Hot on the heels of Fish coming out in print, this afternoon I will be the guest on the Literature Show on Schmu FM. I’ll be chatting about writing, synaesthesia, and music with Mark Pithie and Ian Anderson.
You can listen in on 99.8MHz if you’re in the Aberdeen area, or on the website from anywhere at all. The show starts at 18:00 BST (6pm, or 17:00 Zulu: here’s a handy converter). The facebook event page is here, and I think you can add any questions or comments there and they may end up in the show.
If you can’t make the live show, you can listen in later from the archive.
I’ve not been on radio before, so this is quite exciting. It should be fun!
I emerge, blinking, bleary and grumpy like a disturbed hamster, from the double insomnia fuel of deadlines and on-call, to announce that Fish is now available from Amazon.
…a dark, weird and lovely tale about a misunderstood girl, the fish she talks to, and the other things she sees.
Fish is a wonderful mix of new and established voices, offering a range of work from the dark to the whimsical, from science fiction to myth, and in between and none of the above. It has exquisite art by Galen Dara inside and on the cover.
I’ve been waiting to post about it because I, like many of my friends, am very much a lover of the printed form. Now you, too, can experience the thrill of new book smell coupled with the excitement of new work from authors you’ve heard of, and work from authors who may become firm favourites.
“I describe Fish as effortless, dream-like, diverse and exquisite, which certainly holds true as I consider the anthology to be a revelation, because it’s just fish. No restrictions upon genre, no neatly defined prompt to cater to specific tastes. It’s just you and the stories and the fish. Simple and yet so risky. As you read Fish, you step further into a dark and undisturbed ocean where you see reflected light dance across scales and experience ink-black beauty with sharp teeth.” – Haralambi Markov, Alternative Typewriter
Those of you across the Pond can buy Fish from Amazon.com. If you are fully committed to digital, you can still buy your DRM-free ebook directly from Dagan for $4.99. EPUB for NOOK and other readers, here, MOBI for Kindle and other readers, here.
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It’s November. I love autumn, and the November weather is always an exciting mix of cold, sharp, crisp sunny days filled with spectacular colour; wet, dismal weeks of heavy mists, mizzle and downpours; and the odd freeze bringing snow, ice and cold-hurty fingers and knees because I’ve stupidly opted for cycling mitts and shorts. The changeable weather traditionally has matched how I feel about this time of year. Much as I love the season, and birthdays, and the way the cooler temperatures mean I can train harder, for some reason life usually chooses this time of year to throw various crises at me, so I don’t get to enjoy it as much as I’d like to.
I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo twice, and failed each time as life has got in the way. I didn’t bother in 2010 because things got squirelly before I got as far as making the commitment. I didn’t bother last year, either. I had just changed job and packed up to move a couple of hundred miles north. I did not have time or mental space to think about trying to write 50,000 words in a month.
It has, however, been a pretty good year. It has had its ups and downs, as all years do, but the positives outweigh the negatives and we’re in a reasonably good place. As superstitious as I am about my birth month, I think I’m going to be brave.
Writing a book in a month isn’t brave. No. A little crazy, maybe, but not brave. No, I’m going to be brave by assuming I can make it this year: that whatever life chooses to throw at me I can get through it without it throwing me completely off track.
And I actually like my working title, which is a first. So this month, as well as the short stories I’m working on with deadlines in the next few weeks, I’ll be attempting to complete NaNoWriMo. If you want to add me as a writing buddy my name there is (as always) Ravenbait.
Here’s to November.
I want to talk Who.
But first I want to remind everyone that I am a Bad fan. I don’t just love the things I love: I hold them to high standards, and am willing to express my disapproval when they fail to meet them, because the high standards are what made me fall in love with them in the first place. I don’t like falling out of love with things. It makes me sad.
You see, there are three kinds of writing that I class as good. There is the writing that makes me want to read more by that author. I enjoy it, it entertains me, it serves its purpose of allowing me to escape for a while. Some of those works become old friends, and it doesn’t matter that I could practically quote them word for word: I still derive pleasure from reading them. Terry Pratchett and Robert Rankin are authors in this category. Then there is work that I admire for its prose or its bravery, its experimentation or poetry, its language or ideas. I will read it, admire it, then put it away and probably never come back to it. Flann O’Brien, James Joyce and Iain M Banks all write like this.
