May? Wait, what?

And then it was May. Beltane. May Day. Whatever floats your boat. You think about May and you think of things like this:

May. It should be like this.

Instead, we’re being treated to a surfeit of this:

Even the ducks have been complaining.

Honestly. The United Kingdom. The only place in the world where we have hosepipe bans and a drought in the ‘rainiest April since records began’. It’s not only been wet, it’s also been very cold. However, I am my father’s daughter and I staunchly refuse to put on the central heating unless I am shivering. More layers, he’d say. Go and put on a jumper. I grew up in a house without central heating (although we had some mad warm air convection heating thing downstairs. It was about as much use as a chocolate fireguard) and so I cope with the cold better than the Boys. I’m actually sitting here with my coat still on (I’ve been in from work for an hour) and even I’m thinking of putting the heating on ‘for a bit’.

My left shoulder-demon is telling me that I should enjoy the luxurious splendour of a centrally heated house. The right shoulder-angel is telling me that I should mind my pennies. Kronk has nothing on me, I swear. These guys bicker all the time.

I'm gonna lead you down the path that rocks...

In other news:

I haven’t seen Avengers Assemble yet. The current plan is to go and see it on Sunday when Dearly Beloved is not at work. The over-zealous enthusiasm for it that’s doing the rounds on the interwebs is kind of putting me off if I’m brutally honest. Sometimes I feel like that about books as well, or books by certain authors when people go ‘OMG IT’S A BOOK BY <INSERT AUTHOR HERE> IT’S BRILLIANT AND THE BEST THING EVER’ and God help anybody who has a differing opinion and dares to express it. Sometimes I find it disheartening that there are so many people out there who seem incapable of recognising that everyone has differing opinions (apart from those who can’t form opinions of their own).

Speaking of disheartening, the day job has become something that I can only just about bear. My workload has increased massively over the past six months or so, which may just be a slight glitch in the flow of patient referrals, but there’s no sign of it easing off. I work very hard at what I do for not very much return. Having one of my major projects ripped apart by a consultant who genuinely didn’t have a clue what he was talking about was galling, but I’m not massively concerned when the hard evidence exists to prove my point. But it just wears you down. I can never wait to be out of there so I can be at home, where I am happy and where I can do the things that matter. Spend time with Dearly Beloved and Smallish. Torment the cats. Write.

On the subject of writing (neat, eh?) I sent off the first drafts of Project: Loophole and Project: ME, ME, ME to the editor-beast over the last couple of weeks. Next to look at are (in no particular order at this point) Project: Hunting Wabbits and Project: Who Shall It Be? On top of that, Valkia the Bloody is due out in the next few weeks, too.

Architect of Fate is on release to the wider public now and a couple of very nice reviews have slipped in, including ones from SF Book Reviews and Starburst Magazine.

Project: Backburner is very low down on the agenda at the moment, but I’m thinking of spending a few hours on it over the next week or two whilst I draw breath and recover from Loophole and ME, ME, ME.

So the writing thing is going brilliantly. I’m job-hunting like it’s going out of fashion… and I’m going to go and put the heating on.

What a rebel.

Give Them An Inch…

…and they’ll take the damned globe.

Who am I talking about, you wonder? Where will this rant lead? Politicians, perhaps? They’re notorious for such behaviour. How about book reviewers, or film critics, or the people who complain that the shade of blue on the in-game rendering of Grits McLargehuge the Valiant Warrior’s armour in the PS3 OMFGAWESOMES game ‘Final Dawn of Mass Assassin’s Gears of Duty (FIFA Version)’ is two shades darker than it should be?

No. I’m talking about none of these people, although that game has great potential.

No, I’m talking about characters. Specifically, characters who saunter up, take over and then leave you by the wayside gasping in their wake like a fish out of water. Or any land-bound mammal IN water. Why don’t you ever hear anybody say ‘he was like a badger in the Baltic’? Or a monkey in the Mariana Trench? (Probably because, like me, they couldn’t remember the name of the Mariana Trench and accidentally typed ‘Mariachi’. That would be something else entirely).

Baaaaaaad pun.

So yeah. Characters. The Esteemed Mr. Abnett has discussed something similar this week at his blog over here.

I’m writing this story, which I’ve referred to as  Project: Loophole. And like any other story, it has characters in it. A good start. Characters are the flavour on your piece of Secret Midnight Toast. Some of them are evil, some of them are heavenly. Heavenly characters are the topping you spread with abandon on your… hang on. A visual reference may help:

Characters who make you think of the delightful fellow on the left are what you want. The interloper on the right is just wrong, quite frankly.

Anyway.

I have this character. And he’s heavenly. Which is to say, I’ve grown incredibly fond of him over the course of Project: Loophole (which is pretty much at first draft stage now by the way). But tonight, he did something unexpected. He made a decision. And I don’t know what he decided. I’m sure I’ll work it out, but for a fraction of a second, I was infuriated with him.

How can this be? He’s MY creation! My character! And he didn’t even so much as send me a text! I’ve frequently been startled in the past when my characters have done something I’ve not expected them to do. One of my characters in an online roleplaying game I used to participate in did that and his story arc went off in a whole new direction. For me though, that’s what I like most about writing. It’s the fact that I don’t have full control over the characters. I create the situations for them. How they react is almost spontaneous. Obviously, some things happen because they’re meant to. But frequently, the repercussions of those events don’t make themselves properly known until crazy things happen. Like decision making.

Also, they’re not real. Remember Father Ted.

This.

So. Watch out for your characters. They may startle you in ways you hadn’t anticipated.

