There’s a click before the strike. Listen to the clock.

So, while I was at Thought Bubble, I asked Tanya Roberts if she could do a sketch for me.

“A gunslinger”, I said. “But a girl gunslinger”.

“Sure, cool. Is this a character from something?”

“Actually, one of my characters. From a novel.”

“What’s her name?”

“Symphony. Sym, for short.”

She wrote down the words Gunslinger – girl (Symphony)

This is what I got –

I like it. It’s maybe a little older than I picture her in the novel – a few years down the line after the events, perhaps – but I love her stern expression and the notches in her hat. One thing I really like – and want to steal from it – is that her gun isn’t obviously a revolver. It could almost be a single-shot pistol (like the Smith & Wesson 1891, single shot based on a revolver frame), suggesting that she’s confident enough to not need the other five bullets…

Memetics ahoy! The Next Big Thing.

Tag! I am apparently it, courtesy of Jennifer Williams over at her ‘blog. She tagged me alongside Emma Newman, Adam Christopher, and K T Davies, which is a hell of a compliment over and above the tag itself.

I don’t know where the meme started or how many people have taken part along the way – it would be nice to see a ‘blog with all the Next Big Thing posts linked in order as it has spread.

Anyway. On with the motley.

What is the working title of your book

Kingdom’s Fall

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Alt.Fiction 2009 and NaNoWriMo. I came off a year-long dry spell in my writing – partly due to work, partly due to me hanging on to the idea that I could fix a manuscript that was irretrievably broken – and wanted to completely start over. I signed up for NaNoWriMo and wrote a 65,000 word novel called “The Thousand Fold Blade”. It was awful, but I liked some of the ideas.

After leaving it on my hard disk over the winter, I came across a writing exercise that I did in Mark Chadbourn‘s workshop at Alt.Fiction. It wasn’t bad, so I opened a new document, set it as a prologue, and started again.

What genre does your book fall under?

Fantasy. It started as Sword and Sorcery, but got progressively more Epic as I wrote it. I jokingly described it in an email as Sword and Gunpowder and Sorcery and Danger and Kisses and Lols, but then I wrote all the kissing out.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 

Oh, Gods.

Vincent Regan as Commander Gray.

Adrien Brody as Aiden Baird.

Molly Quinn as Shana.

Uhm…I’m not au fait with teen male actors for Cuan so I’m going to have to opt for the obvious default, Wil Wheaton circa 1987.

There are more characters but I am TERRIBLE at this so I’m just going to skip it.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 

Generic fantasy sizzle line! Woo! Read this in your best trailer voice!

In a world threatened by a power beyond man’s understanding, four people will try to save their kingdom – if they don’t destroy it in the attempt. 

Also, I was once asked what my five word pitch would be. I pitched it as: “Badass adventurers have feelings too.”

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 

Hopefully represented. I’m going through the agony and the ecstasy of the submission cycles at the moment. I got asked about this at FantasyCon – why am I choosing traditional routes over self-pubbing, and while I would like to self-publish something at some point in the future, I’d really like to see my work through the lens of a professional editor.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Six months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I feel really awkward about this question, even more so than “who would play them in a movie?” I was massively influenced by Robin Hobb’s Assassin Trilogy and Fool’s Trilogy. Those books are amazing and I would be seriously kidding myself if I said I could compare. The Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories by Fritz Lieber? The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch. Scaramouche, by Rafael Sabatini.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I sat down at the keyboard wanting to write, and a fantasy novel welled up to meet that desire. One of the big things that I wanted in my novel was a sense of mystery about the magic. There were a glut of blogs and discussions about how important it is to have a completely logical and consistent magical system and that it needs to be nailed down so that the reader isn’t lost. A recent example of this is allomancy in Brandon Sanderson’s books, and while I enjoyed the books overall at times it felt like I was reading a DM’s guide to the magic system. I wanted there to be magic in my world but I wanted it to be rare, and slippery. I wanted it to feel genuinely threatening for them to come up against it.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s got some fantastic characters, and they all get time on the page to make their mark. Pretty much everyone who has seen the MS has come back telling me about their favourite, and they have all been different. Also, there are some heartbreaking moments in there. No kisses, though – not until book two, at least.

What stage is your book at now?

At submissions. After the first beta edit I sent out a couple of queries and got some good feedback, so it has had tweaks and is now back out in the ether trying to find a home.

And that’s it!

So…I guess the next thing to do is tag someone, although I’m not sure who has and has not done this.

Den Patrick. If you do not know his name, then you will soon.

Tom Pollock. He has a book out already. It is ridiculously good. Buy it.

