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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Love Affair with Fantasy – Part 2

by Carlie Cullen


In the first post of this two-part series, we looked at the origins of the fantasy genre. In this final article, we take the next step to see what made it the powerhouse it is today.

The arrival of magazines devoted to fantasy fiction played an important part in the development of the genre. The first English language one, Weird Tales, was created in 1923, and many others soon followed. These were instrumental in bringing fantasy fiction to a much wider audience in the UK and USA and also played a huge role in the rise of science fiction; it was about this time the two genres became associated with each other.

Many of the genre’s most prominent authors began their careers in these types of magazines, including H P Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber and Ray Bradbury.

Also around this time, several authors were beginning to push the boundaries of fantasy by incorporating humorous and satirical elements. One such novel, Jurgen by American author, James Branch Cabell, even became the subject of an unsuccessful prosecution for obscenity.

In the aftermath of WW1, British authors began publishing a large number of fantasy books aimed at an adult audience. Within the next decade, literary critics began to take more notice of fantasy as a genre and began to argue that it was worthy of consideration and unjustly considered suitable only for children.

By the 1950’s, sword and sorcery was reaching a much wider audience. Robert E Howard’s Conan the Barbarian is considered to have played a defining role in this subgenre with the vivid, larger-than-life action and adventure.



It was the advent of high fantasy and the popularity of Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings which finally catapulted the fantasy genre into the mainstream. These works unquestionably created ‘fantasy’ as a marketing category and they submerged all the works of fantasy written previously. One cannot overstate the impact Tolkien’s work had on the genre, and his books combined with several other successful series (C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea), helped cement the genre’s popularity and paved the way for fantasy literature as we know it today.

Publishers began to search for new fantasy material, but it wasn’t until the 1977 release of The Sword of Shannara, they found the breakthrough success they’d been praying for. Terry Brooks’s novel was the first fantasy book to top the New York Times bestseller list. As a result, the genre saw an explosion of titles being published in subsequent years.



In the 1970’s and 1980’s, some works were notable for their departure from Tolkien’s idea of fantasy; Stephen R. Donaldson’s Lord, Foul’s Bane, Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood, and Glen Cook’s Black Company series, were a few of these.

The 1990’s saw the publication of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, Tad Williams’s Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, and George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. Interestingly, A Game of Thrones is considered ground-breaking for a new and different type of fantasy work, one which is more gritty and violent and less idealistic.

Fantasy’s niche market status has changed in recent years; owing greatly to J K Rowling’s Harry Potter books becoming the bestselling series of all time, fantasy is becoming more interwoven with mainstream fiction. In addition, the film adaptations of these and other fantasy novels, (Lord of the Rings, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), has enhanced this status further.



Now in 2013, fantasy is a multi-layered instrument encompassing many sub-genres and its popularity shows no sign of waning.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Love Affair with Fantasy – Part 1

by Carlie Cullen


As I write in the fantasy genre, I thought it would be interesting to look at the history and origins of Modern Fantasy, and how the genre developed. So let’s look back to those early days when the roots of fantasy were mere tendrils in the publishing world; next time we’ll look at how fantasy grew into the powerhouse genre it is today.
 

Fantasy is one of the most popular genres of books today, yet it wasn’t until the 1950’s, when J. R. R. Tolkein published The Lord of the Rings series, that fantasy truly entered mainstream publishing.

The modern fantasy genre first took root in the eighteenth century, fuelled by fantastical travellers’ tales, finally unfurling and gaining recognition as a distinct genre in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Notable authors such as Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol) and William Makepeace Thackeray (The Rose and the Ring) included elements of the fantastic in their novels, but they were still classed as fairy tales. However, it was around this time, Hans Christian Andersen initiated a new style of fairy tale.

It wasn’t until the publication of Phantastes, by Scottish author, George MacDonald, that fantasy was accepted as a genre for anyone other than children; Phantastes is widely acknowledged to be the first fantasy novel ever written for adults. Interestingly, MacDonald was a major influence on J. R. R. Tolkein and C. S. Lewis.



1st edition cover of Phantastes

Another major fantasy author of this era was William Morris. In many respects, Morris’s writing was an important milestone in the history of fantasy; while other authors wrote of dream worlds or foreign lands, Morris’s stories were the first to be set in an entirely fantasy world of his own invention. This began a new trend of writing in the genre.

Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde were really the forefathers of dark fantasy. Using fantastical elements in horror tales, they greatly influenced the likes of H. P. Lovecraft, and as such, created a separate branch or sub-genre of fantasy.

However, it wasn’t until the beginning of the twentieth century that fantasy fiction started to reach larger audiences. Also published around this time were several classic children’s fantasies, like J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. At this time, fantasy was still more accepted in juvenile literature; the terminology for the genre still wasn’t settled and as such, fantasies of this era were still termed fairy tales. Even as late as 1937 when The Hobbit was published, fairy tale was still being used to classify these types of novels.

                


J R R Tolkein’s hand-drawn                First ‘printed’ cover in 1937

cover for The Hobbit

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Second Novelitus

by Gary Tinnams

In July 2012 I finished my first novel ‘Threshold Shift’ with a mixture of pride and relief. I had done it, I had written a book when just a year earlier the whole notion of writing a book had seemed insurmountable. What seemed even more unlikely, I believed I had written a good book, one that told the story I wanted to tell in the way I wanted to tell it. A book I had written with no market in mind, no shoehorning, just doing what I wanted to do and doing it well.

Foolishly I half expected this to make my book stand out, become a bestseller, you know, all the pipe dreams of the first time novelist that we all have. That didn’t happen. I’ve had some good reviews, I’ve had no bad reviews, but none of this has been reflected in sales. What was wrong? The cover? The story? The marketing? Actually I’ve just come to the conclusion that it’s really down to time and dumb luck. To become an overnight success takes years. I need to read a lot more, write a lot more, in essence I need to not give up. But there’s something else as well, something very basic. I have to keep enjoying it.