This rant has been brought to you this evening by the letters ‘P’ and ‘I’ and the number 3.14159265.

 

Delayed Response…

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while as it’s in response to a question put to me at the recent Black Library Live event. It was a pretty straightforward question and it went something like this. It’s paraphrased. I’ve slept since then.

“How does it feel when you read a negative review of your work?”

Now, my assorted colleagues have touched on this subject in blogs across the interwebs in the time that I’ve known them. Mark Charan Newton’s comments here, for example along with the musings of the very fine Chris Wraight (Nicest Man on Earth, pat. pend.) There’s not really a lot more that I can add to this. When reviews of The Gildar Rift started trickling through the filter (the filter being my struggles to avoid fora and Amazon and the trickle being my inability to resist), I was – and still am – pleased that the majority of feedback has been pretty good. There have been one or two comments made in an assortment of places that have made me go ‘wait, what book were you actually reading‘, but on the whole, I’ve managed to store the negative comments away in a box. Very few of them are constructive negative comments. Those thatdo carry useful nuggets of information within them are considered.

It’s the most obvious thing in the world, it really is. Everyone likes different things. Some people like Twilight. I don’t, but that doesn’t stop others from enjoying it. Some people like Harry Potter. I do, but I’m well aware plenty of other people don’t. Each to their own. Different strokes for different folks. Horses for courses. (Would that be starter, main or dessert? YMMV.)

So to answer… once you get your head round the fact that all folks are different, it’s actually easy to deal with negative comments.

What else is new then? Project: Loophole has been bouncing along at a very satisfying pace this week, and Project: 4am is pretty much done and dusted subject to the relevant person’s approval. I’ve been contemplating putting a few words into Project: Backburner, but then got caught up in Loophole. I also have a previous project to re-visit and re-consider when one or two people have some time to spare me. So the writing’s been going OK. This pleases me. Ilikewriting. I never want to find myself in that place where it becomes a chore. When that happens… stop doing it.

Work… less said about that the better. This picture probably conveys far more than words.

Even the bunny can't comprehend the sheer depth of NHS-related stupidity.

The loft was boarded out and we’ve turned it into a useful space where the GW modular boards are now permanently set up. The scenery actually needs painting, but it does mean that now Dearly Beloved and Smallish have somewhere to thrash out their battles. And me too, I guess… once there is time, I shall be practising using those delightful Silver Skulls fellows. Thus far, they’re unbeaten. Get them!

Been watching Merlin from the beginning. It’s one of those TV shows that I always forget is on but have always enjoyed whenever I’ve sat and watched it. In this instance, I’m nearly done with season one and already find myself wishing I had season two. Pay day will come around soon enough, I’m sure. Incidentally, I’m aware that Merlin is another one of those TV shows that divides opinion, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it. It requires no heavy thinking, no deep, hidden meanings and the cast are great and interact very well.

Lancelot, though. Yeah. You would. Well, I would, anyway.

So all in all, another week trundles by without anything new to report other than an increase in the volume of Project: Loophole… and that was categorically meant to happen.

So here’s a picture that made me actu-lol today.

 

 

You Shall Not Pass

So we’ve been visiting some friends for a few days and a very lovely time was had. On the way down at the weekend, we stopped at Warhammer World so that DB, Smallish and I could play a couple of games of 40k and christen a 1,000 point Silver Skulls army. They won both of their games and I was very proud of them. Then we headed further south into familiar country (both DB and I are Southerners by birth; it’s always a relief to hear people speaking normally). Despite the fact that there had been some snow and that the roads were possibly a ‘bit iffy’, we challenged the elements and arrived at our destination in good time on Sunday night. We then proceeded to have a couple of awesome days, including a trip to London (where I got to indulge myself ridiculously in the Moomin Shop in Covent Garden).

The plan yesterday was simple.

1) Leave about 11.30. Drive north on the M1, go via Nottingham for another game and the chance to have a Chat with my editor.

2) Leave WHW any time after 5 – it’s only a 2.5 hour drive home.

Easy, right?

No.

Boring road bit coming up here. The planned route was this simple. M2, M25, M1 to Nottingham. Then, M1 and A1(M) home. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

So we’re driving along the M2 and we see the Big Scary Sign. M25 CLOSED BETWEEN JUNCTIONS 24-27.

One of these is the M1 junction. The other one is the Alternative Route – the A1 junction. Both of these roads are now DENIED to us. We have two choices. Go clockwise on the M25 instead (which would add a LOT of miles to the journey) and come at the M1 from the Heathrow side. The radio tells us that there are massive queues approaching that junction whilst the rubberneckers undoubtedly Do Their Thing. The other choice was to join the M11 and go up towards the A1. A pain in the arse, definitely, but an option at least.

So… we go for the second choice. We join the M25 with a view to heading onto the M11. Only as we’re driving along, we see the second Big Scary Sign. M11 CLOSED BETWEEN JUNCTIONS 7-10.

Which is the direction we’re going.

Hasty navigation things take place and what happens is demonstrated in the following picture:

Map

That red line. See how it mocks me?

The red line was the planned route home (via Nottingham). The blue line was Plan B. The GREEN line was emergency Plan C and the purple line is what actually happened.

Now, the diversion doesn’t look that bad, does it?

No.

But let me put it this way. Had we been able to get along the original planned route, we could have made Nottingham in 2 hours from the point where everything diverged. Instead it took at LEAST that long to traverse the purple route. This was largely because the traffic from the M1, A1 AND M11 was congregating along two A-roads in Hertfordshire. It took us 3 hours to travel about 70 miles. Unsurprisingly, I wrote Nottingham off as a bad idea. After spending 2 hours driving at between 5-10 miles per hour, I’d had enough. So we just came home.

