Fantasy

What’s in a name?

Interesting piece on the challenges faced writing fantasy in a historical setting. Have read Winterwood, and can’t wait for Silverwolf to come out!

Jacey Bedford

When writing historical fiction it’s sometimes difficult to pin down names. Things change and sometimes the change is gradual. For instance I live in a tiny Yorkshire village called Birdsedge, or maybe it’s Birds Edge. No one really seems to know for sure. It’s currently in a state of flux and both names work. (My preference is for Birdsedge to be all one word.) When I first moved here in 1980 the village sign when approaching from one direction said Birds Edge, but the sign when approaching from the other said Birdsedge.

Confused? You will be.

An old diary (Adam Eyre’s Diary) from the 1770s called it Bursage and if you listen to some of the long-time residents they pronounce it something closely akin to B’zzidge, the vowel after the B being an uh sound that’s not quite E and not quite U. (A schwa?)

freddraw1The village doesn’t seem…

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GollanczFest16 is Coming!

Guess where I’m going to be in just a couple of short weeks? The GollaczFest, of course! I attended last year and it was a real treat. Gollancz Fest Banner SquareThe panel discussions were particularly interesting, with authors giving candid views on topical issues. I especially loved the way Gollancz used the event to promote its debut authors.

This year I plan to split my time between the author panels and the events aimed specifically at upcoming writers. Have a look at the list of authors taking part. It’s going to be so  much fun!

Chilling out with Pratchett

There are times as a writer when I just need to step back and chill out. Give the creative side something else to do, a sort of re-charge of the writing batteries. pratchett dragon_2I love the quiet discipline of adding colour to someone else’s kick-ass drawings. I have several fantasy-type colouring books, but my favourite by far is the ‘Terry Pratchett’s DiscWorld’. It is packed with Paul Kidby’s amazing illustrations.

“The little dragon turned on Vimes a gaze that would be guaranteed to win it the award for Dragon the Judges would Most Like to Take Home and Use as a Portable Gas Lighter.”

Thank you Paul Kidby, and thank you Gollancz. I just need to decide what to colour next!

 

Saint’s Blood – Sebastien de Castell

Saint’s Blood, Sebastien De Castell, Jo Fletcher Books

The third in the series detailing the life of Falcio val Mond and his constant struggle to save Tristia, his cess-pit of a homeland. Together with his fellow ex-Greatcoats, Kest and Brasti, Falcio fights to restore the ‘King’s Law’, even though said king is dead—betrayed by the Dukes whose greed and corruption is driving Tristia to its knees.

The Greatcoats are magistrates with a difference. Re-envisioned by the late King Paelis, they are duellists trained in all manner of combat. They ride the roads of Tristia, hearing cases in towns and villages and delivering their judgements. Cases are often decided via trial by combat—the Greatcoats overriding mantra is ‘fight hard, ride fast’.

Traitor’s Blade and Knight’s Shadow are set after the death of the King, with the Greatcoats reviled as traitors, scattered around Tristia trying to both survive and follow their last, secret, orders from their King. Falcio rescues a teenage girl, Aline, who turns out to be the King’s daughter. The trio of Greatcoats fight Ducal intrigues, assassins, and a pretender to the throne in their attempts to have Aline recognised as the rightful queen.

Saint’s Blood continues the story, with their greatest adversary ever: an actual God. All three books are packed with fast moving action, as you might expect, with expertly drawn and compelling one-to-one fights and larger group battles. The action is underpinned by believable and engaging characters, which you can’t help but empathise with and root for.

The books are written exclusively from Falcio’s point-of-view, giving the reader an insight into a man who was driven into the role of ‘protector’ by the rape and murder of his wife—a man who inspires others to his cause, despite his many flaws. The relationship between Falcio and his two best friends, Kest and Brasi, is masterly portrayed. The female characters that take a lead role in the story are portrayed as intelligent, determined and a source of impressive strength.

Saint’s Blood opens our heart to fear and then demonstrates by acts of uncommon valour by men and women alike how to overcome those fears.

I’m looking forward to the next book: Traitor’s Throne.

