The Lazarus Effect

So I’ve not blogged much for a while. Actually, I’ve not done a lot of anything for a while. This is down to a number of reasons, entirely too plentiful and yet outstandingly dull to go into detail about here.

So instead, the weather. Seeing as that and 50 Shades of Grey are the only things people seem capable of discussing, why not join in? What about that rain? Seriously. It started raining sometime in May and has been pretty determined to make life miserable ever since. Ironically, my mood has possibly not been helped much by the persistent precipitation. Perhaps with the sudden emergence of sunshine from behind the dull, sodden clouds, my mood is about to take a swing in the right direction?

I digress. Some writing stuff first.

I’ve been working on edits for Project: Loophole for a few days now. This is the first of my projects to date that has fairly major changes to be made and it’s a very steep learning curve. It’s one thing to make a few tweaks to a story here and there; to insert a few extra scenes featuring a particular character (a’la Jeremiah in TGR), or to slightly change the thrust of a chapter. It’s something entirely different to do what is, in essence, a rewrite. I’m learning as I go and it’s a relief that quite a lot of stuff can be salvaged whole, or only slightly re-written to make it fit that little bit better.

Also, to end speculation on the matter and to directly reply to those of you who’ve demanded the truth from me… Project: Loophole is novel-sized. It features Silver Skulls. A lot of Silver Skulls. It now also features an extra contingent of Bad Guys who weren’t in the original completed manuscript. I am very enthusiastic about them and after a few conversations back and forth with my editor, very excited to get them written in. I’m about to start doing that bit and that’s definite woken up my writing mojo. Due to the aforementioned apathy and its associated reasons, my enthusiasm for… well, anything really… has been severely impaired for a few weeks.

Feedback on Valkia the Bloody continues to be pretty positive, which is a boost to the ol’ flagging spirits when you’re a bit low.

The Lazarus Effect is thus so far applying to me personally and to Project: Loophole.

I’ve done some Other Writing too; I’ve written a light-hearted fantasy story for an upcoming anthology called ‘Tales from the Nun and Dragon’ from Fox Spirit which is due out in August – see here – and I’m busily writing another submission for Something Else.

Next up, some work stuff. This will be brief.

Work has been terrible. I have been very determinedly job hunting and may have an interview next Friday. I’ve been sent for shortlisting which is a good sign, but I’m still waiting for the final yay/nay on whether I actually have an interview at all. The fact I’ve been shortlisted is frankly brilliant, because the role calls for a certain number of qualifications that I don’t have – but I have equivalent work experience. It’s heartening that this has obviously been taken into account. Of course, it also increases the possibility of losing out to someone who has the qualifications. But who doesn’t necessarily have the work experience to back it up.

Difficult one that.

In the meantime, I’m planning to hold out here for another couple of months at most and then fall back on temp work if I can’t find something permanent. The aforementioned aforementioned apathy is largely in part down to work-related stress and to be honest? It might be a case that it pays the bills, but it’s not worth getting unwell over.

So Project: Find Another Job is well established.

Been watching ‘The Hollow Crown’, the BBC adaptations of Richard II, Henry IV pt 1 & 2 and to come, Henry V. And they have been utterly, utterly wonderful. If you haven’t watched these, do it. They are amongst Shakespeare’s greatest plays (for me, at least) and I can’t wait to watch Tom Hiddleston as he flounces about Agincourt this Saturday…

All in all, life ticks over without much difference (but with increased stress). Some wonderful things have happened and some less than wonderful things have emerged to take their place. Equilibrium is not quite yet restored, but it’s definitely getting there.

To paraphrase ADB’s Night Lords… so how are you, then?

 

Pitching In

A beautiful sunny Sunday in the north east, which means that I’m all full of hay fever and headache from said hay fever. Don’t get me wrong; I love the warm weather. I don’t enjoy the fact that if I forget to take a 24 hour antihistamine BEFORE I go to bed, I wake up feeling like someone has repeatedly pounded me across the face with a mallet.

This is what hayfever does to my head.

Guess what I didn’t do last night?