In hindsight, we have decided that quite simply, the South did not want to let us go. I probably should have listened.

Now for the remainder of my week off work, I will be writing like a mo’fo in an effort to make up for the slacking of the past few days…

Stupid motorways.

Really Not That Difficult

Incoming semi-rant. I apologise in advance.

I went into Durham yesterday. That in itself is nothing new; I go into Durham all the time. Hell, I live here. What made yesterday so notable was this.

I always tend to use to the Park and Ride bus rather than enter the death match that is searching for premium parking space in the city centre. Durham has a number of car parks, one of which is always chocka-block due to being the easiest to find, one of which closes at some ridiculously early time and another which has the most inconveniently situated posts and pillars you’ve ever seen in your life. Seriously, the designers of that car park should be taken out in public and be made to watch endless re-runs of Susan Boyle’s ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ audition. It’s no less than they deserve. So enter the Park and Ride facilities. Three big car parks, strategically situated at the arterial routes into Durham. £1.70 to sit back and let someone else worry about running Bloody Students[tm] over.

What made me smile was a young lad, perhaps the same age as Not So Small Anymore Son, who said ‘thank you’ as he got off the bus. Now, NSSAS always says thank you, because that’s how I brought him up. The reason I brought him up to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ was a reflection on how I was brought up. But it was really, really nice to hear another kid saying it. And it got me thinking about parenting and  how far NSSAS has come since came into this world two months early almost thirteen years ago to the day.

Try saying this when someone does something nice for you. You'll be amazed.

‘Always remember to say “please” and “thank you”,’ my mother told me. ‘It costs nothing and it means everything.’ Of course, when she gave me this critical bit of life advice, I was just a child. I had no idea just how true those words were. My mum worked in the local corner shop for much of my early memory and later moved to the glitzy glamour of the newsagents when it arrived in the village. Prior to that, there was a corner shop, a butchers, a baker’s (not a candlestick maker’s, although there was a place that made saddles if I remember correctly). As such, she dealt with the public on a daily basis. She was astoundingly polite. When obnoxious school kids came into the shop after getting off the school bus, she would actively refuse to sell them anything unless they were polite. It worked, too.

At her funeral, the local vicar started his eulogy with ‘Most people knew her as the lady in the shop.’ My mum. The legend. She brought me up with a plethora of good manners and I’ll always be thankful for that. I’ll always be surprised at the reaction good manners seem to get from people, but thankful nonetheless. An example of this was yesterday in Marks & Spencer; I was at the till with a basket full of things I didn’t really need, but really, really wanted (damn you, M&S Food Hall). An elderly lady with a pint of milk and a sandwich got in line behind me and I insisted she go first as she only had a little bit. I kid you not; this lady’s eyes filled with tears and she smiled warmly. ‘What a charming young lady you are,’ she said. ‘Thank you very much.’ Random acts of kindness go a long way, you know.

There was a lady in one of the aforementioned car parks just before Christmas. She was struggling with a child in a pushchair, a toddler who was obviously tired and cranky, armfuls of wrapping paper and a pay machine that wouldn’t eat her £5 note to pay her £1.60 parking fee. ‘Can you change my £5?’ It was a desperate voice; a woman who was on the verge of crying. I checked my purse. No, I couldn’t change her £5. So I did the only decent thing. I paid her parking for her with the £1.60 I did have. She tried to make me take her £5, but I wouldn’t. I told her it was a Christmas gift and smiled. ‘I hope something wonderful happens to you today,’ she said as I picked up the bag she’d dropped. What she didn’t realise was that it already had. I’d brought a little moment of niceness into her life. That works for me.

Yeah, I know, I’m old-fashioned. I hold doors open for people. I pass the time of day with people at the till. I thank them for their help (when they deserve it) and as a consequence, NSSAS is exactly the same. I still remember him being three years old and holding a door open for someone. ‘After you,’ he said in his baby voice. Adorable? Yes. Was I proud? Yes. Is this normal behaviour for a soon-to-be thirteen year old? Apparently not as much as you would like to think. People still register surprise when NSSAS thanks them for things. He’s a rare pleasure to take out for a meal. He carefully selects his choice from the menu and orders it himself. He asks questions about things he doesn’t understand, and he always always starts his order with ‘Please may I have…’ As a consequence, on more than one occasion I’ve been stopped on the way out of the restaurant and complimented on having such a nice child. I love that. But I’m also saddened that it seems to be such a rarity. On one of the occasions this happened, there was another kid in the same restaurant, probably a bit older than NSSAS was at the time. He spent the whole meal playing with his hand-held console. His mother ordered his food and cut it up for him. He never spoke a word throughout the entire evening.

But it’s so easy. If you say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ yourself, of course your child is going to act the same way. Dearly Beloved works in retail and regularly returns home in varying states of apoplexy and assorted degrees of purple rage. One of his biggest bug bears is the Oblivious Parent; the ones who clearly don’t think that moral standards apply to them. I don’t know whether it’s a product of some poor education, something else or whether they just don’t care, but the story from yesterday was that a woman came into the shop with DB took to be a little of of about 5 years old. They picked out three games on the three for £whatever deal. One was Spyro, one was something else cutesy… and the other was Grand Theft Auto, or one of its derivatives.

‘Is this for him?’ DB asked.

‘Oh, yes,’ she said. ‘He likes that sort of thing. The driving, the shooting.’

DB then proceeded to pull no punches and told her about graphic sex scenes, blah blah blah blah blah. Or at least, that’s evidently what this woman heard, because she bought it anyway. As DB said, he could have refused the sale, but then the customer would have started complaining. It’s happened before.