I started a second novel in October 2012 with the belief I could finish it by the end of the year. I finished something, but when I looked at it, it wasn’t any good, not good at all. I was convinced that my fist novel was fantastic and this new novel was just plain awful. For those three months, I had slogged, I had written, but there had been no joy, no fulfilment, the process had become an empty one. I was just putting words down and hoping something would stick and it hadn’t. I put away that novel and said to myself I would have another go in the 2013 and I would enjoy it.

So in January I started again, the story roughly the same but less rough, the characters more fully formed. I had more fun, but by the end of April all I had was a mess. It still didn’t work, it was still rubbish. Was I being overly self critical? Had my writing really deteriorated so much since the first book? It was then that I determined the cause, I had second novelitus. When you write your first novel, you realise you can write. When you come to the second novel, you realise you can write anything, anything at all. Too many choices, too much indecision, too much internal questioning, too much benchmarking what you are writing now against what you have already written. My second attempt at a second novel was a bust.

In May 2013, I decided that my second novel was never going to be a patch on my first, but if I never finished it, if I just gave up, then that would be it. No second novel meant no third novel, no fourth novel etc etc. I sat down again and decided that this time I would finish, this time no matter how bad it was, there would be an end to it. So in May I started again, looking at the first two drafts I took from them what I liked and left what I hated. I changed characters, removed characters, gave some more development, gave others less and worked out the story elements in detail.

Even with all this enthusiasm and determination it was still rubbish and yet by chapter six there was a glimmer of the old first novel writer. By chapter ten it was happening, properly happening. I finished in August, re-edited until a week ago, and came to the conclusion that while this was an altogether different beast to my first novel, it was also a novel in its own right. There was action, tragedy, pace, self-discovery in as good, if not a better, mix than the first novel. I have now sent it off to be edited and I’m hoping my editor will agree with me. But even if she doesn’t, I finished the second novel, finished it! I know the first one wasn’t a fluke, and in the end I actually enjoyed doing it again. I’m confident I can write a third one, and that even if I do occasionally spout rubbish, none of that effort was ever truly wasted.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The words behind the words

By James Batchelor


A hero guns down a villain.
 
In a film, this moment would take seconds (depending on the director’s love of dramatic slow motion effects). Point, bang, ouch, it’s over.
 
But behind the scenes, movie buffs know that a lot of planning went into that single moment: script writing, storyboarding, sound design and perhaps some music, lighting, experimenting with different camera angles, and even costume choices.
 
No doubt some of these things are explained in the director’s commentary or DVD extras – the home release of Star Wars: Episode III has a particularly interesting documentary about how many man hours go into one minute of footage. But for the most part, viewers will never know how much work goes into that single gunshot.
 
It’s the same with writing.
 
The finished manuscript may be what you hand to the editor, but many writers know that there is far more behind it: character sheets, maps, plot outlines, previous drafts and alternate versions of the same scene, paragraphs that never made it and, yes, that silly version you wrote after too much coffee where the hero suddenly develops heat vision and melts the bad guy instead.
 
A 50,000-word novel can have thousands more words scribbled into other documents or on spare pages. They are the words behind the words.
 
Every writer has a different system, and might even use other methods depending on the project. None of them are right or wrong; it’s whatever works best for you. Haven’t ever made such notes before? You might not need them, but if you think you do, ask another writer how they do it.
 
I can only draw from my own experience. For most novel attempts, I tend to have a chapter-by-chapter outline. This may or may not go into great detail. It might be a case of “Ch14: hero chases villain to rooftop, reveals reasons for revenge, shoots him, makes cocky comment”. Or it might be as simple as “Ch5: hero buys coffee”. If I want to elaborate on who he meets there, what he says, what he does, whether or not Starbucks gets his order wrong, I can. If not, I’ll just wing it – sometimes that’s how you stumble on your best stuff.
 
For my time-travelling sci-fi story, I’ve had to do two chapter plans: one for the order in which events occur in the novel, and one in chronological order that explains all the jumping back and forth in time. Even then, it’s hard to work out what character is where and when – time travel is really confusing stuff, but a lot of fun too.
 
I even have notes under the chapter plans on all the possible endings I might have, because sometimes you just don’t know which one is right until you get there.
 
For my fantasy series, I’ve gone even further: I’ve set up a Wiki. Like Wikipedia, but entirely centred around my novels. Not only does this include character profiles and general lore, but even details like what tavern is on what street, and which districts of my city are next to each other.
 
While Tolkien bundled many of these ‘words behind his words’ into The Lord of the Rings’ appendices, I think it’s safer for my readers’ sanity that mine remain locked away in my laptop. Maybe that’s not the case for you.
 
The point is don’t be afraid to write words that are relevant to your novel but don’t actually add to your word count. (Don’t go too nuts – you do want to finish your story, after all)
 
The purpose of such notes is to make everything clear to you, so you understand your story inside and out or back to front. When you do, your writing will be inherently better and your world or story more compelling.
 
Rowling’s magical world feels complete because she has a complete version built in her head. It’s like a day trip to France: there’s more countryside and villages beyond the outskirts of Paris. You never see it, but you know it’s there. Just as when a hero guns down a villain, your readers will know there’s a hell of a lot more work behind it.
 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

THOUGHTS OF A SMALL BOY EATING AN APPLE ON A CROWDED CITY BUS

by Margo Fuke

CRUNCH went my apple
why're they looking at me?
CRUNCH,CRUNCH went my apple
don't they know it's my tea?

Or remains of the dragon
I killed long ago
in a landslide of hunger
in primaeval Bow.

My chin is a sunset
wet shining and red; my mouth
is a graveyard,
corpse bones spewing out.

