The Sundering Approaches

Look what Mrs Postie brought today!

Next Installment of The Sundering

Next Installment of The Sundering

Work continues on The Crown of the Blood after some ill health and other distractions. Hitting my stride now and really enjoying it (wrote the first sex scene on friday, that was a fresh experience). Just in the process of signing the deal for a new Space Marine novel for Black Library, and organising a Shadow King/ Raven’s Flight signing tour for December and January. Also don’t forget that I’ll be at GamesFest on 24th Oct along with a cornucopia of other authors.

Addendum: Just found out the artist for the Crown of the Blood cover – Paul Young. I can see how Paul’s flair for the historical mixed with fantasy will lend itself really well to this.

Published in: on October 12, 2009 at 1:04 pm  Comments (18)  
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Video Interview

As much as seeing or hearing myself on ‘tape’ makes my skin crawl a little, here is a Black Library TV interview that took place during the launch of Malekith at Warhammer World.

http://www.blacklibrary.com/blog/default.asp?id=5781011501242119825

I must also add a correction. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is a Georgian fantasy, not a Victorian fantasy! 🙂

Addition: Some Hamsterites with certain reading habits will find some useful information here  😉

Published in: on February 12, 2009 at 10:37 am  Comments (5)  
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Christmas Interview Bonanza

The new edition of ezine Falcata Times is now available, including interviews with myself and fellow BL author Graham McNeill, along with other writing luminaries.

Published in: on December 15, 2008 at 10:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Rise of Malekith

malekith2Just in case I haven’t pimped it enough, Malekith is due for imminent release. There are early reports that it is available in some stores right now! For those wishing to procure a copy might I suggest attending the celebrations this Saturday at Warhammer World, or the signings at Forbidden Planet and GW Plaza in January?

Rather than just hard-sell this fantastic, ground-breaking, life-changing, opposite-sex-attracting novel even more, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the imminent release of a book and what it means to me as a writer (by the way, did I mention that purchasing Malekith also indicates an above-average IQ and copious skill at love-making?). Some readers will have been published before and will no doubt share some of these feelings, others aspire to publication and may like to know what is in store if you succeed. Some may just have a car crash mentality and what to find out what crazy things go on in my head sometimes. All are welcome at Mechanical Hamster.

‘Creation is an act of sheer will’, John Hammond, Jurassic Park.

As one might expect, the release of a book is the culmination (almost – see later*) of all the hopes, dreams, fears, pain, blood, sweat and tears that can make up the writing process. It can be a long, tense wait. The manuscript was finished many months ago, the editorial comments returned, the rewrites made, covers designed and everything else. Nothing more can be done to the work, it’s now ready to be unleashed upon the masses waiting with bated breath (if one is lucky).

One is confident that one has done a good job, the feedback was good and taken on board, and the product is in tip-top shape as much as it is ever going to be. One fundamental unknown remains – will people like it? Another question that could be asked, of a more mercenary nature, is whether people will buy it, but that’s a practical rather than spiritual limbo.

‘Like’ is an amorphous term and could be broken down into many smaller ones. Will readers associate with the characters? Will the plot engage them? Are they drawn into the setting? Is the story delivered with skill and a certain amount of style? Will people find the small inconsistencies and errors that, despite everybody’s best efforts, will have somehow managed to sneak beneath the editorial radar? Will it matter if they do? Will the book entertain and inspire? Will they laugh? Or cry?

In short, will they like it?

Or, and this is where the dark depths of the fragile creative mind can delve, will they hate it?

Is it full of clichés and predictable plotting? Are the characters faceless and lacking in pathos? Is the setting bland? Is it riddled with inconsistency that smacks the reader around the face every other paragraph? Is the dialogue stodgy? Is that gag about the smell of Dwarf cheese really that funny?

In short, will they hate it?

Fortunately I am not one to give in to such a nervous disposition, so for me these doubts are only ever subconscious and not as extreme as I have indicated (the ‘I’m a fraud and they’re all going to find out’ response). None of these are any more severe than the average dose of self-doubt every right-thinking, introspective sapient creature should have now and then. I don’t suffer these fears because of a combination of natural confidence, trust in my editors not to let me make a complete tit of myself, and the experience of reaction to previous work.

So, I’m not worried about hatred. It is complacency that is the real fear. The absence of ‘like’ is not ‘dislike’, it is ‘didn’t care one way or the other’. The ‘meh’ reaction is probably more damning that hatred for me. At least if readers hate something I’ve written, it’s provoked a reaction and more often or not they will have read the book in some detail and will proceed to outline in that same detail exactly what they didn’t like. At least they were paying attention.

