Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Thanks for reading!
Monday, March 26, 2012
Tomorrow I head back to Essex for good. Back in my old bedroom until I find a job. Back in my old home town until... Well, until something else happens. I originally left four years ago, moving to Cork in Ireland. Feels a bit like I’ve come full circle.
I’ve travelled a lot in my life. Now that’s relative, of course. Compared to plenty of other backpackers I don’t think I’ve done that much, but in comparison to the average guy or gal I think I’ve seen a fair bit. I use my memories as the base for describing scenery in my work. If I need a coastline or harbour, I think of Porsgrunn and Arendal in Norway. If I need mountains, valleys and other such grand scale, then my time in Queenstown, New Zealand works well. Similarly Vietnam for vast areas of countryside covered in both trees and farmland, while Hanoi specifically provides a platform for writing about dense population. Ireland and England, being quite similar, is where I think of when I need rolling acres of grassland and hills. Morocco for deserts. Spain for the heat of a summer in the city streets.
I’m blessed with quite a good memory. A lot of people I know will argue against that, but I tend to remember the important stuff. I can be quite bad with names, dates and shopping lists, but in general when I witness things happen I can recall it with a fair amount of clarity. So, for example, when I see pictures of myself in Malaga when Spain progressed to the semi finals of the World Cup in 2010, I also recall the sounds of the celebrations (fireworks, chanting, drums, people banging on the sides of busses and cars as they drove by), the smells (firework smoke, exhaust fumes, sweat and beer) and the atmosphere (jubilation at the victory, mischievousness at the chaos the crowd were causing in the traffic, tension when the police turned up in riot gear to chase everyone away). This helps me when I’m writing since I can usually draw on a memory like that to help remind myself of more than just the visual.
In my last post I touched on how much of your own personal experience should be put into a story. I think with dialogue, emotions and people you know it should certainly be held in check. But with description it’s definitely a case of the more you know, the better. I think that applies to plenty of stuff you don’t know, also. So if you’re writing Science Fiction and have never been to space (surprisingly!), you can probably get a sense of scale if you were to, say, go scuba diving. Now I’m not saying you can compare being in the ocean to being in the great expanse of nothingness outside of our atmosphere, but it should help get a taste of it. Like, say you want to write about a person being thrown out of a plane BUT you’re too scared to actually go skydiving. How about a bungee jump? It still involves a freefall. Can’t drive but want a car chase scene? Go-karting. It’s not like you’re applying for a job here. You won’t get laughed at for twisting the truth of your experiences slightly. Besides, all that stuff is just fun. Fun times are always worth a crack, regardless of why you do them.
Anyway, saying to someone ‘I just got my nose pierced, booked a flight to Peru and spent all my money on motorbike with a dodgy gearbox clutch because I’m researching a novel about a post-apocalyptic gangland war’ sounds so bad-ass that it could be worth it even if you never write the thing.
As for me, I’m going back to Essex. Picking up where I left off four years ago. It’s like rebooting your
PC; all the same shit will be there if you need it, but you just have to load it all up again.
Peru does sound nice, though.
Oh, and my final publisher edits came back yesterday. So it’s time for the final draft of Queen of the World. Plenty of work to be getting on with this week, which I’m looking forward to. Also I’ll meet a new marketing intern from Inspired Quill this week who’ll be helping me get the novel out to the hungry masses, which should be bags of fun. They and I will probably know roughly the same amount about launching a book – as in, not very much at all – so it has that ‘school project’ feel to it. Can’t wait. /glee
Monday, March 19, 2012
This has been an odd, sad but enlightening week, so this post will be a little more personal than usual. But there is a saving grace to keep us all on topic with the following question: How much of your own emotional experiences should you put into a fictional story?
Since plenty of people who read this blog know me personally, I’ll keep things short and sweet: This week my fiancée and I broke up. It isn’t fun, but we remain close friends.
One thing that made me laugh, though, was remembering which scene I have to write next in the follow-up to Queen of the World. Ethanei, an incredibly drunk vagrant, has recently found his estranged wife in bed with another man. The start of the chapter cuts to him lying sprawled over a table spilling his emotional guts between sobs and curses to one of the series’ main character, Kanderil, who listens with a patient unease. He’s heartbroken, resentful and has given up trying to keep a lid on things, preferring instead to drown out his thoughts with alcohol. The guy’s self-destruction is in full-swing.
I can say with absolutely sincerity that this is a coincidence. The scene was the next in line and is not being written as result of my newly-found single status. There are plenty of written notes and around four preceding chapters to support my claim. Also the scene I described isn’t what I’ve been doing personally. There’s been a lot of beer involved but I haven’t quite reached the stage poor Ethanei has. However there are certain similarities between his current scene and mine. I reckon I could lay out a lot of my feelings – that is, the way I’m thinking and the things I want to say right now – through Ethanei’s actions and words, slipping them between the alcohol-fuelled excess and limb flailing. Being a fictional fantasy story I could get away with it too, most likely. In fantasy? Pfft. People expect angry men to fuckin’ RAGE, violent men to murder innocents on a nightly basis, and heartbroken men to start a quest or adventure or something equally redemptive. (They should at the very least write some poetry or sit in a bar staring at the same tepid ale for hours.) It wouldn’t be too hard to be metaphorical about the literal.