FantasyCon

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at FantasyCon this year. Great panels, great people and a wonderful atmosphere. Such a packed and varied programme that I (and plenty of others) skipped lunch in order to attend as many interesting and (to us writers) valuable workshops and panels as possible.

Needless to say, I took loads of useful ideas away with me. Here are a few little gems:

Stealing from the Past: Fantasy in History (Jacey Bedford, Susan Boulton, Anne Lyle, Juliet E McKenna, Toby Venables, Susan Bartholomew)

  • What you think is true about history probably isn’t.
  • Think about: what are the usual rules in this time/society?
  • Find the base line (i.e. the ordinary people), so that you can then show what it means to be extraordinary in the time period.
  • There are so many ways that humanity has not changed over the millenia.

 

Protag/Antag: Character Creation (Ruth Booth, John Connolly, KT Davis, Peter Newman, James Oswald, Caroline Hooton)

  • Every character is a hero in their own minds (can justify their actions)
  • Play fair with the rules you have created
  • Keep your characters interesting and believable (know why your characters behave they way they do) then it doesn’t matter if they’re ‘good’ or ‘bad’
  • The hook can be not what you know about the character, but what you don’t
  • Less is more in many ways

 

Blades, Wands and Lasers: Fighting the Good Fight Scene (Clifford Beal, Juliet E McKenna, Kevin Murphy, Jo Thomas, James Barclay)

  • Think about the psychological aspects of a fight: when experts fight, their moves and counter moves are done automatically
  • In real life, sword fighters aim to disable via strikes to the neck, wrist and behind the knees
  • The aim is to get as many combatants off the field as possible. If you kill your opponent, his/her colleagues will just step over them and continue the fight. If you injure you opponent, his/her colleagues are more likely to want to take them to a medic (so three off the field with one injury)
  • Young men are more afraid of being disabled than being killed
  • Luck plays a huge part in any fight/battle
  • All fights happen one-to-one, whether in a duel or a battle
  • Tactics when confronted: 1. Run Away; 2. Break their will to attack
  • When fighting: Don’t look at the eyes (they can fake you out); Don’t look at the weapon; LOOK at the body language.

Quote: “The more I practice, the luckier I get.”

The last quote applies to fighting, but I think you can apply that to writing too!

There was lots of fun stuff to do in the evenings, of course. I particularly enjoyed the performed reading of ‘One for the Road’. A comic short story by Paul Kane, ably performed by James Barclay, Guy Adams, Lee Harris and Phil Lunt. They certainly brought to life the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse!

The live edition of Tea & Jeapardy was excellent and very entertaining. Emma Newman, assisted by Latimer the butler, interviewed Brandon Sanderson over tea and cake (and a cursed shield). Great stuff!

I’ve already booked my ticket for next year’s Fantasy Con, to be held in the wonderful seaside town of Scarborough.

 

Bristolcon

This was my first visit to BristolCon – a one day SFF convention. I have attended the larger events (EasterCon, FantasyCon), which are great (an understatement, really). BristolCon offered all the types of events (panels, workshops, author readings, art gallery, dealers’ rooms) that a larger convention does, just on a smaller, more intimate scale. I was going to say more friendly, but in my experience all conventions are unerringly friendly and welcoming.

I attended panels on lost cities and abandoned places, the rise of AI’s and FTL travel. The guest of honour interviews were both interesting and entertaining – Jaine Fenn (author), Jasper Fforde (author) and Chris Moore (artist). The workshop on Multiple Story Arcs, run by Jonathan L Howard was particularly useful.

Favourite quotes from the Lost Cities and Abandoned Places panel:

“We project onto ruins our own stories.” Jaine Fenn

“Cities eat themselves.” Pete Sutton

There was a wonderful display of Chris Moore’s art – here’s my favourite piece”

chris moore

Half A King – Joe Abercrombie

Half-a-King-Quotes-StaggeredJust received my copy of Half A King by Joe Abercrombie. I’ve been waiting for it to arrive for months and now can’t wait to read it. This is Abercrombie’s first foray into the YA market—a market that I feel will devour his work and hound him for more.

At World Fantasy Con in Brighton last year, I listened with rapt attention as Abercrombie read the opening chapter of Half A King. It contained the now familiar—and much loved—accents of tension and gritty violence.

