In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Kind Readers

 I'm not terribly good with social media.

 I didn't grow up with it. I see kids today, and people in their 20's, writing text messages so fast I can't follow the words. I go on websites which advise me to link to this or that and I don't know how. I learn, bit by bit, but of course the platforms change so fast that I never seem to catch up. It's hard for my generation. In my youth we were all amazed by the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64, which played games from tapes that took ten minutes to load and made a screeching noise that drove us out of the room.

 So, I'm not good. But I'm trying, because for an indie author writing the book is only half the job. The rest is publicising it. I have a website and a Facebook page, of course, but I'm going further. I've joined Twitter now, despite avoiding it for years because of the people who tweet things like "Just bought lettuce!" 45 times a day and somehow have thousands of followers. I'm considering putting some videos on YouTube - if anyone's tried that, any advice would be gratefully received. Unless it's about lettuce.

 Still, I've already figured out how to make a poster with text and images, to publish online. Next I need to learn how to overlay pictures, so the cover of one novel can be partly visible behind the cover of another. Probably there's more I ought to learn too, but as yet I don't know enough to understand what it is. All this is most vexing.

 Not least because doing all this media work takes time away from writing - time which is already tight because I have a wife and daughter who need to see me now and then as well.  I know of one indie author who writes and does online advertising for 14 hours a day. I just don't have that time. I've got the commitment, got the desire, but I can't manufacture hours out of thin air.

 So I keep going, keep learning, and hope one day it's enough. And there's one thing you kind readers can do for me. If you've read one of my books, leave a review on Amazon. Short, long, good or bad, just leave a review. Please.

 Thank you.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Something Fresh

 Ignoring politics is hard. Especially now, when anyone can post anything on Facebook, true or not. The lies I've seen... if every claim that Labour has risen in the polls was true, they'd be at 200% by now. People are claiming the Tories want to close the NHS and starve primary school children. It's ludicrous, the politics of deception and deceit - but it works. People do believe it, and when the claims come thick and fast they reinforce one another. Repeat a lie often enough and people will begin to take it for true.

 But I have work to do, so I'm trying to limit my involvement. I'm afraid that the voters in Britain is no smarter than the American electorate which voted for Trump. They'll fall for deceit and fake promises. Well, that's their business. I'll take care of my family and my writing, and leave the great social movements for others.

 I'm still editing Fanged Fish. 70,000 words are done now, so there's not too much left to do. My plan is to finish that, then rewrite The Death of Ghosts, which needs a few tweaks early on. I wrote it in such a flurry that I didn't give enough emphasis to a couple of things that become significant later in the series. Or I should say... that was my plan. Because I've had a great new idea.

 I'm still thinking through the structure, and a lot of the background isn't clear yet. But the basis of the idea is a portal Fantasy, in which magic interacts with the world we know. People can cross here from their world, and return. Intelligence services track them too, so there's a thread of modern surveillance and the suspicion of terrorism as well. The terrorism matters, because portal fantasies have been done before and if I'm to do this, it will have to feel different to them, something fresh. There are other things in the story to do that - but I'm not going to tell you what they are. You'll have to read the book, kiddos.

 I have to write it, first, and with a new baby due soon that might not be so easy. Oh well.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Do It Yourself

 Like Sci-Fi, Fantasy can sometimes hold a mirror up to our own world, by showing one in which things are nearly the same, but often worse. A writer can get away with Mad Mage of Zog Empire saying something you can't have the President say.

 It's a bit hard at the moment. I can't see how we could have a Fantasy allegory of today's politics, it would be ridiculous. Readers wouldn't believe it. I'd do better with Mad Mage and the Zogs. Good name for a 60's pop band, now I think about it.

 In truth, it's very hard anyway. Politics is labyrinthine, a mess of ironies and contradictions that only make sense to us (well, a bit of sense) because we live in the middle of it all. We pick up the little quirks as we go along, so we have a frame to fit everything into. It's not like that with ancient Rome, say. We might know some important figures like Emperors and writers, but we don't know the hundreds of minor issues that cropped up day by day. We can't really imagine them, so it's tricky to write a political Fantasy novel unless you go into tedious detail explaining everything all the time.

