Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Resolutions Reviewed

At the start of the year, I made the following resolutions:

  1. To fence at least one competition worth ranking points this year.
  2. To write something everyday on whatever my main project is
  3. To seek academic publication, an academic position, and world domination. Not necessarily in that order.
  4. My writing still needs more penguins.
  5. To improve my cardio-vascular fitness to the point where I don't feel like I'm going to die after the first round of fencing's direct eliminations.
  6. To sell at least one novel this year.
So, how did I do? Well:

  1. I fenced the Sheffield Open, The Leeds Open, and the National Championships. All competitions with the potential for ranking points. I actually got ranking points out of precisely one of them.
  2. I'm ghost writing constantly, but that means that I often didn't put as much into my own work as I should have. Even so, I finished at least one novel.
  3. I briefly attempted this, and continue to, off and on, though it is less of an immediate priority.
  4. Several crept into the ghost writing. A success, I think.
  5. I got through the first round at leeds without breaking a sweat. Then again, I did earn a bye for that one.
  6. Are there things I wrote this year available from Amazon? Why yes, there are. Do they have my name on? No. For things that do, but which I sold last year, look slightly to your right.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Mayday Review

I finished Mayday, by Adam Wilson, earlier today, and all I can say is that if you didn't get enough things to read for Christmas, this is a great way to treat yourself.

The blurb:

Meet the Global International Liberation Army, Britain's least dangerous terrorist threat. They talk tough, but behind their codenames and passwords its operatives are bored salesmen and hairdressers seeking escape from their everyday lives. Every week at their secret hideout they plot to overthrow the government… just as soon as they've finished their cups of tea and written a few poems about how rebellious they're being. Inept shelf-stacker Simon Corinth, their newest recruit, fits in perfectly, and agrees to travel with them to London for a May Day protest march. But he soon discovers that GILA has a dark secret, and suddenly finds himself running for his life, ruthlessly hunted by a murderous conspiracy. Who wants them dead, and why? With danger closing in on all sides, Simon knows he'll need more than slogans and sandwiches if he wants to survive the terrifying and bloody plans his unseen enemy has for May Day.

Let's start with a couple of slight downers to get them out of the way. Adam wrote this several years ago, and has published it himself. In places, both of those things show through. Not only could the manuscript probably have done with someone else proofreading it, but there are also a few traits that tend to get phased out as writers do more (a lot of suddenlys, a small obsession with the colon, and a few other bits and pieces). Add to that a couple of moments where things didn't quite work (the villain feels a little two dimensional, for example, and the end risks spiralling off into ordinary thriller territory for a few pages before Adam pulls it back into something with more depth) and you might be forgiven for thinking that I didn't enjoy this.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I found myself engrossed by this story of ordinary, slightly sad people sneaking around knowing that they aren't quite the revolutionaries they hoped to be and then getting caught up in things far more dangerous than they ever could have dreamed of. I loved the depth to most of them (even the aforementioned villain only comes across as 2D by comparision) and the beautiful eye for detail that lets Adam pick apart the absurdity of their lives even while placing them in mortal danger.

Yes, I said absurdity. That's not something I would normally expect from Adam, but this manages to mix in a streak of understated humour that lends just the perfect edge to everything else. Then there's the plot. Normally, people who go for a lot of twists and turns have trouble controlling things, but Adam's skill here is in throwing things together and still making it all seem coherent as he builds in layers of meaning. Yes, he pulls one or two slightly hackneyed devices, but even those are given the sort of secondary levels that let them work brilliantly.

It's that sense of a lot of different layers that makes this such a great read. Yes, you could read it as a fairly normal sort of thriller, but it also manages to make fun of a few thriller type cliches, has the time for some serious commentary on our responses to terror, plays with a fun selection of fairly deluded anarchists, weaves in a not-quite-love story, and still has time for a rather touching tale of someone forced to face up to realities he wouldn't have gone near had he not followed the wrong girl into a bookshop.