We did have our annual Eurovision party last night. The ‘event’ itself is getting increasingly more professional, which is somehow disappointing. Gone are the multiple acts like this year’s Russian grandmothers, or the Skyrim blacksmith from Moldova and instead there are X-Factor-style vocalists warbling their way through stodgy ballads. Greece and Romania are the only countries who repeatedly produce Eurovision songs that actually have an ethnic feel to them; the Greek song sounded Greek, the Romanian song sounded Romanian. Not entirely sure what the dreadlock/sea serpent headed Albanian woman was squawking about, but she had the kind of high-pitched shriek (in tune, to be fair!) that probably sent dogs across the Eurozone running. Wish more countries would get behind that. I note that our entry, the esteemed Englebert Humperdinck came second to last. Awesome. Fun fact of the evening was that with the plethora of Eastern European countries now dominating the contest, the Hump is actually older than some of the competing nations. And as for the voting. Frankly, that’s just turning into a joke now. We ditched the voting halfway through when it became obvious Sweden were going to win and watched Tucker and Dale vs Evil instead.

The last couple of weeks have been taken up with writing pitches. A lot of pitches. This is a necessary part of the writing process that I know a lot of people don’t enjoy. I do enjoy it. I like the brainstorming element of putting a couple of ideas down on paper and then using my imagination to draw a line between them. Sometimes the line goes off on a bit of a tangent and takes me to a story that I’d not even considered. Sometimes it’s a struggle. Sometimes it’s a breeze – but it’s bloody useful regardless. Having a pitch proves that you have a plan – and when you’re writing, even deviating slightly from the original idea can take you so far off course that if you didn’t have ‘Plan A’, you’d never get back. If my pitches were graphic representations of my mind, they’d be frightening things. Like those drawn by my hero.

Yes. He’s my hero. The poor, stupid bastard. Always being beaten down, but always bouncing back and never giving up.

One good thing to do, certainly with short story pitches, is limit your summary to 500 words. If you can’t tell the story succinctly in 500 words, you can’t tell it. That was the advice my editor gave me when I first started writing for him.

Also in this past week, I’ve been putting the finishing touches to Project: IT’S ALIVE, something about which I hope to expand on more in the not-too-distant future and have also revisited – albeit briefly – the bare bones of a steampunk story I started writing after attending a workshop with the wonderful Kim Lakin-Smith at alt.fiction. Oh, and working. I’ve been doing that, too, but least said, soonest mended and all that. Suffice it to say, the job hunt continues.

The winner of my Valkia contest received his prize and read the book from start to finish on the day he got it. He had nice things to say about it, which was brilliantly pleasing. The first Actual Review of it has appeared online as well, here.

So all is well. Ticking over and stuff. Whoop!

Two Down, Three To Go… (Or: The Importance of Numbers)

…days, that is. Until I have a break from the Day Job for a couple of weeks. We’re not going on holiday or anything like that… mostly we’re staying here and getting some household things sorted out. There will be trips, no doubt. There are too many castles and bits of old Roman wall up in this neck of the woods to resist!

Housesteads Roman Fort

Housesteads Roman Fort. Where the view probably hasn't changed an awful lot since the Romans packed up and left.

The Day Job isn’t so bad just now. After recently having a very good conversation with a friend, I simply tried shifting my perspective a little and it’s been very good advice. I’ve applied it to several situations and all in all, things are pretty much ticking along in the world of work without too much hardship. Things have eased off considerably now that the team is back up to full strength again; we’ve had a few months where we’ve been struggling to cope with our own workloads and those of two full time members of staff who’ve either moved onto new things or gone on maternity leave. But we’re all still alive, so things are good. So that’s the Day Job. Two days of this week down, three to go. Numbers, numbers, numbers.

The Other Job though… man. I’m so, so busy right now with so much going on that I keep having to pinch myself. The bulk of work I’m doing is for the Black Library – biggest project being Valkia the Bloody, with a couple of other smaller things going on. There’s also two or three non-BL projects going on as well which whilst they aren’t eating up as much of my time are still pretty hectic. I’m still keeping myself to a limit though: if I spent all night every night when I got in writing I’d go quietly mad. More mad. Your mileage, as they say, may vary. My daily 1,000 word base target has recently increased to 1,200 minimum (on ALL projects, not on each) and that’s going well. Those extra 200 words make a hellish difference to an overall word count and thus do wonders for your morale.

