Convention news

This year I’ll be at 9 Worlds once again – I’m not on any programming so I’ll be mostly hanging around the bar or in the audience.

Then I’ll be flying off to Finland for WorldCon

I’ll be on two panels  –

Thursday Aug 10   10:00 AM to 11:00 AM (1 hour)
Where:  Messukeskus – 101c
Tags: fantasy literature history

Historical Fantasy: What is it and how does it differ from fantasy or historical fiction? What makes for good historical fantasy? What are some variations within this genre? How can it illuminate our understanding of the past and future?

Where I’ll probably be talking about my forthcoming novel Seven Deadly Swords (Grimbold Books)

&

Friday Aug 11   05:00 PM to 06:00 PM (1 hour)
Where: Messukeskus – 205
Tags: literature science fiction fantasy
Weird Fiction is alive and well and, perhaps, weirder than ever! Fans and authors discuss the genre, its popularity and legacy.
Where I’ll definitely be talking about A Tiding of Magpies and Sick City Syndrome both are definitely in the Weird genre. As will be the next novel The Certainty of Dust
In September I’ll be at FantasyCon where the British Fantasy Awards will be announced and A Tiding of Magpies has been shortlisted for best collection. I’m also a judge on the Best Novella category and we’ve had some interesting discussions about the shortlist.
Then October is a busy month where I’ll be helping run 3 big events: Bristol HorrorCon, Bristol Festival of Literature and BristolCon (this is why I usually take holiday in November!)  – More details on them when the programs are revealed. I will be appearing several times during those events…

Doing it wrong part two: On writing every day

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Part one is here

Pick up pretty much any ‘How To Write’ book and they’ll tell you that in order to be a proper writer you should write every day.  Some suggest getting up an hour earlier than you need to and write for an hour.

Get out of bed a whole hour earlier than you need to?!

My brain is mush in the mornings – takes a while to get the motor running and I constantly seem to be sleep deprived anyway as my natural inclination is to stay up late, and sleep late. But I’m not allowed to sleep late as I have a day job…

But a great many ‘How To’ books advise that the morning is the best time to work – before the brain is cluttered. I intellectually get that, but it just doesn’t gel with me. Admittedly some books do say that some writers are night owls but even those tend to say that you should write every day.

writers write 1

I can see the logic here. And what this is meant to inculcate – if you write every day then writing becomes a habit and therefore easier.

I lead a pretty busy life. We all do. As well as having a day job, which often includes foreign travel, and writing I also organise a writing group as well as help organise 3 large events (Bristol Festival of Literature, Bristol HorrorCon and BristolCon – and plans are afoot for a new event from next year: WestCon). But that’s not why I don’t write every day.

What I learned from NaNoWriMo and Clarion Write-a-thon; as well as writing Sick City Syndrome in a couple of months to hit a tight deadline. Is that the well runs dry pretty damn quick for me. I’m a battery not a dynamo. I have a limited amount of energy to put into a project at any one time and once it’s exhausted I then have to recharge. It’s not energy that’s available every day.

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I’m also a sprinter not a marathon runner when it comes to doing tasks. Ironic as I was rubbish at sprinting and was much more a long-distance runner in my youth. I’m pretty bad at maintaining momentum and doing long tasks. My interest/attention isn’t with daily increments. Hence I’m bad at e.g. exercising/dieting. I’m a fairly intuitive learner, and learn by doing but if I don’t get something the first few times my brain kind of switches off and it becomes very difficult to motivate myself to continue learning.

I think I’m naturally a short story writer because of this – that’s more of a sprint than a novel (although I have been known to work at a short story for weeks at a time).

Different strokes for different folks. So why do 90% of writing books insist that you should write every day?

Some of this is linked to two other pieces of advice/received wisdom that are often counterproductive:

Splurge then cut & writers get antsy when they don’t write.

Firstly I get the – proper writers get antsy if they can’t write. I’ve observed this phenomenon. But personally, as ably demonstrated that I only started writing in 2013, I’m not one of those people. I remember reading an essay by a novelist and literature lecturer which started out by saying that he was only interested in writers that had a fever to write. I’m the direct opposite – I have to be dragged kickign and screaming to the word mines – I’m Douglas Adamsesque in that regard (although I’m better at hitting deadlines). But many of my writer friends report that they become ‘not nice to live with’ if they haven’t written for a while.

