Saturday, 30 October 2010

Edgy?

I've found myself juggling three or four short stories in the last couple of days. Mostly, that's because I have decided to have a crack at a few anthologies, and inevitably, they all seem to have the same deadlines. The result is flitting back and forth, which isn't terribly efficient, but does actually get more done in the end, since normally, I would just give up and switch off the computer at that point.

Is it just me, or is there almost nowhere that caters to light/comic/humourous fantasy at the moment? Yes, there are antipodean publications ASIM and Semaphore, but almost all magazines seem to have got it into their heads that people only read 'edgy' stuff. The same goes for a lot of publishers (I'm having to try to remember to rein in the humour with some of the ghostwriting, in particular). This is awkward, because normally, any edge in my writing comes down to the spiky bits on the armour, coupled with the odd pointed gag.

I'd like to think that there's a place for that sort of thing, but increasingly, I'm led to doubt it. I think it says just about everything that the novels of mine that are published are the ones without jokes, but with plenty of grumpiness and violence. It probably says something very sad about the world in general, or at least tattoos it on its own forehead in an effort to show how tough it is.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Accidental World Building

I woke up the other day and realised something: I have created a world. Which sounds, when I put it like that, as though I have been very busy with a welding torch and some gaffer tape, and now keep a small planet on top of my wardrobe. What I should actually say, I suppose, is that I have ended up, quite by accident, creating a story universe for things to happen in that exists in my head beyond the scope of just the stories set there.

It's not a big place yet, and not that detailed, but certain key places keep cropping up in my writing. For example:

Nether Wrexford. The place that started all this nonsense, really, and which I wouldn't have made up if I hadn't needed somewhere to replace the word 'Hull' in one of my novels. A quintessentially English small university town, it is briefly described in one spot as having 'all the charm of a multi-storey car park'. Also seems to have weird stuff happen there. A lot.

The Plains of Infinite Desolation. Made up for a joke about EU employment law. Now my default setting for evil castles/overlords.

Hive. Apparently a city full of giant ants. Vaguely inspired by one of Bill Bailey's comedy songs.

Corner. One of those inevitable cities where dozens of other dimensions impinge. As they do in so many fantasy settings, though no one ever seems to consider the consequences of this sort of thing, like the difficulty of popping down the shops for a pint of milk when you might end up somewhere else entirely. Or the need for a Guild of Extreme Cartographers, inventors of the art of origami mapmaking.

Varansburg. A small town pretending to be a city. Home to the most dangerous dungeon P.Edgeborough and co. have ever designed, full of spiked pits, scything blades, and groups of skeletal worriers. And yes, I spelled that correctly.


Ok, so it isn't much of a universe yet, and it also runs into the rather large problem that I have used Nether Wrexford as focal points in two rather different series, but what surprises me is that I have done this at all, given that my default setting is 'create the right environment for the story'. So what about you? Have you ever created a world more or less by accident?

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Monster Mash Blogfest

This is for Roh Morgan's Monster Mash blogfest:


Hryng the Mighty loosened his sword in his sheath, making his way through the twisting caverns by the light of that strangely fluorescent moss that always grows in them just in case you have forgotten to put new batteries in your torches. Soon he would face his greatest test. Soon, he would fight the beast.

The tunnel he was in opened out into a wider space and Hryng saw it, outlined by the lights of a dozen flickering lamps. Huge, it was, and only vaguely humanoid, with matted fur and scythe like claws that could cut through armour as easily as the lid of a TV dinner. It was just as well, really, that Hryng had long ago sworn solemn oaths to wear no more than furry underwear, large boots, and a lot of leather straps while questing. Hryng took a step towards the beast.

“Excuse me.” A blonde-haired young woman stepped out of the shadows to block Hryng’s way. Unlike most of the young women Hryng met in the course of his work, she was wearing a rather expensive looking suit. She was also holding a clipboard. “Do you have an appointment?”

“An appointment? Who are you, wench?”

“I’m Lucy. I’m the Great Beast’s PA. And I’ll thank you not to call me that sort of thing.”

“You’re a what?”

The young woman sighed. “A PA. A personal assistant. What, did you think that hero slaying, countryside ravaging and weekends hungering bleakly in the dark organized themselves?”

“Um…” It wasn’t a syllable Hryng the Mighty had uttered before. Uncertainty was for people who didn’t have four foot swords.

“Look,” Lucy said. “Did you have an appointment or not?”

Hring the Mighty looked down at his feet. “Got a sword.”

“That will be a no, then?” The woman consulted her clipboard. “Honestly, it’s always the same with you heroes, isn’t it?”

A rumbling towards the back of the cave resolved itself into a deep, growling voice. “Lucy, is that a hero there? I didn’t think I was due to fight any heroes.”

“No. He just wandered in, as usual. Don’t you worry yourself about it. I’ll tell him to go.”

