Archive for July, 2011

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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