Whilst in Curry’s yesterday, I got chatting to the sales assistant, a lovely lady by the name of Lillian. (See what I mean? I go in somewhere to enquire about a particular product and I come out with their life story). She was telling me about this family with two young children and how the parents refused to keep control of them. The little darlings were running up and down the aisle, opening and slamming oven doors… that sort of thing. Then they came over to the TV area where she was working and carried on being little tearaways. One of them shoved the other one into a display and the whole thing came crashing down… on the sales assistant. The thing that got me was that apparently the parents didn’t even chastise the kids. Not a tiny bit. Not even half-heartedly. Neither did they think to ask if the sales assistant was alright. And that, tragically, seems to be the norm rather than the exception.

It does make me worry that NSSAS is growing up in a generation of pig-ignorant fuckwads. The anonymity of the Internet gives people a shield from behind which they can inject various brands of vitriol into the ether and our kids are sucking this up. They’re growing up thinking it’s OK to be opinionated and yes… yes, it really is. But be opinionated with an open mind. Be prepared to admit there are other viewpoints. Thank someone for a good discussion. Don’t resort to mud slinging and name calling. You know what? Treat people with respect. Try checking out the Golden Rule.

Most of the people I know are decent folks. They say please/thank you and so do their children. It’s horrible that people with good manners seem to be a dying breed. Because passing that onto your kids? Well, it’s really not that difficult.

Advent

Before I get stuck into explaining the title… first of all, a very good review indeed over at Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review, which was followed up with an interview by said reviewer. The Gildar Rift is pretty much officially ‘out there’ now: I received a text from my dad last week that simply said ‘seen it in Waterstones‘. I presumed he meant my book. I think he was proud. Actually, so was I when I went into the Waterstones in Durham yesterday and there it was on the shelf.

Bless it.

Anyway, advent.

Not, as you might think, (given the time of year) a reference to advent calendars or the countdown to Christmas in general. Instead, it’s one of those words that always evokes great memories for me. ‘Advent’ was the command line on my dad’s ancient TRS-80 to run ‘Adventureland’, the text-based adventure game written by Scott Adams about a bajillion years ago.

>load “Advent”

I loved those games and would devour them. I would oust my dad from the computer (bear in mind I was probably seven years old or something at the time) and would work my way through them with an intensity bordering on insanity. Imagine the thrill of this:-

Forest
You’re in a forest.

Obvious exits: North, South, East, West, Up.

You can also see: trees

There was such undiluted charm to those text-based adventure games. And you had to map your own version of it. And you had to struggle desperately with your computer to get it to understand what you wanted it to do. LIGHT LAMP. UNLIGHT LAMP. You wouldn’t believe how damn long it took me to get the latter one.

Here’s an utter joy, then. You can play all the Scott Adams adventures via Java online now. I’ve had so much fun and STILL struggle on occasion to find the right phrasing!

Then, a few years later, along came Prestel. And with Prestel came Micronet. And with Micronet came Shades, the first MUG/MUD I ever played. There I was, playing a text-based adventure game all over again, but this time, there were ACTUAL PEOPLE. People to whom I could speak. People with whom I could fight, win, lose, steal treasure… have quiz nights on a Thursday, throw snowballs at over the Christmas period…

It was a constant race to get from Novice to Witch/Wizard (depending upon your chosen gender… this was also my first slow discovery that men-played-women-and-vice-versa-on-online-games) in as fast a time as possible. This was before the days of anything remotely resembling broadband. Most people connected to Shades on a 1200/75 baud modem. Then there were the REALLY IT-savvy folks who had Atari ST’s and a piece of custom software called Ripper, which allowed you to create macros which essentially played Shades for you. And they all connected at twice the speed of everyone else.

Everyone hated those poeple.

And then there were the opportunities to meet up with these folks in Real Life at Shades meets… These things frequently took place at a pub on the top end of the Tottenham Court Road – The Sol’s Arms. I have no idea if it’s still even there, but I bet it heaved a sigh of relief when Micronet folded. Most of those people are still my friends today.

>w, w, w, s, grab girl, turn, n, w, n, e, dr t

Guess what? Yep. You can still play Shades online, too. Some things just never die. Despite my best efforts.

So from the humble beginnings of Scott Adams and his text-based adventure games, I’ve played a lot of these things. The Hobbit on the Amstrad CPC-464 had, y’know, GRAPHICS. This was amazing to a pleb like me. Can you believe it? Yes. You can still play all these games online now, too!

(An aside… Dearly Beloved recently invested in ‘The Ultimate Sega Megadrive Collection’. For his PS3. Seriously. A few hundred quid’s worth of equipment to be nostalgic on? Mind, I bought Lemmings for the PC not so long ago).

I graduated from the text-based school of adventure into graphic RPGs with games like Zak McKraken and the Alien Mindbenders. And then the Monkey Island series. And Sam & Max. And Grim Fandango. And all the other Lucasarts point-and-click wonders that will never, ever be beaten. Then… then, along came Myst. Which plain creeped me out with its ambient sound effects and the sense that ANY MOMENT NOW something was going to  leap out of a bush and eat your face. I had many, many sleepless nights around that game and it wasn’t all because of staying up until stupid o’clock playing it.