Icy Sedgwick. Dropping new flash fiction weekly and the world is all the better for it.

Liz de Jager. Possibly the most enthusiastic reader and writer I’ve met online. There’s some tough competition out there, but she nails it.

 

He did not choose the hug life. The hug life chose him.

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The one thing I will remember most about Milo is that he spent more time on his back than standing up. We had a ritual, he and I, one that we would do in the mornings when Lisa had already got out of bed and I was determinedly lying under the duvet pretending that the morning just wasn’t happening.

He would come into the bedroom, jump onto the bed, and with an inquisitive chirrup (he rarely meowed), flip onto his back and offer up his belly for rubbing. I would lie in bed, alternately rubbing and clapping him on the belly, and he would look into my eyes with a calm, regal acceptance, as though this was his due. Sometimes, he would get a bit too excited and something would stick its head out into the morning air, but we were both gentlemen of the world and silently agreed not to mention it.

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I wasn’t ready for it. I had imagined he and I sharing that moment for years to come. When I was writing, he would curl up at my feet and fall asleep, or in my lap. In the week before he died, I actually zipped him up inside my hoodie, and he purred deep and low against my chest.

We’ll never know what it was. Either the heart murmur that the vet suspected (but could never confirm), or the remnants of cat flu that had left him constantly snuffling ever since he came home with us. All I know is that when I found him, I thought he was asleep.

I hope it was a good dream.

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Halloween Shorts 2: The Vengeance

Last year, Sennydreadful (author of The Copper Promise: Ghosts of the Citadel of which can be bought here) hosted a short story event on her ‘blog called Halloween Shorts. She took stories from several writers, myself included, and posted them in the days running up to Halloween. It was largely for the craic, and gave me a wonderful excuse to write something silly after a year of writing nothing but lesson plans. I had a great time with it, and suggested to Jen that we do it again.

However, Jen is thigh deep with things and stuff at the moment, so I have volunteered to get the ball rolling. So! If you are interested in taking part, here is the gig. A week or so (depending on how many writers we get) of Halloween-themed stories, hosted at Sennydreadful’s site and leading up to Halloween itself. There’s no cash in it, but we’re totally down with you plugging yourself in your bio. Also, if you have any spooky art you’ve got sitting around you’d like to share, we’re interested in that, too.

If that sounds like your cup of pumpkin chai latte, then give us a shout in the comments, or on Twitter @mygoditsraining or @sennydreadful

And if that wasn’t enough to convince you, here are last year’s stories:

What you take with you, by Kev Clark

Light you to bed, by Matthew S. Dent

Charlie and the Goblin King, by Andrew Reid

Wendigo, by Jennifer Williams

What I talk about when I talk about everything.

This weekend just past was my first ever FantasyCon, in Brighton. I’ve never been to Brighton before; it’s very nice, the road system aside, and has that peculiar trait so common to seaside towns of having ridiculously changeable weather. Warm one minute, sodden the next, and everyone keeping out a weather eye for the specific blend of light and wind for the perfect beach picture.

For someone who is supposed to be – as a professional – good at interacting with people, I’m actually not that good at it. I have several very bad habits that are covered over by the hours of planning I do for work: I repeat myself, I hesitate often, I lose the thread of sentences that I’ve started before they finish (the more I talk, the less capable I am of being brief about anything), I repeat myself, and…where was I going with this?

Basically, I am weighed down by the fact that I didn’t really talk to anyone – couldn’t really talk to anyone – for the entire span of my teenage years and that sense of awkward, nervous isolation (and the fear of what will happen to me if I try to step out of it) is always there in my head, letting me know that at some point soon I am going to fuck all of this up.

It is imperative that you know this, that this is shared with you, because I want you to know how absolutely welcome I feel when I go to a convention. Also, that that feeling is in no part due to any action of my own, but is instead through the actions, and the spirit, and the friendship of the people that I meet there.

That sounds sappy, but there it is. I go to conventions and I meet awesome people, both again and for the first time, and come away from them feeling about a million times better about everything.

Rather than do a full con report,* I thought I’d reference a few of the oddly specific things that I talked about to people over the course of the weekend.

Western mythos and cultural interpretation

Joe Abercrombie’s reading was good, and there was a bit of discussion about the Western as an American mythology. I thought an interesting, if odd source (additional to the classic Westerns cited) is Kristina från Duvemåla – a musical based on four novels, detailing the lives of fictional emigrants from Sweden to America. It shares some of the same tropes as a Western, the same naive pilgrim dream of a new life in an untouched land, but instead of the traditional riding-off-into-the-sunset hopefulness you’d expect it to end with, the bleak emptiness ends up breaking them. It’s heartbreakingly sad, and incredibly good.

