Another Week Over…

This year’s whizzing by quite quickly. Feels like no time at all since The Gildar Rift came out and yesterday, Valkia the Bloody was unleashed on GW shops. As part of this, I spent the afternoon loitering in Games Workshop at Durham, where I signed lots of copies of the book, along with copies of The Best of Hammer & Bolter v1, Age of Legends and some copies of Architect of Fate. I had a lot of very interesting conversations with people of all ages and the shop was buzzing very nicely.

I always enjoy these things, because it’s a pleasure to meet people who enjoy reading – not just my stuff, but anything. More than one conversation was had about other works of fiction; there was one girl, perhaps about 14 years old, who was keen for suggestions on other Fantasy genre books to read. She went away with a huge list, a copy of Valkia and a smile on her face. This is entirely good.

In terms of writing, I’m on a hiatus at the moment whilst the Editor-beast goes over a bunch of pitches sitting in his in-box. I’m sure this won’t last. It’s very odd, though; I’d gotten so used to writing almost constantly that to suddenly be doing less is a real wake-up call to how hectic I’ve been for the last 18 months. No wonder I’m tired!

Work is ticking over quietly; I’ve reached the stage now where I go in, do my job and come home again. I have no love for what I’m doing, but that doesn’t mean I’ll give it anything less than my all. Ploughing on, really. It’s just so frustrating. I work hard for no thanks and little reward and if ever a job could be considered dead-end, this is it. I can’t advance or progress, there’s nowhere to advance or progress to. And quite honestly, constantly fighting against the government’s outrageously stupid targets is soul-destroying.

Himself, on the other hand… is successfully escaping the clutches of his current pea-brained employers and has landed himself a job with Games Workshop. He’s going for his induction day on 9th July and this is entirely good for him. If he’s going to stay in retail, he’ll at least be in an industry he enjoys, doing something he likes with like-minded people and where the employers themselves actually invest time and effort in developing their employees. Still means I’ll not see him at weekends, but hey… perhaps that’s just me being selfish.

Oh – and a nice review of Valkia the Bloody appeared this morning at the Founding Fields.

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.

Continue reading

Valkia the Bloody – Extract

E-book copies of Valkia the Bloody will be available tomorrow from the Black Library website. As part of this, today’s blog had an extract, which I shall duplicate here. 🙂

* * *

‘You could concede defeat to me now, girl.’ Locephax by the light of cold day was nowhere near the mysterious creature he had been by torchlight. The silvery hair sapped all of the colour from him and he seemed, to Valkia’s eyes, almost insipid. ‘Admit that I am your better and take your place at my side. Your days will be filled with all you desire and your nights will be spent in pleasurable ecstasy.’ His eyes narrowed to slits, the purple glow of them almost disappearing beneath his lids and long lashes. ‘I am offering you so much more than the snows of the north and the ingratitude of these barbarous people. If you come with me now, you will be a true queen.’

‘I will be your slave. That was what you said.’ She finally found her voice. ‘And that will not come to pass. Ever. Now still your tongue and fight me.’

‘I admire your courage and tenacity, Valkia,’ Locephax said with a cruel sneer on his face. ‘But I think you should know that I can maintain this for as long as necessary. And I can use many of my master’s gifts to help me. For instance…’

The man turned slightly and cast an expert eye around the carnage. Over the sound of her wheezing lungs Valkia could hear that there were still struggles going on amidst the chaos as her people sought to master themselves once again. Bodies lay everywhere, some clearly unconscious from their exertions while others lay in bloody disarray, their limbs and heads hacked away by frenzied hands. The Schwarzvolf were broken. The thought sent a new shock of anger through the exhausted queen. Her people, the tribe she had lifted from the dust and forged into the mightiest power of the steppe were broken. In the space of a single night this foppish stranger had undone the work of years.

Locephax was talking again and gesturing to the figures slinking through the shadows, but Valkia could no longer hear him. A fury was filling her, stiffening her tired muscles with a strength she did not know she possessed. She blinked the blood from her eyes and stared with naked hatred at the creature that had invaded her home. The man, if he truly was a man, was beckoning to someone. He still wore that disgusting grin on his face, clearly enjoying the destruction he wrought. She needed to kill him. It felt as though there was a colossal pressure building behind her eyes. It crackled along her limbs and filled her heart to bursting.