So in time, it was almost inevitable that I would fall to the charms of World of Warcrack… craft. It’s been particularly fun for me because I enjoy the roleplaying element of it. It’s only a mediocre game to play in many ways… after all, you can only kill so many wolves in the woods (none of whom EVER appear to have nostrils, or whatever random body part you’ve agreed to find), but the RP element and the various Extra Things That Happen when you reach level 85 kind of make up for it. Kind of. My lingering problem with WoW is that my time is sort of limited really and so I ‘ve never actually learned the more intense element of the game. I hate going into random dungeons with Unknown People, because if you don’t respond to the barked ‘buff  now noob’ command that is suddenly issued within 0.4 milliseconds, you’re kicked out of the dungeon.

But I’ve lapsed. I’ve not been on WoW for a couple of weeks. That’s because I’ve been fortunate enough to be beta-testing Star Wars: The Old Republic. And oh, I’ve been enjoying it. In terms of gameplay, it’s a lot like WoW. But for me, the best thing so far has been the random groups I’ve joined to do various flashpoints with. Without fail they’ve all been pleasant, fun, cooperative and a damn good laugh. And that makes things so much more enjoyable.

The quests are more engaging because the storylines are ongoing and pull you in. I think the fact that it’s voice acting is better than being able to skip through the text. There are so many quests in WoW where I’ve only ever gone quick precis, please, and skipped to the end, as it were. And… well, it’s VERY pretty. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed beta-testing it and now that the testing phase is over, genuinely feel bereft.

Also, lightsabers.

LIGHTSABERS, MAN.

Well worth a play in my opinion, but in the meantime, go and play some of those fiendish Scott Adams adventures. Remember, kids. This was once the pinnacle of technology.

Now where did I put my bus pass?

The ‘F’ Word

Which particular ‘F’ word?

Fanfiction.

Spurred on by a post that m’colleague Jonathan Green made earlier today – although it might be yesterday by the time I finish writing this post – (see here), I just wanted to put a few of my mad, fleeting thoughts on this matter down. Capture those little bits of thought and cram them all together on a page. Much better than being left to breed inside the confines of my incubator-like mind.

Jon posted in response to an article in the Guardian by Mathilda Gregory (see here) in which she points out that not all fanfiction is about OMG LOVE AND SEXYTIMES for people’s favourite fandoms. It’s not all about the Mary Sue or Gary Stu. It’s not all about the badly written, poorly spelled monstrosities that have earned fanfiction the bad name it has earned. Jon’s point – and indeed, question – was simply ‘what is the difference between fanfiction and tie-in fiction’. If you have thoughts on that particular debate, please post them on his blog. It’s a topic which I think is worthy of having conversation about. But I feel particularly strongly about the subject of snobbery when it comes to fanfiction and so I’m going to rant a bit about it.

Let me elaborate.

I don’t dispute that there is a lot of godawful dross out there in fanfiction land. But there are also a lot of excellent tales. Some short, some long. And to dismiss fanfiction is to do it something of a disservice, I think. It appears that I am in direct opposition to the viewpoint of the illustrious Mr. George R. R. Martin, who states in a post here:-

“I also think that doing fan fiction is bad training for any aspiring writer. With the world and the background all provided, the writer does not learn to create these things for himself. Fan fiction is to fiction as paint-by-numbers kits are to painting.”

(‘Doing’ fan fiction?)

I think, with the greatest respect, that Mr. Martin is way out of touch here. Writing fanfiction is the only chance many people will ever have to write about people or places they have enjoyed reading about. Writing fanfiction is the only chance many people will have of securing themselves an audience of people who share their enthusiasm. Writing fanfiction is the only chance many people will have of finding an avenue of creativity. How can ‘doing fanfiction’, which gives a lot of pleasure to writer and reader alike be something wrong?

And as for it being a poor training ground… I totally agree with the ‘doesn’t teach an aspiring writer about how to develop their own world’ bit, but it can teach an aspiring writer how to write. It can teach them how to plot, how to develop a story, how to employ characterisation, how to maintain a ‘feel’ to a piece.

I make no secret of the fact that I am a big supporter of fanfiction and in particular, fanfiction communities that help and nurture people’s burgeoning talents. The Black Library Bolthole was originally created with this sense of community very much in mind. Many of the people who write W40K and WHF fiction over there are extremely good at what they do. They are also extremely good at supporting each other – and at the end of the day, all writers want to hear is ‘hey, I enjoyed your story. It was really good.’

The Sugarquill (a Harry Potter community) was also exceptionally good at this in its day. The team used to set challenges and themes which could extract the best out of people.

And when it comes down to it, just because we (as individuals) can look at a piece of fanfiction and sneer condescendingly at its poor grammar, its appalling spelling, its flimsy story line and its almost painfully Mary Sue-esque Sparklypoo house main character, who is a half-elf, orphaned Muggle born with eyes that vary in colour or shade depending on their mood and who will be able to turn the hardest of  hearts… someone somewhere was exceptionally proud of themselves for writing a story that they made up.

The state of literacy in this country is frequently touted as being dreadful. If a child is engaged by a world and can concentrate long enough to write a story about the characters who live within its boundaries, shouldn’t this be considered a good thing? The grammar/spelling etc… they are things that can come with time. But surely we should be encouraging people of the world to express their creativity in whichever way they see fit? This should carry through to adulthood, when without lessons, people stop writing creatively.

OK, there are the horrors of slashfic, which I really don’t understand at all… but that’s again my personal choice. I don’t go looking for such things.

Parodies, the other side of fanfiction… well, these can be hit and miss. Sometimes, someone hits the nail right on the head and a good parody is sometimes even more true to form and affectionate than a beautifully written vignette by someone else.