One audience member asked wryly: I thought you said this was YA?

Abercrombie replied with his usual humour: What? I can’t say ‘fuck’?

Humour aside, as Abercrombie explained in a recent (June) interview with Locus magazine, this novel is aimed at the ‘top end’ of the YA market. The book is shorter than his previous offerings, a modest 80k, and my only concern is romping to the end and being left panting for more. The sequel is planned for February 2015, and the final part of the trilogy in the autumn of that same year. Looks like he’s going to be VERY busy!

If you haven’t read any of Abercrombie’s work, there is plenty out there for adults:
The First Law Trilogy (The Blade Itself; Before They Are Hanged; Last Argument of Kings).
Plus three stand-alone stories set in the same world (Best Served Cold; Heroes; Red Country)

I started with the stand-alone books, become totally hooked and worked my way back to the First Law Trilogy. ‘Gritty’ is a word that is often used to describe Abercrombie’s work; his writing is also vivid, engaging and intense. Plus, he tells a bloody good story!

Creativity and Constraints – Part Two

Over the last few months I’ve experimented with a couple of techniques that have resulted in three flash fiction pieces being published in the online magazine ‘Sein und Werden’ (Being and Becoming). Not a title you would associate with science fiction and fantasy writing, but the magazine does accept speculative fiction.

Experiment One – Lipograms (writing without one or more letters of the alphabet)

Try writing a short piece without one of the letters of the alphabet. It’s trickier that you would imagine. If you are feeling particularly adventurous pick a vowel. Don’t do what I did and choose the letter ‘e’ for your first attempt!

‘Writing is always constrained by something. Rather than ignoring, or attempting to free themselves from these constraints, the Oulipians embrace them.’

Check out the ‘Sein und Werden’ website for more on the Oulipians and their approach to writing. The OuLiPo edition is full of great pieces written with a variety of constraints. I have two pieces in the magazine: ‘This Is It’ written under my name, and a joint piece ‘Walk in the Rain’ (part of the London Clockhouse Writers submission).

 

Experiment Two – Writing to a randomly generated title

The title I ended up with was: ‘I was simple in the haze of a smelly thunderbolt, but heaven knows I’m prehistoric now…’,

I had to smile, wondering what on earth I could do with that. Writing under pressure—given ten minutes to produce a rough piece as part of a group writing exercise—I wasn’t expecting to meet the teenage son of Thor in a deserted Tesco car park!

You can read the piece here, in the Surrealism edition of ‘Sein und Werden’.

Remember: Constraints are your friends; they will push you through boundaries and into a world that you never imagined. Go on, try it. It’s great fun, and who knows, you may end up with a piece that’s worth publishing.

Writing in the Hayward Gallery

I spent a fun and creative writing afternoon writing in the Hayward Gallery. The writing was guided by exercises provided by Shaun Levin, and inspired by the works of Dayanita Singh and Ana Mendita.

Dayanita Singh: Go Away Closer

Danyanita Singh is an artist and book-maker who works with photography. Photography is just a language: in her work images become texts.

Twilight shifts the world through shades of blue; haphazard lego-brick shapes with snaking pipes and orange maws fill the frame. Each light is a focus for conversation, for contact, as fingers and thumbs dance over glowing screens. Faces bend close; eyes narrow and then widen with delight; lips press together before stretching into a smile. Fingers flick, stroke and scroll. A sudden laugh, head thrown back, a momentary disconnect. The world rushes in: rumpled sheets and the smell of sweat and sex, the bite of hard chairs on the backs of legs, the familiar ache in hunched shoulders. And just for an instant, a glimpse of jumbled rooftops through the window, stretching to the shadow of hills and an empty sky.

Ana Mendita: Traces

During her brief career Ana Mendieta generated an inventive visual language. Using her own body, together with materials such as blood, fire, earth and water, she created visceral performances, which she captured on film.

Traitors’ Rock: a place for the clan to gather to witness the cleansing fire. A place for Marti and me to sneak back to at night, or in the drab grey of dawn, to sift through the charred debris, hoping for coins or trinkets that survived the flames. Sometimes we got lucky; mostly all we got were black-streaked knees and dirty fingernails.

That never stopped us; there was something compulsive about the place. It shouted secrets.

