Friday, 9 December 2016

On Reviews

I have several friends whose first books are coming out in 2017 and a few with recent launches, too. More and more the success of a book appears to be reliant on Amazon reviews - and, like it or not, many new authors spend a fair bit of their time obsessing over them. I certainly did.

Note that. Did. I think, as time goes on, a bit more balance comes into the whole process.

Anyhow, for the sake of this blog I went and looked at my review stats. Over my four novels I have 269 reviews (some of which will be duplicates as a few people are kind enough to post their review in more than one place) with an average 4.52 ranking. Which is very nice. (Thanks to anyone who took the time.)

My highest ranked book is Sunset Over Abendau (which is my fav, so yay! Good author taste), then Abendau's Legacy (but it is a very new book so has fewer ratings.)

My most popular book looks like Inish Carraig, which doesn't surprise me. It has a lower overall average at 4.54 but an awful lot more reviews - and only 1 is less than 3 stars. Abendau's Heir is the most challenging book with the biggest range of reviews from 'I loved it' to 'Not for me' and I think that's to be expected, given the challenging subject matter.

But, whilst stats and numbers are very interesting,  they're not what motivated me to write about reviews. No, I wanted to share what it was like to get reviews, and the stages I went through moving from obsessive to something more sanguine.

(Note, this is based on my experience only. I'd say I'm mid-level - a reasonable amount of reviews, but not outstanding. But I'm not a review-chaser, by and large (but if anyone has read something, why not leave a review? ;)) Some authors do better at getting review numbers up. Although there is the risk that being too aggressive about asking for them might bring in some reviews - but it will lose you others.

Others, especially established authors, have excellent networks that mean they get a load of early reviews and Amazon takes note. This is harder, I think, for debut authors.) 

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FIRST REVIEWS - GOOD TIMES!

These will be, by and large, good ones.  They come from early, bought-in readers, they will often be from an ARC copy (and no matter what we say about being honest - a free book is harder to be critical about, I find. Also, I don't accept ARCs unless I very much like the look of a book anyway.) These reviews will also come from family and friends - few of whom will leave an awful review.

This is why readers aren't swayed - and nor is Amazon - by 5 stars over your first six reviews. They know who is leaving them.

The first reviews come quickly. Most authors will have their advance readers primed to leave them on the day of release, or over the first week or two.

I found this part both exhilarating and terrifying. People were reading my book! (terror, and it hasn't got any better with each new release. But, delight! My world was real now.) People were reviewing - and they might not like it! Or they might not like all of it! Now, I do read my reviews. But it's hard. For those of a more artistic temperament a filter between you and the raw reviews can be good - that's very much up to the individual author.

OTHER AUTHORS

Authors tend to be supportive of each other. But! Be warned.  Amazon will move on reciprocal reviews and pull them down. Daringly, I still leave some. But, more and more, I avoid it because it will bring the other author's book into question and could cost them more than just my review.

If I do review, I always read the book first. If I don't leave a review, please don't badger me. It may be that I haven't got to it - your book is probably on my kindle somewhere. At the moment, I'm beta reading two full novels, reading an ARC for someone else and occasionally get asked to read to provide cover blurbs. These will all take priority because I've committed to them. Considering I also like to read for pleasure, that's a lot of reading. I know it's frustrating ('but I reviewed yours!') but really, really, don't leave a review just in the hope of getting one back. You'll be disappointed. (And in a few months time when you're trying to keep up with everyone who helped you out, you'll be equally swamped and not able to keep up.)

THE SECOND WAVE

This tends to happen a few weeks or months down the line when the first rush is over, and people who don't know you pick up the books. I find this is when rating-slippage starts to happen. These reviews are the genuine ones. These are the ones that will say they couldn't get into it, or they couldn't put it down (often for the same book) and it will all be true. These reviewers don't know you - they aren't trying to save your feelings. They don't care if you never talk to them again. This is where it gets tough. During this stage you may also receive your first

TROLL REVIEWER

Some people just love to leave bad reviews. If you get a 1 or 2 star have a look at that person's average review and, if they have a review average of 2 or less, that's just what they do. Arguably, they could just be hard to please (but, really, if you hated every book you picked up, wouldn't you at some point stop reading them or choose a new genre?) but, also arguably, they do it for a bit of what passes as fun.

Move on. Mutter to trusted writer friends in non-public places, get some virtual cake and ignore the review.