Then there is the really good stuff. Writing that inspires me. Writing that inspires me not only to read but to write. Roger Zelazny, Alfred Bester, Margaret Atwood, Octavia E Butler, Tim Powers, Iain Banks and Kim Stanley Robinson have written works that I have read and re-read and dreamed secret and not-so-secret dreams about being able to write that well — not like them, but as well as them. Kim Stanley Robinson inspired me not only to write but to pursue environmental science. Alfred Bester made me think that it’s possible to turn synaesthesia into literature. Zelazny showed me how to make literary science fiction exciting. Atwood and Butler demonstrated that it’s possible to write about otherness without losing the connection with humanity. Powers taught me that a writer can repeat a plot without writing the same story (to be fair, so did Moorcock, but he didn’t have the prose of Powers). Iain Banks showed how to pack oodles of story into sparse text.
These writers inspired me, and I don’t care what genre or medium in which someone writes, part of a writer’s job is to inspire others to write. Part of a writer’s job is to do it properly. Someone who is being given a huge platform for his or her work has a responsibility to write to a high standard, because it’s on show, and it’s going to demonstrate to a new generation of content-producers what makes good work.
And I’m sorry, but recent Who has fallen down very badly in that regard. If I had written any one of those stories and submitted it to either of my crit groups, I fully expect they would, quite rightly, have ripped it to shreds.
Plenty of people have had a go at Asylum of the Daleks — just typing out the title makes me laugh in a sad, despairing way. I can’t bring myself to go over the awfulness that was this episode. It had two lines, only two, that were of any value:
“You think hatred is beautiful?”
“Perhaps that is why we have never been able to kill you.”
The rest of it, short of a decent performance from Jenna Louise Coleman, was a mass of plot holes and hand-waving that we’re supposed to forgive because it’s Doctor Who and it was bombastic and full of SPECIAL EFFECTS and DRAMA.
Chris Chibnall picked up the baton and managed to make me like Pond for a whole episode. He does pull it out of the bag every so often — I also liked 42, from back when RTD was at the helm, although I didn’t rate the Silurian episodes from Series 5 all that much. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was probably the best of the recent episodes: rampant silliness that didn’t take itself too seriously and had enormous amounts of fun without trying too hard.
I haven’t liked any of the Toby Whithouse episodes, and A Town Called Mercy was no exception. A big deal was made out of the Doctor picking up a gun, but only in interviews about the episode. In the episode itself it was hardly a big deal. Yet I think back to The End of Time and the Doctor refusing to pick up a gun for anything. He is the ultimate paradoxical pacifist, and the watering-down of this absolute stance has given rise to endless frustration of late. Is this what happens when writers of a British series try to tailor their output to a more American market? I don’t know, but I don’t like it.
Sentimentality took hold for the next couple of episodes. I’ll skip The Power of Three because Chibnall didn’t fulfil the brief of “life with the Doctor” nearly as well as Gareth Roberts did in The Lodger and it was all a bit… Meh, really.
Angels Take Manhattan was the final episode and it committed what for me is a cardinal sin. It broke the previously-stated rules.
This is the problem I have with Moffat and the episodes he writes. If he wants something to happen in the plot then it happens, regardless of whether existing canon would allow it to or not. As an example, the Weeping Angels. Anyone remember why they were weeping? Because they had to hide their eyes so as not to look at each other. If they looked at each other they were stuck. THAT’S HOW THE DOCTOR SAVED SALLY SPARROW.
Blink was one of the best episodes of the 10th Doctor’s run, but Moffat has ruined it by changing how the Angels work. He did this way back, when he covered the inside of a massive spaceship with Angels and had them attacking en masse without so much as a blindfold to share between them. In this most recent episode he had our heroes trapped in a corridor by an Angel at either end — by earlier rules those Angels should have been trapped by each other, but no. And it got worse:
Am I supposed to believe that no one saw the Statue of Liberty get up and walk? Or maybe the automatic quantum lock doesn’t work on anything over 3m tall. Who the fuck knows?
And there was all that nonsense about how reading something written down fixes it in time. Time can be re-written, except if you read about it, apparently. But canon established, in The Waters of Mars, that text can rewrite itself if the Doctor interferes. He did it already. We watched the words change.
