Author Archive


January 8th, 2014 3 comments

First there were the spoilers. Then came the fanrage.

It’s taken me a while to manage my habits about favourite programmes, to avoid all social mediums between the time it starts broadcasting to the time I finish watching. This includes if I happen to tune in late on iPlayer and have to skip back to the start of the programme (what a useful feature), and/or if I pause the programme at some point to forage for biscuits, and consequently end up out of sync with the rest of the viewing audience.

Things get trickier if the programme is first broadcast overseas. There I can just hope that no-one talks too loudly about stuff until it airs over here properly. I got burned by imdb during the first series of 24 and I try to avoid things where I can, but this year people made their favourite scenes from the Newsroom’s last two episodes into Youtube clips and put the spoilers right in the titles.

With British programming I tend not to miss the airdate so easily. And I even managed to watch the finale to the most recent series of Doctor Who, while attending the Horus Heresy Weekender last May. I stop getting withdrawal symptoms from the mediums better that way.

I didn’t entirely understand the import of that finale at the time – at least in part because that was the precise minute the people whose room I was watching the show in decided to return to the room, so my concentration was compromised – and it was in those moments that my new year’s resolution first formed.

Because, the first thing I did when the episode was over and I had a minute, was to go online and find out what that thing was all about. And it turns out that while I was curious, other people had formed opinions. People I follow, or am friends with, or sometimes both. Sometimes they link to other people’s opinions. Sometimes there’ve been analyses.

When the Doctor Who anniversary happened, I watched alone. I tuned in to several of the other anniversary broadcasts, watched the episode again from my recording it, and the following day went to the cinema to enjoy it in 3D. There were probably more people there when it was simulcast live into the cinema, and it would’ve been lovely to listen to the audience’s reactions… but I think I would’ve missed something in the noise.

When the Doctor regenerated at Christmas, I watched with my family. And shortly after that, I went back to the mediums to see what the reactions were… and there were those who loved it and those who hated it and I found myself internally defending my opinion of the show against the intensity of these other people’s opinions… except I hadn’t really formed my opinion of the show yet. All I knew for sure was that I didn’t love it or hate it quite as much as other people had apparently decided they did.

And thus was borne the resolution. So on New Year’s Day, I sat down with my friends to watch the latest episode of Sherlock. And when we’d finished, we played games – Love Letter and Zombie Dice, both quick games but good fun – and I thought about the episode. Not so much whether I liked or hated it yet. I was still trying to figure out whether certain plot points lined up, and whether I could figure out anything about the ongoing story threads.

But before I went online again, I wanted to have an opinion. I wanted to have my own before I was given two and asked to pick.

Not that I’d’ve have put it on the mediums at that point, oh no. Some people haven’t watched it yet.

Categories: General Tags:

Hardbacks don’t work

October 17th, 2013 1 comment

Predictably, having made a blog post about how I wanted to discuss more ideas, I went quiet for three weeks. Let’s try something simple: a thing, my opinion, and what do you think.

A thing: over the last few years, Games Workshop have changed the way they release rulebooks. They used to be softback; now they’re hardback. This trend started with their main rulebooks – for 40K, the first hardback was fourth edition, so nine years ago; for Warhammer Fantasy, it was at latest seventh edition, seven years ago. Over the last three years this has spread through all their army books, of which now more than half are available in hardback.

We could be cynical about the motive if we chose: hardbacks are considered a better quality product than paperbacks, so GW can charge more for the books. But let’s not be cynical. Cynical leads to comments like ‘this is why we can’t have nice things!’ – and in GW’s defence, it’s full-colour, it’s filled with illustrations and heraldry and all the things their rulebooks are known for, it’s a high quality thing and there’s no reason we shouldn’t have nice things.

(This said, back in third edition when 40K had just been revamped and everyone needed a new army book quickly, the codexes were far shorter – and less expensive – than they are now, but by golly they were packed with stuff and steeped with character. I’m fond of that era of 40K.)

Here’s the real problem. Hardbacks may look nice on a shelf, but for actual gaming purposes they’re too fancy. I’m expecting to use a rulebook during a game. That doesn’t mean poring over the rules at leisure or soaking in the artistic detail, it means being able to find the page with the rule I need as efficiently as possible.

And hardback covers are not made for flipping.

Let’s take the subject off GW. Recently, there’s been an uprising in interactive fiction. The ilk of Fighting Fantasy and Choose Your Own Adventure and stuff have made their way into digital forms as ebooks and apps, and good for them – but through the magic of Kickstarter, they’re also being made into high quality dead-tree editions. All the eighties artwork, or new artwork based on it, or the artwork coloured in, or whathaveyou; the maps are laid out, the producers are making a real effort to make collectors editions of these out-of-print nostalgic tomes.

Good for them. I approve. I’ve bought a couple, they’re very nice; I’ve also hesitated to buy others, much as I’d like them, because I don’t have quite that much free cash.

But here’s the thing: a lot of them are in hardback, too.

I’ve heard some justification for this: a gamebook, even more than a codex, might expect to have dice rolled on it. Rulebooks in wargames contain the rules, but the focus of play is on the miniatures and the strategy; a gamebook is the centre of its player’s focus, so having it right in front of you and rolling dice on it might be a good thing. And again, I suppose, you might say this is a leisure activity where taking your time over the tome is something to experience.

But in my opinion, a gamebook is even more likely than a rulebook to have its pages flipped (not just during the telling of the story – also, when checking your character sheet). And a hardback makes that less efficient.

So, for me paperbacks are better and we should go back that way. What do you think, though – are hardbacks here to stay?

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Mode Rational

September 28th, 2013 No comments

I’m the current administrator of the Bolthole.

I used to be what we called a civilian moderator on the official forums hosted on the Black Library website, between February 2006 and September 2009. When the Black Library closed their website for refurbishment, a fan and fanfic writer named Sarah Cawkwell set up the Bolthole as a refuge until the official forums returned, which everyone presumed would be a matter of weeks at most. I was invited to moderate this site; I don’t know whether this helped give the new site some credibility or continuity, but I was there and I stayed.

When in 2010, six months later, the refurbished website returned, there were no forums; social media such as Facebook and Twitter had been embraced and the Bolthole was running along nicely. When Sarah became an author for Black Library, she stepped down as the Bolthole’s administrator. She was succeeded, and succeeded again; I’ve been the administrator for around a year now.

