Gingerbread and NaNoWriMo

As my health has improved this year, I have made substantial progress with several of my projects. Like so many creative types, sticking to a single project is a struggle, so it was a mixed blessing when I heard The Bestseller Experiment interview in September announcing the Gingerbread competition: One in Four. The deadline is the 4th of December, and I’ve spent the majority of this November’s NaNoWriMo focused on that project. It’s been quite an emotionally demanding endeavour, reflecting upon distant memories, as well as talking to several people about their single-parent experience. Based upon these conversations, and my own reflections, I made a list of keywords to highlight commonalities.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I had been working on a character in my fantasy setting who is a single-parent. I debated whether to make this character in to the protagonist, and since any genre is allowed for the competition, it would make sense to keep writing within the same fictional universe. Whilst some fantasy has mass appeal, it is rare, so in the end I decided to write a story set in modern day.

Given all the work I’d done, it was still a surprise to discover that I had problems working out a single story. After abandoning several outlines, as well as several pages that I just started writing without an outline, I decided to start writing about my own experience; I could always change details once the work was done.

By the time November started, and thus the start of NaNoWriMo, I had a collection of impressive waffle. At least this approach had provided me with several scenes and some dialogue that I did like; one cannot rewrite nothing. Despite my health declining again this month I was still able to persevere through the pain and stress. I successfully outlined a fictional story inspired by the experiences of myself and friends that I actually liked, being more than just a mix of our lives. I have since written a lot, but only tweaked the outline in small ways, a good sign that this story will stay on track and be completed. I still have a few more days with which to tweak what I plan on submitting, as well as receiving feedback from friends. Surprisingly, given how self-critical I am of my writing (like many people), I am quite optimistic about my chances with this competition.

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GollanczFest 2017 part 5

This continues on from my first post about the Gollancz Festival 2017.

The panel was called: Where Do You Get Your Ideas? Art, Music, Mythology & Magic: The Inspirations Behind It All. An intriguing but also simplistic query, after all writers can draw inspiration from anywhere, and I’ve often heard the expression: ideas are cheap. Personally I don’t quite agree with that expression, granted simple ideas/hooks are easy to think of, but great ideas are rare. On the surface it’s a simple question and whilst many people would likely give predictably simple answers, professional authors can have intriguing insights.

The panel was moderated by Gillian Redfearn (Publishing Director) and featured: Bradley Beaulieu, Tom Lloyd, Suzanne McLeod, Mark Barrowcliffe and Tom Toner. What occurred was an amusing back and forth, and whilst all of the authors were interesting and witty, Tom Toner had me struggling to restrain my laughing. I present a summary of comments, several of which I had forgotten who’d said them, but at least checking Twitter partly helped.

Gillian asked where the authors find inspiration, what it means to get ideas and write genre fiction. Later she asked: what’s the worst thing your character has ever done to you?

Bradley Beaulieu highlighted that plotting can only go so far before needing to get into the story. He gets endless inspiration from the entire story, especially smaller characters and the world/setting itself. Bradley provided the all-important writing reminder and an important reality regarding the muse: it all comes down to writing, and sometimes the muse hasn’t turned up, yet a writer still needs to write.

Mark Barrowcliffe discussed how inspiration doesn’t always come from the writer. Sometimes it comes from the writer’s take on other people’s ideas. An example is made regarding how common knowledge about things can change, consider that werewolves weren’t actually affected by the full moon in lore, it was invented by Hollywood in the 20th century.

Tom Lloyd said he gets his inspiration from thinking on the tube, mainly because he doesn’t want to make eye contact with strangers. He also explained how a good story sparks off other ideas, the bad ones will start to fizzle out.

Suzanne McLeod described how things come into your story out of your subconscious. New characters that aren’t planned can be the best, and a lot of fun can be had with them.

Tom Toner took a different tact with his answers, such as inspiration: “2 cups of coffee, stand in the shower… f**ktons of ideas!” Later Tom touched on his mascara fetish. As for characters: “God I hate writing characters, they’re so needy” and “I just wanna describe cool planets and cool stuff and monsters on the planet…characters get in the way.” Tom did expand on his replies.

Other comments of note were about how characters take over books, and how writing into the gaps of a story can reveal new things, to go exploring. Overall I thought the panel did a good job of discussing a difficult subject to provide depth on, especially without resorting to listing of things like: I read history and <insert Country> mythology, or I adore <book series>.

So ended the morning session. Next for me was a chat with Mark Stay and lunch.

A bit more progress on NaNoWriMo for me in the last few days, sadly not as much I’d like but when health dictates work rate, it’s best to not fight it #HealthyWriting. I’m still on target for the Gingerbread competition deadline, but I appreciate it’s important not to assume it’s guaranteed.