Faint praise such as ‘it was alright’, ‘it was okay’ and ‘I got through it’ are like barbs to my writerly soul. It means I have failed to engage the reader, and that’s a cardinal sin. If you hate a character, you were engaged. If you loved a character, you were engaged. If you felt no feelings in either direction, the character has had no impact at all. That would make me sad. Dennis would be sad as well. You wouldn’t want to make Dennis sad and neither would I.

Early indications are reassuring, from editors, proofreaders, and those extremely fortunate few to have advanced copies. One particularly trustworthy spy tells me that someone fairly influential in such matters, yet anonymous, uttered the phrase “Possibly the best ever Warhammer story” or words to that effect, so I remain optimistic of a healthy reception.

The Time of Legends series, like the Horus Heresy, comes with its own particular strain on the writer-reader relationship. Writing tie-in fiction always exposes one to the criticism of “That’s not how I imagine it/ her/ them/ him”.  When dealing with the characters featured in Time of Legends you are juggling some seriously hot coals. These events and personages are historic (legendary even!) and their lives and personalities, though perhaps never detailed before, have been the subject of debate, speculation and expansion amongst fans for many years. For those visitors not familiar with Warhammer (yes, both of you!) this is on a similar level to writing a novel entitled Aragorn – The Lost Years. You’re playing around with characters that fans already love (and hate) and those fans have definite views about them that will either chime with what you have written or your book will jar with their preconceptions.

There will inevitably be a minority who will disagree with my take on the Sundering. That is their right as fans. However, I hope that for the majority of readers, my portrayal of these momentous characters and events doesn’t contradict their expectations, but rather expands upon them in a way that feels entirely natural. After reading Malekith I hope that my portrayal will be synonymous in their thoughts with what has gone before. It’ll be, for want of a better or more exact term, ‘right’. And if it’s right, they’ll like it.

*Of course, the biggest job around a book release is promotion. There’s signings to attend, interviews to answers, blogs to write… Did I mention that Malekith is out in January at all good bookstores, online and everywhere else you might expect to find the highest quality fantasy fiction? No? Must’ve slipped my mind…

Published in: on December 10, 2008 at 4:07 pm  Comments (9)  
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More Malekith!

As part of Black Library’s Virtual Advent calendar, there is another extract from Malekith available for reading:

Malekith and the Sword of Khaine

Published in: on December 4, 2008 at 2:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Getting Out and About

As well as beavering away on the manuscript for Alith Anar I’ve been busy with arrangements for promotional events to celebrate the release of Malekith. Dates and times are yet to be confirmed but currently planned is an appearance at Warhammer World in mid-December for a launch party, plus signings at GW Derby and Plaza, as well as a visit to Forbidden Planet in London. I’ve also recently finished an interview for Falcata Times magazine, which will be appearing in the Christmas special, and the latest White Dwarf also contains an interview regarding the writing of Malekith and the Time of Legends series in general. We’ll have to wait and see if there’s any overseas events in the pipeline.

If you can get along to one of these, please come and say hello. Saying the secret passphrase “Dennis is da Best” will garner my undivided attention.

 

Addition: Facebookers can find details of the Forbidden Planet signing.

Additional Addition: More details can be found on the Black Library news forum.

Close Encounters of the Angry Kind

Where Dennis leads, others follow… It has just been brought to my attention that Angry Robot have a WordPress site now open. Head over to HERE to have a look. Not that there’s much to look at just yet, but one for the future I reckon.

In other news, it’s amazing what you can do to a novel with £13.98 and a spare day. The £13.98 was spent on a desktop writing pad easel thing and some coloured pens. The day was spent scribbling all of the elements of The Crown of the Blood over big bits of paper, drawing lines, adding in ‘cool ideas’ and ‘Moments of Awesome’. The result? A much clearer and dynamic storyline for the novel, which now isn’t the same basic tale as Malekith.

How did I achieve this momumental feat? Well, I went back to basics. If the character journey was the same as in Malekith, the easiest way to change things was to alter the starting point. I chopped out some of the sub-plots and incorporated them into the protagonist’s storyline instead. Everything fell into place after that and I’m just buffing up the synopsis and some sample chapters.

So, next time you’re stuck on an idea, leave it alone for a while and then break out the pens of many different colours. Read here for more thoughts on that. My pad has adhesive strips, so the sheets are now stuck to the wall of my office/ study/ box room for me to look at with pride. ‘Saving’ a novel for under fourteen quid? Bargain!

Addendum: Look what just arrived in the post for Dennis (apologies for my shonky camera work):

Dennis says hello to Malekith

Dennis says hello to Malekith

Published in: on October 28, 2008 at 11:24 am  Comments (1)  
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Martyr or Mercenary?