Moffat obviously has some over-arching concept of how the written word affects the Doctor’s timeline and his ability to change his past, his future, his present. River Song’s catchphrase —”Spoilers!”— has a whole other significance if reading something means it can’t not happen. But this is new. This is not how it worked before. And I’m sorry, but you can’t just rewrite the rules of how a world works to suit yourself; not without some form of justification or explanation. It’s unprofessional, in my opinion. If you are given the job of working with an established set of characters and the universe they live in, you work with those characters and that universe — you don’t go changing things because the rules make the stories too hard to tell. It’s the writer’s job to come up with ways to make the stories work within the rules of that world, or accept that the story needs to be told in a different world, with different characters.
Doctor Who has a huge audience. There are kids out there learning how to tell stories by watching it. I want them to learn how to tell good ones, and not to expect to get by on the cult of celebrity. Being famous and successful shouldn’t mean getting away with work that isn’t as good as that being produced by people still trying to make it. Those who are least successful have to work the hardest at being good in order to achieve success: it’s kind of insulting to think that success means forgetting all about plot structure, character motivation and consistency.
I am falling out of love with Doctor Who.
But what can you tell about a book owner from her books?
I have been heard to complain about the amount of trashy fantasy cluttering our bookshelves. But when we moved last time, Frood very kindly bought some new bookshelves so we had enough space to put out all of our books, about half of which had been in storage for years. He worked out, using the measure of length of stacked books, that we had around 1.3m for every year we’ve been together.
You can keep all your decomposing flowers, expensive chocolates and dubiously-mined gemstones: that’s romantic.
I have a couple of favourite exercises I do to get a firm grasp of any character I am writing. These exercises do not necessarily make it into any finished story —nor does the character, in some cases— but I find they work for me. One of them is the “what does he keep in his pockets?” exercise (which for one WIP turned into the “what does she keep in her courier bag?” exercise, as cyclists tend to keep not much in their pockets). You can tell quite a bit from what someone keeps in his or her pockets (or bag).
The other one is what the character’s living space looks like. What do they keep to hand? What do they have on display? Is it done for other people or for themselves? Why do they have those things? What meaning do they have?
Sometimes I look at what I keep around me and reflect on what it says about how I’ve changed through the years. My desk, where I write, is arranged differently from the way it was just a couple of years ago, and not just because we’ve moved twice in that period. Some things are the same —the inkpots, some of the pictures, the Penguin of Death— and some things aren’t (it’s a lot emptier now). It’s not possible to recreate a previous living space in a new environment, of course, but we also make very conscious decisions about what to leave behind and what to keep when we move house, and not just in the material sense of decluttering, or paring down to reduce the cost of the process. I imagine most people are the same in that respect.
Taken to the extreme, if a character had to keep moving, all the time, without having a chance to settle, what he chose to keep with him would be very telling. Then the two exercises I described above might become the same exercise.
I think I quite like what my bookshelf says about me these days. But then, it was Frood who stacked it for me.
Do check out his website. It has cool art and hypnotised rocks.
I had hoped to be blogging rather more regularly by now. Unfortunately we’re still not properly settled in Aberdeen, and currently working with intermittent access to the internet. I’m busy with the new job and various writing projects, trying to squeeze the words in between work, food and sleep. My hypergraphia, which trundles along for most of the year but usually goes for broke in November/December, was a month late this year, and I’ve been frantically scribbling things I can’t use since just before Christmas. It does get in the way.
Both Frood and I will be attending Hi-Ex in Inverness at the end of March, seeing as how it’s practically just up the road. If any fellow writers/artists/comic fans/circumstantial-cyclists want to say hi, he’s the one with the beard and I’m the one with the black right eye and the Pictish tattoo. We’d love to meet you.
It was with a mix of sympathy and amusement that I read this article on iO9 responding to Glen Duncan’s piece on Colson Whitehead’s Zone One in the New York Times magazine. On the one hand we have the opening paragraph, which is clearly a rather unwarranted set of clichés and prejudicial presumptions:
A literary novelist writing a genre novel is like an intellectual dating a porn star. It invites forgivable prurience: What is that relationship like? Granted the intellectual’s hit hanky-panky pay dirt, but what’s in it for the porn star? Conversation? Ideas? Deconstruction?