GollanczFest 2017 part 4

This continues on from my first post about the Gollancz Festival 2017.

The second panel was called: The Future’s so Bright I Gotta Wear Shades, New Advances in Science (Fiction). The panel was moderated by Richard Edwards (SFX Magazine), and featured: Gavin G Smith, Al Robertson, Tricia Sullivan, Christopher Priest and Justina Robson. A quirky panel title, and with Gavin Smith in particular in the line-up I was hoping for lots of discussion about near future ideas, #CyberpunkNeverDied; I still owe Gavin a blog about my thoughts on this, too much to write 😉

The panel discussed the issue of science in Sci Fi and how to handle it, whether an author needs scientific understanding, plus the issue of prediction. After a slightly slow start the panel developed in to a good back and forth addressing the difficultly of writing about science. After all nothing dates like science. This is an area I have plenty of experience in from my days at KJC Games, when I helped run the long running space opera: Beyond the Stellar Empire (now called Phoenix). Before I started working there I was told to read up a lot more about science and in particular geology, since as a games master I would be interacting with players who were professional scientists, to players who were light Sci Fi readers at best. Once writing game events I had to be careful about how much science was written into the blurbs for a player’s turn. Basically keeping the science out as much as possible and focusing on descriptions. To remember when writing fiction it is not a science paper.

I forgot who said these following comments: “Science fiction is not science it’s a way of running experiments about the world. It’s a form of scientific method.” “Sci Fi is exploratory in nature.” Gavin highlighted that trying to predict the future is a waste of time. Tricia added a lovely summary: the future is not really the future, it’s a possibility space. This is evidenced by so many Sci Fi books, and the panel briefly discussed the old Tomorrow’s World TV show and its appalling prediction record.

Al Robertson added a wonderfully simplistic thing to think about: “There are two things we’re certain of, we’re all going to die, and we’re all going to be in the future.” Christopher highlighted that the real changes in technology are impossible to predict. Tricia brought up the great example about how society has dramatically changed in regards to women and the pill.

I don’t recall the scientists I first heard mention that overall Sci Fi has been terrible at predicting social changes, but Sci Fi has helped inspire so much. The panel continued discussing the issues of writing about the day-to-day realities of technology. Justina added that society could get worse in the future, even though we should be getting better. There was discussion of the current political hot topics, and then The Handmaid’s Tale was brought up. Al said that Sci Fi is not supposed to be a user’s guide, but a warning! Gavin brought a helpful consideration, what the people of Rome must have thought when Caligula took over.

The conversation took a turn when the importance of optimism was brought up. The hypothesis that the rise of GrimDark is likely partly to do with how comfortable many of us have things these days. Al brought up we need Arbour Park, which got my brain racing, and maybe optimism is the new technology we need now.

Christopher linked the abstract conversation of optimism and predicting things to the reality of day-to-day life with this comment: “The emotional spirit about writing about the future is trying to figure out the world our children will one day run.” Maybe having children, literally creating our own replacements, is a form of hope.

After some conversation about optimistic Sci Fi, and of course reference to the Culture series, Gavin asked: “Who wants to read positive upbeat optimistic scifi? Show of hands.” Just about every hand went up. There was a brief chat about how utopian fiction isn’t commercial, highlighting that the Culture series was about the Culture’s dealing with other societies, not about the Culture itself.

Personally, whilst I agree that writing Utopian literature is not easy, I think part of the problem when discussing utopia is how people summarise the concept and keep implying that conflicts won’t occur within a utopia. What do we each mean by utopia? Is it achievable in a group or only individualistic? I think our species inclination to talk about things in simple and absolutist terms is a key part of the problem when trying to understand the concept of utopia. The idea that a large number of people could all share perfect harmony of opinions is not realistic, even identical twins are not actually identical, but I don’t think that negates the idea of group utopia. Fascinating thought experiments about peaks and valleys of happiness leave a lot of room for conflict. Instead of waffling, I clearly should write a utopian story, whilst making sure that is both good and commercially viable – okay, I’ll add that tiny endeavour to my TODO list. The BBC made a series about Utopian ideas called Utopia: In Search of the Dream. I quite enjoyed the series, and I’d recommend checking it out.

There was some fun banter at the end about the radical impacts that teleportation would likely have on society, in particular the housing market. I’m not a fan of teleportation as a concept, too much data to reassemble, but I do love the idea of portals, of using a Correspondence point like in Mage: The Ascension. I could make a prediction, but this panel did highlight not to waste time on such things.