In fact, on that, and before I go to the next milestone: NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, ENGAGE WITH A POOR REVIEW. EVER. It never comes out well for the author. Take it on the chin and move along.

YOUR FIRST ONE STAR REVIEW

It will happen. I currently have six. The first one stung a bit, for sure. But, as Joe Abercrombie (IIRC) said - if you're not getting them not enough people are reading you. Not everyone will like your book. Some people will actively hate it. That's okay. It's a big world - there are readers for just about every writer.

Some authors I know share their low-starred reviews and that can be very funny. Another - Stephen Palmer - puts them on a naughty step. Either way, don't let them destroy you.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEW SITES

For me, these are the most nerve-wrecking of all. These reviewers are experienced, they read a lot, their role is to provide criticality. Up to now, I've done okay but... a bad one will happen. It has to. When it does, I guess it goes back to sucking it up, taking it on the chin and eating cake.

That's all I had to say on reviews. We've all been there. It's not one of the fun aspects of being a writer (especially if you've written an absolute stinker) but it's part of the role. Do what you can to mitigate things, make sure you've produced something professional and try not to leave yourself an easy target. After that, it's all down to the readers.

My Goodreads profile is here, if anyone wants to check that I'm not telling porkies and am really on 2 stars for everything. The stats above incorporated both these, amazon.co.uk and amazon.com

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13696082.Jo_Zebedee











Sunday, 4 December 2016

On giving up the day job

That title will have had a range of responses. My writerly friends are pressing their noses to the glass to see if one of us has become a Free Elf and escaped to writing nirvana of coffees and muses and no daily grind (ha! The coffee bit does seem a staple of being a writer, as to the rest... Hmm...). My mother is poised to pick uo the phone and say, 'You're doing what!' My real-life bosses and clients are blinking and wondering if it would have been nice to know in advance.

Sadly, my message is slightly different. I'm not giving up the day job. In fact - this is going to be one of my unpalatable truth blogs - for most of us, I don't think it's possible.

Let me be frank. Writing earnings are, generally, crap. There are very few big-publishing deals out there in this risk-averse business and, despite me knowing a good few of them, kindle makes very few writers rich. So, yes, there are writers who are writing for a living (more on that later) but the vast, vast majority of writers are mid-list, often with small publishers, or indie published and making an income in the low thousands at best - and often in the low hundreds or, indeed, as I was until this year, in deficit.

The problem is a pretty basic one. We have lots of writers and we now have a free market where all those writers can release their books, should they so desire. We do not have more readers and those we already have are innundated with social media, games, a zillion leisure activities on their phones. So, in essence, as a business model there is no easy way to look at the market and assume making a career in writing is even as possible as it was ten years ago (when it was already pretty darn daunting.)

But, panic ye not. This is not going to be a miserable blog. Instead, I'm going to challenge your perception of what a writing career is and, also, how the current market in writing is really not much different than the current business market.

Firstly, what do the full time writers do? Work on their next work in progress in their snazzy garden studio? Hell no. They write, sure, but they also maintain mailing lists (especially the self publishers, I think, who have nailed that well), they're being witty and approachable on Social Media, they're on book tours, at conventions where a valuable weekend will be spent talking on panels, signing books, and working, they're writing blogs on a Sunday between tidying the kitchen and making a Sunday dinner (puts hand up guiltily). Others are editing, coaching other writers, running courses, writing articles. Still others are writing screenplay adaptations to bring in the income. In short, very few are writing full time.

Now, bear with me, while I pop on my management-theorist anorak and talk about the workplace today. Jobs for life are pretty well gone, yes? We don't expect the linear career once on offer. We accept we might change work many times. In fact, there has been a shrinkage of the traditional job and employer where all tasks were done in house and shifted instead to a consultancy model - where much of the expertise is bought in. This fringe workforce - often the self employed, or the consultacy firms - have grown exponentially and, within that workforce in particular, there has been a growth in people holding down what is called a Portfolio career.

In that career, we do a bit of everything. Sometimes I get asked exactly what I do do for a living and it's hard to answer. Sometimes I deliver training. Sometimes I assess assignments. Sometimes I quality assure same. Sometimes I'm an auditor. Sometimes I'm a coach. Often I'm more than one of these in one day. I also run my own office, file my own invoices, pay my business's bills, and fix my own computer when it goes belly up (usually by using another device and googling what to do.) Mine is the quintessential Portfolio career - and that's even before I add in doing enough writing to release 4 novels and around 6 short stories in 18 months.

