Tag Archives: fantasy

My Week In Writing (11/02/18)

bridgeA short update this week as it’s very late in the evening  – but I have big news!

My short story 3.8 Missions is going to be featured in Best of British Science Fiction 2017, an anthology from NewCon Press. The anthology will launch over Easter weekend. I’m very excited, to say the least!

Spurred on by my success, I’ve submitted some more short stories, including an entry for the BBC National Short Story Award 2018. Watch that space, just… not very closely.

In other news, The Green and the Gathering Tide has crept up to a tidy 197k so I anticipate hitting 200k (whoops!) next week. And I have finished The Lightning Pit, which was one of those short stories that more or less wrote itself. Looking forward to getting some feedback on it.

And I went to Inky Fingers at Lighthouse Books, which was a delight as always.

Next week, I’m hoping to finish my edit on The Summer Masque and finally make a start on a query letter (gulp). I’m also hoping to make it to The Wikipedia Slam at the Scottish Poetry Library. But mainly I plan to keep plugging away at my various novels.


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NaNoWriMo Diary 1: Characters

This year’s NaNoWriMo is tentatively titled Preliminary Castings (I will find a better title for it). I’m swamped with it, so here’s the first installment of a (hopefully) three-part series of short entries about this weird novel I’m writing: Characters.


Samuel Smythe

“It’s like being very connected to the universe.”

Clairvoyant. Failed Wizard. Tells the future by runecasting. Loves books, divination, learning languages.

Socially awkward puppy desperate for approval. Raised Catholic now agnostic. Hopelessly in love. Questioning. Cut adrift and seeking a new identity. Over-dresses and overthinks.

tumblr_nx7o81EMJa1qkzjnzo4_250Annabel Stuart

“Not nice, just different.”

Shapeshifter, probably autistic, aromantic asexual. Loves insects, spiders, worms, zoology. Only reads non-fiction.

Raised by her older brother. Bullied at school and learning how to trust again. Bespectacled. Blunt but never cruel. Loves having wings. Deeply self-conscious, simultaneously doesn’t care what anybody thinks. A contradiction and an enigma to everyone but herself.

tumblr_nx7nhv6IVX1qkzjnzo1_250Leo Adrei

“I don’t have feelings like a normal person.”

Mindreader, autistic, bookworm. Loves Shakespeare, space, the music of Queen. Hoards books, wears headphones 24/7.

Orphan. Grew up in care. Tries very hard to be a good person. Describes both gender and sexuality with vague wiggly hand gesture. Over-identifies with fictional characters, under-empathises with real people.

tumblr_nxh0emdB3a1qkzjnzo2_250Bridget Geddes

“I’m not cold. Am I?”

Healer, novice priestess, bisexual. Loves her friends, her culture, plants and the sea.

Studies too much. Polytheistic and deeply religious with it. Raised on a shrine by the sea. Stickler for the rules and more ambitious than she lets on. Teacher’s pet and irritatingly humble. Mostly just wants to help people however she can.

Up next: World.


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Shoreline of Infinity 8 1/2


Last week, I finally got to read Shoreline of Infinity 8 1/2, the Edinburgh Book Festival Special Edition. Strictly speaking, I could have read it as soon as it came out – I had a digital contributor copy, but I like reading physical books.

It’s a great little collection, and I’m immensely proud to be a part of it, alongside some really great authors. (I hold out that my story isn’t nearly good enough, but people seem to disagree!)

There’s a selection of stories from early issues of Shoreline of Infinity including The Great Golden Fish by Dee Raspin, The Stilt-Men of the Lunar Swamps by Andrew J. Wilson, and, of course, 3.8 Missions by yours truly. Most of the returning stories were ones I remembered, in some cases vividly, and I can recommend all of them.

And then (for me, the really exciting part) there’s an assortment of new stories, contributed by SF authors reading at the book festival. They’re a diverse mix, but Shoreline of Infinity has always been a diverse magazine:

Edinburgh Masks by Adam RobertsI stumbled on Adam Roberts a few years ago, and have something of a love-hate relationship with his work. His books are strange, often frustrating reads, and yet whenever I find one in a bookshop I invariably buy it because the premise is just so… enticing.

He’s also one of the most versatile authors I’ve encountered, so I’m not surprised that I was surprised by Edinburgh Masks. It’s a new spin on some classic, Victorian themes, not at all the sort of thing you’d expect to find in a sci-fi collection. But Shoreline of Infinity being what it is, it fits in well here.

Lowland Clearances by Pippa Goldschmidt: a very strange, very short little story, and for me one of the highlights of the collection. It’s set in an unspecified point in the future that, while very strange, feels very close to home, almost contemporary. Is it optimistic or just unsettling? I’m not sure, but I can’t help recommending it.

The Honey Trap by Ruth EJ Booth: I’ve been reading Ruth EJ Booth’s Noise and Sparks column in Shoreline with interest, so I was even more interested to read her fiction. Unfortunately, it turned out to be not my cup of tea… for very specific and very personal reasons which I won’t go into.

It’s a great pity, because otherwise I really enjoyed The Honey Trap. It’s one of those SF stories that offers full immersion, throwing you into its world and letting you learn the rules as you go. If you’re, well, not me, you’ll probably love it.

Whimper by Nalo Hopkinson: I hadn’t come across Nalo Hopkinson before hearing her perform at Event Horizon and the more of her work I read(/listen to) the more convinced I am that I’ve been missing out. (In fact, I’m going to go and look up her books right now and stick some on my Goodreads list).

Absolutely the strangest story in the collection and, in my opinion, the best. Another story that throws you into its world and leaves you dizzy. I love it, I won’t spoil it, and I look forward to re-reading it.

New Gray Ring to Join the Olympic Five by Ada Palmer: Finally, a short essay-style piece. It’s written in the style of a newspaper article reporting the titular change to the Olympic rings. Does the gray ring represent Anarctica or the Moon? Seemingly neither.

I generally like this style of fiction, but although well-crafted this one left me a bit cold. I’m going to chalk it up to my not really caring about the Olympics!

The collection also features non-fiction by Ken MacLeod, Charles Stross and Shoreline editor Iain Maloney, excerpts from the ongoing Beachcomber comic and SF Caledonia series and a selection of poems including work by Iain M Banks and Jane Yolen.

You can buy it right over here, in ebook and print formats, starting at £3.50. I’d really recommend checking it out, and not just because I’m in it. If you’re new to Shoreline this is a great place to jump in, and if you’ve read it before, you’re sure to love 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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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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