Folk tumble out headlong
disembowelling my bus
I snarl but keep munching
through the mad exodus

Snagged the driver of course
with my green woollen paws
displaying their armour
and eighteen inch claws

'I've paid, take me home now
or mumma will foam
at the mouth and come hunting.'
He kow-towed with a groan

'Our stop', boomed Mum dragon
my apple a core
she grabbed for my hand
we disembarked through the door.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

by Beverly Townsend

 
“It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

When Conan Doyle created the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr Watson he redefined the detective genre. His first published story to feature Holmes was ‘A Study in Scarlet’ (1886) followed by ‘The Sign of Four’ (1890).  These short stories first appeared in ‘The Strand’ magazine and were immediately popular with readers.

Conan Doyle was born in 1859 in Edinburgh and had a turbulent childhood due to his father’s alcoholism; he was later committed to a lunatic asylum. Whilst studying medicine at Edinburgh University he began to write stories and his first published work was ‘The Mystery of Sasassa Valley’ (1879).

He modelled Holmes after his University professor Dr. Joseph Bell, who emphasised the importance of observation in diagnosis. He would often demonstrate this to his students by deducing the occupation and life-style of patients purely by observations.

After he qualified he became a ship’s doctor on a Greenland whaler and also on a voyage to West Africa where he nearly died of typhoid. Most of his life he divided his time between medicine and writing. An accomplished sportsman he played cricket for Marylebone Cricket Club. He married twice and had five children.

He served briefly as a doctor in the Boer war and later wrote ‘The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct’ (1902), which justified the UK’s role in the war. It was for this publication that resulted in his being knighted by King Edward VII in 1902.

Conan Doyle was also a fervent advocate of justice and personally investigated two closed cases which resulted in two men being exonerated of the crimes that they were accused.

Altogether Conan Doyle wrote 56 Holmes short stories and four novels. He grew tired of writing the Holmes stories and wrote ‘The Final Solution’(1893) in which Holmes and Professor Moriarty apparently plunge to their deaths over a cliff. Public outcry from his fans however led him to bring the character back, which he did in ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ (1901).

By the 1920s he strayed from his religious upbringing and was profoundly interested in spiritualism believing that the living could communicate with the dead. He wrote many books on the subject and many other notable fiction and non-fiction works.

His stories have been translated into films, stage productions, TV series, animated films and radio plays; indeed there is a whole host of authors now writing Sherlock Holmes stories in Conan Doyle’s style.

He died in 1930 of a heart attack aged 71.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Most Important Thing

by Maria V A Johnson

What is the most important thing you need to do before publishing a book? Well, obviously you need to write one. You can’t publish something that doesn’t exist after all. But then what? Is it finding an agent? Is it getting a publisher or choosing to self-publish? No. They are important things to do of course, but they are not the MOST important thing. So what is it? I hear you ask. It’s editing.

Now I’m sure that’s shocked a few of you. If you’ve thought enough about it to look online, you may even think it’s too expensive and want to do it yourself. I must admit that even the cheapest of editors out there can seem rather pricey, but it’s well worth the time and effort.

The thing to remember though, is that it is actually good value for money. £3000 for a 150,000 word manuscript might appear a lot, and it is, but it works out at 2p per word. A good, full edit (developmental, structural and copy/line editing) can take between 4 and 6 months to complete, and involve many rounds. The editor will need to go through the book several times to make sure they catch everything, and it’s very time consuming. £3000 isn’t a lot of money when you consider the editor’s outlay. Most people on low salaries (£12k pa) would expect to earn that much in 3 months or less, the editor is doing 4-6 months’ work for the same amount. It is a demanding job for little pay.

You wouldn’t need to cough up all the money up front though. Most editors will take a down-payment at the start and request the balance upon completion, giving you time to save. Some editors even offer payment plans to help you budget if funds are tight. Personally, I go one stage further. I know that some writers are unemployed, and so I offer a special discount to anyone that can prove they’re in receipt of benefits, as well as other money-saving offers.

 

I recently borrowed a kid’s book from the library to see if it was any good to buy for my niece and was appalled at the state of it. It was published by New Generation Publishing, a ‘UK based market-leading self-publishing company’ if you believe their website. They say they offer a full editing service to customers should they require it.

I think it safe to say, Nature Mage by Duncan Pile has never gone through that procedure. Maybe Mr Pile thought it didn’t need to, that it was perfect the way it was. But there is a problem. Most authors cannot see the mistakes in their own work. When they look at the page and read it through, they are reading it the way they envisioned it. Even authors who are professional editors, like me, can’t see the errors in their own work and need to hire someone else.

When I was reading through Nature Mage, I noticed a lot of problems. There were places where he had typed the wrong word by mistake, places where punctuation was missing – most noticeably at the end of paragraphs, and the vast majority of apostrophe’s were facing the wrong way! Needless to say, I will not be buying that book for my niece. The story was good, if you could look past the errors, but I don’t want her to learn sloppy grammar etc. I want her to learn properly.

That book could have been brilliant if it had been edited, but now it’s consigned to the scrap heap because an author couldn’t be objective and didn’t know the most important thing.

So, when you’re thinking about publishing your own book, make sure you get a professional editor first – it’s well worth the outlay to get a raw manuscript turned into an amazing novel.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Imaginary Friends

by Carol Thomas

This blog post was inspired by a conversation we had at the social on Wednesday. I was talking about my daughters ‘Imaginary Friends’ and it started me thinking about how we, as writers, spend most of our time with imaginary people.

My daughter started talking to her imaginary friends when she was 2. They were her hands and she called the right one Onion and the left one Heddy. Onion was naughty and would pull Olivia’s clothes and push her off the bed and Heddy was good and would talk Olivia into eating broccoli. One of the creepiest moments was when I told Onion that if he didn’t behave he would have to leave and he told me, “You can’t make me leave I am attached to Olivia.”  It was about 4 or 5 years before she stopped talking to them.

