Chasing the White Rabbit

Okay, not so much chasing as talking to…

On Weds night I was invited to meet a local book club – called the White Rabbit club after the cafe they usually use to hold their meetings. The introduction was via a friend of my girlfriend, so I didn’t know quite what to expect, and I was somewhat intrigued/ anxious to find out what they thought of The Crown of the Blood, which they had chosen for their monthly read.

As I thought would be the case, the White Rabbiters were, aside from Ben the organiser, a group of nice middle-aged ladies, who had never read a fantasy book before. I waited with bated breath as each of them passed on their verdict. Would the violence put them off? The salty language? The strange setting?

Apparently not. The response was pretty much the same from all of them – they found it a bit odd for the first few pages, but persevered and once they got into the characters and story they found that they were carried along by the narrative.

Smiles all round.

The evening broke into two parts, with drinks and cake to ease our way through. We spent the first part talking about The Crown of the Blood, and then had a questions and answers session about being a writer and genre writing in general. I found the whole evening entertaining and informative, and they were a lovely group of people.

Most interesting was to hear their thoughts about reading a fantasy book, and what they had to say has given me plenty to think about. Those of us who are very familiar with genre writing/ reading take a lot of things for granted that they did not, and it was helpful to have a different perspective.

A repeated comment, echoing something that another non-fantasy reader had said to me previously, was the difficulty getting their heads around the names of the characters and places. I don’t think The Crown of the Blood has particularly difficult names, but I do make use of a lot of double vowels – Ullsaard, Aalun, Maasra and so on. It occurs to me that reading fantasy and sci-fi is a bit like listening to different genres of music. It has been shown that we learn how to parse the information with experience, so for example someone who listens to lots of death metal can better decipher the shouty vocals, or a hip hop fan learns how to process fast-paced rapping. Readers of fantasy obviously have developed their own techniques for accommodating strange words and phrases without being broken from the flow. I wouldn’t like to think how they would have fared with the outlandish Elven and Eldar names of some of my latest Black Library novels!

There was a bit of a split regarding the fantasy element. Some liked the fact that I have kept it very low key, while a couple of them were expecting something more fantastical, along the lines of The Lord of the Rings. The fact that neither seemed at all put off by characters riding around on giant cats and punching dinosaurs suggests to me that I achieved my aim of making it feel natural and everyday, and the fact that some of them were occasionally surprised when a fantasy element was introduced makes me feel that the world comes across as consistent and believable.

The other major talking point was the ending. Without giving away spoilers, the novel ends on an almighty cliffhanger. As a group they were used to reading single novels, and it again occurs to me that us genre veterans are adapted to books that are part of a series. I explained that the book was the first of a trilogy and suddenly it made more sense to them…

The evening continued with more general talk about being a writer, how the process worked, how I gather up my ideas and turn them into a narrative. They were a little surprised by my workload – three or four novels a year – and I explained the difference between being ‘a writer’ and being a ‘career novelist’. Much of the questions were the same as I have fielded before, but once more genre innocence meant that I found myself talking a lot about fantasy writing in general, the different audiences it appeals to. It also threatened to raise the subject of what fantasy actually is, but as countless panels, seminars and blog posts have shown, that is ultimately impossible to define, so I neatly sidestepped that one!

I would like to say a big thanks to the White Rabbit book club for reading my novel and inviting me to talk about it. It was a very pleasant and different experience, and one that I hope to repeat at some time in the future. Following on from Black Library Live! the meeting reminded me how much I like talking about writing (and myself, obviously) and how refreshing it is to talk to fans and readers about their likes and dislikes. For a profession that usually involves sitting alone at a keyboard or with a notebook, these sorts of events allows us to get out and about and meet other people, which is always valuable.


Published in: on March 11, 2011 at 12:03 pm  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Ha ! I’d have paid good money to see some of that.

    “The salty language?” was the first thing that crossed my mind, lovely image of all these old dears reading the line about ***** being kicked in. 🙂

    Glad, and not surprised, to hear they enjoyed it. Nice to get some totally blank salte reaction one can imagine.

    I must admit things like the names and it being book 1 were things I did indeed just accept straight away without a second thought. Never occured to me that this might be an issue. Live and learn eh ?


  2. Just today finished Shadow King which is only the 4th book (Number 3 being Malekith) I’ve finished cover to cover since leaving school some 8 years ago now. It has really got me hooked on books which I never thought would happen. I am looking forward to Caledor and kicking myself for not getting to Black Library Live to get a copy. The Crown of the Blood is on my list of things I want to read and seeing as I only have one book left I’ve not read (My library isn’t very impressive) it will probably be my next purchase. I’m hoping it takes away the only small disappointment of the sundering series, in that having seen the army books I had a rough Idea what would happen (at least at the end of shadow king) although the entire book was great and have really enjoyed it.

    Keep up the Good Work!


  3. I once wrote a short story that was, to my eternal shame, thick with fantasy names and stereotypes. I let some of my friends and family read it and the best comment I got was, ‘why can’t they all have names like Trevor or Lucy?’

    My subsequent story about Trevor the Elf wasn’t quite what I hoped for. Thankfully all those stories were eaten years ago by a dying hard drive. Small mercies, eh?


  4. Interesting feedback. Been pondering this very subject recently.


  5. Off topic, but thank you for writing Path of the Warrior. My girlfriend read it ‘to see what all the space elf/silly toy soldier nonsense was about’, read it one sitting and is now working on her own Alaitoc army.

    But, she insists I tell you that if Thirianna doesn’t survive Path of the Seer, she will be exceedingly cross and may resort to verbal abuse at future book signings.

    Pip pip.


  6. Dont the unexpected things in life just make it totally worth all the struggles?


  7. […] also a funny anecdote on Gav’s blog about meeting with a group of middle-aged women who run a book-of-the-month club. They had selected […]


  8. Chasing the white rabbit? Sounds like you were being invited to ‘free your mind’ and escape the Matrix… Did you take the red pill or the blue pill?


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