I don’t call myself the owner. I don’t usually even call myself the administrator; I still think of myself as a moderator. One of the qualities that comes with that, in my view, is the idea that where possible, before making a decision, it’s worth listening to everyone’s opinion first – whether it’s the person who’s complaining or the person who’s being complained about.

From time to time, this even means disagreeing with the other moderators; I don’t hold to the view that the moderators are a side I must be loyal to; they are members of the community, not separate from it, but they have an additional responsibility to guide everyone else into civil and constructive discussion. As members of the community, where the community comprises enthusiasts of many fandoms, they are not above getting into passionate and sometimes heated debates, but if such discussions are at risk of becoming nasty, I expect them to communicate with the rest of the moderation team, so that someone can be the voice of reason.

I’ve been in arguments a few times – mostly back on the official BL forums, which had more members and louder voices – and I’ve asked other moderators to step in so I don’t look petty by closing a thread myself. I’ve stepped in for other people. I’ve been a target for trolls on occasion, and I’ve dealt with it. On the internet a calm voice tends to win out.

But it occurred to me this week that being moderate in this way has become a habit. I don’t tend to express opinions. I listen for other people’s opinions, and then I comment. I become fascinated by interesting arguments, often snippets of routines by stand-up comedians or speeches from TV shows by Aaron Sorkin as much as anything else, and sometimes I mention these to other people to see what they think. It’s starting to feel like I’m not engaged; people aren’t disagreeing with me or changing my mind about much of anything because I’m not saying anything I think.

I think I should start doing something about that.

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Well-wishing and membership dues.

March 15th, 2013 No comments

It’s my birthday, and… a drink, you say? Oh go on, since you’ve already opened a bottle.

It’s an understated occasion. I understate a great deal. I’m not really in the habit of celebrating my birthday. It’s not a different day; it’s not really a milestone; I’ve not achieved anything new (if anything, I’ll temporarily lose the ability to instantly state my age whenever asked, until I adjust). By workplace tradition, I am required to buy cakes, so today I did, so today I am older and poorer. Fetch my party hat.

Today my Facebook feed gets inundated with birthday messages from many of my friends, which is nice, and I’m grateful, but I know that very likely this is the only time in the last year that some of them have communicated with me at all. And because I don’t place much meaning on my birthday, I don’t hype the importance of other peoples’ much, so odds are I haven’t joined in any indundations of anyone else’s page recently. Sometimes I think I should… but it seems like an awkward habit to start. If I wish one person well, why didn’t I wish someone else well a few days ago? I’m not playing favourites – in friends or days. I wish my friends well every day… but that’s understated. Maybe a birthday is really just a day for a timely explicit reminder of well-wishing.

But one of my friends went one better. In addition to a more direct congratulatory message, Josh Reynolds went on Facebook and Twitter and told all his friends and followers that it’s my birthday – and they could celebrate that by buying the eBook of my short story, ‘The Last Ride of Heiner Rothstein’, from the Black Library website.

A moment later, Chris Wraight had retweeted it. And David Guymer repeated the gesture on Facebook a little later.

I loved that. I far prefer the celebration of achievement, of tasks completed. It wasn’t even marred by the comment someone made that the story confused them (which is fine. I’m the first to admit it has flaws. I’m just happy it had a reader!). But it’s not just that, from these three Warhammer novelists. It’s a declaration of membership, something I often forget.

I’m a published Black Library author.

I don’t mention it often, for a simple reason: my relationship with Black Library has never progressed to the stage where they’ve asked me to pitch more stories. I have experience of the publishing industry which I draw on in conversations and forum discussions with people who lack that experience, and some of those people want to be published and don’t know how it works. But since I’m not a Name, I don’t really see the point of affecting a swagger. No-one’s asking me what I’m working on next; there isn’t really a next.

But the title doesn’t expire. I’m a published Black Library author. I wrote a story and the editors thought it was good enough to publish. Over time – the story was sold four years ago, and first released over three years ago – I still occasionally hear of someone new who read it. And I’m still trying to come up with the stories which will let me get published again. It’s like… before publication, there was a struggle to get published. And since… there’s a struggle to return from involuntary retirement. You’ve got to keep writing, keep submitting, and keep getting published, if you’re to stay on the mountain.

Maybe this year, I’ll make it back there again. Here’s hoping. Cheers, all!

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January 20th, 2013 No comments

Not the promptest response to the start of the year, I grant you. Not the most promising beginning if my New Year’s Resolution had been to blog more often.

I do want to blog more often, but that’s not my New Year’s Resolution; a Resolution would imply that it’s something I want to do throughout the year, and beyond – as though I have any idea now whether I’ll have anything worth saying. I think it’s generally best, when I have nothing to say, if I just shut up.

I hope to be blogging more often because there will be a few things I want to say, if things go well. I’m currently working through the submissions for the Bolthole anthology Marching Time, which will be chock-full of time-travel war stories, and priced very reasonably. The Bolthole’s previous anthology, The Black Wind’s Whispers (available here), has had some modest sales on Amazon, and I’m hoping this will be a worthy successor.

I’m also hoping to run a Kickstarter in the next couple of months. More on that later.

My Resolution is simple enough: I want to finish more stuff. This time last year, I had a couple of notions for iOS games I wanted to make, and I’d started to take (I thought) serious steps towards actually making those a reality. I ended the year with one simple and incomplete prototype of what might yet one day be the inaugural game.

I also finished the year with two short stories I hadn’t known I was going to write. One of these received feedback from Christian Dunn at the first Black Library Weekender in November; the other was intended for the aforementioned The Black Wind’s Whispers, but I retracted it because I simply didn’t think it was good enough. But damn it, finishing even a bad story felt good.

My friend Chris set himself a challenge a few months ago of creating something every day, and then putting it on tumblr. He’s still doing it (here); creativity breeds inspiration, and I’m pleased to see him still going. Take a look!

I don’t think my projects are so granular, so I won’t be doing that. But I’ve set some targets, I’m establishing some milestones, I’m marking the places where I will have achieved something and can celebrate that, and that’ll inspire me further. After all, what typically gets forgotten in making any New Year’s Resolution is how to maintain that resolve.

To you, reader, in all your pursuits this year: I wish you success.

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Astronauts. Everywhere.

December 22nd, 2012 No comments

I’ve had a week to think about my last post. I’ve been in a few discussion forums, seen some clever arguments, and generally become better informed. The discussion’s not done yet in the media, obviously, but I think continuing to talk about it is definitely key.

