New Beginnings

It’s comin’ on the end of August
Another summer’s promise almost gone

And though I heard some wise man say
That every dog will have his day
He never mentioned that these dog days get so long…

(The song, by the way, is ‘Waiting in the Weeds’ from the ‘Long Road Out of Eden’ album. It’s a lovely song, go listen to it).

Upcoming honest-from-the-heart blog stuff. Feel free not to look.

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Things Have Been Better…

…and things will be better again.

I’ve had a tough few weeks for one reason or another, all of which are entirely too dull to go into in the Blog-o-sphere. So a quick summation of what’s been happening, methinks!

Watched the Olympics – the opening ceremony was deliciously mad and the music selection just brilliant. Danny Boyle did a first-class job of presenting something uniquely… British. Quirky, eccentric and just a little bit *off*. Visually, it was fab; the forging of the Olympic rings, the whole business with uprooting the tree and industry taking over… I did hear tell that some people in a large country over the other side of the Atlantic Ocean thought that Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a Dickens character, which tickled me a little.

The closing ceremony was less of a spectacle, but no less brilliant music-wise. Although… if The Who were there anyway, why on earth did the Kaiser Chiefs sing ‘Pinball Wizard’? Does not compute. Also, I discovered today I wasn’t the only person willing the Spice Girls to fall off the top of their taxi cabs.

The Games themselves seemed to be a lot of fun; it’s amazing how you suddenly find yourself watching things you’d never previously imagined you’d find fascinating. Archery is understandable. But Dressage is just… mad. Horse Skipping. It’s incredible to watch how well-controlled those animals are and there’s a lovely synergy between horse and rider. The commentators need a darned good slap though. They were quite literally commenting on just about anything.

‘Oh, a slight breeze lifting Cottontail’s mane there…’

‘The right hoof clipped the muzzopinkpink fence whilst performing the chipshopstandon manoeuvre…’

It was lovely to see how the country’s morale lifted during the course of the Games. It was a further interesting exercise to note how the Twitter feeds during the opening and closing ceremonies differed. With the opening, it was all stuff to the effect of ‘ZOMGOOSE SO PROUD TO BE BRITISH LOL XX’ With the closing ceremony, it was all stuff like ‘DO THE WHAM RAP, GEORGE!’ Twitter proved itself to be mostly entertaining throughout, but without question, the best thing in the wake of the Games is Mo Farah Running Away From Things. More added daily. Now that’s British.

Had two weeks off work during which time we popped down to the south coast to collect the Son from my dad’s place. Crowbarred in a trip to Brighton as the Chimp had never been. Had a job interview on the middle Friday. Interviewer said he’d let me know one way or the other by Tuesday the following week. He checked my mobile number as he knew I wasn’t at work (it’s a job with the same NHS trust).

Still waiting to hear.

Now, I presume I haven’t got the job and that’s fine. I get that this happens. But to not even let me know?

Meh.

Haven’t done a great deal of writing (see paragraph one), but the break hasn’t been all bad. I sort of worked myself into the ground over the last two years. Working full time, being a full time mum AND writing two novels and quite a lot of short stories has been quite the toll. When I look at it now, objectively, I am genuinely surprised I’m not simply curled up somewhere whimpering pathetically. Taking a bit of a break has been a sensible thing to do and now that I’m emerging, blinking into the sunlight once again, the pace will pick up once more.

Going away this coming weekend WITHOUT the Chimp; just me and a dear friend having a much needed weekend of each other’s company. Laughter will happen. This is always good.

Talking of laughter, I finally watched Keeping Mum. If you haven’t seen this delightfully British film… do it. Maggie Smith is just a legend.

And that’s my life at the moment. Looking forward to the Black Library Weekender in November, though!

 

Gottle of Geer

I just finished watching Nina Conti‘s quite wonderful documentary about her life as a ventriloquist. I’ve long been in awe of the sheer talent and hours of practise ventriloquists have to put in to achieve their goal and for every Nina there must be a hundred whose attempts are not successful, but who still plug away, talking to a puppet. In essence, this documentary features Nina taking what she calls the ‘bereaved puppets’ of her mentor, Ken Campbell, on a pilgramage to Kentucky and the Vent Haven museum.