I think the best thing I can say about Mayday is this: after a while, I forgot who had written it and just started loving it. I'll certainly be reading it again.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Happy Ever After

I just thought I'd point out that the 'happily ever after' anthology over at Pink Narcissus Press is still open to submissions until 31st December. It's for stories that are all about what happens after the happily ever after, whether it's Sleeping Beauty's divorce, or the return of an evil witch, or simply about what happens when I consider the phrase "you have to kiss a lot of frogs" with too much time on my hands (which is my way of saying that my story based on the Frog Prince is in there, and it would be nice to have some company).

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Interview With Adam Wilson




As promised, an interview with Adam Wilson, author of Mayday and occasional producer of some of the most brilliant short stories I have read. As background, I first met Adam several years ago when he was part of Hull University's fencing club, where a mutual friend of ours happened to mention that the tall bloke with the weird inside-out lunge wrote short stories and occasionally got feedback from friends. I pestered him into being a critique partner, and I have rarely been so happy to read the stuff that has been put in front of me. Anyway, here he is. For the most realistic effect, try arranging your seating position so that you are looking at the screen almost vertically.



First, tell people some stuff about yourself.

Well, I’ve been on this earth for 25 years and I’ve been writing in some form for most of those. Typically I write science fiction or thrillers. I grew up in rural Wales. At age eighteen I started work on Mayday, a thriller novel that I continued to write through my undergrad, working in whatever half-hour scraps of time I could find. No wonder that it took almost two years to write the first draft! (Actually, the final quarter of the book was written in those six ‘missing’ weeks in the summer of 2006, in which I lived like a hermit, speaking with no one and surviving only through endless consumption of tinned soup and the complete series of M*A*S*H.) After that I started writing short fiction. I’m interested in mathematics, language, politics… Right now I live in Edinburgh, where I’m doing a PhD in supramolecular chemistry.

Mayday is one of your earlier pieces, isn’t it? What’s it like going back to that earlier writing self? Is he someone that you would desperately love to give some tips to?

Oddly enough I feel almost no sense of continuity with the person who wrote this book. Rereading it is an odd experience. It’s definitely a product of who I was then: eighteen years old, a country boy fascinated by cities, increasingly horrified by the government’s exploitation of the threat of terrorism but struggling to express it. Writing Mayday was a way of putting my thoughts in order. I think if I could go back and talk to my younger self I’d have a lot to tell him about politics. To make his teeth sharper.

What made you decide to publish it yourself? Given the amount of other stuff you’ve put out without recourse to publishers, is this some sort of deliberate ploy, or is it just an attempt to annoy those of us who have lots of stuff floating around, but know you’re a better writer?


Actually it happened by accident. I was content to leave Mayday as something of a museum piece, but a couple of months ago a friend of mine who’d read it asked for a copy. I’m afraid I didn’t really take her seriously – I thought she was just being polite. But she persisted, and eventually I thought, why not? And it turned out to be cheaper to use a print-on-demand service than to do it myself.
I did try sending Mayday off to publishers, but only half-heartedly. I’m a perfectionist with my writing, and in the time it took to edit and get the book ready, I was already moving on in the direction of short stories. Although I’d love to write another novel, a science fiction piece maybe, I feel I learn more with short stories, can deliver ideas better.

Who are GILA, why should we care about them, and have you just ripped off the People’s Front of Judea?

The Global International Liberation Army is the manifestation of all that frustrates me about anarchist or counter-culture groups. Our hero meets them expecting to find hardcore revolutionaries; instead he finds an odd assortment of bored hairdressers and businessmen who fill their empty lives with the thrill of pretending to be revolutionaries. They use codenames and passwords and the fantasy of being dangerous as a kind of therapy. And this is all fine and lovely, until half of them are killed by a bomb they didn’t know they were carrying. The survivors scatter into the night, with no idea who lived and who died, trying to piece together what went wrong.
In its early stages, Mayday was going to be a much darker book, very serious, about anarchism. The more I read about modern anarchists, however, the more they got on my nerves. I realised that Mayday could never be a serious book: I had to make fun of these people, or at least comment on their foibles. That’s why the scenes with GILA and its members are often comical, even absurd, in the middle of a life-or-death action thriller.

Now that there is a real GILA logo on a scrap of concrete somewhere, is there a faint possibility that a (suitably incompetent) group will form around it by accident? If so, is there anything you would particularly like it to do?