For example, I just went over the halfway mark for Valkia the Bloody. I’m not quite at my end of August target, but if I keep up the 1,200 words per day between now and then, I’ll be 8k ABOVE it. Whilst this doesn’t mean that I’ll back off and slow the pace, it certainly gives me a bit of room to breathe during my two weeks off. Knowing I won’t be sitting there day after day muttering to myself whilst attempting to do housework, entertain Small and the Chimp and generally enjoy being off work is very encouraging.

So yes. Numbers are important. I was always interested in ‘how many words have I written’ in the days when I was writing short stories and that’s now become something massively important. I’m more and more frequently being asked for advice and stuff like that (gawd, people, don’t ask me – I’m only PRETENDING I know anything!) And so here’s the advice based on the numbers game.

Word counting is important… but it’s not the be-all-end-all of what you’re doing. If you only write 450 words a day, as long as they are words that you are happy with… as long as they are words that progress the story, even if only a little, then be content. Think that 450 words is better than no words. Because that’s not only accurate, it’s true.

If you don’t make your target… don’t beat yourself up about it. Ladies and germs, this is definitely a DO WHAT I SAY, NOT WHAT I DO situation. Savvy?

Be realistic… about your targets. If you work full time and do your writing in that sneaky little space between getting home and before the family gets in (like I do), don’t go ‘I can achieve 5,000 words in that time and if I don’t, I’ll NEVER DO IT etc., etc., etc.’ Work out what’s reasonable and realistic for you. If you aren’t on a formal deadline, great – but it’s well worth the practise. I get away with getting a lot of words into  a short space because I can touch-type. Very fast. In fact, whenever I’m typing, it sounds like herds of wildebeest. And these guys are not sweeping majestically across the plains; no. These fellas are stampeding. An aside: learn to touch-type if you can’t already. One of the best skills I ever learned – even more so now that I am writing!

OK, that’s enough of that. There will be more advice (bad, good or whatever) at some point. When I remember to blog, mostly.

In the meantime, I was invited to write a guest blog for Civilian Reader, which you can see here.

And stealing the idea shamelessly from the illustrious Jim Swallow, here’s a sort of ‘Coming Soon’… there’s some other things too, but because I’m still new at this, I never know what I can and can’t talk about!

Zomgoose. I have signing events.

September 25th – Games Day UK, Birmingham NEC, signing pre-release copies of The Gildar Rift
November 12th – Signing copies of The Gildar Rift at Games Workshop, Durham
November 19th –
Signing copies of The Gildar Rift at Warhammer World, Nottingham
May 2012 – Release of The Architect of Fate, including my novella-length story ‘Accursed Eternity‘.
July 2012 – Release of Valkia the Bloody

And as a final inclusion… just look at this beeeeeeeeyooooootiful Space Marine.

Look at it.

A Son of Sanguinius just standing there. AND HE'S STILL COOL WHILST HE'S DOING IT.

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Well, not so much bloody as snowy.  Was supposed to be going down to Leeds to Kayleigh and Spencer’s place, but the persistent White Stuff has returned, which coupled with a phone call to advise me that there was about six inches of the stuff in Leeds already put an end to that plan.

Have been quietly productive over the weekend.  In light of what I ranted about the other day regarding my online stories being a sort of ‘scrap book for the writing soul’, I took one of them gently from its rack, gave it a polish and put it back.  Then I looked at it, took it down again and gave it a second polish and shine.  I’m quite pleased with the results. 

The fic in question is A Human Moment, one of my personal favourite character vignettes. I like character pieces. I love creating characters and giving them sense and purpose and style and shape. I like to just put them into situations and write for them, seeing how they react. A number of my characters have deviated from their original conception in this way. But that’s good, for me, at least. Characters who don’t behave the way you predict can sometimes bring their own stories with them.

Bimbled around on WoW yesterday… was truly awesome to ‘bump’ into Katie and her Level 80 Ninja Pirate, or whatever the heck she is.  Whatever it is, it’s ultra-cool.  🙂

Other than that, this weekend is particularly quiet.  ‘Being Human’ tonight (yay!) and we have pork for dinner. Delicious food brought to you from the heart of the Omnomnomnicon.

And tomorrow… back to work, back to reality and all that entails.

Literary Rantings

I arrive fresh from ranting (rather rudely, I do apologise) on Nick Kyme’s journal entry regarding reading.  The rant was around what constitutes a ‘good’ book and my point was that surely a ‘good’ book is entirely objective?  Read the rant there if you wish: it largely centres around ‘Pride and Prejudice’, a book I disliked with such vitriolic disgust that it’s the only book I’ve ever considered throwing away.