A voice in the distance roared in defiance and a detached part of her recognised Hepsus as he bellowed in denial. Every bone, every muscle, every sinew, every part of Valkia filled with the terrible need to tear Locephax apart, to cut the head from his shoulders and bathe in his blood. Nothing could stop her. A flurry of cinders gusted past her on the breeze, the dancing motes of ash and sparks seeming to crawl past in slow motion.

‘Blood…’ Valkia growled, though it was the voice of a stranger.

Locephax’s perfect, violet eyes widened fractionally in surprise and he started to turn. He moved so slowly she wondered how she had been unable to strike him before.

‘Blood… for the Blood God.’

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!

Bringing a Little Colour…

First off, thank you to everyone who took part in my spontaneous Valkia the Bloody competition. You all made me laugh hugely and that’s always greatly appreciated! I sometimes regret running competitions, because I then have to pick winners… but Fluxeor and Cyrillus‘s entries made me genuinely spray tea whilst watching. Congrats guys – drop me an email at pyroriffic@gmail.com and I’ll sort out sending you your signed copies. (Aside: I just mis-typed that as ‘singed copies’, I promise not to set fire to them).

Now, rambling ahead. You have been warned.

Did it rain on St. Swithun’s Day or something? Seriously, I am properly cheesed off with the rain now. Every morning for what feels like the past umptybajillion days I’ve got out of bed and opened the curtains.

‘Wha’s s’like?’ says the Husband sleepily.

‘Grey,’ I reply in a dull monotone. And that just about sums up this weather and what it does to my mood. Grey. If you took all the books in the British Library, wrote the word ‘grey’ repeatedly on every page, painted over the top with grey paint, then bound them in grey leather and put them on grey-painted bookcases in a grey room, that’s pretty much what it’s been like since the rain started.

Yes, there’s green out there at the moment, but it doesn’t offset the grey so very well.

Summer is threatening to emerge from just around the corner though. I chanced a glance at the weather forecast and instead of the little grey lines symbol for next week, there’s this weird yellow round thing. I was honestly shocked. I’ve really and truly forgotten what it’s like to see that on a weather forecast. And that made me a bit happier.

I just happened to glance down. Today, I’m wearing grey. Was it a conscious choice, I wonder? I should go and change; wear something red or orange or (god forbid), yellow. Let me explain. I had a story idea once about a magical being of light whose Arch Enemy [tm] captured him and ‘Imprismed’ him: split his core personality into components represented by each of the colours of the rainbow. Each of these shards flew off into the ether never to be seen again. The Handsome Hero’s task was to roam the world and find these mysterious beings. Red was the colour of war, green was nature, blue was water… yellow was the sunny personality character who you’d want to slaughter by the end of Book One.

I don’t want to be yellow. I want to be the Indigo Wizard; dark and brooding and generally a bit sulky that I don’t officially get noted as a colour in the spectrum any more. (This is true. It’s like Pluto being declassified and not being a planet any more; what are scientists trying to DO to my childhood mnemonics? ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle Vain’ sounds stupid, as does ‘My Very Elderly Mother Just Shot Uncle Ned’s…’ I suppose you could change to that ‘Ned’, but then you’re encouraging kids to talk about murderous octogenarians.

Anyway, it’s a Saturday. I planned to take Smallish Son into town and indulge in cake and coffee with him, but he’s being a teenager and staying in bed with a Studio Ghibli film, which despite my lack-of-cake disappointment, I can’t criticise. This leaves me free to throw myself into my writing work. I have a number of story pitches to do and I’ve realised that at least two of them feature more grey. Or silver, at least. So I’m going to hit up the beast of war in my personality and take the red path. This would be, for those of you keeping track, Project: Angstastic.

Enjoy your weekend!

Competition Time!

So. I have here, in my hand, a couple of copies of Valkia the Bloody which I’d like to put my scrawl upon and give away as competition prizes. I’ve pondered all day, wondering what I can do to make it fun and entertaining and then I hit upon the perfect solution.

Check out this website. We discovered it years ago and have had hours of fun with it. Play around. Get used to it. What I propose is… create your very own Warhammer (or Warhammer 40k) movie and post the link here! The ones that make me laugh the most will be the winners. There’s B-movie TV, Bombay TV and Abitbol TV. Use whichever you like, but please keep it reasonably free of bad language if you can manage it.

Let’s say until the end of next week – so Friday 18th May, entries are welcomed.

Over to you!

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.