I got my Dad to spraypaint the GILA logo on a paving slab in our garden. I think it’s unlikely to inspire any revolutions from there. If a real GILA did arise, I think my emotions would carve out a trajectory starting with abject horror, passing through mild amusement, then back to the horror.

Given that I first came across your writing as a critique partner of sorts, how important do you think that kind of feedback is? How do your stories change and evolve over time? (I’m thinking particularly of ‘signal flare’, which if I remember rightly went through a few incarnations before you got something you were happy with)

It’s very important to know what other people think of your work. You’re flying blind otherwise, and ultimately it’s them you’re writing for anyway. It’s all a question of knowing who you’re trying to please. You can’t please everyone. I have a small set of six or seven people whose opinions I trust (they don’t know who they are, and I like to keep it that way for reasons of objectivity!). I don’t consider myself any judge of what’s good and what’s not, so if a story of mine doesn’t get these people’s approval, I’ve been known to scrap it altogether.
The changes over time you mention are usually at the start. It’s the hardest part to write for me: I usually go through several versions before I find something I like. If the start is good, the story writes itself.

We’re almost opposites in terms of speed and length as writers. You are also almost an advert for avoiding that flash fiction ‘get it down right now in no words’ approach. What does your tendency to write fewer, longer pieces do to the work?


My philosophy is never to write something until I’m sure I have something worth saying. A finished story, for me, is a statement on my position on a topic, as carefully thought through as possible. That’s why I often go for long spells in which I write nothing at all: I’m still looking for something worth saying, or working out how I feel about an issue. It’s also why I tend not to go in for very short things. I need to tell a whole story. Flash fiction is very clever and I admire people who can condense their ideas so well. I just can’t.

You’re also quite big on research. In fact, you seem to be incredibly interested in almost everything. Is that a fair comment? What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done for research?

I think it’s less important to do research for stories than it is to be researching constantly, on all topics, and letting stories be the by-product of your reading. I never know what might be useful to know for a given story, so my policy is to try to know everything, or at least everything that interests me. A favourite story of mine is called Eight Plus Eight, which turns on the idea of trying to establish a shared language without being able to see the person you’re talking to, and what you can and cannot say in that language. It was inspired by a passage in Frankenstein (where the monster learns French by observing a family at mealtimes), but if I hadn’t already been reading about Wittgenstein and the history of mathematics, that germ of an idea wouldn’t have had anything to grow on.
Eight Plus Eight was also the weirdest thing I’ve done for the planning phase of a story. You’ve actually mentioned it in your blog a while ago: I held a ‘conversation’, if you can call it that, in the artificial language developed for the story, with my girlfriend, over MSN messenger. She didn’t understand the language at the start, and as per the requirements of the fictional situation, the only way I could explain the language was in that language itself. There were a couple of concessions made, since we only had an evening, but we managed to make a communications breakthrough.
(An idea for my next story may actually top that level of weirdness. Without giving too much away, it’ll involve buying a second-hand typewriter and writing some parts of it blindfolded… but let’s see how that unfolds.)

Given some of your short stories, I must ask- is the future really as bleak as all that? Honestly?

You base your futures on the world of today, and on what history tells you. As it arises, new technology will always end up first in the hands of the powerful, who will use it to increase their power. Science and progress will afford us increasingly effective ways of expediting our bigotry and aggression. And that’s just the baseline optimism I feel even before I try to Make A Point.


The inevitable writer questions, put in to be annoying. (Feel free to make fun of them. I’ve always been amused by the fact that only Neil Gaiman is ever honest enough to just reply ‘I make things up and write them down’ to the last one) When did you start? Did you always want to be a writer? Who’s your favourite character? Where do you get your ideas from?

I started writing seriously to give me an excuse to use my parents’ computer when we first got one – which gives some idea of how long ago that was! Ever since my innate geekiness has continued to fuel my writing.
My favourite character is a man called Lowe from the story Antique. In a near-future nightmare world of radically increased corporate control, he is an anti-corporate activist who fights for individual freedom – but he is also a psychopathic hardliner, an utterly ruthless absolutist who has no problem killing innocent people if they get in his way. It was a lot of fun getting inside his head. I wanted to address the logical fallacy that I see in a lot of leftie literature: in my mind, whenever there is a battle between Good and Evil, there will always be people on the side of good who are just as evil as the people they’re fighting.
And if I knew where I got my ideas from, I’d have had many more of them.

