. I was a bit less taken with Crime of the Century, which I found oddly dull for a story that features the Doctor’s companion sword fighting a giant insect…

I’ve also been listening to The Adventure Zone by the McElroys, ie, listening to a group of very funny and creative people play D&D. I gather the plot goes to some very exciting places (I know a lot of people who are really invested) but I’m still trying to get caught up.

Next week I’m planning to start reading Slade House by David Mitchell (which I literally JUST realised is a companion piece to The Bone Clocks – which is fine by me because I’ve read it and loved it, apparently threw some people!), finish listening to the Raine Creevy trilogy (I’ve heard mixed things so we’ll see how that goes) and make a proper start on writing this Doctor Who story. Just as soon as I get it planned out. It’s gonna need a very detailed plan.

I’m also hoping to go to Edinburgh’s Literary Salon – no idea who the feature is and don’t especially care, I jsut like getting to hang out with some writers for a few hours.

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My Week In Writing (9/4/17)

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A space station & and setting

Slower progress on my novel this week – I’ve had a lot going on! But I did start part 6, which is weird because I was pretty sure part 5 was going to be climax. Oops. 6-7 parts, I think. Wordcount is currently around 108k.

Still cracking on with Summer. I’m going over a chapter a day, so I should finish this edit and be ready to move onto the more fun business of writing chapter epitaphs in about two weeks…

I finished Cry at Midnight, and its sequel, Clickfinger, and reviewed both on Goodreads. Putting off the third volume, The Snake Wand because I’m reading Fear: Essential Wisdom For Getting Through The Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh for a book group meeting on Tuesday.

I workshopped a short story called The Procedure with my writing group on Monday and it went down pretty well, I think. I haven’t look over it since I wrote it so I actually forgot how squicky it gets. Sorry, writing group.

I went along to Inky Fingers with my flatmate, where we heard a love poem delivered to a block of lard, a poem about shower gel, a story about a world where chicken korma is illegal, and we all sang head shoulders knees and toes, so that was a fun night out. Couldn’t stay till the end, unfortunately – I have to be up at six every morning for my job.

Next week I’m going to Event Horizon at Banshee Labyrinth, which is always a highlight. Will probably have to give my writing group a miss because I have a job interview the next day (yay!) but I’m hoping to get back to my book group. If I can finish the damn book…

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My Week In Writing (2/4/17)

settlementI hit 100,000 words on my sci-fi novel, so I’m feeling pretty proud of that right now – even if it’s 90% trash. Here’s a taste of what I wrote this week:

“What’s that word, indigenous?” said Saara.

“The natives,” said Doctor Yen. “The people who live here.”

“We are not indigenous,” said Saara. “We make our kesh here, but we are not native. This is not Marikesh.” They lowered the tablet. “We go through this cavern. After that there is – the symbols call it an old warren. There will be more symbols to lead to the waystation.”

“And the rangers? You can call them from there?” said Cobey.

“They might already be coming,” said Saara. “They might have – seen.”

“You’re a native,” said Doctor Yen, clearly not following the conversation. “But the rest of you – you’re human?”

A difficult question. A frosty silence. At length Six said, “no.”

I also started editing Summer in earnest – this should, fingers crossed, be the final draft. But first I need to make some cuts, add a new character thread, and probably re81kc5sE9pVL-organise the chapter breaks.

I finished reading Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children: Library of Souls and I also read Steven Universe: Too Cool For School, because I’m the kind of nerd that likes to watch cartoons for children. You can read my reviews of both over on my Goodreads.

I started reading Cry at Midnight by Mavis Gulliver. It’s the first in a trilogy of children’s fantasy novels set on Tiree. I got all three as a holiday gift from my mum, who thought I might be interested in the publisher – Cinnamon Press, an independent publisher based in North Wales. They’re not actually taking submissions at the moment, but they do have a novella competition that I might look into.

I finished watching Netflix’s new A Series of Unfortunate Events adaptation and have some mixed but generally positive feelings about it – more on that soon.