What I see, in the future, is more writers having to look at this model. Either through doing part time work (but that tends towards low pay and can be hard to balance) or consultancy work or, indeed, writing related work that brings in an income. It may also include knowing the funding environment and being competitive in applying for same.

Is this a bad model? I don't think so. As with other fields, it is a model that can be played with. I'm not a good formatter and it's probably not a good use of my time - I might well continue to outsource that component of my writing business.

Because - like it or not - writing is a business. It's not a lifestyle of doing your hobby for a living. It is work and a business, and it is hard work. It is, however, for the bulk of us not a business that is sustainable in terms of income. Which is why,  I'm currently leaning  towards seeing it as one component of my working life and embracing the freedom - and relative security - of a portfolio career. In doing that, I move a non-sustainable income into its own section of the dividing file that is my working life, and suddenly it has a place and I'm free to write and still make a living.

Friday, 2 December 2016

On Process

A quicky - I'm on my way out the door for some writerly things.

When I wrote my first book, I followed a linear pattern. One scene led to the next, to the next. I edited in a linear fashion. I didn't plot - but I already knew most of what was planned. I did much the same for Sunset Over Abendau.

For my third book, Inish Carraig, I did a bit more swapping around of scenes, but still the linear fashion was what I followed.

At no point since Heir have I enjoyed a first draft. In fact, I hate them. They slip on me. I don't know the story or the voices or where it's all going. I grit my teeth to get to the end and then, essentially, I go back and start again.

This week, I found myself stucker than usual and I've changed things a little. I now have a list of scenes I think need to be in the main book. I still don't know the ending, or who-dunnit (it's that sort of book) or the plot details. But I know what some of the key scenes will be. So I'm writing them. As and when they take my fancy. 100 words here, and 300 there. A 1200 scene dropped in, another bookmarked with just the feel and hope for it.

I've found it very freeing. It's brought back a lot of the fun. I don't need my first draft to look like the finished book, I've realised. I can spend that time getting to know the characters and the gentle reveal. I'm not sure if it's because I'm a more confident writer, that this is working, or that I just needed to change my approach to the one part of the process I struggle with. I do know it's great to play around and find something that works for me.

Now, I've been lazy and haven't posted for a while, and let guests do my work. Normal service resumes next week and I'm pondering on whether most writers can ever make a living at this or does the changing market mean it's even less likely than in the past. In short, I'm pondering on whether we need to keep the day job. All thoughts welcome.



Thursday, 1 December 2016

Myers Briggs your characters



As some of you know, as well as being a sff geek, I'm also a bit of a management nerd (hey, a girl's got to earn a crust somewhere...) So when MD Presley offered to come along and guest about using the Myers Briggs Indicator in character development, I jumped at the chance. And then I did it for some of my characters (turns out Kare's an introverted me. How cool.) 



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The phrase “know thyself” is credited to Socrates by Plato, and is an underlining tenant of modern psychology. There are myriad of forms this knowledge can be attained, and the field of personality psychology frequently employs the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to determine 16 different personality types. Since fictional characters are often extensions of the author’s own personality, I personally find the MBTI exceptionally useful when designing my characters.

And yes, I can almost hear you groan through the ether of the internet at the invocation of the MBTI. Lord knows I’ve heard enough groans when I mention it in person. But that’s in a large part because the MBTI has been coopted by motivational speakers, corporate consultants, and HR managers to ruin work retreats and interviews the world over. Despite this, the MBTI can be very useful when designing characters for fiction.

Before we delve into it, let’s explore its history a bit. The first seeds of it were created by the psychologist Carl Jung, famous for the collective unconscious, the shadow, and animus and anima. Yes, the same Jung beloved by hippies everywhere; the same hippies that probably hate the MBTI. Building upon Jung’s theories as well as her mother’s previous work, Isabel Briggs Myers created what would later be known as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. And no, I have no idea why she called it “Myers Briggs” when her last name was Briggs Myers.

But remember the name Isabel Briggs Myers, because we’ll return to her later.

Now to the test itself, it’s broken into four axes (that’s the plural for axis –I looked it up), of two dichotomous traits. Each person exists on a spectrum between these two traits, but usually favors one over the other. From the permutations of these four dichotomies we get the 16 personality types, which we’ll get to in a minute. For now, let’s break out the dichotomies.