Overall this panel was very interesting, lots of little thought nuggets were mined, plus some rich topic veins revealed. In retrospect having the authors come out all wearing shades would have added an extra level of style, but I am always happy when substance is prioritized.

I made some big progress in my NaNoWriMo writing the last few days, although sadly still a low word count compared to what I would like. The Gingerbread deadline for the 4th December is looming ever closer!

Next time I’ll summarise the panel: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

I wish I’d thought about blogging this event previously, and maybe I’d have taken better pictures 😉

The Bestseller Experiment Season 2

I interrupt my planned post about GollanczFest 2017 to excitedly promote the bringer of greater interviews, advice and witty banter. The Bestseller Experiment is back for another season. Just the thing to help keep motivation going with the latter half of NaNoWriMo 2017.

If the Illuminati was real, they wouldn’t allow this wonderful dissemination of knowledge, then again maybe this just another ruse to maintain their conspiracy, if we all become writers and bestsellers then we will be too busy to …

“Illuminati Confirmed!”

Anyway, the second season kicks off with a great interview with three publicists: Elaine Egan, Lauren Woosey and Virginia Woolstencroft. The episode includes some great tips, in particular good advice about when to chase-up on things. Check out the Publicity Secrets Revealed episode.

As a Patreon I got early access, and the two Marks have many benefits to supporters. If you are serious about writing please check out their tiered rewards, and help keep the podcast going.

I’ll now get back to my RPG group preparation, not GURPS Illuminati, although maybe it should be. GollanczFest 2017 reporting will continue on my next post.

GURPS Illuminati

GollanczFest 2017 part 3

This continues on from my first post about the Gollancz Festival 2017.

The first panel was called: Who you gonna call? Ghostwriters! I eagerly awaited the panel as the line-up consisted of several authors that I love, plus a few I don’t know much about, a great mix. The panel was moderated by Rachel Winterbottom (Commissioning Editor), and featured: Catriona Ward, A K Benedict, Ben Aaronovitch, Joanne M. Harris, and Joe Hill.

There was no shocking revelation that the authors had ghostwriters, nor were they ghostwriters for somebody else. The discussion focused on the why people like ghost stories, what is special/interesting about the genre. I’ve summarised a few things that each author mentioned; I appreciate I am missing a few interesting statements.

Catriona started things out and highlighted how ghost stories provide a form of comfort. She later explained the importance of creating a tension by scepticism and belief in ghost stories.

A K Benedict explained that the worst kind of haunting is the one that goes on in your own head. She also discussed the common link of depression, grief, pain or loss in relation to ghost stories, and how these stories can help as a form of exorcism of these feelings. A K mentioned a creepy experience of being chased around Cambridge by something…

Ben expanded on the statements by the other authors that had gone before him, underlining a few of the points previously mentioned. Ben went on to emphasis how ghost stories are a way of connecting and exploring the past, as well as our memories, making them live, possibly solving them.

Joanne made an enlightening point about how ghost stories are often satisfying, because they provide a reader with a sense of closure. Ghosts are also a way to explore areas of life that we don’t have the vocabulary to deal with. That we tell ghost stories to stop being afraid. Joanne delved in to evolutionary psychology in regards to our species was once prey, and our fear of the irrational, the unknowable, with of course death being the ultimate unknown. Joanne says she wrote a short story that creeped her out so much she has tried to forget it.

Joe took a different approach to the others, illuminating how ghosts are real, in many different ways. He told of his own experience after 9/11 of going to the cinema and appreciating the gravitas of things even there. How the silver screen manages to capture ‘things of light’, that repeat events, plus we are unable to interact with them. How ghosts are a metaphor for history throwing itself on the present. Joe brought up a Rick & Morty reference in regards to squirrel conspiracies and the fact squirrels don’t have fiction (or do they?!), which related to seeing a squirrel being schmucked. He also told a great tale about the time he spent at a hotel in a room with a boo!

The panel briefly struggled explaining why ghosts are different to mundane threats. After all seeing a person outside your window wearing a pig mask and wielding an axe is scary, but why are ghosts scary. After a bit of debating about whether mundane or supernatural horror was worse the panel arrived at the crucial point about ghosts traditionally being non-corporal, and difficulty of getting rid of them, or even harming them. This led to a building threat:

The idea of a pig masked thing getting in bed with you, and when you pull back the mask there is no face. (This nicely encapsulates the dread of the irrational.)

The interaction between the authors was splendid, and I wish it could have gone on a lot longer. The fact that stories are a tool of exploration, history, empathy and shield really applies to horror, but also applies to all fiction. This really set a high bar for the rest of the day.