As well as Onion and Heddy she seemed to have other ‘friends’ that she would talk to in her bedroom. If she came in from school with a certificate for something she would disappear into the bedroom with it behind her back and we would hear, “You guys look what I won.”

She was really into Hannah Montana at the time!

Even now she still talks to herself when she is on her own. I think that writers do the same they just tend to keep it inside their heads.

I have never been worried by it although I remember my family used to find it strange when she talked to her hands! I think it helped with her speech and her creativity.

Either that or she is mad like me!

 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Why Do You Write?

by Natacha Dudley


“A writer without interest or sympathy for the foibles of his fellow man is not conceivable as a writer.” Joseph Conrad


When I write I find my story often veers off on an unexpected path. This can cause problems when I find myself heading towards a dead end. Frustration sets in and I start wondering what on earth I’m going to do. What is the point of going with the flow if you get stuck? Why write at all?

In his 1946 essay ‘Why I write’ George Orwell suggests that there are four great motives for writing hidden inside every writer.  Firstly sheer egoism. The desire for recognition and fame is, according to him, a characteristic that writers share with the top crust of humanity. The second motive is aesthetic enthusiasm. Orwell believes that the pleasure of creating a great story or an interesting phrase should guide us all.  However he also mentions that this motive is very feeble in a lot of writers. The third motive he puts forward is historical impulse: the need to record facts for posterity.

The fourth motive for writing is political purpose. Orwell stresses that this is a broad definition. He defines it as the desire to push the world in a certain direction.  He went on to describe his own creative process as follows:

‘When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’.  I write it because there is some lie I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.’

My own writing has no political purpose whatsoever but he made me stop and think.  Is there anyone out there hoping to change the world, or are we all just a bunch of egoists?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

SEE WHAT WE TO WANT TO SEE

by Gary Tinnams

Many, many years ago I studied English at University, which seemed a good idea at the time. I liked books, I liked reading, I had opinions and I knew how to express them. I didn’t actually have a career in mind except that it had to have something to do with books, and so I finished my degree, spent lots of time unemployed until ending up in a not too unsuccessful career in Information Technology. Yep, that last part makes no sense. Since then I was thinking of taking up something like Psychology, just as a hobby, because I had all this insight into character motivations, author messages, so why not people personalities? What I found was a course that was just another load of opinions. Well thought out and constructed opinions but opinions nonetheless, they were not facts.

This made me realise that my entire English degree and the A-Level and GCSE before it were just reams and reams of opinions, my opinions, my tutor’s opinions, the opinions of old dead men in dusty books, but opinions all the same.  The whole process is essentially flawed. If I wrote an essay about Shakespeare and then travelled back in time and asked him if that essay represented his train of thought he would probably have laughed at me.

How can my opinions based on my particular narrow viewpoint of life latch on to the mind of some guy who lived in a totally different time and culture? The simple answer is that they can’t. Anyone can structure an argument in an essay to mean anything if they are clever enough and witty enough and can source just the right quote. For all its grandiose wording, it’s a viewpoint, a clever construction, but that is all. It does not uncover some new fundamental secret about the content it is examining. It is saying more about the person who writes the essay than it can ever say about the subject.

Writing a book or a story is a very personal thing, but it also a very fine distillation of the author’s personality and intentions. It is not direct, it is fiction, not a list of instructions on how to put a shelf together. Other people can read that book, and they can take something away from it, some message, some feeling, but that won’t be the author’s message or feeling, it solely belongs to the reader, using that story or book to create a reflection of their own mind.  I’m not even sure the author has a message, maybe some general theme, or some half baked idea of what a commercial book should look like in order to be successful. But the author, any author, has words put into their mouths by the critics, and the English students, and finally by the readers. We see what we want to see, and we have no choice in that. The stories we read allow us to discover more about ourselves, and the stories we write help us to express that knowledge.

At the end of the day I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. I think it’s a marvellous amazing process, but I will never make the mistake of thinking I know what the author meant when they wrote their latest masterpiece. I don’t even know what I meant when I wrote my own.

Disclaimer: This article does not claim to contain fact; rather it contains personal opinions held by the author and subject to change.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Picture Inspires a Thousand Words

by Carlie Cullen

All the advice about writing states you should write something every day, and it’s something I try to do as much as possible. But there are days when you don’t have a W.I.P. to work on; maybe you’ve just finished a draft and it’s with your editor, maybe you’re just lacking a little inspiration, or maybe you want to have a break from the norm and do something a little different. Whatever the reason behind it, you may find yourself needing a little prompt.

Enter pictures.

As I love fantasy, I’m going to use fantasy pictures as an example. All I’ve done is type ‘fantasy pictures’ into the Google images search bar and found some real beauties. Let’s take this one as a first example:


Just think about what you can write using this picture for inspiration. I could probably write close on a thousand words just on the girl alone! When you add in all the background detail and work it all into a story to explain who the people and creatures are and what’s happening in the scene, you have the makings of a great story or flash fiction.

Here’s another example:


 
Who is this woman? Are those spikes on a headdress or protruding from her skin? What do the tattoos mean? What sort of land does she inhabit? Is she good or evil? Does she possess magic or a paranormal talent? The more questions you can ask about the picture, the more you have to write about.

A third example:


Where are these two? What magic does the woman possess? Is the warrior beside her man or creature? Why does she need a warrior – is it for protection or is she his prisoner? Are they about to undertake a journey on the water or have they just arrived? Where are they going to/coming from? What is the purpose of their journey? Who/what is the woman? Do the spikes on the warrior’s armour signify anything specific?

Final example:


This city looks dark and grim, but is it really? Is it the fact it’s nestled between mountains which gives that appearance? Is it really a happy and bright place? What is this world like? What is their ecosystem? What creatures inhabit the surrounding land? What type of people live in this city? Who rules them? Why was it constructed in a valley? What are the structures built from? Who is the lone person standing on the rocks – is he a sentry or a spy? Who are the enemies of the citizens and why?