Introversion VS Extroversion (I/E)

This one is probably so infused modern society that I probably don’t need to reiterate it, yet I will: Extroverts enjoy the company of others while Introverts prefer solitude. It’s obviously much deeper than this, but one of the best questions to tell if you’re an Introvert or Extrovert is to consider what you do when you need to emotionally recharge. If you need to see your friends at a party, you’re probably an extrovert, while the Introvert dearly needs some alone time to refresh.

One of the best descriptors for this I’ve ever heard is that Extroverts believe they are similar to everyone they meet while Introverts think they are inherently different. As such, Introverts act as interviewers in conversations, trying to parse the exact the way in which they differ from the person across from them. Extroverts, on the other hand, will grasp at any similarity; going so far as to say “you have a cat, well so do I!”

Sensory VS Intuition (N/S)

This category is a bit more difficult to explain because it pertains to how the individual gathers information. Sensory people prefer information that is tangible and in the present; things they can see and touch. Intuitive individuals, on the other hand, deal more in the abstract and enjoy facts, theories and patterns. The best example of this for me comes to how people learn math: If you need to work through problem after problem to extrapolate the Quadradic Equation, then you’re probably Sensory. If you look at the Quadratic Equation and then wonder why the math teacher is forcing you to work so many obvious problems, you’re probably Intuitive.

Thinking VS Feeling (T/F)

This axis pertains to how you make decisions based on the data you collected by being either Sensory or Intuitive. If it’s not entirely obvious yet, Thinkers tend to favor logic and prefer consistent, causal decisions. Feelers tend to favor emotions (duh) and empathy.

It should be noted that just because someone is a Feeler they cannot think in the traditional sense. Feelers can be quite logical and intelligent. It’s just that Feelers tend towards their emotions rather than logic when pressed for an important decision.

Judging VS Perception (J/P)

This was the axis added by Briggs Myer, and looks at if the individual prefers to make decisions via Judging (Thinking/ Feeling) or by Perception (Sensory/ Intuitive). There’s a whole lot more to it in terms of which are the dominant of those other axes, but really the gist is that Judging people like matters settled as soon as possible, while Perception people like everything open-ended.

And if you want to know if someone is a J or P, just look at their bedroom or work desk. If all their clothes are put away and papers in order, then they’re probably a Judging person. If it looks like a hurricane collided with a tornado and made a mess-baby of trash, you’re looking at a Perception person.

Before we move on again, I should again note that these axes are never set in stone, and everyone exists on a spectrum between the two extremes. Thinkers are known for emotional outbursts, and I myself am an inveterate Introvert, but have never shied away from public speaking. It’s just that, in the immortal words of Bartleby the Scrivner, “I would prefer not to.”

Now to the actual 16 personality types permutated from those four axes… we don’t really have the time to get into them. But give them a whirl on the ol’ Wikipedia, and you’ll see that there’s gobs and gobs of info on each type. For instance, the INFP is the most common type for musicians and is also called the Healer/ Helper type. The INTJ is called the Mastermind and tends to be incredibly pragmatic. Also, female INTJs have a tendency to be attracted to men who are more intelligent than they are, which can be unfortunate for very intelligent women of this type. ESTP: artisans and motivators who love life and know how to pour on the charm.

Now to get back to writing and creating characters: I believe these 16 personality types are exceedingly effective for the character construction process and have been using this trick for years. Because to have characters that leap off the page, you, the author, need to know them as well as you know yourself. This includes not only their personal history and backstory, but how they react in the present. So, of course, if you know your protagonist is an ENTP, s/he is a master of relationships and enjoys motivating others. As such, you can have better understanding of your character and how s/he would react to the events of your plot.

But we’re coming at this backwards, and I’m finally getting to my point: The goal is never to use the MBTI personality types to decide your character from the onset; rather discover your character through the test.

That’s why I take the MBTI as all my major characters and suggest you do the same.

The reason for this is simple: When taking the MBTI you get dozens of questions that are “would you do A or B?” and this makes you consider how your character would react in these specific situations. It gets you thinking inside their head. Sure, you get a nice printout after the fact telling you what your character is like, but it’s the moments where I’m wondering “does Marta stand in the center of the room or near a wall at a party?” that I really get to inhabit her head rather than just think of her as a character. She is no longer an entity manufactured by my words on a page, but a living, breathing individual that I have to answer for. Literally.