Where can people get hold of your work? Where can they buy Mayday? Can anyone who doesn’t actually live in Edinburgh get hold of any of your short stories?

You can buy Mayday online at http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/mayday/13667928. I’m toying with the idea of putting a short story collection on there too, if people are interested in me doing that. You can also join my page on Facebook, Adam Wilson’s Short Thrillers, for very irregular updates on what I’m writing.

(You can also find his short story 'Like Killing Mice' Here- Stu. Thanks to Adam for answering, and I'll probably review Mayday once I've had a chance to sit down with it properly.)

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Stuff

  • Finally, a fiction ghostwriting project that I don't have to keep secret. I'm currently working on a vaguely history based thing (what "really happened" at various famous events) and you'll be glad to know that a couple of blogfests here helped me get the gig, since I used my old bar scene and my sword in the stone thing as samples.
  • My most technologically rewarding moment ever: ordering thumb picks over the internet. I'm all for supporting local music shops, but not when they completely ignore me over plectrum isssues. Now, how do I download them?
  • I've sent my questions to Adam, and look forward to getting some suitably odd responses.
  • Having seen David Suchet on a programme about the Orient Express, I am now reading Murder on the Orient Express.
  • I'm still writing half a dozen things. I haven't deleted them. Yay.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Upcoming Interview

Good news. My friend Adam Wilson, who also happens to be one of my favourite writers, has agreed to do an interview here to promote his novel Mayday. Look for it as soon as I can think of something to ask him that might get an interesting answer (although with Adam, even a simple hello can have that effect, some days).

Friday, 17 December 2010

Christmas Fairy Tale Blogfest

This is for the fairy tale blogfest, and is loosely based on... well, you'll guess.


Debriefing- Deniable Warfare Assault Recon: Fairytale HQ

The commander drew himself up to his full height and glowered down at the members of the elite unit currently standing at ease in front of him. So elite that even he only knew them by their call-signs, and that their slightly pointed red berets were something to be feared across half the magical kingdoms. They were the best of the best. At least, they were supposed to be.

“What do the seven of you think you’re playing at?” the commander bellowed, loud enough that at least one of them stared at his feet in shame. Of course, Bashful didn’t really count. “It was supposed to be a simple close protection operation. The princess was not supposed to end up in a critical condition.”

“With respect, sir,” the team’s medic put in, “we were able to stabilise the princess’s condition quickly and without risk.”

“Only because Charming happened to be nearby, from what I hear. If he hadn’t given her mouth to mouth, we would have looked like idiots.”

Another of the troops raised a hand. “In these uniforms, sir? We already do.”

The commander turned his attention to the newest of the team, promoted to it when Sgt Dopey had wandered into that minefield. As far as the commander was concerned, Pointed Remarks wasn’t settling in well.

“Let's talk about you for a moment. It’s bad enough having Grumpy whine about every mission, but I can live with that. When you can hit a pixie at a thousand yards with the Barret, you’ll earn a bit of leeway too.”

One of the seven grunted a grumpy acknowledgement.

“For now though, you don’t say things like ‘fairest of them all, pull the other one, love’ to the person you’re supposed to be protecting.”

“Sorry, sir.”

The commander sighed. “Honestly lads, did anything go right with this mission?”

“Well I think that everything went just swimmingly, sir, and-”

“Not you, Happy. How did someone even get past your defences?”

“Classic apple seller tactic, sir,” the Doc snapped out, looking faintly embarrassed. “Caught us just at the worst moment. Corporal Sleepy had just finished the night shift, and they were able to incapacitate Sneezy here with a bunch of flowers. You know how his allergies are. As for the other lads, well, someone had to keep up the cover identities in the mine.”

The commander looked down at a report, it was all there in black and white. “What I don’t get is why you didn’t test the apple, Doc. You were still there, weren’t you?”