I could go on for ages listing questions for each of these pictures, but I think you get my point. There’s an old saying, ‘a picture paints a thousand words’; well for me it’s more like, ‘a picture inspires a thousand words’. So the next time you need a little inspiration or are looking to write something different, find a picture that sparks your interest, make a list of questions and get to work.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Spinning Plates

by James Batchelor

In an ideal world, we’d knock out novel after novel, short story after short story, poem after poem, all in a nice, neat, orderly fashion. Our ideas would queue up politely just short of the forefront of our mind, waiting their turn with calm and patience.

Sadly, this is the real world. Ideas fight for prominence in our minds like New Year’s Day Sales fanatics with sharpened umbrellas and a mean right hook. It gets real nasty. And as a result, we can be writing one thing but thinking about several others.

At the risk of being momentarily narcissistic, let’s take a quick look at my own writing To Do list.

A fantasy trilogy: I’m quarter of the way through the first edit of Book One, halfway through writing Book Two, and I’ve outlined Book Three. My Nanowrimo novel from last year: 25,000 words along and in dire need of an outline. That urban fantasy novel I started as a writing challenge at this month’s Writebulb meeting, not to mention the other potential stories I can continue from past challenges and flash fictions. Not to mention a pile of previous story ideas, unfinished Nano projects and even some fan fiction.

The point is, many writers have so many projects to write, so many plates to spin, you can never tell which one you should be focusing on.

Do you concentrate on whichever story excites you the most, inspires the most passion in you? Certainly, your writing is likely to be more enthusiastic and potentially better. But there’s the constant danger that your sadly-fickle human mind will get distracted by another idea and your current project will get discarded, who knows for how long.

Do you write them in some sort of order? Perhaps in the order that you first think of them, or whichever one you think is most publishable, or in the order of whatever could be finished quicker? This would seem the most logical for those of us who think so practically, and nothing helps keep you on track like a schedule. But what if that new idea pops up and triggers that spark for Project B that Project A is so sorely lacking. The flickering ember may be extinguished by the time you finish A. Is that something you want to risk?

Do you write them simultaneously? A few (thousand) words towards something different each day? It’ll keep you fresh, and truly challenges you as a writer. Of course, your consistency might suffer and leaping from world to world, character to character might send you a little loopy (we’re writers, though, we’re all a little loopy).

Which of these is the right path? As with so many things about writing, it’s up to you. Whichever works best for you. Try each method and see which makes you most productive. Or come up with your own. There is no right answer.

There is, of course, a wrong answer.

Don’t spend too much time worrying about what to write first. Don’t spend hours, weeks, days second guessing yourself, dabbling in projects but not putting words down. Write. Always write. Doesn’t matter what you’re writing, providing you are writing. Otherwise, you end up with a massive To Do list and an unshakeable apprehension about not one, but all of your projects.

In fact, go write something now. Just a few words (it’s never just a few words, is it?) on whatever you’re working on. Or something you haven’t worked on for ages? Or start something completely new?

Seriously, go write. Keep your plates spinning.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

When They Leave Home

by Hellen Riebold


This week I have been asking myself one big question, ‘Why do I write?’

I thought I knew the answer, ‘to be published’, but this week I found out that may not be the case.

You see this week, as you may have heard, I published my first solo novel, New Earth: Beginnings, through KDP. This is the book that consumed my waking hours to such an extent that I eventually left work to give it the attention it demanded. At the time I left work I was sure this book was the be all and end all of everything. I wrote furiously for days on end, desperate to get the story out of my head and onto the paper. The closer to the end of the book I got the further engrossed in the world I was writing I became until, in the final days, I felt like I was looking back at real life through an open window. In a way completing that first draft, back in September 2012, felt a little like being set free. Oh I know I have still been heavily involved in the editing so I have read and re-read the manuscript any number of times but it never held that same power over me.

I’m not sure how I thought publishing the book would feel, and don’t get me wrong, I am delighted it is out there, prouder than anything that it is selling in modest numbers and looking forward, eagerly, to receiving my first review, but somehow it just doesn’t feel so important as I thought it would. The only thing I can compare it to is the feeling watching a child leave home. The achievement I feel is in completing the work, by publishing it I feel I have set it free to go to make its own way in the world. I, in the meantime, am far too busy with the kids left at home to watch its every mood.

Now my head is full of my current work in progress, whose first draft is close to completion, and plans for the next story in line. I am brim full of ideas for short stories and long stories, novels, series and even, thanks to Writebulb, poems. I know I will never have time to write them all down but I am really enjoying trying.

So, after a little soul-searching this week I can now say, with complete conviction, the answer to the question, ‘why do I write?’ is ‘because I can’t not.’, if you see what I mean. Now if one of my children could just make a million and come back to take care of their momma I wouldn’t turn it away but I honestly love them all just the same for the joy they give me in their growing.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Book Sales and Advertising

by Anna Buttimore

I just had another royalties statement for my fourth book, Honeymoon Heist, and to say that the sales figures are not good is stretching understatement to the limit. Not that I'm not grateful to both the people who bought it, but after all the effort and time I put into that book - and especially the work I did in promoting it - it's easy to feel disappointed and discouraged.

My first book sold 2,000 copies which made it a bestseller for its market, but that was ten years ago. What has changed? Is my writing getting worse? Should I hang up my keyboard and take up gardening instead?

The internet was still relatively new in 2001, so Haven was widely promoted the old-fashioned way, with posters for bookstore windows, adverts in book catalogues, a radio advert and bookmarks. When my third novel (Easterfield) was published in 2008 my publishers told me to set up a website, blog and Facebook page, to contact other authors for reciprocal reviews. In a nutshell, to do all my own publicity. I was a little taken aback at first. I wasn’t self-publishing, so surely publicity and marketing was their job?