So yeah, “know thyself” was preached by Plato and proved important enough of an aphorism it was inscribed on the temple of Apollo. I, in turn, believe as authors we should know our characters just as well as ourselves, and strongly suggest the MBTI to help in the process of writing. And a lot of that is because the MBTI has been intertwined with writing since its inception with Isabel Briggs Myers. Because after graduating first in her class from Swarthmore College in 1919, Isabel wrote Murder Yet to Come using the ideas that would later become the MBTI in her character construction, which won her an award at the time.

Obviously, we as authors don’t care about awards or fame, rather the authenticity of our writing. But if the MBTI can help with that by rounding out our understanding of our characters, it makes sense for us to use every tool in our toolboxes. And if it wins us the awards and success, all the better, right?

Well, that all depends on what personality type you are…

If you’d like to find out, here are a few free online MBTI tests:

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MD Presley is a screenwriter, blogger and occasional novelist… which basically means he’s a lay about. But if you’ve ever got a hankering for some gunpowder fantasy with a female anti-hero he would strongly suggest his novel The Woven Ring (and it's free for the next day or two - I have download plans!) :


Or follow him on his blog: http://www.mdpresley.com/

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Thaddeus White - interview



I’m joined today by Thaddeus White, one of my favourite comic-fantasy writers (check out his Sir Edric series). As well as comedy, Thaddeus also writes epic fantasy and he has a new fantasy, Kingdom Asunder, with a pretty divine cover, which released on 24 November.



I took the chance to ask a few questions about the world Kingdom is set in. Firstly, I wanted to know about writing the project.

You have written other books in this world (Bane of Souls, and Journey to Altmortis) – how did it feel to work in a parallel story, rather than in the more conventional series format?

A: I like the approach of having independent books (or, in this case, trilogy) set in the same world. It means you can keep the advantages of past world-building and, when desired, pick up old characters without needing to worry about constantly keeping a very long story thread running (which can also cause delays, as we’ve seen with some mega-fantasy series).

You have a number of female characters in the book – how do you find writing females in fantasy and what approach did you take to it?

A: I was acutely aware before I started that medieval war is a very masculine environment, so I was keen to create the female characters first to ensure they were strong, distinctive but still fit into a world which (magic aside) is recognisably medieval. Writing the women first had the unexpected side effect of making them (particularly Karena, Sophie and Charlotte) the most interesting characters.

In terms of psychology, I think the differences between men and women can be overestimated. However, when dealing with a medieval mindset, the social attitudes lead to great differences. There have always been exceptions (Adea and Olympias were women leading opposing armies in the 4th century BC, and Sichelgaita, Robert Guiscard’s second wife, commanded soldiers in the 11th century), but generally women had advisory political roles in unofficial capacities (relatives or wives of rulers). I slightly stretched that to give more agency/authority to the major female characters.

KA is very epic in tone and approach – what is it about the epic fantasy world you enjoy most?

I like mingling things that are broadly in line with history (castles, swords, knights, executing people for cutting down oak trees etc) with the fantastical (sea serpents and magic). The scale is something else I enjoy, it’s almost akin to writing your own history. There’s also the intriguing conflict between an accurate (in a fantasy-based context) portrayal of medieval morality rubbing up against a more open-minded [for most of us...] modern approach.

Inclusive with writing epic fantasy is a huge amount of worldbuilding – what did you start with first, in terms of the world, and how has it grown. In terms of keeping track of continuity etc, do you have any tools or tips you could recommend?

A: This is one of the major advantages to returning to a world I’ve written two novels in already. Although I did have a spot of work to do adding to my background info, most of the ideas for the world were already either outlined or fully fleshed out back from when I did the world-building for Bane of Souls.

I adopted the approach of having a document full of major character profiles, and another with world information (religion, patron gods of cities, lord names etc). The one tip I’d give is not to overdo it. Try and create information that’s only useful for telling the story. At one point I was looking at writing about which drinks were favoured in each major city, took a step back, realised that was tosh (I was either time-wasting or creating something unnecessary that would be crowbarred in and look clunky) and stopped. Your job when world-building is to create the background for the story, you’re not putting together a travel guide to showcase your wonderful world.

As Lao Tze never said, world-building for fantasy is like cooking a small fish. Don’t overdo it.

You have a number of battle scenes in Kingdom Asunder – how do you go about capturing battle and ensuring the scene is both easy to follow and engaging?