The beast actually looked slightly disappointed by that prospect. “I’m sure I could spare him five minutes. It’s been ages since I had a proper battle with a hero.”

The PA shook her head. “You’ve got your hair appointment in half an hour, remember? How are you supposed to stay properly matted if you miss that?”

Hryng raised his hand, slightly tremulously. “I’m sure we could fit it in. It really wouldn’t take a minute.”

The young woman snorted. “Right. Like I haven’t heard that before. You lot always say that it will just be a couple of swipes and a decapitation, but I haven’t met one of you yet who can’t turn a simple meet and slay into a five hour epic struggle. One bloke took all day. All day. What was he doing? Waiting until the beast starved? It had to be the day his mother was coming to visit too, didn't it?”

Hryng steeled himself to argue. “But-”

“No buts.” Lucy the PA made a note on her clipboard. “If you want a fight, you can make an appointment like everyone else.”



And that, brave souls, is the tale of how Hryng the Mighty fled before the Great Beast of the Caves. Though he did nip back on Tuesday, about ten-ish, sandwiched between the creature’s shiatsu session and a meeting with its publicist.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

A Memo

Memo from the desk of P.Edgeborough (This has always confused me. Why is my furniture supposed to be sending you things? A blotter of constant communication, yes, but not a desk.)

to B. Northington.

Hello, young Brian. Just a quick to-do list while Spider and I are away at the annual Dungeon Excavation And Design of the Last Year conference. I understand that Spider has left you a rather longer not-to-do-under-any-circumstances list. Please follow every point except the last. I feel that "don't move. Don't even breathe" is perhaps a little harsh.

Now:

  1. Remember to spread out fresh newspapers every morning for the Sphinx we currently have in. It gets through the crosswords rather quickly.
  2. We seem to be running short on tea. Ordinarily, I would ask you to pop over to the tea fields of Oolong-Grey for some more, but Spider has suggested that a trip to the shops will do just as well. There is money in the nearly bottomless purse (assuming the bottom hasn't fallen out again).
  3. If you could possibly give those twenty crates of spinning blade traps a quick polish, that would be wonderful. I imagine if you put a chamois in one spot and just set them going, they should be done in double quick time.
  4. I had a note from one of our customers complaining that a couple of the rings of power have developed a slight fault. Could you please try them and see if any give you the urge to go on about your birthday. For any that do, there is a small portable volcano in the back room.

Thankyou. Peter. (P.S. in the event of an emergency, both Spider and myself should be easy to contact at the conference. I will be hosting the seminar on "Dungeon Design: Pointy Spike and Non-Pointy Spike Paradigms". Spider has indicated that she will be in the bar.)

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Stuff

By way of an explanation of why I haven't posted since Monday, some things that have been happening this week:

  • An interview for a job as a copywriter, featuring the usual writing test. I like these, as it's so much more straightforward than trying to come up with answers to questions about yourself. With any luck, then, there's a chance of what the Douglas Adams character Dirk Gently once referred to as 'monotony of pay'.
  • I have been busy, too, with the rewrites for my Brian Northington novel, which is coming together nicely. That's one thing about writing comedy. It might seem fluffy and light weight, but it needs to be honed just as much as serious prose. The wrong word can kill a joke.
  • And with finishing off the latest ghostwriting project. Just a few chapters to go.
  • And with reading American Gods. Again.
  • Oh, and with trying to find competitions to fence in. Apparently, it's the Leeds Open at the start of next month, while the York open doesn't include sabre, for some reason best known to York University's sabre teams.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Hook, Line and Sinker Blogfest

This is for the hook line and sinker blogfest, and is something I wrote as a starting point whilst working on my Brian Northington novel. This is all I have, along with the working title Kenneth Maccleston: Lord of Darkness.

All stories have to begin somewhere, and it seems right that ours should begin in that most traditional of ways- with a note on sheds. Almost everywhere in the multiverse, from the fabled ant metropolis of Hive to cities so lost that adventurers pour a quart of gin into their Sat Nav before setting off, certain examples of the male of the species have long felt the need to wander off into small, wooden huts to undertake activities best known to themselves.

The precise nature of these activities is hard to speculate upon, except to say that, if the evidence is to be believed, they seem to involve a tangled length of hosepipe, a couple of rusted bicycles, and some spare parts for a car that the shed’s possessor has never owned. Some commentators have suggested explanations for this phenomenon ranging from strange rites to attempts to produce perpetual motion machines that actually work. Other commentators, generally slightly less drunk, have suggested that the sheds are probably just a convenient space for some time away from the family and a quiet smoke, and that the stuff in them is just… well, stuff.