On splurge then edit – I mentioned this in the first post wrt King’s On Writing. I’d taken it as gospel that real writers create a first draft then have to cut it by 25%. Now I’d prune, sure, everyone creates flabby prose, but I’d also have to add stuff. When I first started – a lot of stuff. I tend to brevity & had the unfortunate beginning writer quirk of – ‘it makes sense in my head so no need to explain it to the reader.’ As I said previously it wasn’t until I was at a workshop and under-writing was explained that I twigged that I wasn’t doing it wrong, it’s just that I was a very different writer to Mr King.

I do wonder if the ‘write every day’ crowd are also on the splurge then edit kick too?

If you’re a writer, drop me a comment – do you write every day? Do you feel guilty if you don’t, but secretly know that writing every day isn’t good for your process?

 

 

 

British Fantasy Awards 2017

A Tiding of Magpies has been shortlisted for the BFS Awards this year. I am stunned and very happy! It has some very stiff competition –

Best collection

  • The Parts We Play – Stephen Volk
  • Secret Language – Neil Williamson
  • Sharp Ends – Joe Abercrombie
  • Some Will Not Sleep – Adam Nevill
  • A Tiding of Magpies – Pete Sutton
  • The Unheimlich Menoeuvre – Tracy Fahey

and I’m very much having Imposter Syndrome over it!

It’s great to see a lot of personal friends also shorlisted and big congrats to everyone & good luck!

I am one of the jurors for the Novella category and I know it’s going to be hard to pick an outright winner having read most of them so far…

 

Briefly popping in

Just a quick update post. “Doing Things Wrong Part 2” will be coming soon (for a given value of soon) and will be on the subject of writing every day.

I’m working on Infinite Dysmorphia as editor (with Sammy Smith as co-editor) and that’s been keeping me busy. I’m also editing another anthology which is for charity – more details as they become clearer.

The next thing I have out may be an essay in the Body Horror Book as I haven’t written many shorts this year as I’ve been editing Sick City Syndrome. or could be my essay in Know Your Place. I’ve also planned out the Novella (as yet untitled) in the Ferryman universe which series appeared in Far Horizons (Talking of which they are still going, although I have stepped aside as editor, possibly only a hiatus, possibly…) and The Certainty of Dust – the next novel, for which I signed the contract with KGHH today!

I will be at Nine Worlds – I volunteered for the program but haven’t heard anything so am assuming I’m surplus to requirements and will be there as a punter only. I’m also going to WorldCon for which I’m on two panels (as it stands) – this will be my second Con in Finland!

I’ve also accepted a jury position on the BFS awards for the Novella category – more news when possible. This is my first time as a juror and the books on the list are very interesting – so am looking forward to the whole process. And yes it does mean that I’ll be at FantasyCon too.

In addition to the writing I’m helping to organise Bristol HorrorCon for the third time, Bristol Festival of Literature for the fifth time and BristolCon for the first time.

Next year I might just do a “writing year” and take a break from editing and event organising – although I do enjoy it they do take away time from the writing…

 

 

Doing it wrong (according to the ‘How to’ books) Part 1 – Keeping a Journal

OK so that’s a long title! As per my blog post “Writing books and the Writer” you’ll have seen that I read a lot of writing books. Of the “How To” variety, as well as ones on language and from writers on writing. I feel moved to write a series of “Doing it Wrong” because I can’t be the only one out there that has some success as a writer (for a given quality of success) that isn’t doing what they recommend.

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I remember when I was first starting out and was at a writing workshop at Bristol Festival of Literature the workshop leader told us about under-writing (writing too little and adding detail on a second draft) and I realised that because I had only read “On Writing” by Steven King I had been thinking that I was doing writing wrong all along – because King is an overwriter (writes too much and cuts on a second draft). It wasn’t until someone articulated the underwriting thing that the penny dropped.

I’ve immediately got two “Doing it Wrong” burning topics and will no doubt come up with more. So this is a part one of a possible longer series or it may just possibly a two-parter. And to start off I’ll tackle the advice that most “How to” books start with – Keeping a Journal.