But I don’t want to pour too much out on the page. I want to focus and direct my personal experience into the dialogue, to give them a little realism and direction. But the rant Ethanei is going to give must be directed as his ex-wife, Claira. The words shouldn’t be directed at my ex-fiancée. So there’s the trick. It’s a fine line because I’ve already shared this joke with her and she found it kind of funny as well, but it also means she’ll be acutely aware of the scene when she reads it. I don’t want to offend her or come across as an idiot.
The adage ‘write what you know’, which I touched on a few posts back, is mightily applicable here. Other events in my life have been introduced to scenes and characters. Little sayings. Mannerisms. Almost all of them are so far in the background, or so layered underneath good ol’ fashioned fictional nonsense, that I don’t think even my closest friends of family could point out a line when Queen of the World launches and say ‘Oh man, this is so based on that time you...’ But my personal belief is that my experiences should add texture and a touch of reality to my fictional work. It shouldn’t dominate or make my created world semi-autobiographical. I need to save my real life stories for when I’m stinking rich and famous and am encouraged to pen my memoirs, after all.
Anyway, we’re getting to around two and a half months before the book should be released. Things are a little behind schedule – well, actually more than a little – but I retain my immense faith in Sara and Inspired Quill to get us back on course and keep things ticking over. I like to think I’ve had quite a lot of stuff going on this year, but it’s nothing compared to the amount of work and various other projects my editor has planned. I do my best not to stress her out with my occasional panic about things. Pretty sure it’s working so far.
As for now, I’ll be in Norway for another couple of weeks and then shipping off back to Essex for the foreseeable future. That’s going to be a barrel of fun. At the very least I will be doing much more writing in my old bedroom, which is the plan for now – type like a machine until I find a job to get things ticking over again. Good thing we’re heading into springtime. I haven’t spent a summer in England for about four years. Pub gardens, suspect barbecues and music festivals. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
During a drunken conversation with a very nice chap named Sigurd during a party on Saturday night, he asked me a very interesting question (As a side note, the Norwegian word for having pre-club drinks is forspill, which literally translates as ‘foreplay’. Which makes it hilarious every time someone invites me over to their place for some. Childish, but what are you going to do?).
We’d discussed what life is like in Essex and how it compares to living in Hamar. I explained the weekend culture of booze, drugs, fights and one-night stands which Essex has become somewhat famous for. Shows like The Only Way Is Essex didn’t really help that one. We agreed that such a culture isn’t really prevalent in Norway; at least that I’ve seen. Things here seem a little more laid back. People drink to have fun, not to pass out in a toilet somewhere. (And trust me: they do drink.)
The two of us went out for a cigarette. Sigurd was interested in my writing since he also had aspirations to one day write a story. During our chatter he asked with complete sincerity “So why do you write fantasy, given your background?”
I couldn’t really answer, so I just said it was what I enjoyed reading. I’ve touched on how I started to become a writer in these two posts. But the question stuck with me over the last few days. Why fantasy? I believe the answer is fairly intriguing, so here is the best way I can summarise it.
On the first page of Queen of the World, there is a line which simply says ‘The world wants heroes.’ I think this is true in most cases. Almost everyone has a role model, or someone they look up to. We idolise people from all aspects of human culture.
Let’s start with celebrities. As much as you may personally dislike the fact, people do make the likes of Paris Hilton, Russell Brand and Lindsay Lohan their inspirations, whether it’s for fashion, lifestyle or glamour. I don’t agree at all, but I understand. It’s a mindset. ‘They seem to live such an exciting life, and I want to do the same.’ Even through the flaws – homemade sex tapes, drug abuse, jail time – it doesn’t matter. I think we forgive celebrities for a lot of things. Look at Chris Brown. Puts a woman in the hospital after repeatedly hitting her, and then comes back to win at the Grammys. On Twitter, a sizeable number of female fans responded with comments such as ‘Chris Brown can beat me up any time’. Really?
Of course, there are a huge number of outlets for fame and talent which actually involve skill. Lady Gaga and Justin Beiber for immediate pop culture. They have a fair share of detractors, but at least they create and give something to the word. For more ‘classic’ heroes in the music industry, you have characters such as Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley. People worshiped and aspired to follow in their footsteps. But it’s all subjective. You may not like them because of the music they played or the lifestyle they lived. And that’s fine.
So how about sport? Pelé. Babe Ruth. Babe Zaharias (Google that last one. She was pretty amazing). Sports require physical skill and excellence for the most part. Unless you’re playing darts or bowls or something. But they train hard, compete at the highest level and win the admiration of the fans of the sport. There’s something good, something kids can look up to, when they see Lionel Messi or Tiger Woods. Tiger is an interesting one. For years he was the man. The perfect package. Dominated his sport, clean cut, handsome and wildly successful. That’s probably why when his infidelity came to light he was so truly massacred by the press. Everyone felt betrayed. We’d trusted him to be better than the rest of us, and it turned out he had the same faults as regular people.
Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks and Winston Churchill were / are heroes, and rightly so. But they excelled in political and sociological circles. Mandela is certainly an inspiration. What he’s been through in his life takes a fairly strong man to withstand and remain an advocate for freedom and equality. Churchill stood up to Hitler and acted as a beacon for the British during World War II. Parks was a catalyst for the Civil Rights movement. All of them helped to change the world in their own way, and they shall correctly be remembered as heroes to many. But they're not the heroes I want. I'm after the larger than life, hands-on, save the day heroes.
During the aforementioned war, there was a Finnish sniper named Simo Häyhä. During one hundred days of conflict, in temperatures falling as low as -40°C and with few daylight hours, he personally killed over 705 Soviets who were invading his homeland. He has the highest confirmed number of sniper kills of any war ever. When asked later if he regretted killing so many people, Simo replied “I did what I was told to as well as I could.” The Soviets nicknamed him simply ‘White Death’.
For me, that is a hero. King Leonidas (Spartaaaaa!) was a hero, along with Joan of Arc and Richard the Lionheart. I’m not saying heroes must be violent or good at killing people, but they were people who now seem mythical in their reputation. I mean, Jesus defintely counts. It doesn’t matter if you celebrate or disregard religion. If Jesus the man existed then he unquestionably made a huge difference to the future of humanity.
Would you rather meet Liberace or William Wallace? John Lennon or Alexander the Great? Everyone I’ve mentioned is the pinnacle of excellence in someone’s eyes. But my interest is with people who went out and changed the world with a battle-cry, a sword in hand and a flag flapping in the wind overhead. People who forged nations, destroyed empires and literally changed the world in their lifetime.
My world needs heroes. And so I write about them. Characters that are able to use their skills, talents and code to make a difference. I like the romantic idea of skill with a blade or a bow over one’s talent with a gun or a bomb. I like people who don’t have the media or the Internet or advertisement to shape their opinions. My heroes have honour, passion and the will to succeed. Fantasy is the strongest breeding ground for such people, and it’s why I write about it. Besides, I don’t think any of the characters in my book would be better off with an iPhone or a pair of Reeboks. -grins-
Feel free to comment, share or otherwise print this out and staple it to someone.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
My current manuscript for the sequel to Queen of the World is at 51,000 words. I’ve been writing pretty much every day. I’m proud of the amount of work I’ve done – the writing began about four weeks ago – but I still sometimes wonder if I could do more. Being honest I probably could, but even now my brain is fried and my imagination comes in dribs and drabs. Writing is still fantastic, of course. There’s still that kick of falling into a scene and letting the words spill out. I guess as time goes on it’ll be easier and I’ll fall into a rhythm without as much effort. But that 51,000 seems like it should be another five figures on top. Which is nuts, really. I have some people on my Twitter page who are able to write ten thousand words a day. I managed that once. To finish the first draft of Queen of the World I wrote 12,000 words from 10am to 2am. When I’d finished I felt like I was drunk.
Stress is a factor for me, more than I perhaps realised early on. I’m trying to juggle various things in my life – I want to move back to Norway instead of sitting in my old bedroom in Essex, I want to get a job which allows me to live with my fiancée, I want to have a plan so that I can actually feel stable for once instead of living from a month-by-month basis – and it all impacts on my work. If I’m in a good mood I can hammer out four thousand words in an afternoon and then happily spend the rest of it watching films and playing games. Sometimes if I’m tired, or worrying about something, then it’s a crawl to even make a few hundred. It sounds a bit lame, like the struggling artist perception of needing to be in the zone, and I’m aware of that. If I was working as a plumber or in a warehouse I couldn’t phone in sick on the basis that I had things on my mind. I’d get laughed into unemployment. But since writing is technically a self-employed job, sometimes you have to kick your own arse and say ‘C’mon. Just get to work and stop being a dick.’
Thankfully, I find editing much easier. I received another section of revision from my editor, Sara, which I read in one sitting and applied the basics of into the Queen of the World draft. The comments and suggestions were just as helpful as before, and I’m starting to get a clear picture of my strengths and flaws as a fiction writer. One section involving a supporting character was absolutely mauled, but instead of upsetting me I actually got inspired and sat up in my chair thinking ‘Ok, so how can I fix this? Do I need to edit or rewrite? Is it even necessary?’
To my delight, when I sent out the final(ish) draft to some friends and peers, all of the critiques were very positive in their praise and any suggestions for change were pretty minor. Character names, uses of words, descriptions and the like. It was a hell of a morale boost and I did get a lot of useful information about the story, but I’d never experienced what it was like to having something directly pointed out as not being as good as it could be. So for my editor to pull out a part and say ‘This really isn’t as strong as the preceding chapters’ was like a jolt to the system, and one I really enjoyed. Getting my arse kicked is going to help much more than it’ll harm. (Though please don’t savage the rest of the book, Sara!)
That’s about it for now, really. I’m paying a visit to Norway on Friday which with a bit of luck will become permanent, so I’m passing the time with writing, drinking coffee and listening to Pearl Jam. I’ll update again in a few days with an article-thing I’ve been toying with.