I have written fanfiction. I have learned a huge amount about how to write a story through doing so. I have also partaken in any number of online forum-based roleplay games in worlds as diverse as the Stargate universe, the Marvel comics universe and even an Earth 2 board which was my introduction to the very concept of fanfiction. I am one of the lucky ones. I have made the leap from fanfiction writer to published author – and I’m grateful to all those websites and people who helped me on my way.
I thus firmly believe that fanfiction has its place amongst the internet (which as we all know is made of cats) and as a tool for that most important of things… having fun and being happy. Whilst I was writing on an X-Men Evolution board, many moons ago now, I learned lots about how to portray characters. One of the things that’s frequently coming back to me now is that characterisation is one of my writing strengths. So it works, y’know?
Also, that board was brilliant. There were nights when I laughed so hard I could hardly breathe. I miss those guys.
So in essence, the basic summary is this… you don’t like fanfiction? Don’t read or write it. Problem solved. In my Very Humble Opinion [tm], I just don’t think it gives you the right to be superior or snooty towards those who do.

The Great British Public… and other animals

Greetings, programmes!

So, I got to take a trip to the Games Workshop store in the Plaza on Oxford Street at the weekend. In London. All by myself. Well, I travelled all by myself. I was greeted at Kings Cross by my dad and brother who travelled up to meet me for lunch. Which was very pleasant indeed. It was about a gazillion degrees, which is slightly unnatural for the 1st October and three and a half hours on the train left me feeling decidedly warm.

I joined up with the very delightful Nick Kyme who was signing copies of his latest release, Nocturne. It’s the last book in his highly enjoyed Tome of Fire trilogy. I finished it on Saturday morning before I left for London and in response to his ‘how did you find it’ question, I gave him a lower lip sad look. I’ve enjoyed the series and am sad that it’s over.

It was a highly enjoyable afternoon of signing copies of The Gildar Rift and meeting more incredibly nice people – including fine folks from the Bolthole, the Overlords and one guy I’ve known for about 23 years and who I haven’t seen for over 10. He came into town just to see me, which was outstandingly decent of him. The mighty James Swallow rolled by to give us support (and to eat my Haribo) and it’s always a pleasure to see him.

Much fun was had; Nick and I were photographed shooting each other with plastic flint lock pistols… (the store had gone all piratical in honour of the release of Dread Fleet. Which is, by the way, utterly gorgeous and is sitting on the side waiting to be played).

This is what happens when an author turns in a late manuscript. No, really.

Finished the signing and crossed Very Hot London back to Kings Cross for my 17:30 train back home. Got onto the train with ten minutes to spare, found my seat and settled down with my copy of Hammer & Anvil (I’d finished Faith & Fire on the way up to London*) and got comfy.

17:35, the driver announced that there was a ‘problem on the train and that engineers were working on fixing it.’

17:55, the driver sheepishly announced that ‘the engineers couldn’t fix the problem, but THAT’S OK PEOPLE! If you cross the platform, that train next to you will take you where you need to be.

In the traditional scrum that ensues in these situations, I crammed everything back into my backpack and followed everyone else across the platform onto the other train. I re-settled and caught the eye of the lady sitting opposite.

‘Is this train going to Darlington?’

‘I hope so,’ I replied with a rueful smile. ‘If it does, then I’m going in the right general direction.’

‘Me too,’ piped up the fella opposite her. ‘I’m going to Newcastle.’

We chuckled about the confusion of it all and established, quite cheerfully, that OK, we were now 30 minutes late, but if we were on the wrong train, we would all have a Great Adventure together and wouldn’t be lonely. It was all lighthearted and a lot of fun.

18:00 (ish), the train pulls out of the station.

18:02, the woman sitting in front of me starts to complain. She complains that she’s late. She complains that she’s not in the seat she was reserved (note: the train was half-empty and was de-classified. She could have sat in First Fecking Class if she’d wanted to). She complains that it’s too hot on the train. She complains that the wi-fi is a bit rubbish. She complains about everything. She has a go at first the refreshment chap and then the ticket inspector. Then she has a go at the refreshment chap as he goes by a second time.

She complained.

And complained.

And COMPLAINED.

All the way to Doncaster. When she got off, about seven people in the carriage genuinely cheered. I wasn’t one of them, but I was joining in silently. Seriously. It was the most irritating thing I’ve ever heard on a train. It was the fact that she eventually started complaining about pathetic things. The coffee didn’t taste right. The sky was the wrong shade of blue.

When I was growing up, my dad worked for what was then British Rail. I always remember a little poem he told me about the communication cord, for which you get a fine if you pull it without good reason. It used to be £50. Do they even have them any more? Or would you just Tweet up to the driver and say ‘STOP THE TRAIN!’ ?

I digress.

The poem went:

If fifty pounds you can afford
Then try your strength upon this cord
If fifty pounds you do not own
Then leave the bloody thing alone.

I tell you what, I’d have paid £50 gladly to get this woman put off the train. I’d have paid £100 if she had been THROWN off.

And that’s just it, isn’t it? She was so typical of people in this country. Lightning fast to complain, but never comment when they receive good customer service. Once, in Sainsbury’s, there was a checkout lady who was just so, so nice. She saw I was struggling with a full load of shopping and a then-one year old baby and she helped me pack and even told off the person behind me when they tutted loudly about how slowly the queue was moving. I stopped at the customer service desk on the way out and asked for a form so I could leave a compliment and thank you note for the member of staff.

The two girls behind the counter blinked slowly and looked at each other.

‘I… think we have something like that…’

‘Hold on.’

The one disappeared behind the counter and then re-emerged with a sheaf of paper that had a layer of dust about seven inches thick on top of it. Spiders had lived and died for generations on that pile of paper. Archaeologists could have found evidence of tiny civilisations if they’d looked hard enough.