I understand that it can be a good idea for many writers. If you’re the kind of writer whose brain is fizzing with ideas and you can’t keep track of them without writing them down then obviously a journal is a good idea. Journaling could also be a good way to log observations – on people, conversations, journeys etc. However, the idea that you need to carry a journal with you everywhere you go can be counterproductive for some people. It was counterproductive for me.

I’m not a natural diarist, I’ve never kept a diary but I tried the whole keeping a journal thing because it is almost ubiquitous advice on how to be a ‘proper’ writer. I ended up schlepping blank books around for a while. I have a collection of notebooks that I either didn’t fill or filled with cryptic, useless bullet points that made no sense to me later if I even thought to check.

Because I’m not a very organised person I ended up with several different partly filled reporters notepads and if I did jot something down that I later remembered and wanted to use, trying to find it was annoying. I also did that classic thing of starting with best intentions and jotting down lots in the first few days then wrote less and less, and less and less often, as time passed. I ended up feeling guilty that I wasn’t journaling, generating and developing ideas on a daily basis. The empty notebooks became burdens.

So how do I do it instead? I chew over things in my headspace and my ideas need a fair while to ferment before they’re ready to be written down. Writing them down before they’re ready is like taking the top off a bottle of coke, if you don’t use it straight away it goes flat. In the process of writing it down it becomes a little fixed and it escapes the headspace. I stop thinking about it in those idle stare out the window moments. And if I’ve written it down, and not used it, coming across it later when the neural pathways have been re-routed means it no longer fizzes for me.

Maybe it’s simply a justification narrative for laziness but I do think that trying to keep a journal was counterproductive for me. My best stories, or at least what I think of as my best stories, lived inside my head for a long time before I attempted to write them down. That’s not to say that they fall out of my head fully formed (although that has happened) but more that they’re ready to be worked upon if they’ve been given some time to bubble away in the subroutines of my semi-consciousness.

So am I doing it wrong?

 

 

 

Holding pattern

At the moment I’m planning out a novella and a novel whilst waiting for my edit to come back on Seven Deadly Swords. I’ve also got a couple of short story deadlines. But oddly I’ve got that ‘end of term’ feeling and finding it very hard to knuckle down to work.

The North Bristol Writers are doing a “My writing career” workshop in June and it has me re-evaluating why I write, what I want from it, what writing success is etc. So it feels a little fateful today to read Hannah Berry’s post on why Livestock will be her last GN

If you’ve not read Hannah’s work I highly recommend it & I’ve been waiting impatiently for this one for years (but Hannah Berry is not my bitch and I’d never hassle her about taking time to create) But it makes you think. Why do this?

Next year I’ll have been writing stories for 5 years – it’s not long – and I’m lucky enough to have the time to do this whilst also having a full-time job. I went into it with an open mind – let’s see if I can get a story published. I’ve done that, what’s now my metric of success?

I don’t know – I’ll let you know once I’ve figured it out!

 

 

Structures and Developments

Earlier this week I sent the manuscript of Seven Deadly Swords to my editor at Grimbold. This is after a fairly hefty restructure and rewrite after the structural/developmental edit.

It’s been to beta readers and they all had good comments but it seems like after extensive electronic scissors and pots of glue, moving chapters around, completely rewriting one character and snipping 20,000 words (and writing a new 10,000) I managed to not introduce any plot holes. Which is a major relief!

Seven Deadly Swords was mostly written in 2013/14 when I was just learning the craft. It showed. It had a hefty rewrite after an editorial going over by the fabulous Joanne Hall (Hi Jo!). Then went into submissions. I got a few interested bites from agents, including one request for a rewrite/resubmission and it was rewritten again.

Then Grimbold agreed to take it, on the proviso that I change the tense. That was a faff, but not a strong rewrite.

Now it’s had another rewrite – and the line edits are to come, so further changes afoot.

I strongly suspect that some of this process of rewriting would have been avoided if I’d planned the book better. I’m an exploration writer (or pantser if you like that term) but plan as I go along. That’s also how I wrote Sick City Syndrome.

I’m going to plan the next piece of writing with much care, and see if that makes a difference…

Still it’s nice to see Seven Deadly Swords inching closer to publication…