The ‘militia’ of the Second Amendment, I’ve learned, doesn’t refer to specific organisations. I’d assumed it was something about the government establishing the right for people of the 18th Century to keep the tools they needed to set up police forces and if need be armies to defend themselves against the unlawful problems they might encounter as a society, but it’s far more fundamental. The militia in question is every adult of conscriptable age; everyone who could be called upon to fight, having the right – through force of arms, if necessary – to not be dictated to by force of arms.

So, my clever argument wasn’t all that clever. The militia isn’t a them, it’s an us. Perhaps the language is against me there; English has evolved a bit in the last 236-plus years, in at least two directions. But then again, an update to the language of a document like that causes more problems than it solves.

I’ve seen other arguments this week. I wonder how easy they are to pick apart. Versus the predictable, foolish accusation that video games and violent movies are more to blame for gun violence than the availability of guns, one author (Jordan Ellinger) wrote “We have video games and Hollywood movies here in Canada too.” Another someone countered the idea of putting more guns in schools with “We need more teachers in our gun shops.”

My arguments aren’t done. I’ve asked what the defensive properties of a gun are. People seem to want guns to defend themselves, but I think body armour and riot shields are the things that defend you from guns. Shooting a bullet out of the sky is the only defensive property a gun has, and it’s unreliable, especially in a high-stress situation like getting shot at.

This one hasn’t fallen apart yet. If the point of the Second Amendment was to defend civilians against tyrannical governments, the weapons have moved on since then. The people got lapped in the arms race, even those of them with automatic weapons. The government has tanks now, and fighter aircraft, and nuclear weapons. Should the people get launch codes too? (The one response to that was that no-one would lack enough sense to want nuclear codes. As though wanting the gun was sensible.)

The title of this entry was from a response to “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” As Eddie Izzard said, I think the gun helps. And I’ve seen a lot of people arguing that if someone was determined to kill people, they’d find an alternative to the gun. The knifing incident in China last week demonstrated that – but that had more survivors. Guns are more lethal than a knife. Also, they’re far less discriminate.

The argument was: “Spaceships don’t go to space, astronauts do.”

The astronaut metaphor applied to another argument I’ve heard in recent months, regarding the people who call themselves writers, but who either talk about it or think about it or only start writing, but never finish anything. The response from several professional writers, including my friend Jim Swallow, was that if you were to call yourself an astronaut, but only talked about going to space, or only think about it, or only start going to space…

I wonder how many other attitudes there are astronaut metaphors for, which put them in perspective.

The gun thing doesn’t have a simple answer, I know. Removing all the guns from America, as has been done willingly in Canada and Australia and the UK in the aftermath of shootings to the ultimate benefit of the society, is an easy answer, not a simple one, and telling them to remove all the guns is just armchair quarterbacking. The US is clingy about its guns. Other countries in the world don’t have a Second Amendment right to weapons, and their people still suffer from their governments, so they could do with an equivalent. America’s ahead of the curve, but they’re still negotiating an impasse; hopefully they’ll join the list of countries where guns aren’t such a problem soon enough.

But then the Constitution generally exists to not just establish what should unite the people but how they ought to distrust each other. The First Amendment tells them they’re allowed to argue and disagree with each other, in the hopes of reaching a compromise, but they can never silence each other.

It’s not just about the rights – to say what you want, to own what you want, to call yourself what you want. It’s about the respect and the responsibilities too, to meet those who disagree with you, without violence; to consider the ramifications of your statements and the consequences of your actions, address them, and endeavour not to persist in error.

We will improve. Incrementally. But still reaching for the stars.

Categories: General Tags:

Second Amendment.

December 15th, 2012 No comments

Keeping this short and to the proverbial bullet-points:

My argument on the Second Amendment, and those who use it to defend owning equipment which has no alternative purpose than to destroy or kill:

‘A well regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free state,…’

Please name the militia you belong to, and direct me to a website where I can see the regulations which define how you were licenced to carry a gun, how often you train, and how you ensure that the gun does not make its way into the hands of the untrained, the unlicenced, the unregulated or the mentally unwell.

Alternatively: explain to me exactly how possessing a gun deflects bullets coming at you from other guns. Because it takes a lot more skill to shoot a bullet out of the air than I think most shooters reliably possess, and otherwise the defensive capabilities of these things isn’t apparent.

I’m aware that the Amendment isn’t as simple as allowing people to own guns. The point of it is that a country’s rulers and armies shouldn’t be able to rule by strength of arms alone; the people should retain power. That’s a fine principle, but the high ground disappears the moment anyone opens fire.

A useful video regarding news coverage of massacres, by Charlie Brooker.

My argument to journalists in general: report the news. Don’t sensationalise it. I don’t require a constant amount of news each day, just the salient points. I’m sorry if your newspaper has a quota of column inches to fill, or your news programme has to run for twenty-four hours, or if you’re being paid by the word, but I demand quality, not quantity. I want to be able to trust that you’re exercising judgement on what should or should not be broadcast, because invasions into privacy and grief are unwelcome, and because misinformation and speculation are corrosive and can affect legal proceedings and further innocent lives.

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A Little Courtesy

December 9th, 2012 No comments

The cleaning lady at work is a lovely lady. I made a point, early on when I started my current job, of asking her name (Lorraine) and getting to know her a little. One of her duties is collecting the mugs around the office and washing them. Now and again, since I made a point of using the kitchen’s metal cutlery to eat the baked potato I buy from the cafe round the corner instead of working through multitudes of ‘disposable’ (probably unrecyclable) plastic cutlery, she’ll wash the cutlery as well. It’s not her job to, and I often do it myself as well, but it’s a nice little courtesy; she’s washing things anyway, so it’s not much bother.

I want to update this blog a bit, again. It doesn’t get read much, or I assume it doesn’t, but I always wish I’d made more of an effort to make it look something like. So a couple of weeks ago, I asked one of my officemates, who deals in web design, how much he’d charge to design a new blog skin. And he seemed a bit surprised by that, because it seems entirely reasonable among friends to ask a favour and hope to get it done for free. And while that’s true… and it could be seen as insulting to address a friend as an employee, if you like… but I think my friend’s time is also worth something. They learned this skill, and if I devoted some time to it, I could learn this skill as well… but it hasn’t come easily to me yet and there are other things I want to do with my time. So I think the skill is valuable.

I’m working on a number of projects at the moment. There’s Marching Time, an anthology I’m running for the Bolthole. The first anthology, The Black Wind’s Whispers, went on sale on Friday and became the #1 horror anthology on Amazon’s charts for a while – perhaps it still is – so we’re eager to see how we’ll do with an anthology full of time travel war stories. (I’m still accepting pitches; click the Marching Time link above for details.)