 Robert Graves did a wonderful job of this with I, Claudius, by the way. Read it if you can.

 The best we can do is broad strokes. I do some of that in the Songs of Sorrow books, which tell of the struggle to survive of a small religious group threatened by a much larger one. One character here to show such-and-such, one character there to show blah-blah, and leave it at that. Sometimes in writing the trick is to leave detail out and let the reader fill it in for himself. That way every reader has a subtly different mental image of the story, but isn't that why a book is nearly always better than the film version?

 I'm going to try to ignore the real world's politics for a while. Tough ask, in the middle of a General Election, but I'll give it a go. I think I prefer the struggle of the Ashir, and speaking of that, I'm closing in on finishing the final edit of Fanged Fish. The cover's being designed as I write this and we have a tentative publication date of November this year - a scant 6 months away. Meanwhile Kai is trying to change his people's culture to help them survive, and others are trying to stop him and cling to what they know.

 Politics, eh?

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Revolution Baby

 Now and then, the world changes.

 Sometimes it's sudden and obvious. The nuclear bombs in Japan in 1945, or the attacks of 9/11 in 2001. Other times it's harder to see, the effects uncertain for a while, like when Muhammad started preaching in 610 AD. Who would have said his teachings would spread so far and last so long?

 Or you can look at the 1960's, which are still seen as a sort of epochal change in attitudes. The decade gave us greater equality and Civil Rights, but in the end faded away with its dreams unfulfilled. That happened before, in the 1840's for example. People can live through social upheaval and think it's changing the world, only to find at the end that the same people hold the same power in the same places.

 That might be happening now.

 Americans are so disillusioned with politics that they elected a President who was never a politician. France might yet elect Marine Le Pen, of the far right. Later in the year Italy could elect a Five Star/Northern Alliance government that will take the country out of the EU. Of course Britain recently voted to leave, and we're now holding a general election that will either cement that decision or undermine it. All looks very impressive, doesn't it? The old power bases are crumbling. Change hangs in the air.

 Or does it? Big political movements come and go, and big political parties outlast them. Upheaval passes to leave the largest companies untouched, as secure as ever. The sons of rich men still go to the best schools. The gap between the richest and the rest still widens. What, exactly, has changed? Anything fundamental?

 This is how society works. Any social organisation starts because the people need it, but pretty soon it reverses, and the organisation uses the people to survive, to perpetuate itself. Close behind that comes coercion. Everyone is coerced. You, me, the neighbours, everyone who voted for the other guy... all of us. We always will be, though maybe not as badly. We can bring change. But it means tearing up society's rules and starting again, because otherwise the new boss will be just the same as the old boss.

 Understanding this is key to writing about ancient cultures. (See? Writing does come into the blog if you stick with it.) When threatened the holders of power always strike back. Maybe not at first, maybe not in plain sight, but they don't give up their wealth and status and walk away. So when a story's protagonist stirs the pot, someone always gets burned.

 By the way... watch out for the power brokers to react to today's populism. The Establishment Strikes back. It will.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Something New

 My last post, about the Inca nearly winning against the Spanish, got me thinking about times when history changed course. It's an old theme for me, but there are not many times when we can point to it clearly.

 The loss of the Native American civilisations is one, though. What if smallpox hadn't ravaged them? It would have been very hard for Spain to defeat them then, and we'd now live in a world with distinct societies and religions in the Americas. Maybe not Inca, but their cultural descendants. A second occasion is the Battle of Tours in 732AD, when Charles Martel defeated the Islamic Caliphate and stopped forever its expansion into Europe. If he'd lost, and France had fallen, Rome would have been taken soon after and that might be the end for Christianity.

 But then, we can always play 'what if'. Maybe the asteroid doesn't hit earth 65 million years ago, and dinosaurs evolve into birds before mammals can grow strong. The world now might be one of large flightless birds, small birds scavenging their eggs, and so on. You can play that game every time a species goes extinct, or a new one appears. History has only a few points when it might have changed in some fundamental way, but evolution has millions.

 This gives huge opportunities to Sci-Fi writers, who invent new species every time they create a new world. So why not Fantasy?

