Monday, April 04, 2011

No magic wands required - one writing teacher's thoughts on teaching/learning writing. It's the old adage, the only way to write is to write, but no doubt it's true.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Octopus Pie - an interview with Meredith Gran

Meredith Gran is the writer/artist of the webcomic Octupus Pie, which is a pretty cool read. Newsrama have an interview with her, talking about writing and self-publishing vs publishing house. In some ways its always interesting how in some ways in web/comics self-publishing is more acceptable than in "regular" publishing.

i need to get into habit of posting links about writing, quotes about writing, that kind of thing. i keep seeing them and meaning to follow them up.

lets start with this link that is doing the rounds - what not to do as a self-publishing author if you get a bad review - Books & Pals - wherein an author throws a massive strop and the rest of the world looks on with their jaw dropping.

a slightly older link, again on self-publishing, amanda hocking's dose of reality regarding her own success as a self-published author.

various quotes from various sources:

"If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor" - Edgar Rice Burroughs

"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms." - Muriel Rukeyser

"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you" - Ray Bradbury

Monday, March 07, 2011

Links on Writing

Amanda Hocking - a success at self-publishing, she posts a reality check.

Gary McMahon - his thoughts on self-promoting as an author.

Hanif Kureishi - how to succeed in the worlds of fiction and film.

Why writers abandon novels - "Writing a novel is like paddling from Boston to London in a bathtub."

Friday, March 04, 2011

Interesting Times

Inspiration is all around. Sometimes you need to pay attention. But, as the saying goes, we live in interesting times, and all you need to do is look around, listen to the news. Of course, in some ways, as others before me have pointed out, we live in times which are a little too interesting. In that by the time you’ve finished writing something, it’s all been undermined by current events.

William Gibson has said of his Sprawl trilogy that he had this fractured broken America while the Soviet Union kept going strong, because at the time he wrote those books that is what seemed likely to him. While Philip K Dick’s novels seem much more out there, especially from today’s perspective, there is a definite frisson of the bizarre to be reading a novel written in the past set in the year that you are reading it. However in times like these things move faster than you can write about them, so you don’t have the luxury of decades to sit and watch your work being wrong. The bigger question becomes – can you get it out there before the most random country you could pick transforms to undermine your work.

Which is something Charles Stross has written about a number of times in the last couple of years, as he bangs his head against that particular wall. And more recently Walter John Williams new novel Deep State, which seems to deal with the plot of a Social Revolution, nearly got scrapped during events in Iran, only to be reworked and appear the week that Egypt took some degree of parallel course to his work. But then sometimes you just need to shrug and get on with it, there are gambits to get round these things – the old fall back of imaginary country in Africa/Middle East/Asia delete as applicable.

Regardless, to me, there is certainly enough going on now to spark ideas, which can be recontextualised as one sees fit into something of fantastic or horrific proportions.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Wednesday Night Writing Night

Last night was writing night. Regardless of everything else that’s going on, Wednesday night is always writing night. Sure I need to find more time, steal time on other nights, but Wednesday night is a constant as much as it can be. What works for people varies. For some people they need to lock themselves away at home, in a silent room. Some need to crank the music as inspiration or shield from everything. With the world of blogging and twitter, we can see how many professionals find themselves in a coffee shop to work.

Over the years I have had various friends who were writers, many of whom I have met through doing things like NaNoWriMo. One thing that works for a number of us, is to meet once a week and work together. The group offers the discipline of focus, of making a deliberate time, and knowing that other people are also writing. It becomes a support group, some of us share work, we all offer encouragement, and what advice we can.

We meet after work. Those who want to meet, have dinner, then we all get together in the library, where we sit with our laptops for a couple of hours and work away. Sure I’d probably prefer a coffee shop myself, mug of coffee and laptop sounding proper, but suspect I’d find distractions more frequently that way. Having said that, some weeks are more productive than others, just as some aspects of writing are easier than others.

Last night I was editing, coming back to a piece again, after some feedback, after a disastrous previous attempt to edit. On the one hand, I’m pleased, the piece wasn’t in as bad shape as I feared (at least I’m nominally happy with it in that what do I know sense), so making a few minor changes was easy enough. Except that I haven’t slept well this week, and in the library silence had to fight to stay awake, before hitting the hard bit. The end. Someone told me the end was obvious, someone else told me it was fine. I’ve written another 6 alternative endings, and have gone a little draft crazy – which is the one that works? I have a theory on that, but I have to massage that whole last scene I suspect, and that wasn’t happening last night.

Afterwards, we ended up back in the pub next to the library, and while everyone else watched the TV, drew lines between them along the old firm divisions, and shouted and cheered, we compared notes of how it had been a hard night for us all.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011


I guess it makes sense if I am going to try and revive and make public this blog, then I should at least post a summary of my fiction as it is available:

Dark Fiction Podcast

Five Gold Rings

(Part of themed Christmas podcast: 12 Days of Chrismtas).