And there’s a Kickstarter project which is still taking shape, but rest assured I’ll be promoting the hell out of it soon enough.

Both of these things require people besides me, people with experiences and skills I don’t have. I’m not an artist – but I know people who are, and who can use the work, so I got in touch, and will pay them for their trouble. Marching Time will have a front cover. The Kickstarter will need artwork. The Kickstarter will need a few more things besides, and for that I’m asking quite a few people for their time even before there’s any certainty of funding.

Some of those people have given their time freely. Some of them will be paid for their efforts, but that’s an understanding based on what the task is and whether they’d normally get paid for it. The ‘free’ people aren’t invoicing me or expecting payment… but I don’t think I’m wrong to offer. It only seems fair to me.

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The Dark Knight Rises

July 31st, 2012 1 comment

I’m starting to wonder if I should see this movie one more time, just to see the film as it is rather than what I hoped it would be. I was disappointed by it, and I’m about to talk about why, so here’s the SPOILER WARNING.

Read more…

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Edge Lit Derby

July 15th, 2012 No comments

Start at the beginning, was a piece of advice I received yesterday, at this event. Let’s pretend I didn’t, and see what happens.

I got home at about 1.30am. This may sound obvious, but it’s dark at night and country roads like the A52 are surprisingly twisty and not well-lit, and the etiquette of foglights (like, not using them while behind someone else because they have rear-view mirrors) is sadly lacking sometimes. Also, The Hounds of Artemis is a pretty nice Doctor Who audio adventure.

It was a long day, and twisty corners, sugarfree Red Bull and Doctor Who kept me up because I’d spent all day at Edge Lit Derby 2012, a new annual event from Alex Davis, who’s masterminded Alt.Fiction and plenty of other things.

Prior to that I sat down at a bar with some fellow genre enthusiasts, some of whom just aspired to write and others who’d been involved in producing magazines over a considerable amount of time. I think mostly we were sharing a cup of tea and winding down from the event.

Prior to that, these enthusiasts were my opponents in the 9pm Edge Lit Quiz. There were spot prizes and other prizes, and I can say proudly that my team came fourth. There were only four teams but anything in the top ten suits me. Special bonus points go to the Edge Lit volunteers who helped run the event all day, because they won the quiz, and therefore got free tickets to attend the next one.

At 6pm was the raffle, ably presented by Angry Robot’s Lee Harris, and Sarah Pinborough. They were a wonderful double-act – well, Sarah and her glass of wine were, and Lee helped. The blue and white raffle tickets looking the same colour under cinema lights, didn’t help so much. I was quite pleased with my winning: a signed copy of Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula.

The day is split up into events: panels, readings, workshops. I’d gotten to MD Lachlan’s ‘A Novel in an Hour’ workshop, which collaboratively planned a novel over an hour from start to finish. I was impressed at how we built everything up from what had gone before, without having any ending in sight. I also got to Simon Bestwick’s workshop on writing monsters, which essentially asked us to pick on something scary, and keep asking ourselves why qualities were scary so we could draw the ideas out. Then we wrote half a page or more of prose each, read them out in turn and got immediate feedback from the room. I’m tempted to type up my sample in another blog entry.

I attended panels, on whether fantasy needs archetypes (general census: ‘protagonist’ is an archetype, so yes; moral murkiness and anti-heroes are in right now; convincing utterly bad guys are interesting; straight-up good guys are difficult). On breaking into publishing (it’s tough. Get over it. Keep writing. Also, the sheer number of alternative titles to Fifty Grades of Shite were astonishing.) On what makes a great short story, on publishing today (which won’t be the same as publishing yesterday or tomorrow), and a panel with Christopher Fowler, the Guest of Honour.

I bought a few books. I possibly shouldn’t have, but I’ve been thinking of getting a copy of Don Quixote for a while, and it was sitting next to a copy of the Satanic Verses, so why not.

I’m going in reverse order for a reason. The event started at 10am. The day started a little before 7am (apparently I can wake up before my alarm clock tells me to, when it’s not a weekday) and I spent half an hour deciding whether or not to attend the event at all. This was absolutely a last minute decision, aided by the fact that I was at least deciding to shave and brush my teeth while I was thinking about it.

Here’s what was going through my mind: I am already a writer. If I don’t attend – saving myself three hours of driving, half of that in unlit night, the fees of attendance and however much I think the bar will charge me for lunch (there’s a chocolatier nearby which sells sausage rolls and things, so I never found out) – then I can spend the day theoretically-productively writing.

Here’s what happened: I spent the day with writers, who live the day-to-day of making deadlines while juggling full-time jobs and know how all the rejection works, and who impressed with their diligence and professionalism and thoughtfulness and reminded me without crushing me that this is a difficult pastime – more career than hobby – with good outcomes for those who persevere and hone.

The alternative would’ve been spending most of the day wondering whether I should’ve gone. And then discovering that the Design Studio Open Day at Warhammer World was on the same day and realising I wasn’t going to that either. And I probably wouldn’t have written as much, or read as much, or had as much fun.

So: look out for Edge Lit Derby 2013. Get your ticket as soon as they become available. Or volunteer to help out, because Alex might be looking for more helpers…

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Interruptions, Achievements, and Mucky Jokes

July 3rd, 2012 No comments

It’s been a while. There are reasons for that. I was writing a blog entry with the cunning title of “Interruptions” to excuse myself – to summarise, there was a car accident, there was physiotherapy, and there was a funeral. I’ll get back to that last one because it deserves more than a glib summary. But the idea of the entry was going to be, life has interruptions, and you have to carry on anyway.

The topic at hand is the Black Library submission window – three months during which you can pitch anything to BL. I took the last two weeks of that window off in order to sit down and write. I didn’t get anywhere near as much written as I’d hoped. There were a few interruptions, to be sure, but sometimes it was the quiet times which distracted me most. The absence of anyone else being physically around put me into a sort of vacuum where there was no-one there, therefore no-one cared about my writing. I had no audience.

Writing is in a sense a lonely profession. It’s just you and the page. Sometimes it’s not lonely: it’s you and all the voices, all the characters who want you to tell their story. Sometimes they’ll co-operate enough to tell you what that story is or what they say, so you can write it down. And sometimes not.

