“And why do we fall, Bruce?”

I took this picture 10 years ago. Ten years, man. Ten years!

It’s been a long, odd year. Good in some ways, less so in others.

Now is about the right time for round-up and best of year posts. By way of a little lip service, I should probably take the time to mention Fool’s Assassin, by Robin Hobb. I have ridiculous quantities of love for the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, to the point that I was actually a bit nervous about a new book coming out to extend the series. My agent and good friend Juliet sent me a copy while I was recovering from the transplant operation, and my misgivings vanished from the very start. Fitz is as he ever was, full of rage and guilt, by turns awkward and then full of purpose and then awkward again, pulled by the currents of fate that shift around him. In anyone else’s hands, his skills and his magics would make him far too powerful for the narrative to ever truly sit right in the heart of a reader – but Hobb reflects enough of our fears and our anxiety to make Fitz as real a character as you could imagine.

I still don’t think the title works, though. It feels more like it should be SPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILER.

*cough*

My own writing hasn’t done very well this year. I’ve had some successes – including inclusion in a Halloween episode of Pseudopod, which I was extremely proud of – but otherwise things have kind of…missed. I’m not going to sit and list every single thing that has failed to find a home (because I think blog posts are better when they are fairly short), but the general sentiment has been, “this is good, but not for us.”

So…there’s not much to do but to keep writing, and improving, and finding a project that works for both me *and* everyone else. I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t been massively bummed out about it at times (rather frequently, in fact) but ultimately…that’s the gig. You put stuff out and some (most) of it sinks without a trace. While it’s out, you work on the next thing, and the next, until one of them just up and fucking *flies*.

Still, it doesn’t mean I can’t do anything else to try and help break the cycle.

Starting in the new year, I’ll be releasing a story on Wattpad (and, although it seems to be hanging off the coat-tails a bit, possibly Tablo). It’ll be novel length, so should run through most of the year. I understand that Wattpad has a generally younger reader base, and that successful stories tend to be specifically YA, but it will give me something to do. If anything, I’ll have genuine numbers – real data! – to feel terrible about.

I did consider self-publishing over the serial format, but I would only have considered it if I had several books in hand to do a loss leader/discount strategy. From what I can gather, it feels very much like if you don’t have anything other than the first book in a series, it’s a lot more difficult to attract new readers, and if you’re not attracting new readers then you’re basically not getting read at all. And while I’d love to finish the series off, I would prefer to know that at least *someone* was going to read it.

You know how I’ve always longed to see the fair city of Padua.

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So, it’s been a busy few weeks. The new novel is coming along (slowly), I finished a handful of short stories (one of which was accepted the same day I sent it off – woo!), and we have had both friends and family staying over to visit. I’ve been working every day I can to save money for the summer (helped by a timely tax rebate) and aside from a few choice cuts from the Steam sale we’ve been pretty good at controlling our money.

Cross fingers, yo.

Meanwhile, I was thinking of all the stories that I’ve written that haven’t really ended up anywhere. Either they’ve vanished into the ether as single ‘blog posts, or they have just never found the right home to go to. Rather than make a new page here, I decided to set up a Wattpad account and start uploading them there. So far there are only five stories – three Halloween shorts and two previously available only as audio files – but I’ve got a reasonable stack to pile on there eventually.

You can find them all at this link. I did think about trying a bit harder with the covers, but honestly I probably couldn’t do much better without spending a lot of time hunting down fonts.

In other news (talk about burying the lede), I won’t be making it to any events this year, save perhaps for Thought Bubble. The whole kidney failure thing has seriously messed with any hope of attending what looks like one of the most event-packed summers in UK genre memory. That two-week stretch between 9Worlds, Fantasy in the Court, the Gollancz Festival, and Loncon 3 is going to be insane and I’ll be very sad to miss it. I hope you all have a great – and safe – time.

Halloween Shorts: Team Mushens at WFC edition

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So! As promised, the Halloween Shorts are almost here. This year, Halloween coincides with the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, and I thought it would be really fun to tie the two together.

It just so happens that my agent, Juliet Mushens, will be there along with ten (TEN!) of her clients. She will be appearing on the Not-So-Secret Agents panel on Saturday at 11 am in Hall 04, and otherwise will be generally there at the convention. Since there are so many Team Mushens authors there, I asked the others if they would like to write or offer up a Halloween Short and post it on their ‘blog over the next 4-5 days leading up to the start of WFC. Everyone has been quite busy, but nevertheless there was a great response! Starting Saturday, spooky tales will begin to coalesce out of the ether for your entertainment. We’ll be flagging them up on Twitter and other social media, but I’ll do a round up of links at the end just in case you miss them.

