Thursday, 29 November 2012

Overlords, Goblins and Anthologies

I've started work on a new thing, which is in fact an old thing, which actually fits in quite nicely with the way I write things. I never seem to just write projects. I come back to them instead. Court of Dreams was put together when I realised all the things wrong with about three things I was writing, picked out the best bits and came up with a story that worked them together. The Glass, which is out with publishers at the moment, was finished on the second or third try. I think it may just be the way I write.

Which bodes well for this, a fragment from which some of you will already have read as part of a blogfest. It features goblin minions who owe a little something to Wodehouse, evil overlords, people wandering out of their home dimensions and trips to the Big Red Eye Awards for Extreme Unpleasantness. Also, me making fun of a lot of fantasy cliches while suggesting that they may still be better than real life.

Of course, that isn't written yet, so if you want to read my stuff, you're going to have to go with Court of Dreams for the moment (why do I make that sound like a punishment rather than a fun adventure filled with things, and possibly Things?) Also, I've just done my edits for a short story that should be coming out in Wendy Tyler Ryan's Second Avenue Second Hand anthology at some point in the near future.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Using the Hero's Journey

Earlier, I did some plotting using the whole Hero's Journey structure, which may not sound like much of interest, but bear with me. Because, as some people may know, I generally get quite stroppy about it. Or rather, I get quite stroppy about the way that, because George Lucas once used that tool of analysis as a way to give his work a more mythic structure, some people insist that using it as a blueprint is the only way to write.

I'm actually not a fan of any rigid obsession with a particularly structure, yet at the same time, I feel that the structure of a novel in general terms is an important part of the way it works. In the same way that we probably wouldn't give a song a twenty minute first verse and a twenty second last one, the balance and pacing of the individual components across a nice story arc is a good thing.

Ideally, I like to do that by simply looking at what is right. Like a chef working with ingredients, you can look at the recipe as long as you want, but your individual tasting of the balance of ingredients should count for more. Yet, when I'm stuck or in a hurry, it's important to be able to rely on craft to get me through, because this is my living.

So to balance that, I like to break things up by experimenting with different structures. It does two things. First, it allows me to pick one that suits what I'm trying to do (I find that John Truby's approach, for example, tends to suit slightly slower, more character based stuff). More importantly, it reminds me that I can switch structures. That the structure is something I'm choosing to use as a guide, not something that is absolutely essential to every story.

Sunday, 18 November 2012


I stopped using a thumb pick to play the guitar earlier, which might not sound like much of an announcement, but it seems to me like a comment on the way people sometimes choose to go about doing things. I'm generally more guilty of it than most, but people do have this tendency to want to do things a different way, a new way, a way that is all theirs. Like playing rock guitar with a thumbpick rather than the easy way.

What changed my mind was simply thinking about what my various guitar playing heroes do. While I can admire players like Scotty Anderson and Brent Mason, frankly, their music isn't what works best for me, so why would I copy them rather than, for example, Joe Satriani?

It's a thought that translates across quite well to writing. Sometimes, we wander off because we don't want to be the same as "everyone" else, when in fact, that can mean wandering away from the things we want to write. I have a deeply silly novel idea in the works, incidentally, and I won't be drifting off from it out of concerns that it isn't what I 'should' be writing.

Yet obviously, there is a case for being different. For just being yourself. In the realm of grappling, I'm playing around with something called the "inverted shot". It involves attacking an opponent by doing a kind of backwards roll thing at them. I'm doing it, not because it happens to be very unorthodox, but because it happens to fit in with my game. How can that be the right thing to do and messing around with thumbpicks be wrong?

It seems that the criteria here is, as so often "are you doing it because it takes you in the direction you really want to go?" I'm not talking about some sort of overarching life plan (because it would have to be a very strange plan indeed to encompass all these things) but rather just a simple sense of identity and what you want it to be.

Oh, and I can't say much about the novel idea, but it encompasses fantasy heroism as a kind of extreme sport, the difference between generic Villainy and actual evil, henchmen, quests, and an assortment of concepts I've played around with in much shorter form. Also possibly goblins, though I haven't decided on that yet.

Thursday, 15 November 2012


I'm currently shopping around with my novel, trying to find a publisher that's the right fit for it. That's quite hard work, even though I feel that this one is at least as good as any of my previous efforts, because it really doesn't fit neatly into any of the most popular categories. It is, broadly speaking, comic fantasy, but it's fraction more serious than Court of Dreams, having a little more plot in between the jokes. It has angels and demons in it, but it's not particularly religious in tone. It does the urban fantasy thing a little, but without the obvious romance angle that people seem to need (because frankly, urban fantasy has moved a lot closer to paranormal romance in recent years).

It's just a case of keeping going, I suppose. It's a question of hunting around until I find a publisher that's really interested in a story featuring fake fake psychics (not a typo), deceptively grumpy former angels, the topography of the UK, parodies of medieval vision literature and strange forays to meet Death in a small cottage on the Welsh border.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

I'm just thinking about novel ideas at the moment. It may be a little early to start another; after all, I have ghost writing projects to finish, more to set up, and one of my other novels is only just out to publishers. I'm still not sure which bits are my thoughts and which bits are just hangovers from other projects. I've been thinking that perhaps I should just write down every idea I've ever had and try to work out how to fit them together.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Guitar project, initial thoughts

So, it’s done. No, not some new novel or other. Something that doesn’t quite come along quite that often. My guitar. After almost a year, it’s together, even if it isn’t quite the way I expected it, so how better to celebrate than by putting together a blog post about the process of construction and what I’ve learnt? Writing people may want to look away now.