My experience of “writer’s block” is that there’s usually two difficult stages with writing. Either you don’t know what you’re writing, or you don’t know how to express it. They’re both difficult, neither easier than the other. If you don’t know what’s happening in your story you have to stop until you figure it out. What would those characters do in that situation? Alternatively, what situation would make those characters do what you need? And how do you best communicate what’s going on to your reader? Do you have to hit the ground running with an amazing first line, or can you start with a paragraph and build up the atmosphere until you’re running?

Knowing the facts, and putting them in the right order, to achieve clarity. Two skills you need. Two skills I need to work on.

The ultimate result of this was: I submitted four pitches into the submission window. And I have at least four story ideas which I failed to submit, but will keep on file. Some stories bide their time. I tell myself that to remind myself that I didn’t fail – I submitted four more pitches than some people. Perhaps three more than were necessary. This is an achievement. This isn’t a success unless Black Library email me back, and it’s for this reason that fellow writers are pitching less to BL and more to other places where feedback is more practically possible, so they can improve, and hopefully build up their professional credits. I’m seeing more merit in this idea.

My alpha-reader and beta-readers know some of my titles, but I started to think back over all the pitches I’ve sent to BL. I have to stop and think how many pitches I’ve made – it’s something like twenty-seven, the tenth of which was the only publication. Again, I have to keep thinking that one success is better than none, rather than that my success ratio is getting poorer and poorer if none of the following pitches succeed. It’s a mindset.

That sounds negative, but I’m not pessimistic about the latest four pitches. I’m not exactly optimistic either, because I’m jaded with experience; I’m fatalistic. They’ll either make it or they won’t, and there’s nothing more I can do about them. But I don’t feel a sense of achievement. Maybe writers don’t. Maybe they’re always insecure about work submitted for approval; maybe they’re focused on the next story in line.

For all that I’m negative here about it, my beta-readers haven’t said a bad word yet. They’ve been critical, to be sure, demanding rewrites of unclear prose, a word snipped here or added there. But it seems I should be more positive about my writing, because other people seem to think I’m good at it.

I generally don’t publish my pitches, even when I know they’ve failed, in case I can re-use the ideas, but I’m starting to wonder if I should go back, re-read them all, and see what I’ve learned in seven years of trying. I’d have to start chronologically, I think, because the most embarrassing entries were first. Hopefully from there I’ll have improved, or gotten funnier.

I’m looking for a segue back to the funeral here, and I’ve lost my way, appropriately enough. The service was for my Auntie Rita, my grandma’s cousin. As we were reminded, she was someone who never got lost. She always took the scenic route to where she was going, occasionally with a police escort. Rita was someone who laughed a lot, the one who was always invited to the party because she was always fun. She got a bit of a reputation for telling mucky jokes, which perhaps she didn’t want, so she made a point of reinventing herself as a proper, respectable lady… but even then, she enabled others to tell jokes, and spread the fun.

It wouldn’t honour her memory to be sad. It’s honour her more to tell a joke, so here’s one she told which I remember. It’s best told in person, with gestures, but… well, let’s test my storytelling skills.

A woman gets onto a bus, and approaches the driver. She holds her hand out to him, palm flat, fingers straight up. The driver responds with both hands, palms to her, fingers straight up.

So she withdraws her hand, and instead pushes the back of her wrist up against her bosom. To which the driver stands from his seat, and cups his groin with his hands. Aghast, she turns, slaps her fist against her backside, and leaves the bus.

Another man, sitting further back up the bus, gets up and walks to the cab to confront the driver. “I’m a bus inspector,” he says, officially. “I think you’ve just insulted that woman.”

“I haven’t,” protests the driver. “That woman’s deaf and dumb.” He replays all the gestures in turn: “She said, ‘Is this the five-past?’ I said, ‘No, it’s the ten-past.’ ‘Does it go past the milk bar?’ ‘No, past the ballroom.’ ‘Shit,’ she replied, ‘I’m on the wrong bus!’”

Auntie RitaBless you, Rita, in memory, still bright.

Categories: General Tags:

Present Tense

March 25th, 2012 No comments

Today’s the shortest day of the year.
That’s supposed to be the Winter Solstice’s slogan, I know, but that only counts the daylight hours. The clocks went forwards; today’s the shortest day; someone got short-changed on their birthday again (but not as much as the February 29th kids).
All in all, calendars are very complicated. Since the year isn’t an exact number of days, it seems just that bit wrong to me that we celebrate our birthdays on the same calendar day. Depending on the time of day you were born, the calendar day which includes that time’s anniversary ought to change from year to year, depending on whether or not it’s a leap year. (And being me, I worked out when my hour of birth fell and therefore what days I should actually be celebrating as my birthday. Turns out I’m one of the ~25% for whom it’s always the same day).
The clocks always go forwards on a Sunday, very early, presumably because – for most people, anyway – it’s the weekend. I wonder how the Sunday-based religion feels about that… of all the hours to remove from the week, it has to fall on the holy day. Supposed holy day.
At least the clocks going forward is vaguely predictable: last Sunday of March, I think, is the rule. I don’t know how they calculate Easter or Mother’s Day.
It all feels rather orderly and yet rather chaotic at the same time.

I’ve been reading.
I made a new year’s resolution. I made two, actually, but this is the one which I’m fulfilling. I set myself a target of 50 pages a day, in the hopes of cutting through my to-read pile at a rate of about a novel a week.
Since Black Library Live!, three weeks ago, when I bought Void Stalker, Know No Fear, The Primarchs, Bloodsworn, and Gotrek & Felix: The Anthology, I’ve read all of the above – plus Guy Gavriel Kay’s A Song For Arbonne and Andrew J Robinson’s Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: A Stitch In Time. And five of the seven eShorts produced for Black Library’s 15 for 15 celebration (celebrating it’s 15th birthday. Happy Birthday, BL!).
I also played through Christian Dunn’s gamebook Hive of the Dead and listened to two new audio adventures, Eye of Vengeance and The Butcher’s Nails.
That’s at least 2400 pages in 23 days. I’m over quota. I like this a lot.

I wonder if I should review those books in more detail. It’s not something I’ve seriously turned my attention to. Do you (yes, you, my sole reader) think I should? Don’t answer out of desire for company, say what you think.