A: The action fixes on one character and stays with her (or him), I didn’t attempt to tell a whole battle’s story at once but let the reader see it through the eyes of one participant. This was also a great theatre for letting rip with magic, or the horror of medieval warfare.


Then, being nosy, I wanted to delve a little deeper into the world and its characters.

Your tag-line is ‘What crime is more unforgivable than treason?’ which does rather beg the question of what themes you hoped to pull on within the novel.

A: One theme I enjoyed was on precisely that point. Being vague to avoid spoilers, there’s a group that betrays their lord, but who end up as his captives. There’s then a conversation between the lord and his advisers about what to do, which picks out why both mercy and brutality make sense in medieval morality. Some advise him to be merciful, on the basis that sparing the soldiers strengthens his forces and if he doesn’t people may be reluctant to surrender to him in the future. Others advise him to execute them all, pointing out that if anyone can rebel and know they’ll be forgiven, it’ll encourage rebellion because it’s safe even if you fail. In a world without police and firm law and order, actions which today may seem tyrannical were often welcomed in the past as strong leadership.

On a related note, a thread that runs through all three books (I’m redrafting the second and currently writing the third at the moment) is how far it’s legitimate to go to win power or preserve the kingdom. Is it acceptable to tell lies and betray people if that gets you victory? Or to kill innocent people if it gets you allies and ends the war months or years sooner? In a medieval world, these are very much Machiavellian grey areas and I tried to paint them as such and avoid a more modern, black and white approach to such horrendous acts.

Let’s delve a little deeper – in terms of the world did you base it on any other world or, indeed, on anything historical in our own world?

I read a fair amount of medieval history to try and get the flavour right (and because I like it). Kingdom Asunder doesn’t aspire to be spot on with 13th or 14th century history, but I wanted to avoid any glaring errors. As well as biographies of William Marshal, Edward I, Roger Mortimer, John Hawkwood and Edward III, and the works of Allmand and Contamine on the Hundred Years’ War, I also read a fascinating and very useful book by Sean McGlynn, entitled By Sword and Fire. It does a fantastic job of explaining morality and cruelty in medieval warfare, and how that made sense for the time (which usually involved being extremely harsh, but could also sometimes be surprisingly merciful). I can highly recommend it (but note it isn’t for the faint of heart).

Favourite characters? Anyone you really enjoy writing, or just love the world view of?

Karena and Sophie. Karena’s a cross between Tywin Lannister and Livia from I, Claudius: clever, ruthless and utterly single-minded when it comes to victory. Sophie’s a bit of a tomboy, a little more conflicted by morality and burdened by trying to balance doing what’s right against the risks she runs thereby.

An honourable mention goes to Sir James Seidmore, a secondary character. He’s a cross-dressing knight, an idea I got when I read in the Knight: The Medieval Warrior’s (Unofficial) Manual of Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein, who was a genuine medieval transvestite (and expert jouster). He (James) also adds an elegant and wry sense of humour which helps off-set the generally laconic or grim jokes most of the other characters prefer.

If you had to choose a scene that you felt encapsulated the book or world, could you? If so, would you like to share it?

There’s a short chapter in a church which has just two characters in it. I can’t go into much detail because it’s near the end, but it highlights the undercurrent of treachery running through the book (and its sequels).  After all, it takes a friend to betray you.


And, because I am the nosiest of the nosiest, I wanted to ask the elusive Thaddeus some questions about himself.

You’ve been writing a number of years now, with a huge output of short stories, longer work, novels and series – what is it about writing that appeals to you?

‘Huge output’ sounds good (I was filling out an author bio for another blogger and realised between March 2016 and January 2017 I’ll have contributed to five books [three anthologies and two solo books] which is quite a lot). I’ve always loved writing, ever since I was four or five. I had some difficulty speaking as a child, so my verbal skills were a bit poor and I threw myself into literacy instead. The escapism and satisfaction of writing cunning and brutal men, moral ambiguity, twisting plots and ruthless she-wolves is something I really enjoy.

If you had to choose a favourite medium/genre from those you write, what would it be and why?

In terms of writing a first draft, probably Sir Edric (fantasy comedy). It’s just a totally self-centred git cocking about, aided by a heroic manservant who’s crippled by pathological loyalty to a man who absolutely doesn’t deserve it. When comedy writing’s going well, it’s literally spending the day making yourself laugh.