‘Bereaved puppets’. A wonderful phrase, and one that also brings to mind this incredibly sad picture, published by Warner Brothers in the wake of the death of the wonderful, wonderful Mel Blanc – an outstanding talent and one of my personal heroes.

The man. The voice. The legend.

There was something she said during the course of the programme (if you can access it on BBC iPlayer whilst it’s still here, do so – it really is a wonderful thing to watch) that resonated with me in my capacity as a writer.

In essence, Nina was talking about the ‘voices in her head’ and how the puppets bring out a dormant side of her personality. I think that’s true of me as a writer as well, except in my case the puppets are characters in my stories. Just as Nina spends a lot of time with her puppets trying to find their ‘voices’, I can’t write about a character if I can’t hear their voice. Sometimes, a quiescent character is louder than I anticipated and as a consequence, my attention goes in their direction.

Take Jeremiah, the scene-stealing swine. Dreamed up as nothing more than a passing character for The Gildar Rift, needed for nothing more than a scene to move the story on, the scratty little Navigator shouted far louder than I ever intended to. As a consequence, he caught the attention of my editor at the first draft stage. ‘More of him, please,’ was the request. So Jeremiah, smirking all the while, got to say more, do more, be more prominent than he was ever meant to be. The same is true for the character of Kormak in Valkia the Bloody. He was conceived with no purpose in mind other than to demonstrate just how far loyalty can be stretched… well, it’s not released yet, but you’ll see what happened there.

All my main characters have very distinctive ‘voices’. I also find that when I read other books, the characters take on tone and pitch; accents and inflections. If this doesn’t happen, then I consider myself completely unengaged with the protagonist. It may not completely ruin my enjoyment of a book, but it somehow becomes more… passive. I read the book in a neutral, clipped British accent; a narrator who pronounces every ‘h’, who sounds every ‘g’ and ‘t’ at the ends of his words. But when a character has a specific voice – and I don’t mean necessarily dialect (Gambit’s varying Cajun from X-Men, anybody?) – then they come alive. They step out of the page and talk to me.

Take Garviel Loken from the Horus Heresy series. In my head, he is a softly-spoken sort of character. At least, as softly-spoken as an Adeptus Astartes with bajillions of genetic modifications can be. I hear this constant note of query in his voice: as if he is questioning everything cautiously. Compare him to a character like Taryk Torgaddon, who blusters his way noisily around the Vengeful Spirit and it works perfectly. Belgarion, from David Edding’s Belgariad series whines his way around the world until he becomes a man. Then he’s much the same, only slightly deeper. Ce’nedra screeches, Polgara talks in very plummy English, Durnik is West Country to the hilt… do you see what I mean?

I think if you can’t find a character’s voice, it’s very hard to write for them. I have written a couple of Doctor Who stories since the new series kicked off (purely for my own entertainment) and whilst I found David Tennant’s Doctor Voice fairly easy to find and work with, I found it much harder to engage with Christopher Eccleston. It became a personal challenge and in the end, I think I managed it. I’m going to drop the story at the end of this post for those who might be interested. (Also, if you want to see any of the Ten stories, just let me know).

At the end of Nina’s documentary, she gives one of her puppets to the ‘Vent Haven’ museum and I have to admit that I was genuinely surprised at her choice. It had seemed to me that this was a puppet with whom she had engaged brilliantly. She also chooses to give another puppet to a young ventriloquist who impressed her. He must be about twelve or thirteen years old. “Do you want this puppet?” It’s a simple question and the sheer delight on the boy’s face is wonderful. “I would love it,” he exclaims and she hands it to him, explaining that she’s tried so hard, but she’s no good at it. She’s not talking about ventriloquism in that moment, because Nina Conti is an astonishingly competent and wonderfully talented woman. She’s talking about finding the puppet’s voice. And in the act of passing it to someone else, she mirrors the action of her own mentor.

If you can’t find a puppet’s – or a character’s – voice, the best thing to do is find another one.