On the other we have the undeniable fact that Duncan clearly likes the work in question:
There will be grumbling from self-¬appointed aficionados of the undead (Sir, I think the author will find that zombies actually…) and we’ll have to listen for another season or two to critics batting around the notion that genre-slumming is a recent trend, but none of that will hurt “Zone One,” which is a cool, thoughtful and, for all its ludic violence, strangely tender novel, a celebration of modernity and a pre-emptive wake for its demise. If this is the intellectual and the porn star, they look pretty good together. For my money, they have a long and happy life ahead of them.
As it happens, Duncan’s The Last Werewolf has just moved off the top of my currently reading pile, and while I do have issues with Duncan’s blunt stereotyping of both intellectuals and porn stars, I think the only work he’s hurting is his own.
There is little chance of anyone trying to argue that The Last Werewolf is not a piece of genre fiction — and, before anyone starts screaming blue bloody murder, I do not think that this is a bad thing. Personally I get fed up with the insistence on labelling and hierarchies just as I get fed up with people who complain that action movies are somehow inferior simply because they tick all the boxes in the correct order. A book isn’t necessarily bad if it has as its primary goal the attempt to entertain. Not every single piece of written word has to have as its underlying purpose the statement of something profound about the human condition.
Nor is this to say that genre fiction can’t have something profound to say about the human condition. Genre fiction has a great deal to say about the human condition, and can be as thought-provoking as any so-called literary work.
Indeed, The Last Werewolf reads not so much as a depiction of lycanthropic existence as an attempt to pen a study of graceless ennui caused by over-stimulation, perhaps as an allegory for the internet generation’s desensitised state of been there, done that, got the two-girls-one-cup-happy-slap-t-shirt.
It did not light any fires chez Raven. It was a decent book — I have no showstopper complaints about it. I read it right through to the end and didn’t have to stop to rant (much) at any point. The prose was well-constructed, the imagery suitably lyrical, and the writing style avoided being clunky at any point. Marlowe’s character had a very definite voice, which meant the first-person perspective worked well. The idea that werewolves in this world were not eating the flesh of their victims so much as their histories and memories was a great one: taking a life meant taking a life, leaving one to infer that a werewolf’s lifespan was limited by sheer capacity more than biology. I enjoyed the throwaway trivia, for example that the expected pack structure was not there because female werewolves were in such short supply any other male would be regarded as a sexual rival. While I don’t want to give any plot spoilers, I appreciated that the female characters were, in their own way, powerful, and in some cases more powerful than gender stereotyping might lead one to expect.
Yet there were too many clichés spoiling the originality. Surely we have had enough of the vampire hates werewolf, werewolf hates vampire trope? Duncan went to some lengths to explain it but I sighed when Pratchett did it and Duncan does not have a pre-loaded soft spot in my heart as Sir Terry does.
I had issues with the pacing. The first two thirds of the book read like one of those movies in which there is lots going on but, inexplicably, nothing actually seems to be happening. This was no doubt meant to reflect Marlowe’s loss of enthusiasm for life, however it left me feeling oddly unmoved by any of the dramatic scenes, which meant that they were rendered not all that dramatic. Not enough was made of Marlowe’s access to the memories of those he had consumed and there were moments when I was left thinking “show, don’t tell”. At one point, in the last third of the book, there was an example of this so egregious I found myself thinking “FFS, couldn’t you at least try?”
Once again we had the assumption that living a long time means being able to accumulate vast riches. I suppose we wouldn’t have had all the globe-trotting if he’d been a pauper rather than someone for whom a cool twenty million is mere pocket change and I suppose one could argue that 200 odd years is enough time to get rich. Marlowe started off rich, though, which was irritating. I feel that there should be only so much disconnect between the reader and the protagonist, and there are big enough hurdles in getting to grips with the idea of being obliged to consume a person and his entire living memory once a month, as well as the idea of being so full of other lives and bored with one’s own life (not unhappy with it, but bored) that a violent death seems the preferable option without having to imagine being financially carefree in a way that only a tiny fraction of a percent of the world’s population experience.
You see, there was something that came close to being a deal breaker: Marlowe as a werewolf was the hybrid, bipedal, intelligent man-wolf type, nine feet tall and apparently unconstrained by conservation of mass.