Promoting a book is often prohibitively expensive for the publishers. Those end-of-shelf displays which showcase a particular new release are paid-for placements, and it's the publishers who pay for them. Likewise it costs money to have a book featured in a catalogue, and publishers work on narrow margins. So my latest books aren’t in catalogues and have never been advertised. Sales of these books rely on shoppers picking them up and being intrigued by the back cover blurb, or perhaps reading a review or hearing a recommendation from a friend. Buyers are no longer "primed" by having my books placed before them in a catalogue, on a poster or on a bookstore display.

But there are other reasons why sales may be dropping not just for me, but for my fellow authors. The global recession has meant that people have less money to spend on books, and since a book is one product you can't take back to the shop if you don't like it (believe me, I’ve tried) it's something of a risky investment when money is tight and TV entertainment is free.

The market is also growing. With the huge growth of “indie” publishing anyone can publish almost anything, and the market is flooded with cheap and appealing fiction by new authors. With a larger number of books available the finite number of readers are spread thinly.

What all this means is that if I want sales of Honeymoon Heist and No Escape to rival those of my first two books, I have to put in more work, write better books that people will talk about, and do my own publicity as much as I possibly can.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A TRULY GREAT NOVEL?

by Margo Fuke

 
I expect that, like me, you've read quite a few interesting and intelligent reviews recently featuring well-known books or authors. Well relax. This certainly isn't intelligent though I hope it's interesting, at least it's shortish! It isn't even about a book – well not a whole book that is. For that, go on line. Most of it has faded from my memory leaving only the awareness of horror in one small part of it. A part dismissed by the reviewers with a comment 'bullied by his father and at school'.
 
Have you guessed yet? The book is Engleby and it's by Sebastian Faulks. I bailed out of most of his books by the end of Chapter I and part of me wishes I had done the same with this one. To put it into context, Engleby, bullied, gets a scholarship to a public school, bullied, and then to Cambridge, where we meet him for the first time. The first-person narrative is filled with tiny detail – irrelevant to the outsider – but isn't that life? I was wondering why Faulks bothered, when the murder comes on stage. That's pretty irrelevant too, just a device for further investigation of Engleby's character, the whodunit being intentionally obvious.
 
There's the key word – character. He's intriguing. You care, and wonder why you care, about him. As you look more carefully, you realise that among this plethora of detail there isn't one single meanful conversation. Who is this alone-in-a-crowd person with a drug habit funded by petty theft?  I wept with him as his father used him as a punchball; I died inside with him as he was singled out at school and I cringed as the bullying escalated to the horrific, worthy of Tom Brown's Schooldays. He, surely, came to see himself as unworthy of better treatment. I ached for his loneliness, of which he was probably only subconsciously aware. I, almost, accepted his solution to the Jennifer-problem as a natural progression.

I told myself that my reaction was merely a tribute to Faulks' brilliant writing, that such bullying could only exist in fiction. Then I went back to my set-aside book, a biography of Lord Mountbatten, who was murdered in his 70s, along with one of his grandchildren and the boatboy while on a family fishing trip. He described an incident from his early naval career. They all slept in hammocks, large cocoon type hammocks, and one 'prank' was to let a hammock down suddenly so the sleeper crashed to the deck - an age old tradition! But wooden decks were now cold, hard steel and one unlucky youth crashed so hard he was paralysed for life. Only then was the custom outlawed!
 
Just the wrong timing for me, this dangerous, pointless, institutionalised bullying stopped me comforting myself with the 'fiction' label.
 
Now I have only to read the bald words ' bullied for some time' in the press to be thrown back into Engleby's world.

Isn't this the mark of a truly great novel? Not just that we 'enjoyed' it. But that we came out of it with some new understanding added to who we are? I certainly think so.

 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Brontë Family

by Beverly Townsend


           About 10 years ago I was in the West Riding of Yorkshire and visited the Brontë Parsonage Museum at Haworth. It was the home of the Brontё family who lived there at the beginning of the nineteenth-century. The surrounding area is wild and beautiful; leaning wind-swept trees and picturesque moors stretch for miles.

Patrick Brontё (originally Brunty) became the Anglican curate of Haworth in 1820. He and his wife Maria had six children. The two eldest sisters died young of tuberculosis and Maria died of cancer aged 38. This left the four youngest children; Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell. Their tragic beginnings fostered in them an ability to create and write gothic stories of orphans, spirits and haunting. The children were close and wrote stories about imaginary towns in minute writing in miniature books the size of a matchbox which still exist today.

The three sisters first published a book of their poetry in 1846 under the masculine pseudonyms of Currer (Charlotte), Ellis (Emily) and Acton (Anne) Bell. The book did not sell well.

In 1847 Charlotte published ‘Jane Eyre‘, Emily ‘Wuthering Heights’ and Anne ‘Agnes Grey’. This was after being rejected by at least a dozen publishers.

Life in Haworth was very basic in the time of the Brontë’s. There was no sewage system and the well water was contaminated resulting in serious illness for the population. Life expectancy at the time was less than 25 years and infant mortality was around 41% of children under six months of age.

Anne wasn’t as celebrated as her two sisters. She wrote ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ in 1849. She suffered poor health and died in 1849 aged 29.

Emily was described as timid and enjoyed wondering the wild landscape of the moors around Haworth. She died of consumption in 1848 aged 30.

Charlotte was the most prolific writer. ’Jane Eyre’ was a great success and she visited London in 1851 to promote the book at the request of her publisher. In 1849 she published ‘Shirley’ and in 1853 ‘Villette’. ‘The Professor’ was published after her death. She married her father’s curate Arthur Nichols in 1854 and was pregnant at the time of her death in 1855 aged 38.

Branwell is described as an artist, author and casual worker. Although it appears he was as creative as his siblings he became addicted to alcohol and laudanum. He died of tuberculosis in 1848 aged 31.

