Seamus Sweeney has posted a very nice review of my latest short story collection Through a Distant Mirror Darkly over on SF Site. I think this must by the first review of one of my works that has appeared on a really big SF review site, so I am very pleased! Seamus has some positive things to say about the collection as well, so that makes it even better. Such as:
Lord’s stories are engaging and possess the page-turn factor. There is a fleshy realism to his Medieval World, and yet there is no condescension either to a worldview different from ours. The supernatural element is lightly worn; those who prefer more straightforwardly “historical” fiction will still have much to enjoy, those whose preferences are with the otherworldly will find well-realised, subtle thrills in store.
I was away for the weekend and fairly busy on Friday getting ready to go away so didn’t have time to do a post. I did manage to do some writing, however. So here’s a quick summary:
Friday, 23rd August – 420 words on the start of a SF short story called Trial by Dream. I have a vague idea where this is going, the title is a clue, but otherwise I’m writing into the dark pretty much. But it’s fun!
Saturday, 24th August – nothing! We were out for most of the day, so simply didn’t have time
Sunday, 25th August – this was a travel day so actually did quite a bit of writing – nearly all of it in the car. I did a puny 55 words on Trial by Dream and 574 words on a new writing in the dark project called Dragons Above. The idea behind this one is that it will be a fantasy war themed short novel. The intro of the novel features a dwarf on Anti-Dragon Artillery duty. Loving writing this and looking forward to doing some more.
In total 629 words on Sunday, so a good day for me.
Monday, 26 August – still on holiday so things were fairly busy, but I still managed to get in 177 words – all on Trial by Dream. That’s the problem with writing two things at once – one project can slide a bit. I think I’m going to finish off Trial by Dream first (its going to be a fairly short short story) and then get into Dragons Above a bit more.
Tuesday, 27th August – another travel day, but less opportunity to write. This time did 279 fairly fun words on Trial by Dream – its interesting to see how the setting and the story is developing. I also did a bit of work on tinkering with prices and blurbs on some of my titles on Amazon and other platforms – Lulu, Smashwords and Kobo.
Should be more regular posts for the foreseeable future now!
Well I finished Time’s Arrow today (referring to 22nd by the way). Wasn’t quite sure how I would end it, but I thought it was sort of nifty, but to my mind an obvious twist, but we’ll see! I think it’s a terrible story, but they say a writer is the worse judge of their own work.
That was 140 words.
Plus I started a new SF story. Just came up with a title and then though of a vague story idea to go around it. The story is called Trial by Dream and I did a paltry 38 words after coming up with the idea.
Other work included doing some research into my Grail story idea. Decided I needed to do a bit of background reading to get me more in the mood and I also fleshed out some ideas about the story – I’m taking more planned approach to this story, whereas for Trial by Dream its seat of the pants.
So not a lot of words, but at least I’m writing a bit every day so far, which I wasn’t doing a few weeks ago.
Still feasting on Feast of Crows. I liked the first chapter for Samwell, but wasn’t sure about the next one and the description of Braavos – seems just like a fantasy Venice to me plus the Colossus of Rhodes – I’m not sure if I like fantasy settings that are transplanted so wholesale from our own real world. But I haven’t finished the chapter yet, so maybe there will be something more to it?
I am also dipping into a book called How to Read a Novel by John Sutherland. The idea behind the book is that to really appreciate reading a novel is as difficult as writing well. It’s written by an English professor, so I guess he has a vested interest in telling us that, but I see his point and I’m hoping to get something out of it. Mostly it contains lots of out of date observations about the publishing industry (it was published in 2006), but I’m hoping it will pick up soon!
Five new reads in Science Fiction Plain Dealer (blog) By John R. Alden Imagining new realms and social orders are the yeast of science fiction and fantasy. The best examples, of course, elucidate our own world. Nathan Long's devilishly entertaining homage to Edgar Rice Burroughs gets the updating right.
Best on the shelf Vancouver Sun FICTION 1 (1) 11 wks Death Comes to Pemberley PD James The grand dame of the British murder mystery takes on the characters of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. 2 (2) 6 wks Believing The Lie Elizabeth George Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley is back …
As a fan of Iain Banks (see my article on his Wasp Factory), and also a writer of Science Fiction and Fantasy, this is an amazing insight into the mind of one of the world’s best SF writers. I was really interested in how Iain wrote his books – did he plan meticulously, or was he a seat of the pants writer. The answer having read this seems to be that he does a bit of planning, but that this isn’t exhaustive. For instance the information on characters and locations is limited to a list really. But there is also what amounts to a 15 page synopsis of Transition as well, which is quite detailed. So perhaps a bit more of a planner than say Stephen King?