 We've got stuck in a rut. Non-humans are nearly always the same. Wise elves in the deep forests, grumpy dwarves under mountains, swarming goblins, dragons... seen it before. We've read those stories. Why not something new?

 A species descended from birds, all twitch and quiver, who roost in great halls. Maybe creatures like fish which come onto land every few years to breed, and while there hold councils to decide whatever issues they have. If expanding human peoples build a town on the council grounds, whew, that would get nasty. What about a collective consciousness, like a vast plant that can bud off parts of itself to move around? Sci-Fi is comfortable exploring races like these. Fantasy should be too.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

A Few Fables

 I admit, some of my recent posts haven't had much to do with writing. That's OK, because if I burbled on about my work time after time I'd bore myself, let alone you merry lot. But the launch of Black Lord of Eagles is close now, April 7th, so I really ought to chat a bit about that.

 The story is inspired by the Spanish invasion of the Inca Empire in 1532. This is the last time that two cultures met with no previous knowledge of each other, having developed along completely different lines, The Inca thought at one point that the Spanish must be eating all the gold they stole, because they couldn't think why else they'd want it so much. It was an encounter with the Other - a completely alien culture.

 It ended in tragedy, with the Inca all but wiped out and their culture destroyed. But it was close. In 1536 the new king attacked the Spanish at Cuzco, and wiped out four relief armies before he was defeated. In the end it took until 1572 for the Spanish to kill the last king. If it hadn't been for the ravages of smallpox, the Inca might well have won.

 Imagine that tomorrow, we discover an invisible people that has been living alongside us humans all along, and now they want to conquer us. Their technology is better than ours and they're right here among us before we know they exist. Everything we thought was true about the world was nonsense. We would be shocked, stupefied, hardly able to think. That's what happens to the Ashir in Black Lord of Eagles, when they discover an alien culture on the border of their land. The invaders shouldn't exist. But they do, and the Ashir have to find a way to deal with that blow before they can begin to defend themselves.

 I love the Ashir. Their warriors are tattooed with society markings, wear their hair in crests and adore jewellery. People eat bread rolls filled with peppers or squirrel meat. They tell fables of monkeys who longed to be eagles, and of a lost people who carved the great stone heads which litter the land. They're hopeless romantics. Now me, I'm a cynic to my bones, but there's a part of me... a little whisper in my heart... that doesn't want to be. A part that wants some of the fairy tales to be just a little bit true.

 The Inca lost. Maybe the Ashir will too, when it all comes down to the last of the struggle. (What, did you think I'd spoil the ending?) But if they leave a few fables, and a sense of wonder, then we'll owe them something. I think that's largely what Fantasy is for, and it's what I aimed for with Black Lord.

 I really hope you like it.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Clever Clogs

 Well, this is odd. Michigan University research has apparently found the key characteristics of intelligent people.

 They are that you learn from your mistakes; you argue intelligently (i.e. without being confrontational;); you don't believe you're intelligent; you like sick humour; you enjoy being alone; you are physically lazy; you have used illegal drugs; you're an atheist; you don't post inspirational messages on Facebook; and you're the eldest child in your family.

 Really? Then basically, a first-born fatso who can't be arsed with going out because he's spent all his money on weed is a frickin genius.Especially if he has a taste for jokes about the Yorkshire Ripper.

 These claims are so generalised that they don't mean anything. It annoys me that people take a study like this seriously because it was done by 'scientists'. It's as though the white coat confers some sort of divine right to have all the answers, but y'know, that's priests, if you believe in that sort of thing. (Which means you're not clever, apparently). The truth is that some science is good, like evolution, and some is really bad, like homeopathy, which isn't really science at all but bollocks wearing the ol' white coat.

 In the same way, some clever people might be co-operative and low-energy, but others are confrontational Christians. People are different. Why this weird urge to compartmentalise and pigeonhole? Our greatest human attribute is the richness of our diversity. If you think people fit into this kind of neat packaging, go watch Susan Boyle's audition for Britain's Got Talent. Might change your mind a bit.

 Oh, and by the way, Black Lord of Eagles is due out in less than a month now, on April 7th. I promise to concentrate more on that next time.