Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

I’ve always liked autumn. It makes me think of my mother.

My mother used to create oil paintings. Almost invariably, they were scenes of mountains, rivers and trees. Mum liked these things and she enjoyed putting them onto canvas. It was always a scene of a river leading off into a lake with a mountain in the background. Sometimes when I see one of her paintings, I like to think that’s where she is now and that one day, I’ll be walking along the banks of the river, next to the trees and she’ll be there, just beyond the picture’s reach.

She liked autumn colours most of all.

Not long before she died, she promised me a set of four paintings; the same scene in all four seasons. She only ever did the first one. She picked autumn.

See? Just around the bend in the river, behind the trees.

I keep meaning to sort out a frame for this painting, because the one she put on it got broken in one of the many house moves I’ve had since she gave it to me. But whenever I look at it, I remember her and it’s a nice feeling. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about her, or miss her or wish I could have ‘one more conversation’ with her. She always knew the right thing to say or the right little gesture to make everything right. That’s a mum’s job, I think. I like to think Not So Small Son thinks that way about me. I’d ask him, but he’s currently engrossed in a game of Team Fortress 2 with headphones over his ears, happily oblivious to his mum pouring her heart out on a blog post.

Bless.

So anyway, yes. I like autumn. There’s this heady ripeness about it as a season. If spring is the playful childishness of a year whilst summer is its exuberant youth, autumn is the mature part of the year. The year in its prime; with the capability of slipping back into a summer day without warning or freezing you into two duvets. Autumn is a season that’s all about the senses. The colours in the trees, the smell of frost in the air and bonfires; the smell of the leafmould in the woods. The sound of dead leaves crackling underfoot and the sounds of fireworks (which seem to pretty much herald the arrival of autumn now!). It’s a bountiful time and I’m grateful for all that I have. Every so often, I stop to remind myself just how incredibly lucky I am to have a roof over my head; a husband and son who I love more than anything and outstanding friends.

In other news, Tales of the Nun & Dragon is now on release; early feedback has been very positive, including on my own contribution, the rather tongue-in-cheek Ballad of Gilrain, a story featuring a less-than-competent hero and his long-suffering servant who set out on a quest to slay a dragon.

Edits on Project: Loophole are going pretty well – for those of you who haven’t seen me mention this on Twitter, this is a Silver Skulls novel. My revised manuscript is due in at the end of September and I’m happy to say that after a few… less than productive weeks, I’m back on form and words are flying freely once again. Things are good on that front. I’m not going to Games Day this year which is a shame as I loved it last year, but the Black Library Weekender in November is coming up and I’m looking forward to it enormously.

Project: Backburner is sitting demanding some love once I’ve done with that, too. Project: Backburner is an urban fantasy story set locally (for me) in Durham and again, is not Entirely Serious.

Have an extract. Enjoy autumn.

EDWARD LEWIS FLANAGAN III had been born into the world some thirty six years previously, in a small town outside of Dublin. The youngest of six, he was also the only boy – and the horrors he experienced growing up at the hands of all that oestrogen had stood him in excellent stead for the path his life would take.

His childhood was supremely normal, apart from the expected mocking he received from the other children due to his apparently comical initials. ‘Little Elf’ was the nickname he received on his first day at school and it lasted barely more than a week before the five year old Ed – known even then by his family as ‘Just Ed’ – was in trouble for fighting.

Apart from this demonstration of ferocity, he was a remarkably placid boy who was well liked by his elders and peers alike. He was polite, well-mannered and intelligent. It was this intelligence that led him to Durham University to study Ancient History.

He had long yearned to get out of Ireland and studying offered him a route that came with the additional benefit of indulging his favourite thing. Ancient History fascinated Ed. He had keen hopes of either becoming a museum curator, a lecturer or, at a push, Indiana Jones. His brief sojurn into archaeology ended when out of boundless enthusiasm (and in an attempt to get laid) he had accompanied a girlfriend on a trip to the Outer Hebrides. Sitting for endless hours in an ancient midden, discovering what coprolite was had started out quietly entertaining.

Then, as time wore on, with the rain hammering down on him and with the real archaelogists sneeringly laughing at what they called ‘the wrong kind of trowel’ any of Ed’s Jones-like tendencies had been severely dampened.

It also put a permanent dampener on the relationship.

He came back from the field trip to the loving embrace of academia and was glad for it. They hadn’t even managed to sleep together, either.

Durham had captivated him from the moment he had stepped off the train. The cathedral, standing its silent vigil above the Wear peninsula on which it stood drew the eye wherever you were in the city. The uneven, steep city centre with its plethora of mysterious little passageways that went the heavens only knew where… there was everything in Durham for a young man with a curious mind and a great imagination.

It’s Treachery, I Tell You!

This gentleman is not happy. At all.

Quite literally in this instance.

I have a shiny copy of Treacheries of the Space Marines to give away to someone. As ever, the prize will go to anybody who makes me laugh. I thought about a competition for a while and here you go, something topical.

The Primarch Olympics.

Which Primarch would be a gold medallist at which sport… and why?

Note: it doesn’t have to be a real sport, although I imagine Horus is a bit of a synchronised swimmer on the side.

Post your comments here! Entries close next Friday the 3rd August.

Entertain me!

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?

 

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

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.