I went to the Edinburgh Literary Salon, which this month had speakers from the Edinburgh Society of Independent Authors and Shoreline of Infinity, Scotland’s own sci-fi magazine. I particularly enjoyed the Shoreline of Infinity talk, from editor Noel Chidwick – I really love the magazine, so it was great to learn more about how they were founded (also, they published my story – buy it here!).

Also, I made chocolate brownies for my flatmate’s birthday party, and they were delicious.

Next week, I’m going to be pressing on with my novels (should be hitting 110k soon, fingers crossed), heading along to Inky Fingers and workshopping a new (ish) short story at my writing group. It’s a very serious near-future sci-fi about abortion. It also has a super-intelligent wonder dog. It’s, um, a difficult piece to describe, and hopefully my group will enjoy it!

 

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Portal Fantasy vs Immersive Fantasy

‘…there are essentially four categories within the fantastic: the portal-quest, the immersive, the intrusive, and the liminal. These categories are determined by the means by which the fantastic enters the narrated world. In the portal-quest we are invited through into the fantastic, in the intrusion fantasy the fantastic enters the fictional world, in the liminal fantasy the magic hovers in the corner of our eye, while the immersive fantasy allows us no escape.’ – Farah Mendlesohn, Rhetorics of Fantasy (2008), introduction.

I haven’t read Rhetorics of Fantasy yet – but I’m very much in love with Mendlesohn’s classification system and I’ve been using it in my head for a while. It’s so neat and tidy.

My preference, both as a reader and a writer, is for full-blown fantasy worlds, not for our world with some fantasy elements. As far as I’m concerned, the most interesting – or at least the most fun – of Mendlesohn’s categories are portal and immersive fantasy. Or, to give some examples, respectively Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.

For whatever reason, I’ve never been able to choose between portal and immersive; not only which one I like better, but which one is (for want of a better term) ‘better’ at creating a fantasy world. My favourite book of all time is Northern Lights, and immersive fantasy – I’d argue one of the greatest works of immersive fantasy. But its sequel, The Subtle Knife, is portal fantasy, and beautifully executed portal fantasy. The scene where Will first finds the portal to Cittagazze? Goosebumps, every time.

Yet The Subtle Knife is generally considered a weaker book than its predecessor; The Amber Spyglass, also a portal fantasy, is extremely divisive. I’m not sure if there’s a connection to be made between the apparent decline in quality and the (sub)genre shift. After all, the portal fantasy in both books is excellent; it’s everything else that’s the problem.

Portal fantasy is extremely popular in the YA bracket, allowing as it does for the lead character to be a pleasingly accessible ordinary teenager. It’s hard not to see it as childish. I think for a long time I thought of it as the ‘lesser’ approach to fantasy world-building, the easy way out for writers.

Then I tried to write a portal fantasy. And it is hard. It’s not hard to get in exposition and world-building, but hell if it isn’t harder to make it feel natural. I tip my hat to you, J.K. Rowling. I don’t know how you do it. I’d have given up on my portal fantasy by now were it not so alluring.

Because portal fantasy has an endless allure to it. As stylish as immersive fantasy is, give me a well-executed fantasy world and a reader avatar to view it through and I’ll be happy. But it’s sure as hell not the easy way out – so why do so many people write it?

I think the answer is that portal fantasy is, in fact, easier to write than immersive fantasy. It’s just harder to write well. Good portal fantasy is very hard to come by.

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Writing and Dreams

I moved into a new flat a few weeks ago. It’s by far the loudest place I’ve ever lived – I’m on a main road and the traffic noise is nigh-constant. I tend to be woken up around six and sleep only fitfully until a more reasonable hour.

An interesting side effect of my newly revised sleep schedule: I’ve been dreaming more than usual. The intense and weirdly emotional dreams I only have when I get woken up in the morning and can’t quite get back to sleep. The result being that this week I wrote what is only my third story based on a dream and I may write my fourth soon.