(I didn’t, of course, it’s still on my bookcase).

But it’s true.  Take the Horus Heresy books.  Dearly Beloved disliked ‘Battle for the Abyss’, whilst I rather enjoyed it.  He waxes lyrical about ‘Legion’ and I couldn’t get into that one at all.  (For the record, we both loved ‘Flight of the Eisenstein’ – one on the scoreboard for James Swallow).

I’ve tried for a long time to pull myself out of the fantasy/sci-fi genre.  I pick up the occasional non-genre book, but rarely get engaged by them.  ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’ is one exception to this rule.  I loved that.

I think part of the reason is that for me, at least, I prefer my author to tell me a story, not to demonstrate how clever, or quirky, or ‘off the wall’ they can be – does that make any sense? I like to be entertained when I’m reading.  I like my emotions to be taken for a rollercoaster ride.  I like to laugh. 

I’m not that hard to please, literary-wise.  Good characterisation, good dialogue, good story – and I’m sold.  (The ‘Dresden Files‘ books by Jim Butcher meet that criteria bang-on, I have to say – there hasn’t been a bad one of them yet.  And at the same time, his fantasy series didn’t pull me in nearly as much.  More Harry, please Jim!)

There.  I’ve got the rant out of my system now.

On Writing W40K Stories – Thoughts

So then.  To answer some questions I’ve had, let’s address this one.

Why are you writing stories in the W40K Universe?

I’ve been writing for a long time, but only dared dip my toe into the W40K universe for the first time in June 2009.  I had this idea of what I wanted to do, sat down at the computer and produced Life’s Blood. (One of these days I’m going to revisit it; because even in four months my style has changed).

I discovered that I really enjoyed writing it and was rather chuffed when people posted positive feedback about it.  It wasn’t until someway into it and some way down the comments thread that I made a realisation.

All these people, I thought, think I’m a bloke.

At first, I was faintly amused and not bothered by the fact, so I didn’t bother correcting anybody when they said ‘he’, or ‘his’, etc.  But as time wore on, I started to feel –  of the gamut of emotions out there – guilty.  Should I ‘fess up, I wondered?  Should I come clean about being of the female persuasion (excuse my use of the ‘f’ word)?  But then I started to worry.  What if, when this majority of males discovered I had the wrong pairing of chromosomes, they all stopped reading my stuff?

Irrational?  Yes, probably, but it was a very real anxiety.  In fact, it took convincing and some very kind encouragement from the very lovely Nick Kyme and the equally lovely Graham McNeill (the great deflowerer of virgin t-shirts) to go with my instincts.  In fact, Graham McNeill said, how do you know that I’M not a girl?  I didn’t, of course.  It was the best sentence ever, because it made me a) laugh and b) take the plunge and Come Out.

The guys in the writing thread I was currently with were all like ‘wow, really? That’s sort of cool’ and nothing changed.

Since then, I’ve produced so much W40K stuff.  It’s like the whole concept of not being shunned simply because I’m female has spurred me onwards.  It’s a universe I very much enjoy writing in.  I’m also now leaning towards prodding my toe into the slightly-less-murky waters of the Warhammer Fantasy universe as well, which is just plain greedy.

I was chatting to Chris Wraight at Games Day and we had a conversation (albeit brief, and with me looking over my shoulder for people wanting him to do what he was actually there to do – y’know, sign books and not be hogged by a wannabe writer) about the fact that the thing I really enjoy is the human element of the Space Marines.  Somewhere underneath those slabs of muscle, there’s a once-human trying to get out.  In the early Horus Heresy books, I utterly loved the moral struggles that Garviel Loken underwent.  I loved how easy it was to forget that they’re all man-mountain super-ultra mega killing machines…

(Distraction: one of my friends just logged onto MSN.  His screen name is Abaddon, which is of course very cool.  His avatar, however, is Beaker from the Muppet Show…which is less so.  My poor brain has great difficulty reconciling those two).

…I loved how easy it was to forget that they’re all man-mountain super-ultra mega killing machines.  I loved the interaction, loved the bonding of brotherhood…was just pulled into the togetherness of what it means to be a Marine.  Of what it means to be loyal unto death.  Of what it means to live your life according to an often questionable moral code.  I was hooked.  I love writing about these guys, I thought.