Climbing, adventures, and isolation.

John Oliver suggested I read Climbers, by M John Harrison, which I intend to pick up as soon as, and I suggested the fantastic Climbing Free: my life in the vertical world, by Lynn Hill. As with my prior form at conventions, I manage to talk about anything but fiction and instead find myself recommending an autobiography. That said, it is entirely worth the read – she starts with a completely matter-of-fact description of her worst fall (from the top of a sport route, breaking her pelvis – had she not landed in a tree it would have likely killed her) that made me put the book down to go wipe my hands dry before I could continue. It’s a great book, if you can ignore the terrible font on the cover.

Also, I mentioned to one or two people The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. If you’re interested in stories of adventure and isolation, then it is an unflinching look at the realities of polar exploration. He didn’t have the nicest time of it, and it does verge into the territory of extreme bitterness towards all of his companions – Scott especially – but there are some incredible things in there. When he find’s Scott’s tent, we’re back to putting the book down for a minute to deal with the impact it has.

So yes – those things are all worth a look or a listen.

And now I’m back home with the cats (who are scrabbling up and down the stairs, possibly due to it being cold outside). I think the next thing I’ll be able to make will be Thought Bubble, and then after that I’ll be looking towards next year’s cons. Hopefully they will be just as good.

 

*eat at the diner, the milkshakes are great and everyone else goes there too; I am a zombie; drunk people wandering the seafront at three am are twice as likely to reference Michael Stipe while yelling at you than they are Voldemort.**

**This statistic based on a small sample and is therefore not considered representative.

The beta-reading question.

So…here’s a new thing. I’m getting on with edits on Kingdom’s Fall (yes, yes, generic title is generic) and things are going okay as far as I can tell. I need to do some rewrites of sections and expand a bit here and there, but really I’m looking at being done with the editing round in the first week of August.

Now, normally I ask a couple of people to beta for me. I’ve already asked one person specifically and sounded out a few others, but this is an entirely new thing for me. I’ve never sent out anything this damn long for anyone to read and I’m honestly not sure how I’m meant to go about it.

Is there a general number of readers to aim for? Should I try and get people who read within the genre, or do I try and be as wide as I can? Do you give out the whole thing or do you offer it in instalments? Do you ask for volunteers? Does anyone fancy volunteering?

All thoughts on the topic are welcome.

Ogino Japanese restaurant, Beverley

I’ve always wondered about the oft-repeated tales that celebrity (and celebrated) chefs churn out when interviewed, particularly on the topic of their roots. There’s always a period where they are starting off, working in their first proper restaurant, doing ridiculous numbers of hours to build up the business. It always struck me as strange that I make a lot of effort to find interesting places to eat, but I’ve only very rarely come across places where the owners are still finding their feet.

Ogino is a new Japanese restaurant in Beverley, an independent venture that opened at the end of March and has been slowly building up its menu ever since. Located in a long, open space that occupies the first floor above several quiet shops, the design and layout are simple and restrained. The predominant colour scheme is a muted grey-black, with the Japanese theme overt but not intrusive. The decorative bar and window shutters are nice touches, while the pebble-stone chopstick rests have the air of a clever improvisation. The relaxing strains of the shamisen greet us, and the music is pleasant albeit eclectic. As our appetiser arrives, the thunderous tension of taiko drumming fills the room and I find myself laughing at the incongruity of it all.

It’s very quiet, being Sunday lunchtime in the North East of England. A lot of people are in beer gardens, or are getting their roast on. As such, our arrival almost feels as though we have taken the restaurant by surprise. Our waitress is unfailingly polite, but nervous. There is a long wait between our drinks order and them arriving, so long that I actually forget that I haven’t actually ordered any food yet. Again, it’s a situation that finds me laughing as I turn and look into the kitchen area to see one of the kitchen staff staring forlornly into the depths of a juicing machine that has refused point blank to reveal the secret of how to fit the lid on. The conundrum is solved, our juices arrive, and we order lunch.

The lunch menu stipulates a vegetarian option, it rapidly becomes clear that this hasn’t been discussed in-depth in the kitchen with regards to someone actually ordering the £16 sushi course and asking for it to be vegetarian. The chef comes out to the dining room to ask, and we negotiate a compromise that works for everyone. They’re apologetic, Lisa is accommodating, it all works out in the end. I have a lot of time for people who make an effort, so while it’s not the epitome of a seamless dining experience, there is a genuine enthusiasm from the staff that they are trying to make lunch work out well for you.