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Black Library Live! 2012 – The Aftermath

And relax.

This weekend just gone was the third BLL event that I’ve had the pleasure of attending, but the first one I’ve attended from the ‘other side’. It was a whirlwind of activity, people, signings and near-hysterical laughter on Sunday, and a lot of things have faded out of my memory already. But here’s what I recall.

Friday

We arrived in Nottingham at around 11.15am and headed straight for the bar where we acquired the life-giving coffee. No sooner had we sat down to start drinking it than the fire alarms went off and we were pitched outside in the sunshine. We stood around for a few minutes looking like tourists before whoever had burned their toast (which is what invariably happens in the NHS, I may be generalising) sorted it out. So deprived of my coffee, we headed into the hall with Alec, one of the many Boltholers who made this weekend so much fun. We unpacked armies and began what turned into the longest game ever. This is largely because I’m a complete learner, and Dearly Beloved has to tell me every few minutes what the heck I’m meant to be doing.

It was a fun game; Space Marine-on-Space Marine action. Because we both fielded loyalist armies, we called it a ‘training mission’, and there were a few really entertaining moments. My Dreadnought stomping his way across the table to boot the Master of the Forge. Toe-to-toe Assault Marine action and Xhalax’s all-important ‘Kiss the Librarian’ ritual which ensured Prognosticar Phrixus was as enormously cool as he turned out to be. Much fun was had and when the army had won, which I am not smug about at all, oh no, they were put into one of the display cabinets in the main hall at WHW. Very pretty they looked as well. Dearly Beloved did a brilliant job with them.

Across the Stormraven into the cabinet.

Across the Stormraven into the cabinet.

I was very proud.

We retired to the bar where we chatted well into the evening with the many folks who turned up. I popped across to the hotel so I could check in and then came back. Even more people had arrived and Bugman’s was heaving with people laughing and chatting and drinking… I had far too many glasses of Coke and bottles of water trying to keep up with them. Spent an inordinate amount of time chatting with Josh Reynolds, who is frankly great company and his stories are out of this world. Eventually headed back to the hotel and sat in the hotel bar for a last-of-the-night drink with Josh and Dearly Beloved. Spent the rest of the weekend recovering from the sheer horror of hotel drink prices.

Went to bed. Failed to sleep.

Saturday

The day of BLL2012 dawned and we met Bill and Josh in the foyer so we could head off for breakfast. We arrived at BL Towers around 9.15am or so and the queue was heading around the building already. People certainly seemed to be in very good spirits and so we headed indoors and got our badges. Dearly Beloved engaged in the important task of buying New Things and we now have copies of Void Stalker, The Primarchs, The Best of Hammer & Bolter Anthology and a couple of audio dramas – Eye of Vengeance and Butcher’s Nails.

I like new things. Managed to read Void Stalker and the first story in The Primarchs so far. Graham McNeill is my hero. That is all I have to say on the matter.

I was on three seminars throughout the day and had a signing session at lunchtime. The morning kicked off with a seminar on Space Marines, at which point my memory closes down completely. I am actaully incredibly nervous when there are so many eyes on me and being seated on a sofa at the front of the large room with Many Faces means that my mouth opened and words came out. I possibly said useful things. I don’t know. The same was repeated an hour later during the Warhammer panel.

Then I ducked off for my signing session, 12.30 to 1.30pm. And the queue kept coming, depositing gloriously lovely people in front of me. I love these moments; I get a kind of surreal buzz out of it and am always genuinely delighted to spend time talking to people. In fact, I latterly heard that a few people didn’t make it to get their stuff signed as the time ran out and I’d clearly wittered on for too long. Sorry about that. 😦

Then I had some Spare Time, where I went and drank the largest cup of tea known to mankind and grabbed a bag of crisps. I was too buzzed to sit and relax, so I went back downstairs and enjoyed conversations with an assortment of people in the bar before heading to the other seminar room for the last panel of the day. This one was a lot easier; it was the ‘Hammer and Bolter presentes… New Talent’ forum and there was Andy Smillie, Josh, myself and John French having what turned out to be a pretty informal chat with a bunch of awesome folks.

