In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Monday, 9 October 2017

Good, eh?

 So, I've been doing research for a new project recently. It involves finding the names of the three roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree of Norse myth. Just poke my nose onto the web, I thought, and the answer will pop up.

 It did not pop up. It continued not to, until after a month I quit looking. This doesn't usually happen. As I'm sure you know, you can find the answer to almost anything online - well, you can find an answer, at least. It might be utter nonsense, or an outright lie written by a swivel-eyed fanatic in the cellar of his Mum's house, so you have to check whatever you find. But still, answers are there. Except in this case.

 It surprised me, because I do a lot of internet research and the web very rarely lets me down. If that wasn't true I simply could not write my books, not in the form they take. The setting matters a lot. The people's myths, their habits, what they eat and how they speak, are important. Black Lord includes drinking venues called machanas, for example. Other books include Celtic superstitions about elves, the Greek belief in glory after death, and a heretical Christian concept of flesh as the domain of the Devil. I couldn't learn these things, couldn't add the colour they bring to my stories, without the internet.

 Yes, libraries would help, but no library can host the millions of sources you find online. In effect Google can take you inside every library in the world at the same time. So if a month of effort doesn't turn up the names of Yggdrasil's roots, I begin to suspect it's because the names aren't there to be found.

 Therefore I've made some up. After all, I'm writing Fantasy here, not a history of the Norsemen. Good, eh?

 Story is king. I draw from real cultures, and real history, but I take what I want and ignore the rest. I'll even invent something and throw it in if I need to - like Kai, the kamachi at the centre of Black Lord of Eagles. There was never a Servant of the teacher god among the Inca. But there Kai is, because I needed him to help me answer the question of why the Inca empire held together. It shouldn't have done. It was made up of dozens of cultural groups scattered across eight or nine climate zones, and ought to have collapsed in a few decades. It didn't, and nearly threw the Spanish back at the end, too. How? How could such a motley, divided empire turn out to be glued together so tightly?

 I researched that question. I read books and tracked down files, and found zilch. Nothing. But I knew that the Spanish dedicated a lot of effort to wiping out Inca culture, which means that for everything we know about them, there are a hundred things that were lost. So there's a great big void which I could fill with Kai. It means the novel isn't a history, but then it never was. It's just (I hope) a bloody good yarn.

Have a read and see if you agree. Pip pip.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Black-Lord-Eagles-Blessed-Land-ebook/dp/B06XZCB61G/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1507574162&sr=1-1&keywords=ben+blake+black+lord+of+eagles

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

While I'm Not Looking.

 Hi all. Keeping well?

 I have a raft of submissions out again, to a range of publishing companies in the UK. I'm preparing a list for the USA next. The Death of Ghosts came so close with Olympia and I know now, from that and other comments, that it's more than good enough for publication. It's just a matter now of finding the right editor at a company which happens to have a space in their author roster.

 'Just', he says. Oh, my aching sides. As Napoleon once said of warfare, in publishing everything is very simple - but even the simple things are very difficult. Still, nobody ever found a publisher by sitting home and hoping, so out the submissions go. And back the rejection emails come, no doubt, but perhaps not every time.

 I'm also preparing for the launch of my next online novel, Fanged Fish, the sequel to Black Lord of Eagles. It concludes the story of the Ashir and their struggle for survival. There's plenty of room for further sequels, but I don't really want to write them because the tale I wanted to tell is told, that story arc is complete. Anything more would be a different tale in the same world, and I think it would probably be weaker. I can't really see the point. If I write at one novel a year my current "to do" list will last me 12 years anyway, so the Ashir and their Blessed Land go into a place of honour in my back catalogue.

 Amidst all of this I'm raising my troublesome girls, and staring at the TV in slack-jawed disbelief at whatever new fatuity Donald Trump has committed.

 I mean, his team uses private email servers? Really? After threatening Hillary with prison for doing that, he lets his people repeat the mistake? Wow. Now he's alienated most of the US sporting world and created a platform for protest against himself, just by being stupid. He uses a derogatory nickname to insult Kim of North Korea, even though an attack on Kim's personal prestige is more likely than anything else to provoke a response. Does Trump want war? Is he thinking that a brief exchange of destruction would make everyone forget about Russia, and email servers, and Russia, and White House infighting, and Russia...

 I'm not often distracted from my writing by current events. After 9/11, yes. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the collapse of the USSR two years later.  But not much else, until now. I hardly dare turn away from Trump in case he burns the world while I'm not looking. He's like Sauron if the Dark Lord was on Twitter.