“Yes, sir, and I did. Full chemical analysis before she took a single bite.”

“So what went wrong?”

“Turns out that the opposition had poisoned the other side of the apple, sir.”

The commander paced for a moment in front of his troops. They were the best of the best. He knew that. Most of them could clear a room with an MP5 in less time than it took to blink. Yet sometimes, he despaired of them.

“Lads, I’ll not lie to you. I’m getting pressure from up top over this. I’ve tried to point out that you dealt with a full team of Royal Rangers on the way to the safe house, but that’s not cutting much ice. The fact is, you made a mess of it, and after the thing in Oslo…”

“We got her out before the incendiary went off.”

“Only because she happened to feel it through a dozen mattresses. Relying on Dopey to check for devices was not a good idea, Doc. And the gig to finance the royal coup and get the kids to safety?”

“My fake ID was compromised, sir.”

“How? Even I don’t know your real name.”

“She just… guessed, sir.”

The commander sighed again. “The thing is, boys, it’s happening too often. The lads from Special Marine Urban Recon: Faerie are saying that they could do a better job.”

“What? They’d really send in the White Berets ahead of us?” Grumpy demanded. “Bunch of-” Happy clamped a hand over his mouth just in time. Doc did the same with Pointed Remarks.

“What I don’t get is why things have been going wrong,” the commander said. “It seems that Evil Queen forces are keeping up with us at every turn. How’s it happening, Doc?”

“Been thinking about that, sir,” the specialist said, “and you won’t like the answer. But me and the lads all think the same. We have… a leak.”

“Who?”

Pointedly, seven pairs of eyes swung to the corner of the room where a floor length mirror stood. A nervous cough came from it. “Who? Me?”

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Stuff

  • I'm currently working hard to get some copywriting out of the way before Christmas, as well as working on another ghostwritten novel. I might also have some comedy history stuff coming up in the new year, so it's busy times all round.
  • Nevertheless, I have still found time to do a little more work on my own stuff. I'm getting to the stage with the things that are out where I should probably hear something about them in due course.
  • I've been going to my local ju-jitsu class the past couple of weeks, and I have noticed two things. First, it is basically a karate class with a few throws, so I probably won't keep going. Second, I'm inclined to try odd moves that I have never been taught. In a bit of groundwork for someone's grading the other week, I pulled off a rubber guard/gogoplata combination that I stole off a computer game. I'm sure this is not how normal people do things.
  • I have also been reminding myself of the full Lee style tai chi form. Normally, I only bother with the short form, but it's nice to go back and work on the whole thing occasionally.
  • I'm currently reading Sir Thomas Mallory's Morte de Arthur, as well as Tom Holt's Expecting Someone Taller. I know which I'll finish first.
  • I'll be joining the fairy tale blogfest on the 18th, with something Snow White based.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Presents for Villains

Even evil overlords like the holidays. Mostly because heroes are too deeply snowed in to try to sneak into the castle. So, ten presents/holiday related things a villain might like:

  1. Paper of infinite wrapping. Set it loose and watch your enemies captured with a neat bow.
  2. Crackers of ultimate destruction. When they go bang, you know about it. See also...
  3. Jokes of Doom. Reduce your enemies to groaning wrecks with these awful cracker jokes (slightly hard to distinguish from the normal ones)
  4. Crystal baubles. Tell the future. Spy on your enemies. Then hang them from the tree so that you don't lose them.
  5. Stockings of stuff. Just your basic box of everything in a handy sock form. Reach in, and you could find anything. Rumours also suggest that there may be a sack of stuff somewhere.
  6. Gloves of penguin hypnotism. Let's face it, penguins have 'Army of Doom' written all over them. These gloves make it a reality.
  7. Reindeer tracking crossbows. Because for some reason, people always seem to want to break into the castle over the festive period using the aerial route.
  8. Miniature manacles. Because the fairies always fly off the tree otherwise.
  9. A cauldron of infinite boiling (note how the word infinite makes anything infinitely more magical). Used across the multiverse. Frequently on sprouts.
  10. Extra minions. Someone has to clean up afterwards. What do you mean 'time off'? Humbug, anyone?