However, you can’t do everything with comedy. There’s more depth and subtlety possible with larger scale, multiple POV stories, as per Kingdom Asunder (and you can still have levity in serious books). It’s more satisfying to tie together multiple plot strands and have inter-weaving character arcs (not to mention redrafting comedy is hell, because you end up reading every joke a dozen times so by the final proofread none of them seem funny).

Is there anywhere I can follow you and keep in touch with your books?

Many places. There’s my Twitter account @MorrisF1, my website (best place for updates): thaddeuswhite.weebly.com and my rambly blog which has things like book reviews, interviews and occasionally interesting mutterings about history: thaddeusthesixth.blogspot.co.uk

And, of course, here are some Kingdom Asunder purchase links (NB in the first week of release, the price is $2.99, as a thank you to early buyers. After that it’ll go up to $4.99):


Friday, 25 November 2016

Stephen Palmer - My year of almost total relaxation



When Stephen Palmer announced he was taking a year off writing, it intrigued me. As someone who finds it hard to switch off, I wondered if it had helped his creative process and, if so, how. Since he has his rather gorgeous (check out that cover!) Factory Girl trilogy coming out, it would seem it certainly did no harm. 



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 In January 2016 I vowed not to write anything for a year. And I nearly managed it. Jo recently asked me to elaborate on why and how, so…

Why did I do it? Well, between September 2013 and January 2016 I had one main creative project on my mind: the Factory Girl trilogy (The Girl With Two Souls / The Girl With One Friend / The Girl With No Soul) and its accompanying novel The Conscientious Objector. Although I had written a large scale work before – Urbis Morpheos and Astra Gaia together were a couple of hundred thousand words at least – and Memory Seed / Glass / Flowercrash were (if nothing more) a thematic trilogy, the four new books together totalled almost half a million words; by far the largest work I’d attempted.

Although I’d dimly grasped in 2013 that the milieu I was putting together had a bit of an epic quality to it, what I wasn’t expecting was the effect on me, physically and mentally, of keeping that entire scenario in all its complexity and detail in my head for three years. The experience of writing the first volume was fantastic – I was excited, and keen to get going, so when I began on the first Saturday of my winter holiday (my day job is in education and I work term time only) the novel poured out of me as if already written in my mind, as it poured out every day that followed. Easter 2014 was a bit more of an effort as I fought tiredness and headaches/migraines, but then the final volume during winter 2014-15 was another great experience. A year later I wrote The Conscientious Objector.

I think the problem was not so much the physical demands – when I’m on a roll I can do a 5,000 word chapter every day – as those mental demands brought by keeping such a complex, wide-ranging and emotionally varied work in my head for so long. Feats of concentration make you tired, and it’s difficult for some authors to vacate the emotional landscape of their novels while they’re being written – that’s the case for me. There’s also the attention to detail that is required in the kind of novels I write – well, that kind of attention can be exhausting.

The other thing I hadn’t appreciated was that, since the three books were going to be published either together or closely following one another, there was three times the amount of editing and honing; then three times the words for my editor to read; then three times the amount of corrections and further checks. That’s been tiring too.

So, what did my year off give me? In a nutshell, it allowed me to relax following a huge authorial effort. I needed to relax, but it’s not something I find easy to do. A good friend told me a while back that I was “the most driven person” she had ever met. I thought about that description for quite a while – I have to admit, the comment came as a bit of a surprise – and later we had a discussion about it. I tried to explain that my creativity wasn’t like the drive some people have from a lack in their childhood (the way some men stereotypically have great inner drive in order to make their remote fathers love them), it was more akin to a massive pressure inside exploding like a volcano. The Factory Girl trilogy was without doubt a work forming inside my head long before I became aware of it in autumn 2013.

And did I do any writing? Yes I did. I was asked to contribute to an anthology set up by a keen fan of my work, Nathan Hystad, and I certainly didn’t want to disappoint him. So I wrote a short story. It wasn’t a great first draft so I wrote it again: much improved. But apart from doing a full edit on The Conscientious Objector over the long summer holiday, I’ve written nothing this year apart from the short story. I’ve lounged around at home and visited a lot of my friends in various parts of the country, especially Devon, where I used to live. And it was great!

The future? Well, I may write a trilogy again (I’ve been planning something in the ultra far future – the Green Trilogy – for a while) but I don’t think it will be soon. The effort required is huge, given the intensive way I write these days; and I’d need to be sure it was something truly worth writing. Perhaps I’d better wait until I’ve retired from the day job.