What The Stars Hold
Prospective Parliamentary Candidate No. 1
The Lady
Cut Now, Cut Deep

Telling of Tales: Podcast

The Gods Are Small Birds


Blood & Souls
1. Survivor
2. No Survivor
When Gretchen Met Sally
Red Fever

Variety is the spice, and the spice must flow

To a degree this touches, perhaps tangentially, on yesterday’s topic of influence, still partly coming from the same conversation at Plan B book I mentioned. Three local science fiction writers spoke for the afternoon to a dozen or so people who turned up to listen – Richard Morgan, Gary Gibson and Hal Duncan. Morgan complained, as many people do, about how William Gibson has changed what he writes over the years, wishing that he would go back to the Sprawl style material. With the three of them at the discussion Gibson apparently is doing classic space opera, while Duncan does a more mixed up fiction, with Morgan having gone from noir cyberpunk of Altered Carbon to having a sword on the cover of Steel Remains. So I had asked about the idea of changing what you are writing – why did Morgan change, or did he change at all? What are the effects of labels/genres on how what you write is seen? I’ll not go to deeply into that, it’s a huge topic, as the resulting discussion demonstrated.

As far as Morgan was concerned he hadn’t changed genres, his writing was the same, for him there was little difference between Altered Carbon and Steel Remains. In fact, he indicated, it could be considered far future novel, scattering of wrecked technology, and post-apocalyptic setting with swords – certainly another classic science fiction idea. Duncan suggested that with his novels being a bit of everything it meant he could go in any direction next without getting persecuted by reader’s expectations. In the course of the conversation there was a suggestion that the lines had changed over the decades.

Like how in the past there was just alternative music where the same person would be listening to Einstruzende Neubauten and Sisters of Mercy, while now some would call one Industrial and the other Gothic. In the past science fiction and fantasy had murky boundaries, writers like Michael Moorcock (who came up in this conversation time and again), crossing the boundaries as though they weren’t there. To an extent it was suggested that there were politics involved in some of these changes – the believe of good and evil – but also regional leads, like how America and Europe have different politics/feelings on things, leading to different trends and definitions. Which I thought was an interesting thought, though not one I want to dwell on particularly at the moment passed this aside.

For me, I want to write something which is in the melting point, speculative or slip or whatever, I’d rather be writing something in the curiosity of the middle ground, than something which can be firmly pigeon holed at one end or the other. On the other hand, getting into fuzzy ground, I fear, makes life harder when it comes to pitching/selling your work. I suspect it’s easier to pinpoint a market when you are firmly able to pinpoint the publications/publishers who deal with a market.

This is a ramble, like most of these thoughts are, knocked out in stolen moments, and posted into the world for consideration as a thought, rather than anything else. Such that, I came up with an idea at the start of the piece and seem to have drifted as I’ve continued. So, to bring it back, spice, I’d rather spice my work with the variety of influence and end up with something exotic and hopefully a little different, than find myself at one end of a gully. But that’s just how I am, I’ve said it for years, I am an explorer, I look for the exception, not the rule, I look for variety not genre.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Under The Influence

What are you influences? It’s a question we’ll all have heard writers asked, and sometimes they aren’t conscious of it, sometimes they are. Sometimes it’s everything, sometimes it’s nothing. Why does it matter?

Because, whether we like it or not, they shape us, they inspire us, they form us. Whether it’s consciously or obviously, such that we are writing tributes, parodies or rip offs of our one favourite author. Or whether its scraps for the stew, the melting pot of eclectic references, something that can only perhaps be seen in a nuanced phrase here or there, by someone squinting with a magnifying glass and a thesis to write.

For China Mieville, part of the influence for writing Perdido Street Station’s cactus people was to give Tolkein the finger. While Richard Morgan, who I saw speaking at the weekend, was influenced to write Altered Carbon after reading Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy, and being frustrated that the material that followed didn’t have the same edge.

Talking about his influences Morgan went from Neuromancer to The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, I wonder where I find myself, when in the same conversation I’d just as likely go from Neuromancer to Chungking Express. I suspect that is one of the factors I am trying to reconcile at the moment, wary of knocking out sub-cyberpunk pulp (which is a comment on me, not Altered Carbon, which I enjoyed), or on the other hand going for character drama that degenerates into soap opera.

A number of the short pieces I’ve written have been influenced by the classics, and I know it, I can see it. Adventures influenced by Gateway, Roadside Picnic, The Stars My Destination, The Eternal Champion, The Call of Cthuhlu. But, especially recently, I’m thinking about some more of those influences like Chungking Express, Asian film and comics, with people eating noodles, drinking tea, and chattering about things that are important to them.

Of course, even then, you need some kind of plot to drive the idea along. In Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 we have the combination of science fiction scenes, excerpts from the novel the main character is writing, based on the hotel room number he has, mixed with his own womanizing ways. Or say Won Ton Soup, where a master chef throws it all away to become a space trucker, so he can travel the known worlds in search of the best won ton soup ever.

So what is my plot? What influences are driving me the most? And how do I get my head round the mechanics of those?

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