My favourite Brontë book is ‘Jane Eyre’ which I have read more than once. The story is about a governess who falls in love with her employer. It is believed to be based on Charlotte’s own life when she worked as a governess in Brussels and fell in love with her employer’s husband Constantin Heger.

Although they wrote relatively few books it seems the mystique of the Brontë family is infinite. Little did they know that their home in Haworth would one day become a museum and place of pilgrimage for hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world each year.

 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Book Review: Dark Winter by David Mark

by Carol Thomas

Dark Winter was on my kindle recommended list. It had a lot of rave reviews, had a high sales rank position, it was a genre I loved, had a convincing synopsis and was only 20p. It was screaming at me to buy it.

It started off strongly. It is the first of a series about DS Aector Mcavoy.  I was so excited by the first few chapters that I told the author via Twitter that I was enjoying the book.
Soon doubt started to creep in.

The book is written in present tense which I found confusing. Reading something like “Mcavoy shakes his head frantically,” doesn’t work for me. It is a hard tense to write and I don’t think David pulled it off.
Another thing that started to become annoying was the level of swearing. I am not against swearing in novels if it is necessary, and I am aware that police officers might actually swear a lot but I think the author might have got a little carried away. The female boss was also a very clichéd character, portrayed as a man-eater.

I really wanted to love the book; it had been a while since I had read anything that had blown me away but I only managed to get half-way through before I gave up on it.  
Mark David seems to be doing very well with this book, and the reviews show that there are loads of people who love it, including some famous Authors.

Maybe it was just me being fussy!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Jane Austen – my theory

by Natacha Dudley


Michael Chwe, is an associate professor of political science at the University of California.  It was while watching  “Clueless,” the 1995 film based on Jane Austen’s “Emma” that he first realised that the film was all about manipulation. On April 22nd, Princeton University Press published his paper “Jane Austen, Game Theorist,” In it he states “Anyone interested in human behavior should read Austen because her research program has results.”  He argues that Jane Austen should be regarded as the unacknowledged founder of the science of Game Theory. Whilst I understand that Austen was indeed a shrewd observer of the social lives of the landed gentry, to describe her creative output as merely a research program is surely to miss the point of her appeal as an author.

To my mind, Jane Austen’s enduring popularity lies ultimately not in research or strategy, but in her ability to create strong characters. Take “Pride and Prejudice” for example. It regularly features in lists of favourite books, Top 100 books ever written, etc. etc. A significant part of that success is due to its feisty protagonist- Elizabeth Bennett. She is a young woman who is not only independent but also attractive. Like another strong female character I encountered in my youth- Jo March (Little Women) Lizzie Bennett is a rebel. She rejects her parents’ plans for her to marry Mr Collins and pursues her own path.

Of course, I could not discuss Elizabeth Bennett without mentioning her strong male counterpart -Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy.  Initially portrayed as an arrogant figure, by the end of the story he has managed to see beyond her social class and love Elizabeth Bennett as a person. The protagonists’ interaction and compelling journey towards self -awareness is the beating heart of the novel.

Two hundred years after it was first published, Pride and Prejudice continues to inspire other authors. It has been used as the starting point for a zombie parody-“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” by Seth Graham-Smith and a murder mystery- PD James “Death comes to Pemberley”. This is all due to Austen’s magnificent characters not clinical research. Well that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What Is Important For You?

by Gary Tinnams


I have recently moved house and was going through all my various bits of writing from long forgotten folders when I found the novel I wrote at the tender age of 13. I’m not going to say how old I am, but let’s just say I wrote this novel more than a decade ago.  What was it about? Ha. Well it was about a master thief on some fantasy world who slowly becomes more when he discovers a magic sword and is tasked with defeating an evil sorcerer. He meets and befriends companions along the way, etc... etc. Yes not entirely original, but what is? Also the writing style isn’t that bad for a 13 year old, in fact it’s not that different from my writing style now.

Excerpt from The Crystal Sword – 19??, by teenager who had read a few books.

‘Elborn with his free hand found a pouch and he eagerly opened it to reveal the seeing stone. With it he saw his brother and the somewhat battered troops that followed him. The storm he had created to stop them had done more than good. Then Elderon seemed to face him and grinned, Elborn was baffled completely, how did Elderon know he was being watched? Then the picture on the stone flickered and then ceased.’

It’s not that bad, is it? I am surprised at the age of 13, I could master ‘baffled’ and ‘reveal’, oh I was good.

At the time I wrote this escapism was definitely the order of the day, escapism and emulation. I was writing like someone who had read too much Dragonlance, David Eddings and Raymond E. Feist. I was having a ball just trying to figure out what the hell I was doing, and what the rules were.

It was all about the plot then, creating and moving characters around with only the slightest impression of their inner workings. As time moved on, I read more out there books. On my book shelf now I can see such diverse books as ‘Generation X’, ‘Ender’s Game’ and ‘Spares’, books which are very different, following their own separate rules, their own formulas.

Over time I came to the conclusion that my characters were just as important as my plots, in fact they were my plots. First it was their suffering. All my characters suffered, they still suffer, they still chafe under the weight of their own mistakes. But that suffering slowly changed from self indulgent teenage angst to something with dimensions. Suffering could also be overcome, characters triumph over their circumstances, they look for hope.

What is important? You can read a million books, live a million lives vicariously, but in the end you have to figure out what is important to you. What rules are you going to follow? No-one should be afraid to find their own way, because what we are taught and what we learn are not necessarily the same thing.

I know what I like, and it is pulpy adventure, conflicted characters and hard decisions. I’m not the best writer on the Planet, not even close, and maybe only my mother loves what I write, but I like to think I’m getting somewhere.

I’ll end with something I wrote a few years later, I’m not saying when, but it may have been at the beginning of this century: On purpose I have left it unedited just to show you just how bad my editing skills were. (Still are...)