As a collection, though, I wonder about time, and storytelling.
The above list includes: three Horus Heresy tales. Six Warhammer 40,000 tales, set ten thousand years later. A series of fantasy stories set across twenty years. Two books from other universes.
Most of them are written in past tense. Know No Fear is written entirely in present tense. A Song for Arbonne includes some present tense but is mostly past tense. A Stitch in Time is set in five different periods of the narrator’s life, and bounces between these from chapter to chapter – or even mid-chapter, feeling no compulsion to stay linear. Void Stalker involves prophecy. Hive of the Dead features multiple choice.
We see past tense used most often in storytelling because that’s how storytelling works: there’s a spoiler built in to all novels that it’s going to last until the last page, give or take the acknowledgements. Even my eBooks, lacking that tactical comfort of thickness, tell me how many pages are left in the current chapter. The narrator lives until the end of the story.
Present tense gives the story immediacy, but cannot afford to slow the pace. Abnett uses the ‘mark of Calth’ system very well, in that regard. I think the analytical nature of Roboute Guilliman, and whoever his historian is, also work well in present tense. A researcher tends to express their studies and conclusions in present tense – ‘Our results show’ rather than ‘Our results showed’. The latter implies the knowledge has been superceded already.
I’m reminded of the quotation from Alice in Wonderland, regarding narration: ‘Start at the beginning, and continue until you get to the end, and then stop.’ It’s simple, but hardly the only way. We are, after all, born into our lives in the middle of the story; the universe already exists around us, and will exist after we’re gone. Hindsight isn’t linear; journeys are parallel. Which isn’t to say the simple way can’t be the most interesting. It depends on the story.

It was my birthday last week. Not a lot happened. I didn’t celebrate it, especially. I’m trying to pick something to spend gift moneys on, if for no other reason than I like getting parcels in the post.
I’ve got a desire to start writing a novel, last chapter first. Not necessarily all in reverse-chronological order, but my intentions for the story seem to make the last chapter most memorable. I hope I do the ideas justice.

If you were wondering what the other resolution was, it was to write 500 words a day. I’ve done almost twice that just writing this, but that’s incidental. It wasn’t even really a plan to try and blog more often.
That would imply some kind of discipline, or regular order, which not even time respects.
And Chaos, after all, is more interesting than Order. The villains get the best songs.

Categories: General Tags:


January 27th, 2012 1 comment

Amy: Have you ever run away from something because you were scared. Or not ready. Or just… just because you could?
The Doctor (smiling wryly): Once. A long time ago.
Amy: What happened?
The Doctor (somewhat ‘guilty as charged’): Hello.
Doctor Who: The Beast Below

I am amusing myself. For the last five evenings I have been re-watching Doctor Who: Series Five (i.e. Matt Smith’s first series), one episode per night. Matt Smith is at his youngest, enjoying a number of badass boasts against Prisoner Zero, the Atraxi, the Angels, the Daleks… that last one bites him quickly, but it’ll all come back to bite him in Series Six. Amy Pond is at her fiestiest, spellbound by this mad man in a box.

My opinion of Smith is that he’s gotten the barmy and the smart on the money, and if his youth ever made it difficult to reconcile him as 900+ and successor to the ten before him, or otherwise get over any transition between actors or head writers, Smith’s performance is sufficiently gangly in post-regeneration that this actually makes sense for the character until the actor settles into the role. (Or possibly, I’m rationalising everything to a fault. I’m a fan. Let me be.)

For some reason I enjoy the tension of a dangerous situation better on a re-watch. When I’m watching an episode for the first time I’m reacting to the new ideas shown onscreen, the problem and the resolution and the smart dialogue – while a little too engaged in trying to second-guess what’s coming next. Next week I’ll be watching The Pandorica Opens; I remember spending a week thinking about that episode and trying to figure out what Steven Moffat had planned for a resolution. Afterwards it seemed obvious… that’s a neat trick.

But to the point at hand: imagine writing for Doctor Who. Imagine writing the Doctor – but not necessarily for Smith’s Doctor, or Tennant’s, or Eccleston’s, or any of the illustrious predecessors. You can have another actor in mind if you like, or you can simply try and write ‘a Doctor’ until it becomes clear exactly which one fits best (there’s a nice novel called The Infinity Doctors which probably can’t take place in continuity and never establishes which incarnation you were reading about all along, but is unmistakably him).

I’m writing for a tie-in universe (not by commission, before you ask), and I’m keenly aware that my writing isn’t the same as what I read. A difference in style, yet to be decided either way as actually ‘good’. And I’m writing about factions that others have written about before me. Whatever I write will be mine, but has to belong to the same universe as theirs. If they wrote about a specific character, and had a specific actor in mind for the part, then when I come to cast it in my head I’ve probably chosen someone else. It might be the difference between two actors playing Hamlet – exactly the same words, different delivery; it might be the difference in Doctors – same moral code and intelligence, different balance of methods and personality; it might be the difference in Sherlock Holmeses – same skills, different environment.

So watching Matt Smith’s Doctor take form is interesting. I know there are hardships and hard judgements and hard decisions to come for him. I also know that during his tenure, a number of very asking questions will be asked of not just his incarnation, but of the character and the show as a whole. The principle question of these two series is this: what happens when you win so many battles that it’s no longer your moral code which wins the day, but your reputation for victory? What happens to your moral code when that reputation prompts a response?

The show advances, changes, and stays true. So a Warhammer or Warhammer 40,000 series must be about something old and new. What are the criteria for a story in that universe? How do we avoid retelling old stories with previously unexplored factions and stay faithful to the fundamentals?

A few thoughts in my head, taking form one way or another: a Doctor Who story must appeal to children, should probably introduce a new monster, and the Doctor should overcome the problem with compassion and intelligence rather than through brute action alone. Combining a primal horror, some relevant aspect of the viewer’s modern day (up to and including the companion) and something outlandishly out of this world is a good starting mix.

A Warhammer or Warhammer 40,000 story should be action-driven. There does not have to be fighting but 80% of the time it’s a good idea: battles are the supporting pillars of the story. But a battle report is not a story: the plot has to be character-driven, and that requires an agenda – what does the protagonist want? What does the antagonist want? – and ultimately, how do these universes resolve their problems? With fire, faith, sacrifice and death. Some stories end with the protagonist failing, falling into a trap through ignorance or karma, realising their fate and meeting their end, either quick or slow, confirming the horrors of this world. Some stories end with a victory, but always pyrrhic; a toll is taken.

I almost never start writing until I have an ending. But I find it really difficult to start if I don’t have a beginning either. Maybe the protagonists haven’t been cast yet, maybe the sets are waiting to be built in my head, maybe I’ve not found that confidence in that ephemeral something which says what I’m imagining fits into this universe and is consistent with the visions of those who’ve come before me.