The appetiser is asparagus tempura, which is delicious, with a really nice mix of texture and saltiness that does exactly what an appetiser is meant to do: stimulate the appetite. Miso soup follows after, and then the sushi platter. As with all things Japanese, presentation is everything. The asparagus tempura is professionally arty, steepled on a fold of paper atop a solitary slate between us (although a crisper fold would keep the paper from popping up rudely once the asparagus is lifted*). The sushi comes out on a slate as well, arrayed in neat rows with only the generous dollops of wasabi and gari to intrude on the symmetry. I frown at the squiggle of soy that fills an empty space until the waitress pours a separate dish for me and it finally occurs to me that the platter has been signed.

The nigiri is excellent. The rice beds are neat and not too large, the fish is fresh and not too cold. Lisa grimaces as I bob from side to side, enjoying the octopus immensely. The California rolls are good, although the avocado/salmon/asparagus triumvirate is a little bland as a filling. The avocado is slick and oily and gives way far too easily, leaving the asparagus as the sole source of resistance in every bite. The tobiko on the outside of the rolls makes up for it, and the slightly smoky taste complements the rest of the plate very well.

We pay up, and although not the cheapest lunch we’ve ever treated ourselves to, it’s worth noting that we are the architects of our own financial demise, and that there are budget options on the menu – large platters of good-quality sushi should not be cheap, and I’d be suspicious of every mouthful were that the case.

As we leave, Lisa notices the proprietors have laid out a photo album of their wedding in Japan. The setting, costume, and ritual are formalised and traditional, but throughout the album you can clearly see that above it all everyone there is having fun. While there was still evidence of a restaurant still trying to settle an even keel, Ogino has great potential. If they can somehow capture the spirit of those pictures and make something traditional and fun and uplifting, then it will become more than just a good Japanese restaurant in Beverley; it will become the restaurant in Beverley.

 

*I am such a snob. But it does say good things when all I can think of to be critical is “fold your paper more crisply, kkthx”

The Mass Effect effect.

Due warning. There may be spoilers below the jump. I can’t promise not to spoil anything in the game because, quite simply, there’s a massive spectrum of things one could call a spoiler.

One thing I will also strive not to do (but can’t make any promises on) is bang on about what I would have liked to have seen in the game. I have carried my expectations around with me since Mass Effect was first released and while I could write a small essay regarding the story I wish I could have played through, it’s probably best for all if I just let it go. Nobody except me cares, and it would just make me sound horribly, horribly bitter.

Anyway. On with the show.

Continue reading “The Mass Effect effect.”

SFX Weekender 3 write-up: Mega-edition

I begin with a caveat. Should I forget at some point to mention someone who I met, or indeed had a long conversation with and have temporarily forgotten, I apologise. I did toy with the brief notion of agonising over a list before I started writing this but decided against it. Let the chips fall where they may and if I do miss someone they are welcome to snub me at a future event by way of reparation.

So. The SFX Weekender was held in Prestatyn, in North Wales. I was labouring under the false misapprehension that I had never been to Wales before, which got me all excited until I remembered that Llanberis isn’t an especially English name and I’ve been there climbing and walking quite a few times in my misspent youth.

Continue reading “SFX Weekender 3 write-up: Mega-edition”

Kittens! AAAH! KITTENS!

I suspect this may be my most popular post ever.

A few weeks ago we got to talking aboutmy cat allergy. I used to get quite sneezy around cats, but of late I hadn’t noticed any issues.

Lisa has always wanted a cat, as she grew up with two in her house.

So, long story short (too late!) we went to the rescue centre to see how I got on in an enclosed space with an infinite number of cats…and we ended up bringing two home with us.

It turns out that I’m actually okay for the most part.  I was a bit sneezy the first day they came to the house, but otherwise I’ve been fine.

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This is Raynor. He’s 6 month old, doesn’t mind being picked up, won’t chase after toys unless they are dangled just in front of his nose,  and when he is tired will come and sit on your lap to have a sleep. Of the two cats, he has been voted most likely to end up an enormous lazy fatso.

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A standard Raynor pose. Give ’em some pepper!

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This is Milo. He does not like to be picked up and will attempt to climb on top of your head if you try.  He chases anything that makes a noise or moves, and sometimes attempts to chase things that don’t move at all.  He likes having his stomach rubbed and will stretch out on the floor to garner attention. Of the two cats, he has been voted most likely to get himself stuck while investigating an open box.

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Delicious. Wait – I’m meant to scratch it?