Lord Vladimir the Perpetually Bad Tempered was currently putting his shed to a slightly different sort of use. But then, it was a slightly different sort of shed. Having heard about the phenomenon, Lord Vladimir realised the impracticalities of it for an evil overlord of all he surveyed even as he decided that he really wanted one. As such, his “shed” was actually a wooden-finished tower of his dark redoubt, proofed against demonic intrusion and that horrible greenish moss you get on old sheds by strange and terrible magics. Wyverns nested under it where hedgehogs normally might have, and rather than old car parts, it was filled with artefacts of power and cursed tomes. Admittedly, in deference to the universal laws, very few of them had worked in years. A single length of jet-black hosepipe lay tangled somewhere towards the back.

Currently, Lord Vladimir was toying with powers from Beyond. Not beyond anything in particular (except possibly the normal rules of capitalisation). Just generally Beyond. This might seem like unusual behaviour for a man in a shed, but as has been noted, the overlord’s shed was far from standard. In any case, as the absolute ruler of a moderately large kingdom of evil, he could smoke where he liked, so he had to find something to do there.

As such, Lord Vladimir sat at a workbench in his wooden tower, his spiked black armour neatly hung on a frame behind him, making mystical passes over a crystal ball whilst his trusted hench-goblin, minion, and general valet Tilesbury looked on with increasing concern.

The concern was because his lordship was drunk.

There are a number of things that it is generally inadvisable to attempt whilst drunk. Driving, for example. A tax return. Juggling chainsaws. Compared to messing with things Beyond, however, all these activities count as so sensible that even the health and safety executive might only shut them down temporarily.

Tilesbury the goblin cleared his throat.

“My lord,” he said in the cut glass accent that had seen him thrown out of minion school twice for insufficient snivelling, “is it entirely wise to be attempting this? After all, you are a rich man. I’m sure you could simply buy access to the ‘barbarian babes in chain mail’ channel if you wished.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Lord Vladimir demanded, sending a flash of magic into the crystal ball. He wagged a rather unsteady finger at the goblin. “Interrupt me again, and I will have you thrown to the Thing.”

“Very good sir,” Tilesbury sighed. “Though if you could give me a little advance notice there? It might take some time to rouse it.”

“Oh, has it been feeling unwell?”

“Exactly, sir. I tried explaining to your guard captain that if he must throw heroes to it, it is generally better to take the armour off first, but he didn’t really listen.”

“Poor Fluffy,” Lord Vladimir said, returning his efforts to the crystal ball. For a moment a picture came into focus. “I think I’m getting it.”

Since this is supposed to be a family friendly affair, this seems like a good moment to discuss that other vital topic- goblins. No, you can’t stay watching over his lordship’s shoulder. Honestly.

Now, to goblins. Since time immemorial, villains of all stripes have felt the need for minions to do the dirty jobs. Like trying to find seven dozen virgins on the night of the full moon when that faint feeling that they’ve forgotten something resolves itself. Or having someone to shout at when they can’t.

They have very often found an answer to their minioning needs in the form of short, green, capering creatures with names like Snot and Grak. As such, a number of traits have become quite deeply ingrained in the goblin make up, from a knack for getting hideous torture devices really clean, to a skull that can survive having things thrown at it every time their employers are annoyed. Which is, almost by definition, constantly. Most relevant here is the deep seated knowledge that, whenever the boss says things like “I think I’m getting it”, it’s probably time to duck.

Despite hardly living up to goblin standards in most other respects, Tilesbury eased himself behind a conveniently large box of battery-less rings of power.

“My Lord, I really feel that I should point out that you did have quite a lot to drink with the ambassador from the snake people.”

“Hardly a drop!”

Tilesbury sighed once more. “Seven pints, sir. Plus that bottle of wine from the elven kingdoms, four glasses of brandy, and what turned out on further inspection to be a measure of Ikthian Klaah poison, deadly in all but the smallest doses.”

“Like I said, hardly anything,” Lord Vladmir insisted. “Now stop distracting me before-”

The explosion wasn’t quite the biggest Tilesbury had seen.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Finished

49,347. That's how many words my first draft has ended up with now that I've finished.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Stuff

  • My YA Brian Northington story is up to about 45000 words at the moment. I suspect that the full thing will be a little over 50000, which is obviously quite short, but I have some specific people in mind for it who seem to like that length.
  • It's curious how much characters have to change and shift between short stories and longer work. Brian has to be a bit more sensible just to function over a longer story, despite being younger. Spider has to have some good reasons to stay that grumpy. And as for Trouble the not-quite-chameleon, he has changed into something very different indeed.
  • I've been rooting around in old boxes to find things to re-read, though I'm having trouble settling on anything. A very brief traditional fantasy kick seems to be coming on as a result, which will no doubt be followed by parody.
  • I have been applying for real jobs again, the ghostwriting not really having enough progression in it to sustain itself long term. On the other hand, it does mean that I get to apply just for the things I really want, rather than being in that awful situation of applying for everything in the hopes that something comes up.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Things I've Learned From Ghostwriting