I suspect stories coming from dreams is much rarer than often supposed. It’s a very attractive idea. It goes neatly with the notion of stories leaping fully-formed from the heads of their writers. There’s no effort involved; stories just come to you while you sleep. It doesn’t happen that way. The few times I’ve written a dream, there’s been a lot of mental gymnastics needed beforehand to render the random images of my subconscious mind into a coherent narrative.

In fact, what I tend to get out of dreams – and what most writers seem to get out of dreams – is not so much narratives as emotions. Nightmares are an endless source of inspiration – Dracula and Terminator are both supposed to have been based on nightmares. Or you have cases like YU+ME Dream, one of my favourite webcomics, which was based on a dream full of romantic longing. You experience emotions that feel intensely real and want to try and capture them.

I would still say these are the exception, not the rule – but last night I had one of the most frightening dreams of my life and I’m a little worried I won’t be able to convey that fear through writing.

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Adventures in Novelling: Mapping

I’m reasonably certain we have Tolkien to thank for the importance of maps to fantasy novels. I suspect that Bilbo’s love of maps in The Hobbit is a little of the author slipping through, because all his books have one. Nowadays it’s a generally accepted fact that all fantasy novels must start with a map – preferably an ornate and beautiful one. The Discworld books now have a map, which must be bought separately (I own it, even though its existence is someone mind-bending considering the flexible nature of the Discworld). A few years back a Star Wars atlas was published.

In a sense, maps are important to fantasy. See, for instance, this map put out by the BBC to accompany Merlin, which is laughably bad: it’s improperly scaled, with landmarks from the first season dotting it almost at random. It’s the worst kind of fantasy map. And wouldn’t you know, Merlin is not good fantasy. It’s next to impossible to map Albion because no-one seems to have bothered to keep track of basic things like what kingdoms border Camelot, what they are called, and even whether Albion is Great Britain or not.

In conclusion: mapping is important. It’s one of my favourite past-times. I have maps that aren’t related to any story I’ve written.  I have maps for both the novels I’m working on and I’m in the process of making more. But I have no intention of including any of them with the story. They’re not for readers. They’re for me.

They’re for making sure I know where things are in relation to each other and tracking the movements of characters. They’re for making sure I know what the world is shaped like so I don’t get lost. And not just the world, either – I spent some time this week drawing floorplans of houses. At some point I need to map out the town where book two of the Everpresent Trilogy is set and I am dreading it.

But it has to be done. And let’s be honest: environment mapping is a great way to procrastinate on actually writing.

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Noveling: The Four Seasons Quartet

Or I think it’s a quartet. It might be a trilogy. I am reasonably certain it will not turn into a quintet.

It consists, at present, of two books, tentatively titled Summer and Autumn. The latter I wrote during National Novel Writing Month ’09 and have barely touched since. Naturally it’s a mess.

The former I took a solemn oath to have edited and straightened out by the time I finished university – which gives me, as of the time of writing, er, negative-eight days. I may have forgotten about my oath. I’ve extended it till September – but I’m honestly not sure I’ll make it.

I also have vague plans for Winter and vaguer plans for Spring. They’ll get written. Some day.

Summer

Summer started with a couple of disparate elements: reading Conrad’s Fate by Diana Wynne Jones and falling in love with the setting; a watercolour pencil drawing of a house with red, white and green stained glass windows; and (unusually for me) a dream.

The dream, as best as I can piece it together, went something like this: it was set in a Victorian-esque world populated by wizards. The wizards were having a contest in an arena to decide who was the best. A young man who was not a wizard somehow blagged his way in and did an act with either talking horses or talking dogs who could turn into cloth. (Which, according to dream logic, was better than what all the actual wizards had come up with.)

The only other part I remember was a climactic scene in which a little blonde girl had to choose between the young not-wizard and her family. Somewhere in the mix was a sinister lady dressed in black. I woke up with an intense feeling that it would make a good story.

One frantic November later, I had a disjointed but relatively solid novel draft on my hands.

