Sunday 27 September 2015

Fantasy: What's new?

Modern fantasy has increasingly taken the war between good and evil away from elves and orcs, staging it instead within an individual's skull.

I am often asked by bloggers to offer words of 'wisdom' on the direction in which fantasy is heading. I refuse the question, like a horse before a ten-foot fence. I'm not a student of the genre - I read too few books to have a decent sample of what's going on. I'm not even sure that fantasy is heading in any discernible direction. It's more like a forest fire, advancing on many fronts, accelerating along some avenues only to burn out, sparks flying ahead to start new infernos in separate areas.

Any claim in this area can immediately be shot down with a barrage of counter-examples. The success of one type of fantasy doesn't mean that another is not still being written, not still being read.

However, my statement at the head of this piece seems to me to be broadly true. There seems to me to be an increasingly sophisticated approach to the ever-present goodies vs baddies theme. That certainly doesn't mean that you can't find books that did exactly this twenty or fifty years ago, or that you can't find a popular book published last month that pits the golden hero against the born-bad race. But on the other hand, it seems to me with my limited perspective to be one of the few generalizations you can make about the direction that the genre has been headed in and may well continue to head in. A generalization sharing the weaknesses inherent in generalizations (he generalized).

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Sunday 20 September 2015


I'm a number-watcher, I admit it. And last night I got my 100,000th book rating on Goodreads. There was no phone call from the president, no medal awarded ... not even a special cake. But I'm in the 100K club!

Milestones are, if not an excuse for cake and medals, then an excuse to reflect.

I became a full-time writer a few months ago, not by choice, but it was a jump I had been building up courage to take, so being pushed wasn't too terrible a thing.

I never had any ambition to be an author. It wasn't a childhood dream of mine. Even when I sent the Prince of Thorns manuscript to a handful of literary agents several years after writing it I wasn't thinking in terms of becoming an author. It was just what you did with a manuscript once you'd written it and enough friends had pushed you hard enough in that direction.

I have always been a reader of fantasy though. As a reader I honestly never thought about the authors - they were just connecting names on the front of books. I wasn't part of any fandom, and when the internet rolled around it never occurred to me to seek out fellow genre fans.

I did, however, take the stories themselves very much to heart. Many of the character and places I read about are part of the landscape of my imagination. Which really means that decades down the line they are part of who I am.

That 100,000 ratings means that 100s of 1000s of readers have read my work. And of them a good number have really enjoyed it. And of those, some core number will have read one of the books at just the right time in their lives when the character or situation can strike some deep chord with them, and for those people I might actually have written a book that becomes part of who they are. My books might be for them what my heroes of fantasy's books are for me.

And that's pretty amazing.

I find myself in an unexpected and privileged place, and every now and then it's good to pause, look around me, and realize it. One hundred thousand ratings is, if nothing else, a good excuse to do just that.

Sunday 13 September 2015

A little ideas shop in Bognor Regis

If you google "where do you get your ideas from" you'll find hundreds of pieces by writers telling the world that ideas are the easy part. The top hit is from Neil Gaiman and the title to this blog post comes from his piece.

So I'm not being original here, but since I typed all this out today in reply to someone with an idea but no writing experience I thought I'd make double use of it. Today's inquiry did add "ha ha" after the suggestion that perhaps I write the book and they simply collect royalties for supplying the idea - but I've certainly had straight-faced proposals for going 50/50 before. The other party would give me the idea, I would write the book, they would collect half of any profit.

The difficult thing about writing a book is writing it. Using the language in a way that makes the images and emotions in your head appear in someone else's. Sentence by sentence it's difficult and requires a natural talent honed by a *lot* of practice. Chapter by chapter it's difficult, requiring the plot and pacing to keep the reader with you. You have to grow people on the page, people who are not only realistic enough to suspend belief but fascinating enough to stop the reader wandering off to watch sport, play video games, put on a movie, or spend the day Facebooking or watching cats on youtube.

None of that's easy. When someone comes to a writer with an idea, offering to go halvsies or thinking they've broken the back of the job and now just need to finish off by getting the words down (as people often do) it's a bit like going up to a sculptor and saying 'I've got an idea for a statue, it's an angel spreading its wings, but the clever bit..' and assuming that the job of cutting the form from the stone and making the description into something concrete is just a formality (or at most, half the effort). It's almost like going to NASA with a suggestion of which planet / star / asteroid they should visit and considering that to be a substantial contribution to the resulting voyage. Ideas are like that, they're like destinations. There's a galaxy of them twinkling in the darkness. Pointing at one is easy. Building the rocket and getting there in one piece is hard.

The only advice I have - and it's rarely welcome because it involves a huge amount of hard work and guarantees no success - is that if you've never written before, you need to start. There are cases of people sitting down and writing a good book just like that, but there are also cases of people being born with two heads. It's overwhelmingly likely that you would need to write, solicit feedback, write more, write again, and keep doing it until you got good enough for people to demand your work rather than suffer it. Short stories are a great medium to improve your writing in as they don't require months or years of effort on the writer's part and only require minutes rather than days from the reader. I found it important to see the impact of my efforts so I knew what worked. So I joined online critique groups and shared short stories. I did that for for a little bit, wrote a bad book, did it for several more years, wrote an OK book, did it for a couple more, and wrote Prince of Thorns. And before writing my first short story I had been writing in various other forms for decades.

Essentially it's a labour of love. If you don't love writing - just for its own end - then you're probably better off doing something you do love.

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Quoster Contest 2015

Contest CLOSED

What's a quoster you ask?