I again find myself with a few ‘fallow’ days between completing the first draft of my Heroes of the Space Marines short and receiving rewrites, as well as waiting for the manuscript of Malekith to arrive in the post for checking, sprinkled with some preparation work for a secret project known only as Ssh!… Contemplating more personal projects I am faced with the simple fact that I need to get more work.

On the one hand I can labour away my precious time on a magnificent opus, which I am certain will astound the publishing world with its vision, breadth, plot and characterisation. On the other, I can set my ambitions to a more realistic level and consider a more commercial line of endeavour.

Quality isn’t the issue. I don’t purposefully set out to write something that is sub-par. Questions of style and approach, on the other hand, are fair game. There is a very strong desire from the sci-fi and fantasy publishing fraternity for certain types of work. Preferably these have a strong single-viewpoint character and have the capacity to be part of an ongoing series. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, as some fine fiction attests.

So the question comes to that of risk versus reward. Confidence plays an important part in any creative’s make-up, and so one must have the courage of one’s convictions. If I write something that I feel is remarkable – literally worthy of remark – it may be deemed unsuitable for publication and never see the light of day. On the other hand, if it is published then it always offers the chance of standing out from the crowd and garnering much higher success (and financial reward) than a more middle-of-the-road title. Yet it is very tempting to go with the more secure option (as secure as any publishing venture can be) in the efforts of increasing the chances of having at least some success.

It’s also a question of resources. Creating something mould-breaking, inspiring and all-round seven flavours of awesome takes a lot more time than writing within well-understood boundaries and conventions. I consider myself pretty well-versed in the art of the staple fantasy or sci-fi approach and so can concentrate on the plot and characters without worrying too much about the form.

So we come back to the confidence issue and the necessities of domestic economics. Am I confident that if I do reach for the higher reward I will get there? Or does the pile of bills that arrive every month demand a more pragmatic approach?

Hopefully I can find a ‘third way’ so often sought after in politics. Perhaps I should settle my efforts on an achievable goal that adheres to the tried-and-tested demands of agents and publishers, and yet push that form as far as possible. Getting the best of both might indeed be the greatest victory of all.

Thanks: To those who attended the Angels of Darkness signing in Manchester. Good to meet you, Narry! Sorry I missed you, Rob.

Very Very Recent News: The Malekith mss has just this minute dropped through the door. Very exciting! Two weeks’ turnaround to get it back to the folks at Black Library…

The Lull

The long May Day Bank Holiday weekend has passed and it is time for me to start working again. The thing is, I haven’t got any writing to do…

 

Well, not ‘proper’ writing.

 

I finished the rewrites on Malekith and Call of the Lion last week and also sent off the synopsis for my Heroes of the Space Marines short. That means that this week is dedicated to paving the way for future work – another synopsis or three, emailing folks for possible ventures, and coming up with ideas.

 

100% Free Range and Organic

When I’m in this mode there are two different strands of thought competing for space inside my head. The first is practical. These are things that need to be done to get direct work commissioned (and pay the bills for another month).

 

I have upcoming projects such as the second instalment of The Sundering, Alith Anar. I have a rough outline of what occurs in the novel, some notes on characters and theme and even some text that is left over from Flames of Treachery (the first Sundering novel before it became Malekith). These ideas need to be turned into a proper synopsis with a plot and everything.

 

In a similar vein I have a proposal for a Warhammer 40,000 Eldar project, originally conceived as a novel but after conversations with Lindsey it looks like another trilogy would be better (yup, Gav’s hypocrisy strikes again!). So, I need to develop the ideas further from where they are at the moment, outlining the trilogy as a whole and coming up with a more detailed plan for the first book.

 

There’s also some follow-up work to be done for a possible novel or novels that continue on from the Space Marines story.

 

On the other side of things are the speculative ideas. These are the early seeds of future projects that I need to generate and then mull over for a while. This is what I suspect is most people’s image of a writer’s life – walking in parks, listening to music, scribbling notes and coming up with cool ideas. If only it was that easy…

 

The ‘problem’ is a simple one – it’s not a shortage of ideas, it’s trying to sift through the many and varied concepts and images to find the ones that I can hopefully turn into a good story. Some ideas are virtually stillborn, fleeting thoughts that don’t pass the first examination. Others seem dead-ends at first, but nag away in the back of your head demanding to be re-examined. Since I am not merely interested in writing novels, but also short stories, scripts, comics/ graphic novels part of this thought process is diverted to wondering which of the many media would be most suitable.

 

Split Personality

I can find this quite an unsettling time, because my first instinct is to dedicate as much effort as possible into the practical issues. Knowing that there’s another commission just around the corner, adding another little brick in the wall of financial security, is an exceptionally strong driver.