The facts are these: Lord Glasswater is a Wizard (with a capital W) who specialises in the art of ‘magical animation’ – making inanimate objects animate (magitech robots, essentially). As the story begins, his household is about to play host to the Festival, the officially unofficial most prestigious contest of Wizardry. Because his specialty is somewhat looked down on by other Wizards, Lord Glasswater has never won. He attempts, in a mad gamble, to learn weather magic (his father’s specialty) in the year leading up to the Festival – only to realise, when it’s too late to change his mind, that no matter how much research he does, he just can’t make his spell work.

Enter Olsson, Lord Glasswater’s footman, who unbeknownst to anyone – up to and include himself – might just be the most powerful wizard (with a little w) in the country, or even the world. After accidentally stumbling on his abilities, Lord Glasswater coaches him to perform weather magic, wins the festival by cheating – and completely without meaning to sets Olsson on the path to unlocking his full potentially.

Unfortunately for Lord Glasswater, one other Wizard is savvy enough to work out that he cheated. Fortunately, it’s the Wizard Wheright, the country’s only Lady Wizard, generally agreed to be scheming and untrustworthy. She wants to prove Lord Glasswater’s guilt – and for whatever reason she wants to get her hands on Olsson.

Meanwhile, Lord Glasswater’s only child, Caitrin, is just beginning to learn lady’s magic from her mother and is beginning to realise she’s not satisfied. Caitrin has some natural talents of her own and they are not for mixing magic with sewing.

Hijinks ensue.

There’s lots of Wizards. Lots of lonnng descriptions of fancy spellwork. Lots of fancy parties. Lots of Olsson being socially awkward and Caitrin being miserable and Lady Glasswater being fabulous.

At present much of it is still using the structure I adopted during NaNoWriMo – which is an issue because it means there’s a number of scenes which are only there because I needed to fill out my words-per-day quota. And I’m struggling to properly integrate Caitrin’s subplot. But it’s coming along.

Autumn

I started writing Autumn the same November I wrote most of Summer – not so much because I wanted to write a sequel as because November wasn’t over yet and I had some vague ideas knocking around as to what should happen to Olsson next.

I used it for the following NaNoWriMo and it is how I came to write eighty thousand words in thirty days. It’s about as much of a rambling, convoluted mess as you might expected. It’s not just that I was writing very fast – when I started out, I did not know how it was going to end. When I finished, I still did not know how it was going to end. I now know how it should end, but I’ve not written the ending yet.

The facts are these: Olsson is now training with the Wizard Wheright. She might want to teach him magic, or she might just want to use him to expose Lord Glasswater as a cheat – or she might just want the glory of ‘discovering’ him, he’s really not sure. He’s also been having vivid dreams about standing stones that might be magical out-of-body experiences.

After their first time out in public together, at a Midwinter party, proves disastrous, Olsson decides to strike out on his own to see if he can find the standing stone he’s been dreaming about. Hijinks and side-quests ensue. When he finally finds the standing stone and comes to understand what his dreams mean, he finds the truth so uncomfortable he makes every effort to hide himself.

Meanwhile, the Wizard Wheright finally manages to get the Wizards’ Council to listen to her accusations – a week or so too late. Olsson is long gone – they’ll just have to try and hunt him down.

And the Glasswater household is slowly crumbling apart under the weight of Lord Glasswater’s sin.

Autumn was a blast to write but not that well suited to NaNoWriMo. The unity of it is more thematic than narrative, so rushing it made for a disjointed experience. But writing it was one of the best experiences of my life, so I can deal.

The third book, when I write it, will be the ‘bring all major characters together’ kind of third act, and see Olsson being forced out of hiding and attempting to use his powers for good. I have, in my head, a kind of ‘book trailer’. There’s colourful flags involved somewhere.

Summer is a much more straightforward project than the Ever-Present Trilogy. I’m hoping it’s also more publishable, being, as it is, a more conventional fantasy trilogy. But I need to do that editing first…

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