In the meantime, though, here are all the Team Mushens authors who will be attending WFC!

Lou Morgan – author of Blood and Feathers and Blood and Feathers: Rebellion (Solaris)

Amy McCulloch – author of The Oathbreaker’s Shadow (Doubleday Children’s) and upcoming sequel, The Shadow’s Curse

Den Patrick – author of The War Manuals (Gollancz) and The Erebus Sequence (also Gollancz), beginning with The Boy with the Porcelain Blade

Liz de Jager – author of The Blackhart Legacy (Tor), beginning with Banished

Laura Lam – author of Pantomime (Angry Robot) and upcoming sequel, Shadowplay

Jennifer Williams – author of The Copper Promise (Headline), first in an as-yet unnamed Fantasy trilogy

James Oswald – author of The Inspector McLean mysteries: Natural Causes, The Book of Souls, and upcoming The Hangman’s Song (Penguin) and upcoming fantasy series The Ballad of Sir Benfro (Penguin)

Richard Kellum – newly-signed author of Fantasy and Horror.

Stephen Aryan – newly-signed Fantasy author and encyclopedia of all things comic-related.

 

 

NaNoWriMo 2013 – Planning, Prep, and Execution

Necropolis

 

So, it is almost time for NaNoWriMo. This being the internet, it is only a matter of time before one or more published author misses the point entirely and drops the evergreen observation that “for them, every month is NaNoWriMo”. Yawn.

I’ve only been playing the last two years, and it has been an interesting progression. In 2011 I sat down with zero idea of what I was going to write and 50k of pure fantasy adventure waffle came out. It was a panic-filled month full of “OH GOD WHAT NOW” moments and silly names including one shout out to World of Warcraft in the form of Captain Placeholder. I had enormous fun with trying to escalate the story by refusing to hold off on revelation. This guy is actually working for the bad guys? Revelation at the end of the chapter and then have a betrayal that makes things even worse less than 15 k in.

Not the best way to write a novel, for me at least. I ended up scrapping almost all of it.

2012 I wrote most of the first draft of Gunslinger Symphony, which had a premise, a beginning, some major plot points, and an ending. It made it much easier to write, although I tied myself into knots at points trying to connect up the parts of the story.

So, for 2013 I’m trying to be even more organised. October is planning and outlining month, with all the ideas going into notebooks and a Scrivener research/template file. I picked up a couple of books of writing exercises (hat tip to Anne Lyle for suggesting Rock Your Plot which is both cheap and useful). Ideally by the time November rolls round I’ll have a good idea of where my novel is going and writing it will just be a case of finding the right words to do it with…

…in other words, I’m leaving the hard bit until last.

Predictably, I am registered on the NaNoWriMo site as mygoditsraining and always have time for more buddies.

So what’s the novel about?

The Court of the Dead

Glasgow, 1847. Progress has turned the city into an industrial powerhouse, but the population has swollen close to breaking point. People are dying, and the air is thick with rumours of ghostly followers – damned souls – that dog the heels of those out after dark. The grave-diggers are busy, and the trade in relics – the bones of the dead – is brisk.

Isidore wants nothing more than to ignore all of this. He knows better than to listen to street preachers, that carrying bones in your pocket is the surest sign of a mark. But Isidore van Helmont is a thief and a forger, and to stay clear of the law he must risk his sanity and his life to help the police catch a killer – a killer whose methods and goals are tied deep in the newest industry of all: the spirit world.

 

Under the Hollow Hills

 

 

So, Dark Fiction Magazine Issue 14 is out now! For those of you not in the know, it’s an audio magazine that normally re-issues work but this time was looking for submissions with a folklore-themed twist. DFM was the home of my first story to ever actually do anything (The Rise of the Huntress) and I thought that writing a story with a remit that encompassed essentially ALL OF FOLKLORE, EVER would be a fun thing to do.

Certainly, it was a challenge working out what I wanted to write about. The one thing that guided my hand, really, was the fact that it would be an audio-only story, and the imp of the perverse struck. Why not write about the Hunting of Twrch Trwyth?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It turned out I’m not that cruel, although my story does revolve around that tale. I couldn’t resist using Bediwyr of the Perfect-Sinew, mind, because I think he’s had a rough time of things ever since Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  I wanted to write about something small and personal, but influential for all that it hinges on how two people come to know one another. Basically the sort of fantasy that I love.