Take The Risk

‘Old man!’ My Grand-daughter shouted down the stairs at me. I was standing in the hallway ready, my shoes on, my shirt tucked in to my beige trousers, and my cap covering hairless head. I was ready, which wasn’t bad considering I was pushing sixty-seven. Kara wasn’t, which was just awful considering she was just twenty-two.
‘Kara,’ I said loudly, not shouting, in response. “We’re going to be late.”
‘I can’t find my... Oh! Why did you put my keys in the wrong handbag?’

Of course I hadn’t.

A few moments later she came bounding down the stairs, casual jeans and pink top matching the pink highlights in what should have been long auburn hair.

‘Old man,’ she smiled.

‘Not for much longer...  I hope.’

She took my arm, and we left the terraced house we had shared since Kara’s parents had died. I remember clearly this tear stricken toddler in her black dresses, always sinking into dark corners. She had changed so much, bright, alive, and she had worked hard, so very hard, to earn the money to buy me the treatment.

We waited at the bus stop, and I did wonder what would happen if the bus didn’t show, was I leaving too much to chance. The street was quiet, but it was an old street, populated by old people I had known for decades. Some of them had returned from the treatment, some had not. But still, that was the chance the seekers of youth always took.

The bus came, of course, I had ignored Kara’s request for a taxi. Why should we spend more money when there was a perfectly good bus service? We arrived after a few changes at the clinic. Jumping off on what appeared to be an old country road, more grass and trees than concrete. We walked up the path, and there it was, like an amphitheatre to the Gods, a white marble temple, round and panelled, gleaming with promise, offering the proverbial manna from heaven. The Sandman Corporation had become rich beyond imagination because they owned and built this fantastic structure on a natural spring that could turn back the years themselves.

We walked into the spectacular ovoid reception, Kara clutching my arm more tightly than she had done at her parents’ funeral.

‘We can still go home Grandad,’ she said. ‘You don’t have to do this.’

I stared deeply into her begging green eyes. She had wanted this because of the cancer, but even with that terrible disease I still had a month or two. By taking the treatment I could be dead a lot sooner.

I hugged her close. “I love you little Kara, and I want to be around. To see you get married, have children, the whole kit and keboodle.”

She kissed me on the forehead one last time and then we turned to face the waiting Doctors. 

 

The end

 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Woolfian Shoes

by Dorinda Guest

On March 28, the 72nd  anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s death, my thoughts returned to her writing and, in particular, Jacob’s Room. In this experimental novel we are asked to step inside the protagonist Jacob’s shoes, and use them as the key to the whole book. 
 
Shoes tell us where a person has been and where he or she wants to go; they tell us the story of who people are and who they would be.  Worn and tattered shoes, like faces, are drawn into signatures, inscribed through time and experience with identity.  New shoes tell the story of desires, of aspirations written, not only on the heart and soul but, just as intimately, on the body.
 
Jacob’s shoes are a signifier of both presence and absence; while the reader is given to understand that Jacob has died in France, his shoes contain his bodily imprint, casting them as a temporary private memorial in the absence of a lasting tombstone. The empty shoes are especially poignant, since Jacob is often seen walking in the novel, hiking up Olympian Hills, or climbing the path leading to the Acropolis, never doubting for a moment that he will get somewhere.
 
Woolf’s novel reminds us that the empty shoes of Jacob are there for repeated lacing and re-lacing, for multiple repetitions which alter and produce new effects.  We are forced, by Woolf’s verbal painting of the empty shoes in Jacob’s Room, to retrace our steps and re-evaluate the entire novel, in the process stepping into Jacob’s shoes in his absence.  Woolf delights in contradictory pairs, as Jacob is repeatedly described as clumsy yet elegant, awkward yet distinguished. Like a provocative pair of mismatched shoes the narrator and character are deliberately out of step.  For the most part Jacob stands superbly aloof, silent as a statue, beautifully and contemptuously out of reach. 
 
It is in these shoes that Jacob has made his imprint, not in any gesture of momentary heroism.  Woolf confronts the reader, via the tangibility of the empty shoes, with the intangible and at times inexpressible vagaries of loss, longing and desire.  This final unforgettable image remains with us long after we have put the book down.  We hear the spectral shuffle of Jacob’s shoes in our ears, their mutilated music continuing to lament, having taken that step into the void. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Writing is making me thin

by James Batchelor

I'm a firm believer that where you write is as important as how, what and why.

Stephen King wrote in his semiautographical book On Writing that writers need a personal space of their own to write: a basement, a loft, a study. While most of us probably have that space, we might always have access to it due to work, family and all the other excuses we have for not writing that bestseller.

The answer is to find an alternative that sits with your daily schedule. For me, the only time I have is my lunch break. Since my office is a little too noisy, I have to find somewhere else to write.

The nearby library is perfect, but they don't let you bring in food (a man's still got to eat, after all!) and it's closed on Wednesdays (no ones knows why. Do people not read on Wednesdays?).

Costa is an option but I always feel obliged to pay for overpriced drinks, and even more obliged to clear out when I've finished them. The same goes for all the 'greasy spoon' cafes and sandwich bars in the area.

The wetherspoons is too noisy and my far-from-Herculean physique could do without more of their £5 burgers.

By process of elimination, I found my public writing space... in Sainsbury's cafe. It's big enough that no one notices me in the corner. And if I pick up cheap food from the store, I don't feel guilty for taking up a table.

Best of all, the cheapest food is the always-varied salad bar: a couple of pounds for a reasonably sized bowl of leaves, veg, rice, pasta, etc - far healthier than the usual slabs of cheese crammed between bread or the monstrosities I used to pick up from Subway.

The result is I can split my lunch break into fifteen to twenty minutes of buying/eating salad - and at least forty minutes of writing, enough to add up to 1,000 words to my total count.

A productive writing session, no pressure to cram in some novel time after work and gradual weight loss on top of it - that's the new 'where' of my writing.