Marti cried sometimes, rubbing tears and snot across her face when I dragged her close to the Rock. I would have to shake her, and hiss that if she didn’t shut up the spirits of the stone would snatched her into the dark. And then I’d give her a piece of jerky to chew while she searched the outer rim of the burn. I had to remind her to give thanks when her grubbing fingers turned up a shiny, as she called it. Facing the Rock, we would touch soot-stained fingers to our foreheads and trace the sacred symbol, silently mouthing the words that bound us to this place.

Stillborn, I watch you. Hollowed out; smiling on the outside. Feel my skin. Don’t I feel solid? You smile and turn away, leave me rough and grieving: a scorched outline. Trace me—smooth fingers along rough surfaces, unwelcome bumps and lumps, caught on the cusp of becoming. No, don’t turn away. I exist only in your gaze. I stand in a frozen attitude of attention. Perceive me; consider me. Give me legs to stretch and walk away… from you.

Tree of lifeIf I stand here long enough, maybe you will see me. Or maybe you won’t. I hold my breath, torn between the two possibilities; not knowing, now, which one I want to come true. Don’t be stupid, I tell myself. Isn’t this why you have come? To be seen, noticed. To move in the same space, breathe the same air, taste life in the same way as you.

I hear the steady hum of voices, breaking into a staccato of shouts and laughter as you draw near. I take a breath, ready to step out, to enter your world. But limbs refuse to move, muscles lock in place. I’m a statue, slicked and pasted and moulded into the background. You saunter past. The moment is lost. Again.

World Fantasy Con 2013

The Hilton Metropole, Brighton. October 31st to November 3rd 2013.

Image

This was my first World Convention, and by golly was it crammed with great, the good and the very, very interesting! In fact, there was so much going on that I’ve decided to split my posts between what were, for me at least, the key areas.

Let’s start with: Author Readings

There were over 75 separate author readings scheduled over the four-day programme; with such a packed programme of panels and interviews, I had to agonise between competing interests to get the most out of each day. Author readings are my favourite part of a convention. I love listening to authors reading their own work, especially when it’s new and the writer is genuinely interested in the questions and ideas of their listeners.

Joe Abercrombie, fun and entertaining as always, read from his upcoming YA novel. Yes, YA, now that’s a surprise! His foray into the young adult market will hopefully garner new readers into the fold, and yet still appeal to his solid adult readership. The piece had that same gritty, in-the-face quality that makes Abercrombie’s writing so compelling. When asked if he’d really toned his writing down for younger readers, he replied: well, there are a lot less ‘fucks’. The book, which will be out next year, is the first in a trilogy.

James Barclay read a piece that in his own words was a ‘very, very early draft’ of a new book due out in 2015. The premise was new and interesting, featuring the uneasy relationship between Drakes (a dragon-like life-form developed from alien DNA) and their pilots/riders. As always the depiction of battle, in this case an aerial one between rival ‘drakes’, was well paced, keeping us all on the edge of our seats. James was keen to elicit the opinions of the group, and talk about the background and ideas that inspired this latest book. I can’t wait to see this book in print.

I was very excited to attend my first ever reading by Peter F. Hamilton. He gave us all a real treat—starting with a new Paula Mayo piece (one of my favourite characters!), followed up by a sample from his new children’s book Queen of Dreams. This book includes his daughter, Sophie, as sky dancer princess (not a faery, he said, as that would make him a faery king). Hamilton finished the reading with another cracking story, which was cut short as time was called by one of the ever vigilant ‘red coats’. With just two pages to go, he offered to finish reading the story outside the Reading room. Most of us gathered happily around a table to listen to the concluding section—it was well worth it!

Apart from scheduling-in my favourites, I attended a few readings from authors that were new to me. One such, Lawrence C. Connolly, was of the old-world storyteller mould. He told three stories, from memory, in a vivid and captivating manner. An enjoyable and unforgettable experience. At the end he posed a number of riddles to the audience, and gave away copies of his books to the first to shout out the right answer (I wasn’t quick enough (sigh)). Lawrence C. Connolly is one to follow, and I will be hunting down his collection of short stories, This Way to Egress, as soon as I’ve finished this post.

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