Also in DFM there are stories from Den Patrick, Gollancz author and all-round top chap; Caren Gussoff , a Seattle-based spec fic writer who I have just become aware of; and David Hartley, who (likewise) I hadn’t come across before but he does a lot of Flash Fiction stuff. Their stories are good craic – they go to much darker places than mine does (although I suspect I’m the only person who instantly connects King Arthur with a hesitant love story about two damaged people) and are well worth your time.

Anyway. Have a listen, and I hope you enjoy!

Alt.Fiction 2012

I have a special place in my heart for Alt.Fiction. It was the first con I ever went to when I decided that I was a) sick to the back teeth of simply walking into bookshops and trying to psychically divine what books I should buy and b) sorely confused about what the hell I was doing with regards to the desire to write things and have people other than my brother read them.

It was very hard going, that first con. I don’t think I talked to a single soul for the first three hours after arrival until I finally recognised someone from an internet forum and then trailed in her very understanding wake for the rest of the event.* I did, as hard as it was to get started, enjoy myself immensely and resolved to keep coming along to events like it.

My con experience had changed somewhat in the two years since.

I think Alt.Fiction has been the first con I’ve been to where I have managed to miss every single panel. I did make a determined effort to attend the New Writer’s panel, but due to space issues it was not to be. Other than that, almost every single moment of my weekend was spent talking to people and having a great time doing it. This is not a criticism of the con and the content of the programme; it just turns out that’s the kind of person I am. I perpetually found myself either catching up with people I knew, getting to know better people I had kind of met before, and meeting entirely new people altogether. Since it’s a fairly small convention and a fairly small space, the event and the venue were perfect for doing just that.

I made a resolution a while back to deliberately not talk about my own writing at cons, if only to avoid the “please don’t pitch at me” look that crosses the faces of other con-goers (particularly industry professionals), although I’m now beginning to think that it may need some revision. One of the high points of my convention was being introduced to Ken MacLeod, who I am an enormous fan of and was struggling to think of things to say to for fear of going “you know what, I read Learning the World so many times that the book fell to bits and I had to buy another copy”. Having overheard me talking to Anne Lyle about writing, he asked what I was working on. Lacking anyone else nearby to high five about this, I found myself blathering through the world concept for Gunslinger Symphony without ever getting to the point of the story. Way to go, I thought, but no damage seemed done.  I think there’s something exciting enough about the words “frontier scientist” that it can survive two minutes of ill-thought blather.

I would like to say I improved after that, but really I didn’t. Anyone who asked about my writing rode out the ensuing blast of interesting but not entirely necessary guff about science communications on a wave of their own patience and goodwill towards me. It occurred to me later I should really take a leaf out of Tom Pollock’s book – not literally, of course – as he was able to talk in a very engaging, passionate, and direct way about his book (and the one after) that made me a) want to read it immediately and b) grind my teeth into dust out of sheer envy. Ironically, he did go on to talk about the Long Price Quartet, and asked if I knew the feeling you get when you read or talk to another author and their ideas just make you feel insanely inadequate and jealous at the same time. “It’s not just you,” I said.

I took part in a lunchtime flash fiction reading, which I thought went rather well. I came up with the title back at the SFX Weekender, where I suggested to Lou Morgan that three minutes is not enough time to tell a full story, and that the build of tension could be faked by frontloading a scene with a squick-inducing title that doesn’t pay off until the very, very end. Thus, Mister Ipkiss and the monkey who poops pomegranates, was born – a tale in which everyone is waiting with bated breath for the moment when a primate shits fruit. It worked, kind of, and I was glad I chose it over the other, more meta effort that was a bank robbery told in real time called, unsurprisingly, Three-minute bank job blues.**

Adele and the rest of the team behind the convention deserve massive congratulations for the event. I think they pulled off pretty much exactly the right mixture of space to event to attendance that meant as an attendee I always felt busy and never felt as though I was missing out. I spent the weekend with some incredibly enthusiastic and interesting people, and have come away from it feeling charged up and even more excited about the world of SF/F than ever before.***

I would love to mention people specifically, but I just can’t. I’d be at this keyboard until Wednesday. Please, go to my twitter feed @mygoditsraining, go into my “following” tab and just start following people. They are all there, they are all genuine, excellent people, they are all worth talking to and getting to know and if you ever find yourself at a table with one or more of them you will never be disappointed in the conversation.

 

*There is a Swedish phrase for people like this. It translates to “goldfish poop”. Apt, if you’ve ever seen a goldfish poop.

**I blame Cowboy Bebop for the repeated occurrence of (NOUN) (MUSICAL TERM) titles.

***Although after two late, late nights on the trot I now have a sinus headache that has put me on the couch with a duvet and the curtains drawn. Enthusiasm has its limits.