 

On the other hand, if I don’t make time to explore some of those wilder, more far-reaching ideas there’s no chance of them happening. These are the dream projects that may come to nothing and are a gamble in terms of time and money. They are also a real test of my creativity and I subject them to a high level of scrutiny.

 

As with life in general, the key to success is finding the balance. By spending some time on practical issues I can feel comforted that I have got some ‘work’ done, thus freeing my conscience to do a bit of exploration. The important point at this stage is not to apply too much structure, but rather to go with the flow. If I find myself stuck on one thing, I can move onto another. If I end up getting really caught up in a particular idea then it doesn’t matter if it overshadows some of the other stuff.

 

In this way I can deal with the ‘practical angel’ on one shoulder and the ‘speculative demon’ on the other and keep both happy.

 

In theory…

 

Mouse Update: Nope, still not taking the bait.

 

Last Week’s Life Lesson: Don’t put eggs on to boil and then forget about them whilst surfing internet forums:

 

 Cat-egg-strophe

 

A Tense Situation

As I mentioned earlier, having now finished the first draft of my short story Call of the Lion (watch out on the BL site for news of when this will be published), I am turning my attention to the forthcoming rewrites of Malekith. Yesterday was a relaxed one after a late night/ early morning watching Wrestlemania (of which a more in my next entry!), spent listening to some soothing classical and reading through the current Malekith draft. What I found a little different to my usual editing sessions was that I placed a greater rigour on the narrative styles and devices I was using. This was down to my earlier post and Matt Keefe’s comments (as well as some emails exchanged between us on the subject). If nothing else, by airing my thoughts and concerns it has helped me to take a fresh look at what I had written with some particular points to keep in mind. Although none of our discussion revolved around the specific text, the thoughts and theories still prove useful and so have proven more worthwhile than simple intellectual* discussion. As in all things, a writer should think about what one writes and never stop learning. This confirms one of those other writing commandments: get good feedback. 

Anyway, within the comments in response to Matt’s latest outpouring the subject of narrative tense has arrived. I don’t plan on giving exhaustive pointers on using tense, and how to do it. If you want to know more about the technical side, get your English teachers to earn their wages and explain it to you, or get a book on grammar, or use one of the many fine websites on the interweb. Since I missed the opportunity on the first one, I now regularly resort to the second and third options.

[As a lengthy but hopefully excusable aside, in response to these comments, I should point out that I re-sat my English Literature GCSE once and my English Language GCSE twice – my first English Lang resit was worst than the first! I learnt more about writing in my first three months at GW than I did in my years at school. Cynical critics may claim that it still shows… To that I would say I ended up with an A in English Lang and a B in English Lit, so na-na-na.]

Back to Malekith and tense. Though a fantasy story it is one that occurs in Warhammer history and thus in the context of the universe it has already happened a long time ago. For this reason, I have taken the approach of a narrator relating the events of Malekith’s life and setting the context for his actions from some unknown time in the future, beyond the end of the events described and thus knowing their outcome.                                                    

For me this seems the only reasonable approach. To follow one of Matt’s examples, it seems odd that a writer would choose to write the story of Julius Caesar in a manner that would suggest that the final outcome of the story is not yet known. That many readers will already be aware of the broad events covered is plain and so the excitement comes not from immense history-changing twists but in seeing the story behind the history.

The other necessity of tense brought about by the ‘historical’ approach is that of the passage of time. By acknowledging the existence of the narrator one can pass on the knowledge to the reader that this story only deals with the relevant bits, and can do so in a way that works with the overall flow of the narrative. In Grudge Bearer, which I did not treat in this historical sense, I deliberately avoided this by having time pass by between chapters, a device that some like and some don’t. In my defence it was not done out of laziness but as a means of conveying to the reader that the passage of ten or fifteen years is irrelevant to a dwarf and seemingly devoid of interest to report.

Malekith cannot use such trickery, as not only does the central character have a profound effect upon the world around him, the march of centuries has an equally profound effect upon him; both of which deserve to be noted for the reader’s benefit. One cannot understand the character without understanding these effects, and to do otherwise than to relate these in the manner of the story would be artificial and possibly horrendous exposition. So it is that my current read-through of the manuscript is geared towards the way the narrative style progresses from grand events to the more personal, and in the maintenance of a good narrative voice that links the two together in a flowing whole.

Okay, so that wasn’t really about tense, I suppose.

  

*In the ironic nature of typos, I originally misspelt intellectual… J

Mouse update: No new mouse-sign to report.

Published in: on April 1, 2008 at 9:31 am  Comments (4)  
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