After ‘Life’s Blood’, I thought that was it.  I thought that was all I could come up with.  But then I got pulled into a writing group who were developing a lesser-known successor chapter of the Ultramarines – the Silver Skulls – and I was pulled in with the opportunity to pick up the Tenth Company and write for a bunch of scouts.  Not quite human, not quite Astartes…joy of joys.

Thus, along came Primary Instinct, a tale of brotherhood, blood, sweat and Really Scary Aliens which I found allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone of character pieces.  I discovered that I COULD write action scenes, and hey, they weren’t too bad, either.

And then, oh joy of joys, someone asked me if I would like to create a squad of Assault Marines from the Silver Skulls to take part in a group story, and Sergeant Gileas Urten, the character with whom I have connected the most was born.  He showed up first in On Swift Wings, and hasn’t left my head since.  Nearly everything I’ve written since features him in one form or other.

These were the two moments when I lost every second of my free time to an impulsive, fiery Silver Skulls Assault Marine.

Two of the rebels were dead before all five Marines had even landed. Gileas ran a third through with his chainsword, then powered the weapon up, spinning and whirling like a dervish through the rebels. He split skulls and dismembered wherever he went, completely and utterly engrossed in the deadly, destructive dance of death that he was so very, very good at.

and

Breathing heavily, Gileas reached up and unclasped his helmet, shaking out his sweat-dampened mane of thick, unruly, dark, shoulder-length hair. It was at moments like this, just after battle, with his hair dampened into black curls that clung to the tanned skin of his face, his eyes wild and bright with something far more primitive than simple battle-fury, that Gileas looked every bit the southern savage of legend. Even if he hadn’t been an Astartes, Gileas Urten would have been a giant bear of a man.

Gileas (Gil to his friends) has been a joy to write about.  I’m presently writing Childhood’s End which is a REAL exercise in W40K writing – because it barely features Space Marines or technology at all.  It’s all about Gileas’s legendary (amongst the Silver Skulls at least) journey from his home with the tribal people of Southern Varsavia all the way to the Fortress Monastery in the far north.  And it’s like writing  a piece of history.  I’m loving writing it.  I’m hoping people are enjoying reading it.

So I shall carry on with my W40K writing, Being Female be damned, and continue to hope that someone, somewhere is having a nice time reading these stories.

Well, this went on longer than I anticipated.  Someone let me start talking about Gileas again, didn’t they?

Winter Warriors – First Observation

So.  Despite the interwebs trying to seduce me with its unique brand of Very Shiny (and by the NEW (capital letters vital,  it seems) Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook telling me that I’m a) Spectacular and b) Awesome), I still managed to pull Winter Warriors off the shelf.  I intend to do a proper ‘understanding’ critique, from a writer viewpoint, but not all at once.  Don’t worry.  It’ll merely crop up here and there.  In this little ‘essay’, I want to talk about what makes me want to keep reading the book once I’ve started.

Winter Warriors - David Gemmell

Winter Warriors - David Gemmell

David Gemmell, may he rest in peace, was a good fantasy writer.  No, I’d go a stage further.  He was a great fantasy writer.  I can’t actually remember anything of his that I have read which I didn’t enjoy.  Winter Warriors was one that I didn’t read for quite some time and which when I HAD read made me wonder what it was that had taken me quite so long.

Now, I could wax lyrical and at great length about the entire story, but that wouldn’t be conducive to those of you who may  not have read it.  And besides, this is my effort to really break down what it is about the book that I like so much.

As a consequence, this is pretty long, probably very boring stuff, but it forces me into a mindset where I really start to analyse what I like, or what I don’t like.  So I will, very shortly, force the rest of this post into a cut so as not to drive you insane with my turgid burblings.

Winter Warriors is a book that I love.  It is heavily dependent on the characters within the story driving it forward and without their development throughout, it would be Just Another Fantasy book.  It’s the beauty of the three central protagonists – Nogusta, the swordsman, Kebra the Bowman and the almost instantly delightful Bison, a huge fighter that truly make this book, to my mind at least, legendary.  These three men are the fading remnants of a once great army and the book focuses heavily on their struggles to go do the voodoo they used to do so well. 

Continue reading