I think I have done this before, but I remain convinced that ghostwriting has taught me some important lessons about my own writing, so here are a few of the more important ones:

  1. Everyone has a big idea, even if it is the same as quite a few other people's. The question is more what you're inclined to do with it. (I know I keep saying this. It's still true. At some point, I'm going to get around to running a very specific blogfest to prove it, with the same story written a dozen different ways).
  2. You can write more than you think. You really can. A thousand words a day? Ha! I once produced a YA novel in just under two weeks. And no, it wasn't rubbish. In fact, because it happened to be the piece that caught my imagination, it is probably one of my better ghostwriting efforts. This isn't about boasting, because there's certainly nothing special about me. My point is that you probably could too.
  3. The marketing side of things matters. How many copies would these things sell with my name on? Probably not nearly so many as with a better known author's name on, who promotes the books extremely well.
  4. Your voice just happens. I am, I suspect, identifiably me in all my own writing. The thing is, notes of the same voice come through even when I'm ghostwriting. And the same is true of almost every other writer. It's why all these sporting biographies read so similarly. The point is that, well, you know all that time you spend trying to develop your voice, to force it into the right shape? It will happen anyway.
  5. There are always boring bits. I've had people say that this must be a great, exciting job. Invariably, it coincides with the moment when I'm struggling to put together the most awkward bit. The bit that bores me just to think about, but which is still absolutely essential. Everything has boring bits. Even writing.
  6. Structure is important. The ghostwriting jobs that go wrong are the ones where the client sticks down a structure and you get on with the work without at least checking it, let alone arguing about it. Yet get the structure wrong, or the characters, and things can fall apart even if you're writing well.
  7. Get the work done. There is nothing like having to finish something to get paid to put writer's block in its place.
  8. Craft and inspiration. I am not inspired for every word I ghostwrite. I doubt anyone is. I doubt, moreover, that anyone is inspired for every word of their own work. The trick is to put together enough craft to be able to put together good work until inspiration decides to show up again.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Undead and Upholstered

And a quick plug for those who want the funny stuff. My short story undead and upholstered is in the October issue of eFiction. Online now.

Bad News Blogfest

This is for the Bad News Blogfest, and I thought, just for once, that I might try something that isn't designed as out and out comedy. Mostly because my YA Brian Northington novel (31 000 words and counting) is swallowing all the good jokes. Still:

Zack shuffled along, the worn leather of shoes taken from the dead hardly more than paper now against the road. Still at least they went with the suit, though not with the spill of blond hair down past his shoulders. The weight of the sandwich board at his neck was a constant, a certainty in a world that had lost them in one simple, single moment.

He stood outside a small cafĂ©, the sort of place that had people eating outside in defiance of all expectations of the British weather. Currently, the only two doing so were a delicate looking young woman and her boyfriend, a muscular young man who was looking at Zack with increasing anger. Zack wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t like he had said anything. He never said anything at times like this.

The chalked message on the board was clear enough.

The young man rose from his seat, jabbing a finger towards Zack in a way that made it clear that he wasn’t at all happy.

‘God, I hate idiots like you. “The end is nigh”. You religious types, banging on about the end of the world. It’s getting so you can’t go out without someone telling you to repent. Some of us don’t have anything to repent for, mate.’

Zack gave a solemn smile. ‘I am happy for you.’

If anything, that seemed to make him angrier. ‘All right. You think the end of the world is coming. When? Tell me that, so I can have a good laugh when we’re still here.’

‘It is uncertain,’ Zack hedged.

That got a short laugh. ‘Oh, I thought it might be. It always is.’

‘It could be Tuesday evening. It could be Wednesday morning. It is hard to be more precise than-’

The punch wasn’t really that hard, but it did succeed in knocking Zack over. It is hard enough to keep upright wearing a sandwich board even when someone isn’t hitting you in the face, after all. While Zack lay on his back like an overturned turtle, his attacker stalked off, shouting something to his girlfriend about finding somewhere better to eat.

She didn’t follow immediately. Instead, she knelt by Zack, helping him to struggle out from the contraption around his neck and back to his feet.

‘Thank you,’ Zack said.

‘Yeah… um… I’m sorry about Edward.’

‘So am I.’

‘Um…’ the silence had an awkward quality Zack had heard more than a few times before, ‘really Tuesday night?’

Zack sighed. He closed his eyes briefly, calling. Light spun around him, weaving into two wings at his back, an aurora around his features. When he opened his eyes again, he saw with the ache of the years after the second Fall. He saw every sin, every hope. He knew that, as the young woman looked into the infinity behind those eyes, she saw too.

‘Yes,’ Zackiel said, as gently as he could, ‘really.’