First, a quick note about the finished product: it’s a telecaster style guitar in korina with a Warmoth standard thin maple neck featuring a bloodwood fretboard and stainless steel frets. The hardware is mostly Wilkinson (three saddle compensated bridge and E-Z lock tuning pegs). The pickup combination is unusual, in that it’s a Creamery standard size wide range copy in the neck, a Creamery strat style dual rail in the middle and a Creamery tele style dual rail in the bridge. The overall effect is of something similar to Brent Mason’s setup, only with what has ended up as simpler strat style controls.


So, to things I’ve learned:


1.      Building a guitar from scratch will never save you money, and should only be attempted either because you genuinely enjoy the process, or because you can’t get what you want off the peg. Even then, it will be cheaper to modify an existing design than to build from the ground up.

2.      Sufficient research will reveal a wide variety of guitar models in the world, many of will fit that hole in your imagination very neatly. Perhaps if I had heard about the Baja telecaster or assorted Fret Kings earlier, things would have been different.

3.      It’s important to have a clear idea of what you want before starting planning the details, because additional features quickly add themselves to the list otherwise. I ended up with a very unusual pickup combination because I didn’t pay attention to what I needed at an early enough stage.

4.      It’s important to look at all your options for achieving what you want (if you want a strat style in between sound, my advice to you is not to add half again to your pickup budget by putting in a third pickup, when you can just add a phase switch. I found this out too late). The internet is surprisingly full of helpful people.

5.      Yet there is also a place for ignoring advice. My current choice of neck pickup is down to outside advice, and though it sounds great, I think if I were doing this again, it isn’t the way I would go.

6.      The time and effort in building, along with the cost of the tools and unexpected materials, is always going to be more than you think. Small things won’t fit, so that you’ll have to spend time doing things like expanding the tuner holes.

7.      Compatible parts are worth a little extra expense. I bought a beautiful Warmoth neck, but I didn’t want to spend the money for one of their bodies. Instead, I bought one from TK guitars. There are problems with it. The string through body holes on it are slightly too far back from the bridge pickup rout, meaning that stringing through the bridge is now the only option. Two of the three pickup routs had to be expanded to fit the pickups they were supposedly designed for. The neck pocket had to be deepened to allow the neck to set up properly. In short, fixing the problems probably cost me as much as getting it done properly in the first place, and I have a marginally worse result.

8.      Not all guitar techs/part builders are created equal. The good on my build include Colin at the Beverley Music Shop, who solved a problem in two days that had foxed the local guitar shop for three months, Jaime at the Creamery, who built wonderful custom pickups and repaired them when they were damaged in the process of construction, Wudtones guitar finishes, Warmoth, and the guys at Trinity Market Place music, who finished the project.

9.      Though having said that, they still weren’t able to give me the wiring I wanted, which included either a blend control or a neck on switch. Instead, I have standard strat wiring. So even with good people, you sometimes don’t get what you want.

10.  The end result will never be perfect. It’s not a custom shop guitar. It’s one you’ve made, with all the imperfections that go with that. I’ve ended up with a guitar I like, but could it be better? Of course it could.


Actually, let’s play that game. If I were designing it again, what would I do differently? Aside from immediately checking out off the peg options? Well, first, I think I would find an existing guitar I liked the neck from to use as a base. Probably still a t-style, but if you can find a complete cheap guitar you like the feel of, you can have a neck and finished body (probably in solid alder or basswood these days) for as little as a hundred quid. It would be two pickup, not three. I would still go with hum-cancellation, but I might go with a fraction higher output, because even on my high gain settings, my pickups don’t crunch the way I expect them to. They’re beautifully clear, but almost too clear. I’d use a phase switch for the strat tone, not a pickup. I’d still use a tele bridge pickup, but in the neck, I might use a strat style pickup.


That’s if I were doing it again. I’m not. At least not for a while. My basic theory with musical instruments is that you have to get to know them. And if this sounds like I’m a bit ambivalent about this one, I should point out that there isn’t a single one I have ever owned that I haven’t hated after about twenty-four hours, with the possible exception of my acoustic guitar. I have to learn to love them over time.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Embrace the Chaos

This one, for the IWSG (and about five minutes early), is a post that's largely about priorities. For the last month or two, I've been putting things aside to make time for a course to qualify as a fencing coach. At the same time, I've been pushing things aside writing wise to make room for some ghost writing gigs. Then there are the moments when I've been approaching publishers, talking to potential reviewers...

The point is that none of this is stuff I particularly planned, so I sometimes find myself wondering how useful these detailed point by point plans are that people occasionally have. You know, the ones that say they will have the novel done by x date, revised by y, and an international bestseller by z. Life is so chaotic. Life as a writer particularly so. We can keep sight of what we want, what makes us happy and what is right for those around us, but we can no more make something as complex as life abide by our wishes than Canute could command the sea.

In particular, I find it's worth remembering that these choices aren't straightforward good v bad ones. Often, they're between many things that we care about, which is as it should be if we're interested in the world around us. And it's a good thing. Perhaps sometimes, we should spend less time trying to impose ourselves on the writing life and more time just embracing it.