The fantastic artwork that had decorated the stands during the day was raffled off, and the lovely man who won the Valkia poster made a gift of it to me. It’s now hanging in my boarded-out-loft, waiting for the games table to get set up. I was really touched by that… thank you.

Valkia Artwork

Valkia checks out her new home.

The evening rolled on and much more mirth and merriment abounded in the bar. Again, I was all out of space to store water and orange juice, so we headed back to the hotel.

Where I didn’t sleep.

Sunday

We returned to Bugman’s for breakfast in torrential rain and largely chilled out for the entire day. We indulged in the company of people who’d travelled far and wide for the event – Jeff and Kay from the USA, Abhinav from Dubai… and I marvelled, as I always do, at the loveliness of these people. Much hilarity ensued during a conversation where we were substituting words of book titles with a specific Other Word that made one member of our table laugh uncontrollably every time he heard it.

In time, we were summarily kicked out of Bugman’s and drove home, where I finally got some sleep.

It was an amazing weekend, with conversations with some incredible people and a meeting with folks both known to me and who I really look forward to seeing again. A huge, huge thank you to all the Black Library staff, the other writers and especially to the fans who made it such a wonderful weekend.

Not long to the BL Weekender! OK, it’s eight months, but you know what I mean.

Rollering and Coastering

I’m tired. It’s been a week of ups and downs. This is therefore a bit… stream of consciousness.

It started on a down with the death of the hard drive, as immortalised in my previous ‘Hard Drive Lament’ entry. It dragged me back, kicking and screaming, from my previously easily attainable February target. Let me just digress for a moment or two on the subject of targets. I’ve discussed them before in depth, but just to recap.

I set myself ‘bite-sized’ targets. X number of words by the end of January, Y number of words by the end of February… and so on. I have these written on my white board and it acts as a motivator to look up at it and go ‘YEAH! Only Z number of words left to go to reach target!’ Usually at that point, I do something painfully cliched, like this:-

Take that, air, you sunnovvabitch.

I know, OK? I know. But anyway, I glance up at the whiteboard and go ‘oh yeah. My golden target is within reach.’

After the hard-drive death, that attainability became less likely and I’ve been totally putting myself through hell over it. And here’s the really weird thing: I have no idea why! It’s not like I’m not well within the overall target or anything. But I have this near OCD-like need to reach (and exceed) that February target. As a result, I may have been pushing myself a lot harder this past week than I would otherwise have done. Not that this is particularly bad, or anything. Well actually it is bad. I work full time. Coming home and writing until my eyeballs threaten to pack and leave due to being so tired hasn’t done me any favours this week. But I’ve caught up. At least, as much as is humanly possible. February’s target is now back in my grasp. I am off work Tuesday and Wednesday. Hopefully at some point in the next three days, I’ll achieve Target Nirvana. The air will suffer more punching.

So that’s a kind of up-down thing; both good, bad and frankly, bloody silly. But that’s what I do best.

Let’s look at the UP of this past week, because there’s been a damn sight more of it.

UP NUMBER ONE

Aaron and Katie’s baby showed up on 21st February. After countless months of referring to their unborn child as ‘she’, they were probably somewhat alarmed to discover that ‘she’ was in fact a ‘he’. Alexander is no less gorgeous for the fact and little boys are the stuff of legend. (I may have a certain bias in that direction; although I was convinced Smallish was going to be a girl as well). There are very few things in the world as uplifting as the joy of a friend becoming a parent. They have all the tough early days and nights ahead of them, but all of us Experienced Parents know that it doesn’t last. I wish them every joy and happiness in their new family unit. I predict Alexander will commence his efforts to take over the world in approximately five years.

I predict he will be successful in six.

UP NUMBER TWO

Warhammer 40,000 celebrated its 25th birthday on Saturday 26th February. To mark this occasion, the Black Library released a special anthology of short stories called ’25 for 25′. 25 short stories all collected together in one place. Works out at… whatever it is. Something like 56p per story, which is frankly a bloody bargain. I am thrilled that one of my own short stories, Bitter End featuring everyone’s favourite deranged villain Huron Blackheart is one of those stories. It’s an ebook download which you can get here – no worries if you don’t have an eReader, simply acquire yourself a bit of free software like Adobe Digital Editions (free) and you can still enjoy it. I heartily recommend At Gaius Point by Aaron Dembski-Bowden – that’s been one of my favourite short W40K stories so far.