My vision isn’t going to necessarily be anyone else’s, but it’s got to be close enough if it’s going to become a contribution. Someone else’s vision may one day rely on it.

Categories: General Tags:

10,000 hours

October 28th, 2011 No comments

Last week I discovered a new rule (of the thumb variety). It impressed me. It’s sourced from a book called ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’, by a chap named Malcolm Gladwell, and it was described to me by a chap named Jeff Vogel as follows:

To master any non-trivial field requires 10000 hours of dedicated practice and study.

And I sat down for a minute and did some quick sums, regarding my skillset.

I develop iPhone applications for a living. My office hours per day add up to 7 hours and 15 minutes. My working days per year adds up to about 230 (52 weeks minus holiday allowance, public holidays and weekends). If I’ve erred in these sums I’ve probably underestimated, but that’s not a bad thing. Multiply the two numbers and I develop iPhone applications for 1667.5 hours a year – or one sixth of the 10,000. I’ve been developing apps for a bit over 18 months now (and my exploration of this skill isn’t limited to my working hours), so I’m apparently about a quarter of the way to mastery.

Obviously it’s not as simple as working six years and then instantly acquiring a halo effect. But it was a nice little status indicator.

In comparison, any time I’ve spent writing over the last however many years has been off the meter. I might gauge that the number of hours is probably about the same – but over a far longer time period.

With my iPhone stuff, I’m at an uplifting point where I wrote a first attempt at an app, missed a target, and have gone back to basics. Gone through documentation and conference videos on new features, and really gone to town on getting things right where before, in ignorance, I went off-track and made up my own faulty shortcuts. I am appreciating stuff I missed in my first quarter, and finding better ways to do things.

I’m having that strange but wonderful feeling of leaving work on a Friday with almost a regret that on Saturday I can’t come in and keep at it. (I will find things to do.)

I hope this inspiration moves back to my writing. Another quotation – also mentioned in the same blog entry linked to earlier:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
— Ira Glass

This is the thing. Punch through. Find the work more fun than fun, and your life is rich.

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The incredible series 6 – Doctor Who

October 2nd, 2011 1 comment

Incredible. Unbelievable. No, really – lacking credibility and believability. Kinda. Just about. I liked it, but this season has been a mixed bag from episode two. Spoilers after the cut.

Read more…

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Games Day 2011

September 25th, 2011 No comments

If I don’t start writing now, I won’t start writing. (Add ‘until later’ if you’re optimistic.)

My feet are sore. I’ve not really stopped moving over the last twelve hours. The first couple and the last couple I was driving, but inbetween was Games Day. Games Workshop’s flagship event (can events be flagships?). It gets busy. I never even really looked at a gaming table. The time escaped me.

My hands are raw. I’ve been carrying two plastic bags full of stuff around most of the day. I spent a lot today… I’m going to need to find some new bookshelf space sharpish, I think. Not everything I bought was for me, mercifully, though sadly I didn’t get everything I hoped to get for those who asked.

I’m tired. And yet wired. I met fellow BL-fans and Boltholers. I met authors and editors and the salesguys who make everything else work around them. Even now, two years after I sold that one short story, they’re still encouraging me to send stuff in and keep at it and work towards being on the other side of the table. I seem to have not yet outstayed my welcome.

But I need to write something soon, and submit it. There’s a lot going on in my life right now, all of it a jumble of ambition and work rather than sociableness, and I need to untangle it a thread at a time. This is a time to focus, to redouble efforts, and to persevere.

This is why I go to Games Day. It’s not just the games and the books, it’s not just the people (though it’s a lot about the people). It’s a surge of enthusiasm, a rekindling of spirit.

I just need to start writing…

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Tournament Gaming

September 4th, 2011 No comments

Picture the scenario. This is classic Scooby-Doo. You and your crew of hardened investigators are investigating a labyrinthine structure (y’know, with the exact same umbrella stand every three doorways due to animation shortcuts) with a dark history and a genuine possibility of gribblies wanting to pull you under the floorboards and have their wicked way with you (assume for the moment that’s not your thing). A natural junction develops where you could go one way or the other. You’re not pushed for time.

Common sense says stick together. Narrative law says split up. Separating your characters leads to more exploration of your surroundings, more communication problems, more clues, more gribblies, more jinkies, more chaos. Possibly one of my problems with storytelling is, I think of my characters as being sensible enough, or savvy enough, to stick together. I think maybe I assume that unless the antagonist or the environment is actually misleading the protagonists, they’ll make the right choice every time. That’s a flawed belief for a writer (or at least, designer of stories) – but at the same time, you’ve got to balance the readers’ savvy urgings for the characters to not do that thing which only the audience knows is bad for the characters – versus, the need for the reader to believe the characters are not completely stupid, and thus worthy of reading about.

I digress, kinda. This blog entry is a departure from the writing ailment and focuses on another hobby: gaming. I’m a Warhammer player. I play at tournaments. I encounter plenty of people who play for fun but whose idea of fun involves doing well rather than building a story. We bring collections of models whose collective theme does not seem to fit the Warhammer universe – because we can, and because the army is effective, and because the rules just didn’t/don’t encourage the kind of play the games designers intended.

‘Rules as Intended’ or ‘RAI’ is a source of many forum arguments, as loopholes or vagaries in the stated rules open up tactical possibilities which boggle the mind. The tournament player looks for the loopholes. We are the gribblies the games designer fears (and until you pull our masks off, we walk through walls too), because we’re the ones who look at this, or that, and say ‘for this many points, that thing is too powerful/not powerful enough’.

Contexts are sensitive, we get that. But while we accept that the ninety people who descended on the North West Gaming Centre this weekend for the Tempest Redemption tournament are in fact a minority of Warhammer players everywhere, there’s a sense of entitlement which says: we buy armies of models, more so than the dabblers who play casually every other season. An item may not be to your tastes so there’ll be plenty of context arguments but shouldn’t everything in the army book look like a viable option to the discerning general, while at the same time not seeming so cheap that you’ll automatically include it because you’d be stupid not to?

The new Ogre Kingdoms book is out this weekend. Players have pored over its pages and spent lots of pennies on new boxes of big gribblies. There have been smiles over what has changed for the better and grumblies over what has changed apparently for the worst. Discussion has already decreed that several items don’t seem to be worth bothering with and one will likely be banned outright at tournaments because it’s too nasty.

Realise that no-one at the event, discussing the book, will have been able to play a game using it yet. But we know the rulebook. We know the previous book. We know the fourteen books we’ll be using it against. We’ve had an idea of what we wanted changing, and how stuff works. Is that ignorant, or savvy?

