In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Grubby and Desperate

 My wife and I welcomed our second child, and second daughter, early last month. As a result, in our house every day is filled with rushing about (Bella) and screaming for food (Evie), and then with cleaning up the worst of the wreckage. It's all very tiring, so it's a problem that the nights are disturbed too. But there's hope.

 On Friday morning I'll be having a vasectomy. I turn 50 next year (How? How?) so I can't really keep producing kids, not if I want to be around for the next 20 years to take care of them. Past a certain point it feels irresponsible. Plus my wife spent both pregnancies being quite unwell, so I don't want to put her through that again (Caz isn't keen either). So, time for the snip. Which means... several days of enforced rest.

 Or to put it another way, an excuse to sit on comfy cushions in front of my PC for days. With any luck Caz will bring me bacon sandwiches and beer at regular intervals, but never mind that. It's time to write that counts. Finally. Finally, a chance to get some solid work done.

 Strange thing, y'know, but having two small daughters doesn't half eat into your life.

 So, I have some adjustments to make to The Death of Ghosts, just tinkering at the edges really. There are a couple of things that need to be played up because they become important later, sometimes in volume two, but in once case not until volume four. The plot's laid out, I know the story in detail now, so the changes will be simple enough. Then run over the text, do another edit check for errors - you can never do too many - and push into volume two, titled The Life of Shadows. Quite a lot of nasty things start to happen in that. The main bad guy from volume one turns out to be very small fry indeed.

 I like a degree of unpleasantness in Fantasy. It shouldn't be all polished breastplates and men talking about honour. Sometimes life is just grubby and a bit desperate, and when the world is changing and there's danger all around that goes ten times over.

 Speaking of grubby and desperate, I need to get back to clearing up after the kids. Like I said, life isn't all glamour... but it'll do me.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Just as Cool

 When you write a character, it has to be genuine. We all know that, right? I produce pages of details I never use, because the reader doesn't need to know them all - but I do. They help me work out how the character will react in a given situation. I can't really have a bloke who's homophobic then turn out to be bisexual, can I?

 Motivation matters. A person's history, his family's background, a thousand other things; they all go into making that person who he or she is. That controls how the character behaves. And that's why I'm having trouble with the idea of Doctor Who as a woman.

 Let me say first that I like diversity. The BBC (who makes Dr Who) is in trouble for having too few ethnic minority stars, and above all for paying its male staff much, much more than their female counterparts. It deserves that trouble, too. It pays lots of men over £1 million a year, but no woman earns half that. It's a disgrace.

 But turning the Doctor into a woman doesn't feel like diversity. It feels like ticking a box. The current companion is Bill, who ticks three boxes - ethnic minority, female, gay. The BBC is straining so hard to be right-on politically correct that it risks losing sight of what the character actually is.

 The Doctor was conceived as an antidote to all the comic-book superheroes of the 1950's and '60's. Give them a spider bite or a radiation accident and they started to defy evil by hitting it a lot. By contrast, the Doctor never used violence. He used cleverness instead. He was intended to show young boys that cleverness was just as cool as flying about in a red cape and punching the bad guy on the nose.

 But girls know that already, you don't have to teach them. Women know how to talk better than men, how to compromise, because they don't have all this testosterone and ego thrashing about inside them. OK, these are generalisations, but they're largely true. So where does this leave the Doctor? A woman who prefers to talk and use her wits isn't anything out of the ordinary.

 As for the show, it's gained a transgender Doctor, but lost the multi-box ticking Bill. That needs to be addressed, gosh yes, I'm horribly afraid that the next season or two will give us a gay Cyberman, a female Dalek, maybe a Weeping Angel from a persecuted minority of the species. It's all very modern, but you know, modern changes. Twenty years from now the Doctor is likely to look as dated as the original Star Trek - the Sixties in space, more or less.

 Making the Doctor female is just tokenism. If the BBC wants to do diversity properly, instead of just filling quotas, here's how.

(Roly is my favourite)

Night night, Squirrels.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

In Times of Trouble

 A bit of personal news first. Caz and my second daughter was born last Sunday, July 9th, and we've named her Evelyn. A pretty annoying mistake by the midwife meant she was back in hospital on Thursday with jaundice, but she's home now and much better. And I, being who I am, dealt with all this by writing.

 Well, editing and proofreading, really. A bit of original stuff, but not much. It comes to the same thing though. I was at the PC, immersing myself in the worlds and characters of my stories; in other words, writing.

 That's what I do in times of trouble. Sometimes I think I write to escape the mundane world we live in, which is so often bitter and sour, or plain scary. It's a way to shout that no, that's wrong, this is how things ought to be. A lot of it comes down, I think, to people wanting to live as they choose. Alar in Risen King, Calesh in Songs of Sorrow, and almost any of the Ashir in Black Lord of Eagles, are all like that. For them it's about freedom. For me, it's about a need to write my issues out in novels (or blogs, hehe). A book can sometimes be a rooftop we can stand on to yell out a message.

 So I get irate when people say "I could write a book, if I had the time."

 You do have the time. Even if you have to make it by giving something else up. That's your choice. You have the opportunity, I'm sure you have the talent because most people do. But you obviously don't have the dedication, or the endurance, because if you did you would already have written your book. I might as well say I could be world darts champion, if I had time to practise. Well, I do. I'd have to give up everything else I do, that's all, and I choose not to. Just as these people have chosen not to write.

 Hell, I have two daughters under 18 months old, who need games to play, time to cuddle with Daddy, and putting to bed when play is over. They need feeding almost constantly, and produce more laundry each day than I do in a week. I've got a job to keep and a wife who needs to see me now and then. And I still write. Don't tell me you could write if you had time.

 Writers aren't people who write. Usually they're people who have to write, whose palms itch when they don't. Like mine do.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Lives of Their Own

 Yesterday I held an author event at South Molton Library, not far from Barnstaple. South Molton's a small village, but the library is surprisingly large and very well laid out. Half a dozen people came to listen to me speak (the fools).

 I don't much like speaking in public, it makes me nervous. As I've said before, writers tend to be solitary types, who enjoy quiet hours sitting at a screen. To us, talking with six or seven people in a library is a bit too much like roistering. I like a good roister, mind you, but only when I can drink beer and talk nonsense. It's different when I have to talk sense.

 I'd like to say that the trouble is people who don't behave like characters in the books I write. Real people say odd things, they surprise me, whereas the characters go where I tell them to. The trouble is that they don't. My stories are forever being rewritten because Calesh (or Suchi, or Talac) comes to a point where he just wouldn't do what I want him to. I know the chap better by then, I've been telling his story for the past 80,000 words, and the blighter just would not do what the story needs him to do. I end up with him shaking his head at me with his arms folded, and I have to say Okay, Okay. I'll rewrite your back story, I'll bin four chapters and do them over, edit five more, and waste half the sodding work I've already done. Happy now?

 And he is. He goes cheerily down the new story path with his hat at a jaunty angle while I bang my head on the desk.

 But you know, when your characters do this, they're taking on lives of their own. They're not real, never can be, but they're close enough to fool me.. and so I guess they'll fool the reader too. We can believe they're real. And those are the good characters, the ones we root for and grieve with, and maybe share the triumph in the end. When the people in your book start saying Nope, not doing that, then you know you've written something genuine. Not a cutout figure with as much emotion as wet paper.

 So I try to be happy when I have to rewrite half the book, because I end up with a better story and truer characters in it. And that's pretty good.

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?