The vocal minority likes to complain far too much. Let’s start a new trend! Why not make it a focus, the next time you receive great customer service, to compliment the person behind the counter who smiles at you? Or to tell their manager on the way out the door? Or to phone their head office and say ‘so and so was great – thank you!’ My mother worked for years in a shop and she always got a huge kick out of people thanking her. She gave me many tips for life and one of those was ‘thank you costs nothing and means everything’.

With that in mind, thank you for listening to this brief rant.

And in my writing-related news roundup:

  • my latest short story, Bitter End – featuring Huron Blackheart being a back-stabby git – is now available in the latest ish of Hammer & Bolter (12).
  • Valkia the Bloody is now more than 85% complete and should probably hit first draft stage in the next couple of weeks.
  • I am swamping my poor editor with ideas. He may have drowned by now.
  • The Gildar Rift is due out on 5th December, but there are at least two more signing events planned – 12th November at Games Workshop in Durham and 19th November at Warhammer World in Nottingham. There may be more yet… watch this space!
  • Check out this pretty damn fine advance review (spoiler free!) of The Gildar Rift by the illustrious Shadowhawk.

Speaking, Geeking.

As the bandwagon rumbles past, I feel I am reasonably entitled to jump on board, snuggle into a corner and pull a (probably flea-ridden) blanket up around my knees. As we bounce down a road that hasn’t even heard of the concept of surfacing, I am jolted into a blog-posty state.

Along with many other of my comrades-in-arms across the world, I have decided to join in with the concept of Speak Out With Your Geek Out.

Speaking. Geeking. Out. SHOUT!

So, let’s begin with first principles. The definition of ‘geek’ as per the Internet. And believe you me, it’s worth it.

From Dictionary.com:-

geek [geek]
noun, Slang.

1. a computer expert or enthusiast (a term of pride as self-reference, but often considered offensive when used by outsiders.)
This is pretty interesting, because the word ‘geek’ has spread to embrace all sorts of areas. Although they may be ‘nerds’. We’ll come to those in a minute. But according to definition #1, to be a geek, you have to be a computer expert or enthusiast. I’m quite enthusiastic about my computer. I have a real passion for charts and graphs in Excel… really… But I’m not an expert. As an aside, my mother once told me her definition of ‘expert’. ‘An ex, Sarah,’ she said, fixing me with a piercingly blue-eyed stare. ‘An ‘ex’ is something that has been. And a ‘spurt’ is a drip under pressure. Always remember that.’

I’ve always remembered that.

Back to the definition:

2.a peculiar or otherwise dislikable person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual.

Where is this notion that geeks (or nerds, but again, we’ll come to them) have to be peculiar or dislikable, just because they’re computer enthusiasts or experts? Christ on a motorbike, I think that people who obsess over the football are peculiar and/or frequently dislikable, but I bet they wouldn’t like it if they were called geeks. Although the worst ones aren’t generally perceived to be overly intellectual either.

Also, what the fuck does ‘overly’ intellectual mean? My cats are more intellectual than a sandwich (although that may be arguable). From the sandwich’s point of view, does that make the cats ‘overly’ intellectual? Surely ‘overly’ is relative?

Back to the definition – and this one is my personal favourite.

3. a carnival performer who performs sensationally morbid or disgusting acts, as biting off the head of a live chicken.

Dude.

Seriously.

So in summary, a ‘geek’ is an overly intellectual, peculiar, dislikable person who is a computer enthusiast (or expert) – at least when they’re not biting the heads off random poultry. I’m glad we sorted that out. Another mystery solved!

This bit’s really interesting though, ‘cos it’s all about the etymology. Not entomolgy, because that’d, like, be about bees and shit. Or bee shit. Or, whatever.

Origin:

1915- 20; probably variant of geck  (mainly Scots ) fool < Dutch  or Low German gek

So.

To summarise the summary, a ‘geek’ is an foolish, overly intellectual, peculiar, dislikable person who is a computer enthusiast (or expert) – at least when they’re not biting the heads off random poultry.

My, I’m glad I don’t know anybody like that. Wait. Nearly all my friends are like that! And please note. FRIENDS. I have them. THEY have them. We all have friends. So listen, kids. ‘Geek’ is just a label. But don’t think you can save yourself from the chicken liberation front by changing it to ‘nerd’. That’s even worse. Look at this:

nerd
[nurd]

noun, Slang.

1.a stupid, irritating, ineffectual, or unattractive person.
2.an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit: a computer nerd (eg).

So now, not only are you the Clever Terror of the Barnyard, but you’re ugly to go with it.

‘Nerd’ is probably the better choice for people with keen interests in their hobby, but I find it interesting that the definitions are presented that way round. When someone says the word ‘nerd ‘ (hey! That rhymes!) to me, I think of someone who’s mad-keen on something they really enjoy. When I hear the word ‘geek’, I think of someone who’s bloody clever and maybe a bit socially awkward – but not necessarily the kind of person you don’t dare talk to for fear of them spitting feathers at you. Literally.
‘Geek’ and ‘nerd’ are two playground labels that exist beyond into the realms of adulthood. Social groups have always had a need to pigeonhole people and make gross generalisations. Nearly everyone of my generation and onwards has grown up with a computer of some sort in the house. They are geeks whether they realise it or not. They may not fully fit the perceived profile, but by definition – there you go.
But we geeks and nerds have in-jokes. And when there are in-jokes, the ‘norms’ can’t bear it. Remember that and wear your geek/nerd label with pride. Remember. People are only spiteful because they a) don’t understand, b) are jealous and c) are scared you’ll make them look like the thick-as-pigshit moron they actually are.
So speak out with your geek out. Or, if you’re more comfortable, get your word out with your nerd out. Be ugly, intelligent, clever and probably richer than the spiteful sods who don’t ‘get’ geek.
Be happy. That’s what it’s all about.