Now back to my NaNoWriMo writing now, whilst resisting the urge to write another short ghost story for my fantasy setting. Thankfully the approaching deadline helps to keep me focused 😉

Next time is the panel: The Future’s so Bright I Gotta Wear Shades.

GollanczFest 2017 part 2

This continues on from my Bestseller and GollanczFest post.

Day 1 of GollanczFest 2017 was on Saturday November 4th. Richie and I had of time to chat about writing on the train as we travelled into London. Since Richie was going to the Writer’s Worksop at the Phoenix, whilst I was going to Foyles for the Panels, we knew we’d have plenty to discuss on the return train home.

I had heard Foyles was quite an impressive bookshop, I can confirm it certainly is, and thus it made for a great location for the event. Since I had over an hour till the panels started I perused the many floors of extensive bookshelves. Eventually I purchased John Yorke’s Into the Woods and settled down to reading for a while; a book both Richie and Mark Stay highly recommend. By the time I went back to the top floor for the event’s start there was quite an impressive queue.

Foyles

Upon entering the room for the panels, we were given a tote pack. The tote bag’s print design is quite impressive. The bag contained an overview of the event, some striking samples of forthcoming fiction, plus some water and even a chocolate bar. It certainly set the event up well, especially the water, since I’d forgotten to bring any; sadly I had also forgotten to bring Moo & Bat with me for photos.

GollanczFest tote bag

I got to briefly talk with Mark Stay who was working on the event, both on and off stage. The Bestseller Experiment podcast had officially started at the GollanczFest 2016, and it was great to see Mr Stay at this year’s event, but with the bonus that he is now a bestselling author; shame Mr Desvaux couldn’t be there, but it’s a very long way for him to come for a weekend.

Mark Stay
Mark Stay guardian of the Author-Portal for #GollanczFest 2017

One thing I regret is not talking to any of the people I was sat near. Undoubtedly anyone that had turned up was passionate about reading, and likely writing. Whilst it is likely the room had many shy book readers, it was unlikely any of us was going to freak out, quietly of course, and run out of the run if one of us said hello. Whilst I don’t consider myself shy anymore, I still fell back in to very old habits of feeling awkward about striking up a conversation with the few people I’d made eye contact with; which is extra odd since I had been talking to Mark Stay only minutes earlier. Looking around the room, there were people chatting. Thankfully it was only ten minutes until the first panel started, and armed with my mobile I did a little bit of writing and then checked Twitter.

Since so much happened at the numerous panels, I’ve decided to do separate posts about each of them. I still have lots of fiction writing to do today so I’ll write about the first panel another time: Who you gonna call? Ghostwriters!

I’ve currently focused on the Gingerbread competition, since the deadline of December 4th is fast approaching. I’ve made it my NaNoWriMo writing challenge, and although attending the GollanczFest really made me want to return to my main writing project, I have managed to stay on target; well, not my word count target, but something is better than nothing.

PS – Richie is the person that runs http://www.richiedigital.co.uk/

Bestseller and GollanczFest

Last week, November 4th & 5th, was quite the experience as I went to the Gollancz Festival. The event was held at Foyles, a rather grand bookshop in London. I had wanted to go to the writer’s workshop, but that had sold out. Fortunately for me I won tickets to the main Gollancz Festival via the Bestseller Experiment podcast.

Since my friend Richie was going to the writer’s workshop the event also had an extra appeal; we already chat a lot about our writing, and it’s rare we meet up these days. Plus I had not visited his home yet, so after a brief discussion an extended visit was planned.

One thing about long train journeys is at least there is plenty of chance for reading and writing. Even for someone like myself who suffers from travel sickness, trains are generally tolerable for me, plus when I did feel a bit off I stopped writing and changed to listening to an audio book.

Joining me on my journey were Moo & Bat, my mini-fluffy-sidekicks. I planned on taking some silly pictures of them on the train and at the festival, in part because I’ve been thinking through some children story ideas. Plus the Adventures of Moo & Bat amuses my wife.

The Adventures of Moo &amp; Bat

I’ll write about the Saturday morning Gollancz Festival panels next time. I’ll end this short post by highlighting that the Bestseller Experiment has a Patreon fund. Considering the value Mark Stay & Mark Desvaux have provided with this great podcast, it is something I am happy to support even though I currently have no income due to health problems. Just to clarify, I had backed them before I knew I had won Gollancz Festival tickets 😉 It would be quite sad if the podcast does not continue, and it’s worth considering what quality & quantity season 2 could provide, so please consider getting involved.

https://www.patreon.com/bestsellerexperiment

I quite enjoyed Mark Stay’s recent interview with Cover to Cover.

Part 2 of my GollanczFest visit.