Friday, 10 December 2010

The Answer

Thanks for all the guesses on the keyhole blogfest. I think it is probably time I told you the answer though.

Firstly, this is all from my Brian Northington stuff, the YA novel for which is out to a publisher at the moment, and a couple of the original short stories for which can be found in my writing credits tab. The two character's whose rooms I briefly mention at the start are Spider and Peter Edgeborough.

The main room description is for Philip Edgemonton Straggle, who used to be the resident monster wrangler/adventurous type for P.Edgeborough and co. (supplier of assorted dungeons of doom and other essentials for the truly evil overlord) until he met with what passes for an industrial accident in these circumstances. He had a particular fondness for dragons, and went out with Spider for a while.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Keyhole Blogfest

This is for the keyhole blogfest, where the idea is to post a description of somewhere that a particular character lives, and everyone else gets to guess as to the type of character. This one may seem a little odd at first, and technically I end up describing three rooms (those familiar with this particular batch of stories may be able to guess the names of the first two occupants from the context) but hopefully it will make sense:

Further on still, and frankly pushing the limits of what it should have been able to fit behind a florist’s shop, were what appeared to be living quarters. Opening doors revealed a neat, modern looking room with just enough in the way of ornaments that it would have had a feminine touch but for the samurai sword on the wall, followed by the sort of elaborate, heavy carpeted rooms that could have belonged to a country house. Brian identified the owners of those quickly enough, and tried the next door down.

It was open, and pushing the door ajar revealed a room that spoke of a life that had been… eventful, to say the least. A corkboard had faded maps pinned to it, most of them featuring notes that said things like “Lost city-found” or “Here be dragons? Where? I looked all over” in very familiar handwriting.

The furniture was robust, and obviously hadn’t been used in months if the dust was anything to go by, while most of it was covered in a mixture of old, leather bound books and the sort of ornaments that you only got from a life of fighting assorted monsters. The stinger of a giant scorpion served as a sort of paper spike on a desk, while a bowl of assorted teeth had the words “Do NOT drop” written on in quite large writing. There were watercolours on the walls, featuring griffons and were-beasts, minotaurs and more dragons than even Archibald Mathers could have contemplated.

Brian was just working his way through them, when from nowhere, he started to get the feeling that he had done something very wrong by coming in here. It probably had something to do with the largely untouched state of the room. It felt almost shrine like in the way it had simply been left. It also had a lot to do with the fact that there was a frighteningly accurate portrait of Spider sitting in amongst the other paintings. It seemed to scowl down at Brian, telling him that he had no right to be there, and that there would be trouble later. It was a lot for one painting to achieve, but even so, Brian was almost happy when he heard Violet calling out to him.

Watching the Ashes

There is a strange sort of madness that comes with the Ashes, and it stems mostly from the fact that the two teams playing one another live on opposite sides of the world. I'm talking, of course, about the crazy urge to watch them live on TV rather than waiting for the highlights. The pattern goes something like this:

  • Ask brother if he will be watching them. If he is, I have less of an excuse for doing normal things, like sleeping.
  • Put up with the rubbish TV that you get just before midnight, while brother takes a nap under the heap of blankets he intends to occupy on the sofa.
  • At 11:30, turn on to the commentary prior to the start of play. At 11:32, turn back to whatever I was watching before (an old Victoria Wood Christmas special, as it happens) to wait for midnight.
  • Midnight. They're not on the pitch yet. Why aren't they on the pitch? Oh, here they come.
  • Shortly after midnight. Watch Strauss leave a straight ball from Bollinger. Get frustrated at the time it takes for Trott to get ready at the crease.
  • Watch meandering run getting.
  • About half an hour later, realise that I'm a wimp, give up, and get some sleep.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Talli Roland: The Hating Game

A plug for someone else, for once. All right, so I'm not exactly a chicklit fan (aside from one rather odd phase a couple of years ago) but I am a fan of people trying to promote their novels, so I'd like to direct your attention to Talli Roland's site, where she's promoting her novel The Hating Game. If you do like chick lit, or you simply like the idea of helping someone hit the Amazon Kindle bestseller list, head over there.