AS I FAIL AT BEING EITHER A GEEK OR A NERD, THE FORMATTING IN THIS POST WENT A BIT MAD. AND YOU KNOW WHAT? I JUST DON’T CARE.

This. This is funny.

Reasons Why I’m Not Missing LRP #6

Reasons Why I’m Not Missing LRP #6… People Problems and Playground Politics

OK, here we are on the penultimate entry of this week’s worth of reasons why I’m not missing LRP this year. This one’s possibly far more personal to me than a generic reason. So is tomorrow’s. But I’m pretty sure that other people will ‘get’ what I’m talking about with these following examples. There are specific examples as well, but depending on how ranty I get, I may or may not get to them.

This may be slightly cathartic, as well. I make no apologies. This particular entry contains a lot of the real personal heart behind my decision to walk away from the hobby this year.

1) You can’t ‘win’ LRP. Well, not as such. Your character staying alive is generally the only real ‘win’ condition. People get so outrageously precious about their characters that they start cheating. Yes, that’s right. They cheat. They conveniently ignore the fact that they have three hits per location and have just taken their twelfth hit to their unarmoured  head. Why, guys? Yeah, it means you have to roll down in the mud and (hopefully) wait for a healer to get to you. And if a healer doesn’t get to you, you get up off the floor, dust yourself down and go create a new character. Things you should not do when your character dies include (but aren’t limited to):-

– throw a paddy, get physically abusive in an OOC capacity or generally throw objects around like some sort of toddler.
– argue with the person who killed you that they had carefully planned it for months ahead of time when in fact this was not the case.
– immediately create the brother/sister/cousin/son/random friend of your previous character and ‘investigate’ how they died.

Your character died. Get over it. Don’t spend the next ten years bemoaning it. OK, moving on before I start really getting grumpy.

2) Share the Love.  Plot hoovers, I’m talking to you. Just don’t do it. You have no real concept how much you ruin the game for other people with your selfishness.

For those of you who don’t know what a plot hoover is… it’s specifically someone who sucks up all the game world and/or faction plot points and generally refuses to share it with anybody else. This hoarding of the fun makes them Somehow More Special than everyone else. Other players can periodically be heard to say ‘there’s no plot/there’s nothing going on/I’m bored’ or words to that effect. Everyone knows who the plot hoovers are and yet I’ve sat by and watched people deliberately overlook maybe ten players sitting outside a tent looking for something to do just so they can go straight to the Usual Suspects.

Also, Players! If you actually refuse to interact with plot even when it’s (literally in some cases) thrown directly at you, then do NOT start bleating that there’s no plot. Do not ever do this. Nobody would do this, would they?

Hah.

3) Show a little gratitude, eh? Players. You have a plot team. You have a command team. Outside of this is the greater world of the game team. They work hard to provide plot for you to play along with. They work hard and they don’t get paid for doing it. Most of them have full time jobs and families. All of them invest a lot of time and effort to bring you a game to actually interact with. So if it’s not to your personal taste, instead of bitching about it loudly, or complaining that You Could Have Written It Better (frequently to the face of the person who has written the plot), why not have a rational, adult conversation with your plot team and say ‘could we look at doing something like… [insert thing here]’. Even better, offer to help.

Don’t be so ungrateful.

4) RTFM. Or, in this case, Read the Fucking Rules. Understand what the ‘Tracking’ skill does and does not allow you to do. Learn what ‘Sniff’ will and will not tell you. This applies to refs every bit as much as players, by the way. Learn your bloody spell vocals instead of going ‘humuna… humuna… humuna… MAGIC MISSILE!’ Oh, and tear your spell cards in half instead of stuffing them in your pocket to use again later, you cheating bastard. Don’t think the refs don’t see you doing this, because believe you me… they do.

5) OOC is Not IC. And IC is Not OOC. Just because you learn something OOC (for example, that your mate Bob’s character was murdered on the path and left in the bushes), do not immediately apply this knowledge IC. YOUR CHARACTER HASN’T FOUND OUT THE FACTS, YOU HAVE. See also: cheating. Also, don’t start bitching on that ‘they did it on purpose so they could get all the power’.

The other way around… just because Bob the Troll was rude and abrasive to you IC, does not mean that Bob the player is the same. Don’t treat them as if they are. They might be rude and abrasive OOC as well of course, but that is something you should find out… not presume.

Crikey, I’m getting majorly ranty. Sorry about this.

6) Stop Backstabbing People. If you have a problem with someone at LRP, for whatever reason, then have the decency to address the issue with them directly. Having an issue is not some sort of pyramid selling thing. Don’t complain about it to two other people so that they can then go and tell two other people each and so on until through the marvel of LRP Chinese Whispers, the original issue is blown massively out of proportion and cannot ever be resolved to people’s satisfaction.

This is going on and on a bit and I’m sorry that it’s so shouty and decidedly not light-hearted. But… people asked me for the reasons I walked away. Sometimes that means that they might not hear what they expected. Or maybe it is what they expected. Perhaps if there are LRP players who are guilty of any or all of the above (and I don’t say there are, just that there might be) who read it might see it for the ludicrous behaviour it is. Somehow, I don’t think they will though.

Above all else, remember the key thing we learned during yesterday’s lesson.

IT’S A GAME.