So what do you get on the App:
Free to everyone:
Timeline of Iain’s books
RSS feed of Iain news
3 page list of characters and places from Transition
15 page synopsis of Transition
Video interview about the context of Transtion
Video interview about the context and timeframe of Transition
2 part Video interview about “The Concern”
17 page essay on The Spheres – which I think has something to do with Surface Detail
Video interview about Surface Detail
As far as I can work out the videos are not available on YouTube.
One complaint about the written content is that it’s not very readable on the iPhone – seems difficult to zoom in – perhaps the publisher could have reflowed these as ePub files rather than what look like PDFs? But all in all if you’re a Banks fan and/or a SF writer the app is well worth getting.
To unlock the app you need to either scan a barcode in the paperback edition or if you have the hardback you are asked for a word from a certain page and line in that edition.
I do wonder though if anyone would want all this information if they weren’t a big Banks fan, so is putting a lock on really necessary?
I have listened to eight episodes of Transition so far. It’s quite good, but not as good as some of his best work like The Bridge or Matter. What is clear though, is that, no matter what his publishers might say, this is science fiction. Time travel, alternate realities – completely science fiction.
Which probably means he’s got even less chance of a Booker nomination if his mainstream stuff is going more speculative. There seems to have been a bit of a debate recently about the dearth of SF on the Booker list – see Kim Stanley Robinson’s comments, and the report in the latest Ansible. I had a look at the rules for the Booker and it seems that each publisher can only submit two books per imprint. Which I suppose means that if a large publisher has a specific SF imprint it could submit two books, but on the whole is going to mean they submit books that are ‘Booker’ books – i.e. safe, worthy historical novels that fit with the establishment, rather than anything different, radical, or interesting.
I’m guessing that the US equivalent of the Booker is the Pullitzer. I think it’s interesting that as well as being more interesting in general, ‘mainstream’ US literary culture can also consider SF stories such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for it’s top award.
A commonplace of advice for writers is to read lots of other books. But what books should you read and how should you read them in order to write better? You could take the approach of trying to read as much as possible of everything, as much as possible of the greats of literature, or perhaps just stick to your chosen genre (but sometimes getting together a list of Nazi zombie ghost stories can be tricky).
None of these approaches is really going to work very well. The best thing to do is to take the best from the best and learn how they did it and then try to apply it to your own writing. As all genres should have good plot, good characters, good dialogue etc then just sticking to your own genre for this is pretty daft. Getting a knowledge of the other writing in your chosen genre is important though, but more for seeing how others have dealt with ideas and concepts – i.e. you don’t want to go to a publisher with what you think is a neat idea about a dark lord who creates a ring of power etc (oh but this still does happen doesn’t it!)
This is where Francine Prose’s book is a lifesaver. In eleven themed chapters she covers all the vital aspects of fiction writing and shows brilliantly how some of the great writers have dealt with these areas. I particularly like how she starts with the smallest unit of writing, Words, and builds outwards to show how the nuts and bolts of language are important to get right, not just snazzy plots or great themes. She isn’t afraid to criticise them as well where necessary, for instance the way in which Dickens repeats characters’ gestures to signpost their identities for reader.
Her technique is to take passages from great writers to illustrate what makes good writing. She appreciates that no one way is right, but shows how great writers use language to put across their stories with greater power. For instance in the chapter on Sentences, she comments on the famous 181 word sentence from Virgnia Woolf’s essay “On Being Ill” and how that sentence is perfectly comprehensible and readable because of the skill of the writer and how actually the words build upon each other creating a growing force because the sentence seems that its beautiful form will go on forever. In contrast she discusses these lines from Chandler’s The Big Sleep :
There was no fear in the scream. It had a sound of half-pleasurable shock, an accent of drunkenness, an overtone of pure idiocy. It was a nasty sound. It made me think of men in white and barred windows and hard narrow cots with leather write and ankle straps fastened to them.
She describes these as “wonders of snappy, outrageously excessive tough-guy prose”.
As well as being a good text for learning to write better, I also found this an inspiring book. Both in terms of wanting to hone my skills and also to investigate some of the writers I hadn’t heard of such as Henry Green or Scott Spencer.
One downside for me was that she doesn’t really deal with many genre writers in her examples. There are also moments when she uses the clichés found in really bad pulp SF writing to hammer the genre as a whole. This is a shame and perpetuates the unnecessary genre/mainstream battle that seems to be particularly popular at the moment.