I’ll build a few new beasties and try the new stuff out. We may get an answer.

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Comfort Reading

July 27th, 2011 No comments

I wonder if other writers feel this way about books they read.

I’m looking for inspiration. It’s not that I don’t have ideas about what to write next, it’s that I’m aware this isn’t a Codex entry and if I add too much sentimental texture to the opening chapters then I’m going to have to come up with a lot more sentimental texture for the rest of the book too. And I may have run out of words for ‘fire’ (as in, fire a gun).

So I read other books. I watch movies. I listen to music. I spent some money this week on some soundtracks (Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II; Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator; Two Steps From Hell: Invincible) – these are best, I think, because there’s no lyrics and it’s pure emote.

But where there are words, there’s a writer. I fear I have a terrible inferiority complex. I read something by a writer with a mastery of the language, a vocabulary far beyond mine, and I feel intimidated. But I can’t read something that feels too inferior to me, for whatever reason, because I don’t enjoy it and it only serves to tell me, however wrongly, that I’m already better than that and I don’t need to write more to prove myself.

I’ve read some other stories this week, with vocabularies closer to mine. It’s not that these writers aren’t masters too, because they’re published and popular, but there’s something clearer and more accessible about these works and my mind can work with that rhythm, and add in the occasional word of my own if I want to feel like I’m somehow contributing to the world.

But because it’s not my world I remember that the story doesn’t always work at the pace I’m writing it, and I’ll have skipped over big details, and I have to stop and insert details so the reader knows what’s going on. And I remember the writers I know talking about the works they’ve done and their intentions for the character and I don’t remember them talking about the words. The words to fill paragraphs out and add texture, the words which captivate that slightly-wider audience than just themselves. Yes, you know that’s a Space Marine you’re writing about, but does your reader, and do they know what one is? These things have to be explained a little. Is that tedious, working your art around this need? Or are these an easy tithe to the word count god?

And last week, in a moment of surprise, I picked one book off the shelf, flicked to a short story within, smiled at the signature, and read the opening few pages again. And I know I can write, and that I have a style, because this is my published story, and it’s something I want to read.

That’s not too narcissistic, is it?

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July 18th, 2011 1 comment

I’m on holiday this week, armed with books to read and laptop to write on. Disgraceful, I know. Let’s move on: I took advantage of my work-free Monday to walk into the nearby town and buy a couple of books. One’s on writing (Robert McKee’s Story), on the recommendation of friend Jim Swallow; one’s on weapons, because I saw it in the bookstore and thought “that’ll be useful” (Among other things I have discovered the part of a mace called a flange, and that if I use this word in prose I must do so carefully).

Ten minutes later, returned to my lodgings, the question arose: where am I going to put these books? My bookshelves are full. I have two entire units for books at home, and I filled them the moment they were assembled. In fact, one of them is filled with books which sit on their backs rather than their bases, because I can fit more books on the shelf if they’re stacked on top of each other. (This means finding a book will take a couple of minutes, as I have to pull each stack out to check the spines.)

There are books on top of the bookshelves, on the desk, piled fifteen high on the bedside unit and on the floor beside the bed. Many have been read, but I suspect just as many haven’t. And there are books in boxes or crates, where I know I’m almost certainly not going to read them, but I think either I might or I should, so I haven’t gotten rid of them.

And I’m still buying more books. I like books.

It’s looking like high time I should have a clear-out. Time to consider a ‘seller’ account on eBay, time to visit a charity shop, time to forget how much a set of videos cost me originally and dispose of them. Clear everything I don’t need out… and at some point, replace them with a few more books. And start looking more seriously at the idea of an e-reader.

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This is not confidence

July 8th, 2011 No comments

My friend Alec posted about aspirations – not just to write, but to be among a circle of writers he presently reveres. The list includes Graham McNeill and Dan Abnett, who I spent some time with at Alt.Fiction a fortnight ago.

You’ll recall the moment I bought a drink for Graham and considered us equals. Arrogance for the sake of humour. We’re not equals. He’s a Gemmell-Award-winning New York Times Bestseller. I got a short story published. Clearly I’m toadying. Clearly I’ve sat down at a table with Graham, and Gav Thorpe, and Sarah Cawkwell, and Christian Dunn, because I’m a cheeky upstart, right? This is not confidence.

I bought Sarah a drink too that weekend. This is more comfortable somehow, maybe because I knew her before she became famous. She hasn’t won awards yet (ooh, such a loaded last word), but she’s a novelist now and she seems absolutely in place as one of this revered group. She tells Graham off so casually.

And then I say something stupid. I remind her for a moment that she’s swearing casually with one of her heroes and she pulls her shirt up over her head so no-one can see her blush.

And I’ve just spent half an hour chatting with Gav about stuff (because it’s noisy and he’s on my side of the table), but I can remember asking him questions about rules design years ago when I went to my first Warhammer 40,000 tournament.

We’re talking like ordinary people talking about work, because that’s what this is, even though there’s no way in hell I’ll ask Christian about an idea I want to pitch for the current submission window. That’s not the relationship we have, I think, and I don’t want to overstep my bounds.

Dan isn’t present at this gathering, but the following day, after his workshop, we talk a bit and he says I should’ve asked Christian. Ah well.

I write this now still thinking: oh wow, I had a normal and professional conversation about writing with Dan Abnett.

I did not greet him with ‘HI DAN ABNETT’. That’s Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s phrase, as far as I’m concerned. That’s his story about approaching the plateau with revered heroes and shameful greetings. I’ll make my own nervous shuffly approach to this hallowed rank of ordinary people.

I’m buying a drink for someone and trying not to worry about how junior I feel next to them. I know I came to this event to meet with these people, hang out on an ordinary level, and try not to feel uncomfortable. And the following morning I will succeed when I sit down at the cafe opposite Sarah and there are two other people about and one of them happens to be Paul Cornell and I don’t go into rabid rapture or such about his episodes of Doctor Who. Even though it would be polite to thank him for the entertainment he provided me. There’s a balance here I still haven’t struck but then I was only sat there for a few minutes before the day began.

And fifty miles away there is a laptop which contains my novel, and while I am making myself comfortable at the table I am not writing my novel and trying to earn my place at the table.

I’m at home, blogging instead of trying to earn my place at the table, which is why I don’t blog often. But they’re ordinary heroes, and I can buy a round, and I know that when I do earn my place, they’ll shuffle their chairs aside to make room.

This is confidence.

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