The subject of eReaders and the attitude of folks towards them may be the subject of a future rant, incidentally.

UP NUMBER THREE

It’s Black Library Live! 2012 this coming weekend (March 3rd). Lots of people gathered up at Warhammer World and taking over the tables in Bugmans Bar to talk about All Things Warhammer. I’m taking part in no less than three of the discussion panels (Space Marines, Warhammer Fantasy and Hammer and Bolter) and am looking forward to it enormously. The last two years have been great fun; but this will be the first time I’m there on the ‘other side’ of the table. If you’re going, I look forward to seeing you there. Among the pre-release books available on the day is the four-book anthology Architect of Fate which contains my novella Accursed Eternity.

UP NUMBER FOUR

Despite being off work for a week, I got caught up again. Huzzah for that. Additionally, I am in tomorrow (Monday), but am then off for the rest of the week. Such a nice warm feeling. Mmmmmm.

So yes. This week has been a bit of a wild ride, but I always liked roller coasters. Occasionally though, it’d be nice to be cruising along on the flat for a while.

Mind, that’d mean life was boring, and mine’s been anything but that over the last three years.

Long may it continue.

Additionally, how much fun does this roller coaster look?

DIVE! DIVE!

Out and About

I don’t get out much. So to actually look ahead to Things I Am Doing This Year is quite startling. As an aside, whilst Google-searching for appropriate images to use for ‘Out and About’, I found this one. It worries me enormously.

Bury People First? BEFORE you push them in front of the bus? WHAT? Oh, English language, you are funny.

 

In a week’s time, we’re taking a short trip Down South to see friends. It will be Smallish’s thirteenth birthday whilst we’re away and I have it on good authority that he wouldn’t dare to turn into Kevin the Teenager at midnight in someone else’s house.

Just a little over three weeks to this year’s Black Library Live event! Really looking forward to it. This will be our third year of going and we’ve had a blast both times previously. The difference this year is that I’ll actually be on the ‘other side’, sitting on seminar panels and what have you. I enjoy that kind of thing, I’ve invariably found it a lot of fun. Add to that the fact that I’ll be seeing many awesome people and meeting new ones and all in all, I can’t wait.

I’ve also signed up to this year’s alt.fiction event as well. I definitely enjoyed last year’s and found it to be incredibly interesting and useful. I picked up quite a lot of good hints ‘n’ tips on writing in general and met a bunch of very nice people. Looking forward to that as well.

A week after getting over alt.fiction, I’ll be heading down to London in April for the Salute wargaming event. I’ve never been to this one, but looking at some of the photographs from last year’s event, I’m VERY much looking forward to seeing some of the miniatures there. There’s a whole swathe of insanely talented people out there who can paint the most incredible models and I’m filled up with complete respect for them. My Silver Skulls army is largely being painted by Dearly Beloved, who has the patience and ability that I don’t have. I’ve been doing the ‘necessary evil’ element of basecoating and black washes for the most part, but I’m trying.

Later on in the year, depending on a few factors, we will be taking a trip to the US to see friends in Texas. Now that I’m looking forward to for the fact that it’s seeing friends and involves a trip to a part of the US I’ve never been anywhere near.

All these things make the nasty work element that fills in the time inbetween a little more bearable.

The day job continues without ever improving, but conversely doesn’t really get much worse. Mustn’t grumble and all that.  Project: Loophole is now more than half-done and I’m looking forward to that fun ‘bit just after the middle’ I experienced with both TGR and Valkia when the writing mojo gets a proper lick on. I had a couple of good writing days over the weekend (in terms of actual output volume), but then proceeded to delete a whole bunch of it after shouting a lot at the computer.

Oh well, back to it! Not long until the Out and About starts. Until then, I’m In and Here.

To wrap up, a picture about confidence.