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Friday, 18 November 2016

PANELLING

This blog is by request. Imagine. I had a request! Anyhow, a very good writer friend of mine (who can out themselves if they want to, or not) has been invited onto their first panel next year, and wondered what it was like to be on a panel.

Now, hands in the air in admission time. I'm not a hugely experienced sff panellist. I've been on a panel at 4 conventions (around 10 panels in total, I reckon.) But when I'm working to eat I've moderated panels, sat on panels and had my fair share of experiences.

So, what to expect and what to do:

1. Conventions are busy, run mostly by volunteers, and rely on a certain degree of self-sufficiency. You will get looked after - normally there are people allocated to the guests and to answer any questions - but you will not be in the position of asking for blue smarties in the dressing room. If you can, get to the convention early enough to work out where things are, what the room is like, and whether you need to set anything up.

2. Research 1. Panels are mixed and some will have people on them you may not have heard of. Common sense says to at least google them and save yourself some blushes or gaffes. You really don't want to find out that the lady at the end with the orange hair and weird eyes whose knowledge of medieval combat you just challenged is the writer of the leading sword-play for writers book.

3. Research 2. Conventions, particularly smaller ones, might have to stretch a large number of panels over a small pool of panellists. You might well write YA fantasy, but find yourself on a broader panel about YA genre in general. If you get a panel you're not that familiar with, do a bit of research. I end up on a goodly number of dystopia panels because of Inish Carraig, and yet it's not a genre I'm overly familiar with (although I've been picking up recommends, so I'm getting more knowledgeable all the time.)

4. Speak up. You're there to add another opinion, not to nod sagely with your dry mouth and never speak. A good moderator will ensure you get the chance to talk and direct questions to all the panel, but there are some where individual voices can dominate and make it harder to speak up. You're there for a reason, someone in that audience will want to know about you - let them.

But also - shut up... and for the same reason, know when you've said enough. Let others put their bit in. No one likes a bore.

It can be hard, finding that balance, especially as a newby writer. Let's be frank, if you have a big-name writer on the panel, more people want to listen to them than you. Say your piece and then let others say theirs.

5. Meet the moderator, at the very least, beforehand if you can. Turn up early enough to shake hands and say who you are, and let them tell you anything they need for the panel. If you can also meet the other guests, that's great, too. (And if you're anything like here, you'll meet them again, and again, and again - of my 10 panels, at least half to date have also had Peadar O'Guilin on them. We're from the island of Ireland, we write dark little spooky tales, some based on the island of Ireland, we've both written books that can be filed under YA.... Which is great because Peadar is funny and entertaining and makes being on a panel seem very easy).

6. Don't be starstruck. One of my first panels at my first convention was about Worldbuilding. It was moderated by Joe Abercrombie and had Pat Cadigan and Sarah Pinborough amongst the pannelists. (I think Peadar was at that one, too, but I was too busy shaking to say for sure.) Of course, anyone's first thought is - what can I say that these guys can't? The second thought is - even if I had something to say, who wants to hear it? But, honestly - people like fresh voices, too. And, always, always, always - every big name I've been on panels with (or met, or shared reading events with, or anything...) has been more than gracious, and encouraging and happy to have a new face on the panel with them.

7. Answer the questions asked. Usually most panels will have ten minutes or so for questions at the end. Take your time thinking about your answer (although not too much, if you're on the spot first!) and try to answer what's wanted. I think it's my favourite part, actually, when you get to interact with people in the room. And some of the questions are fantastic.

8.  Attend other panels. If you can get to a couple in advance of yours, it's a good idea. You'll get an idea of how busy the panels are (I've had some that have had 15 people listening, and others were getting to the door would not have been possible). You'll get an idea of the timing, the type of audience, the level of detail in replies.

9. Enjoy the experience! Have fun! I think I've been a shaking leaf for every single panel I've been on - but I've enjoyed them all, too. It's part of the lovely scene we have - that we can combine a fun weekend at a convention with a bit of enjoyable work. And thank the lovely organisers!

10.  Spread the word. Conventions don't have marketing budgets. They have a person behind the twitter and facebook account and that might be all. If you take photos, share it. If you get to the room early, give a quick call out you're there with the appropriate hashtag. If you attend a panel, pop out the odd tweet about what's going on in it. Create the energy that's needed and support your local con back.