 "Heard Gondor is ready to fight. After years of bad leaders they're weaker than ever. Sad!"

 I'm going to spend more time in my Fantasy worlds. All those struggles, the rogue magic and goblins, and they're still safer than where I live. Portal, please. I want to get away.

 Mind how you go.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

A Great Week

 It's been a tough week. Elder daughter Bella had gastroenteritis, which meant sleepless nights, crying, and a whole lot of sick. I mean, wow... wouldn't have thought one small girl could produce all that. We had to keep younger daughter Evie at the far end of the room to avoid contamination, bleached everything twice a day up to about quarter of a mile away, and somehow got through it. Bella's better now, she's eating and putting on weight, and best of all her tummy is not emptying itself every two minutes.

 All in all, not a great week.

 Better than for most people in Cuba, Florida, St Martin and all the rest, though. Better than for millions caught up in the South Asia floods, too. People are crying out about global warming again, but the floods in Asia are due almost wholly to overuse of the land - too much forest clearance, too many buildings, drainage of wetlands and so on. In short, they're due to population pressure. We're at a point where the Colorado river often runs dry before it reaches the sea, and the Yangtze brings down so much silt that it blocks its own channel. Orangutan habitats are so damaged by clearance that the species could soon vanish. Meanwhile forest clearance in West Africa has reduced evaporation, so the winds which flow east to the Ethiopian massif carry less water and the Horn of Africa suffers terrible droughts.

 David Attenborough says that when he started to make wildlife documentaries, there were 2.5 billion people on Earth. Now there are 7.5 billion, and they all need food and water, they need a place to live, a job, maybe a car. That all impacts on the land. We clear more forest so we can grow enough food, drain rivers so we have enough water. We use billions of tonnes of sand every year for concrete and that can never be replaced. Our impact on the world is enormous and almost entirely negative.

 Writers have used this theme before - remember the Matrix, when Agent Smith describes humankind as a virus? He's not far wrong, but hopefully there are more subtle ways to reflect our destructive behaviour back at ourselves. I have an idea myself (don't I always, squirrels?). Unfortunately I need to write at least three full novels, and probably four, before I reach the point in my story at which the idea becomes applicable.

 That's a pain, but the concept for that series is a really great one, and as far as I know it's original. I've never read anything that comes close to its central theme. So I'm going to throw everything else over the side for the moment and run with that idea. Volume one is already done, two through four are blocked out and ready to go, and I have the outlines for volumes five through ten. Quite a big project, eh?

 But as they say, if your project doesn't frighten you then it's not big enough... and as I say, God hates a coward.

 Pip pip.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Always be Fun

 I've had a publishing offer from a company called Olympia. They want to publish The Death of Ghosts!

Unfortunately Olympia want me to make a "contribution" to their costs. They're asking me to pay, in short, and that feels a lot like vanity publishing. Olympia have a network and they could market my book well, I'm sure, but with £2,000 or more to spend I could market it myself. I don't really see the point, so I've turned Olympia down.

 The right choice, there's no real doubt of that. But still, it feels terrible. What if nobody else offers? Ever?

 Obviously I think they will. Death of Ghosts is a good book, one which Olympia described as "well-written with an absorbing narrative, we see potential in the work." Well, if they see it, others likely will too - and if not with Death of Ghosts, they might see it with The Pyramids of Saqoma, or Isles of Eternity. And if not? Then I'll carry on publishing as an indie, building my audience inch by plodding inch, and I'll sure as hell carry on writing.

 A bump in the road. That's all.

 The important thing is too keep going. There's a saying that behind every successful author there's a failed author who didn't give up. That's the sort of glib comment which usually drives me mad, but there's truth in it. Keep writing, folks. Produce a bad book, that's fine, the gods and little fishies know I have. A bad book, if finished, is better than every unstarted novel in history. Go write it. If it stinks, who cares? You'll learn a lot and your next book will be better.

 And you'll have fun. There'll be moments of tearing out your hair, times when you can't force the words onto the page no matter how you try... but there'll also be fun. If this game is for you, if this is your calling, there will always be fun. That's what keeps you coming back until the words flow again, pouring out of your fingertips like water from a hose, and it's the best feeling there is.

 Please don't tell my wife I said that.

 Done for now. Take care squirrels.

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lhl3m3GjlLQ

(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.