It is:

i) A quote-poster. Like these:


Look HERE for loads of Broken Empire / Red Queen's War quotes.

ii) Something that can win you a prize. Like these:

Prizes to include: an uncrumpled example of this T-shirt. A rare Advance Review Copy of Prince of Thorns, Emperor of Thorns on CD audio, hardcover copies of The Liar's Key, various paperbacks and foreign language alternatives - all books signed and (if requested) dedicated.

Also: The winner will get the option to place a pre-order for the Broken Empire omnibus, The Big Book of Thorns (leather-bound or cloth-bound), at any time from now until 24 hours after Grim Oak Press officially open for pre-ordering.

Ten runners up will get the same option but only for the numbered / cloth-bound edition.

But wait - there's more!

If you're agreeable and your quoster doesn't include copyrighted material Pen Astridge will add it as a T-shirt option in the store she's setting up selling Broken Empire / Red Queen's War quotes on T-shirts to raise money for charity.

[A collection of experts (random folk) will select the 3 main winners (who get to choose prizes from the photo & also get the pre-order options (1 leather-bound the other two cloth-bound)) and there will 7 random winners one of whom will get a prize choice and all of whom will get a pre-order option (cloth-bound).]

The quote should come from a book or short story written by me. The picture (photo, hand-drawn, or just interesting use of the text) should add weight to the words.

There is a maximum of 3 entries per person.

I will post the entries here.

The Entries
Winners first
I canvassed opinions to help my selection and while the over-all winner got 7 votes 61 entries got at least 1 vote and only 3 entries got more than 2. So as you can see opinion was very much divided and the majority of entries were someones favourite. Very many thanks for taking part.

#10 Kurt (Red Sister)

#45 Agnes (The Liar's Key)

#8 Pen (Prince of Thorns)

#69 Louise (Prince of Thorns)

#11 Marc E (The Secret)

#30 Joy (Prince of Thorns)

#43 Andrea (Emperor of Thorns)

#34 Brandon (King of Thorns)

#55 Janice (Emperor of Thorns)

#86 Colin (Prince of Thorns)

#16 Kiluwe (King of Thorns)

The Runner-Uppers

#92 Frank (King of Thorns)

#91 Frank (Emperor of Thorns)

#90 Frank (Prince of Thorns)

#89 Krissi (Prince of Fools)

#88 Harveen (Emperor of Thorns, cover blurb)

#87 Ryan (King of Thorns - by luck or detective work the actual statue

#85 Shan (Prince of Thorns)

#84 Shan (Prince of Thorns)

#83 Shan (Prince of Thorns)

#82 Mia (King of Thorns)

#81 Mia (Prince of Fools)

#80 Mia (Red Sister)

#79 Janice (King of Thorns)

#78 Janice (Emperor of Thorns)

#77 Raul (Prince of Thorns)

#76 Raul (Emperor of Thorns)

#75 Raul (Prince of Thorns, wherein Jorg quotes Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)

#74 Harper (King of Thorns)

#73 Kathryn (Emperor of Thorns)

#72 Kathryn (Emperor of Thorns)

#71 Kathryn (The Liar's Key)

#70 Susan (King of Thorns)

#68 Ryan (Prince of Thorns)

#67 Erik (Prince of Thorns)

#66 Erik (Prince of Thorns)

#65 Ellie (King of Thorns)

#64 Rui (King of Thorns)

#63 Anna (Prince of Fools) (not strictly a quoster...)

#62 Anna (Prince of Thorns)

#61 Anna (King of Thorns)

#60 Daniel (King of Thorns)

#59 Ryan (Prince of Thorns)

#58 Rui (King of Thorns)

#57 Rui (Prince of Thorns)

#56 Mike (The Liar's Key)

#54 Janice (Prince of Thorns)

#53 Janice (Prince of Thorns)

#52 Alicia (King of Thorns)

#51 Alicia (The Liar's Key)

#50 Marie (Prince of Fools)

#49 Chris (Prince of Thorns)

#48 Chris (Prince of Thorns)

#47 Brittany (Sleeping Beauty)

#46 Brittany (Sleeping Beauty)

#44 Rocus (King of Thorns)

#42 Greg (Prince of Fools)

#41 Liviu (King of Thorns)

#40 Radoslav (Prince of Thorns)

#39 Radoslav (King of Thorns)

#38 Radoslav (King of Thorns)

#37 Michael (Emperor of Thorns)

#36 Michael 

#35 Michael (King of Thorns)

#33 Mike (Emperor of Thorns)

#32 Harveen (Prince of Fools/Thorns)

31 Gabrielle (blurb from Emperor of Thorns - which I did write)

#29 Joy (King of Thorns)

#28 Joy (During the Dance)

#27 Andrew

#26 Andrew

#25 Jake (King of Thorns)


#24 Marc R (Prince of Fools)

#23 Charlie (The Liar's Key)

#22 Greg (Emperor of Thorns, blurb)

#21 Greg (Emperor of Thorns)

#20 Jason (all of them?)

#19 Jason (Prince of Fools)

#18 Jason (Prince of Fools)

#17 Kiluwe (Prince of Thorns)

#15 Kiluwe (Emperor of Thorns)

#14 Liana (Prince of Thorns)

#13 Liana (The Liar's Key)

#12 Liana (Prince of Thorns)

#9 Kurt (Prince of Fools)

#7 Jennifer (Prince of Thorns)

#6 Lisa (King of Thorns)

#5 Lisa (Prince of Thorns)

#4 Lisa (Emperor of Thorns)

#3 Mishelle (King of Thorns)

(We are memories, strung on storylines – the tales we tell ourselves about ourselves, falling through our lives into tomorrow)

#2 Kenneth (The Liar's Key)

(Kenneth's own photo from Iraq, concertina wire in the background)

#1 Nadia (King of Thorns)