I read advice somewhere to the effect that the reader will suspend disbelief for one thing and one thing only, so the writer would do well to make sure that one thing is the most implausible part of his story and that his plot hinges on it. Unfortunately for my enjoyment of this book the most implausible part of the story was that an ordinary-sized man can turn into a bipedal wolf-creature that is nine feet tall and stronger than Marius Pudzianowski. I let that slide, but then found myself unable to stop grousing about other major implausibilities.
Duncan’s review of Zone One left me wondering whether he thought it was the porn star or the intellectual who was aiming below his or her station in life. It is easy to infer he was describing a form of superiority when he wrote:
“…he’s a literary writer, hard-wired or self-schooled to avoid the clichéd, the formulaic, the rote.
Given that Duncan’s own work is a literary kind of genre fiction, taking this analogy at face value leads inevitably to one question: Does Duncan see himself as the porn star or the intellectual?
Because, quite frankly, in The Last Werewolf he has produced something that, while being entertaining and by no means the worst werewolf book I’ve ever read, fails either to deliver on the porn-star’s delight in his material or the intellectual’s hard-wired avoidance of rote and cliché.
If you want a good book about werewolves that examines the human condition, I recommend Kit Whitfield’s Bareback.
I returned from our soggy, windswept, noisy trip to Wester Ross to a couple of pieces of very good news. Firstly the contract for my new job arrived, so the reality of our impending move to the North-East has finally started to sink in. I’ve now got to start planning what is going to be a fairly hectic couple of weeks as we get everything sorted out for the move, and there is bound to be some toing-and-froing, which won’t be much fun as it’s a 3 hour drive, but has to be done.
Secondly I received notification that my story What the Water Gave Her has been accepted by Dagan Books for their upcoming Fish anthology. I’m very pleased and excited to have work included alongside that of such talented writers, and thanks to Carrie Cuinn and the team at Dagan for choosing my piece. The cover art, by Galen Dara, is beautiful, with a gorgeous dreaminess that was a big part of what inspired me into a feverish flurry of writing (thank you flexi-time).
Now Frood and I are off to the Museum, because we’ve only got three weeks to look at all the things in Edinburgh we’ve been meaning to look at since we moved here four years ago!
I was sorting through some of the photos I’ve been taking recently using the HTC and I decided, on a whim, to take a picture of my desk here at home. It’s fairly representative of me as a person, I think. Here you can see a souvenir of my triathlon days, the Lara Croft figurine, two different incarnations of Wolverine (sad Marvel Fan Girl that I am), the pile of moleskines, the ink, the pens, the English language reference texts. There’s a sonic screwdriver, next to which a couple of interesting rocks sit ready to be used as paperweights. The pink post-it note on the wall is a reminder of a major alteration I need to do to a story I’m working on: I can’t get around to doing it until the latest round of hypergraphia has eased off and I’m not at all sure when that will happen, or whether, when it does, I’ll have time to do as much of the rewrite as I need to before it flares again. The image on the computer screen is a picture of my desk, in which the monitor is showing a picture of my desk.
Here’s me: desperate to be tidy with a tendency towards kipple, inside and out. Easily bored, easily distracted, easily amused. Obsessive, compulsive, impulsive, inquisitive, frequently argumentative and almost always recursive.
I have a minor Stitch obsession, as a few of you might know. This one I got not that long ago. He came inside a massive mug covered in Stitch faces. He is referred to as ‘Scruffy Little Stitch’ to distinguish him from the various other Stitch incarnations in the house, including, most recently, MegaStitch (there will be a picture of him along later).
Scruffy Little Stitch lives on my desk along with the Penguin of Death and the Lara Croft figurine. He’s one of my favourites, despite his small size, because he always looks like he’s holding his arms out for a hug.
At some point Frood put him on the Gorillapod he bought me for my birthday. Stitch then refused to come down — perching up there despite me thumping the desk quite hard — reminding me of the plush Cthulhu we put above the fireplace in Devon as a Christmas decoration one year. He wouldn’t come down, either. He stayed up there for 18 months or so.
He has a particularly smug look about him in this photograph. Either he’s pleased with my word count or he knows something he’s not telling. Being a suspicious cow, I suspect the latter.
Once I’d taken his picture he came down all by himself. He just wanted his picture taken. Such an exhibitionist.
Oh, and this is Christmas Cthulhu. I think I might have been slightly squiffy at the time: